The cuisine, the dramatic coastline, the beautiful language, the elaborate ruins — what’s not to like? There are so many distinct and wonderful places to visit within Italy that it would take you months or multiple vacations to be able to do them all justice. In this Italy travel guide, we’ll break down the top destinations and things to see in each city.

BE INSPIRED

WHEN to go

The most popular time to visit is during the summer months (June to August), but it can get downright steamy there, from both the heat and the throngs of people, especially in August when most Italians go on vacation. The best time to visit — to avoid the crowds, the heat and the need to compete at top prices with everyone else — is spring or fall. There are fewer crowds in April and May and you don’t need to drink your weight in water just to stay hydrated. The spring months can also be one of the best times to find deals to Italy. In April, you may deal with occasional rain, but it won’t stop you from enjoying your time there.

The summer crowds begin to die down again in the fall, so September and October are also perfect times to visit. If you’re wanting to visit Tuscany, especially, so you can witness the ripening of the grapes on the vine and maybe even participate in the harvest. If you’re hoping for a ski vacation to one of Italy’s premier ski areas, prime winter months are not the best choice, either. Aim for shoulder season.

what to eat

Short pasta with sausage and truffle sauce
The finished product - a delicious plate of Plin paired with Nebbiolo
Margherita pizza from Delancey
Burrata at Ristoro di Lamole

When we think of Italian food in the U.S., we think rich meaty red sauce, thick and creamy alfredo sauce, pasta, pizza, lasagna — but the food in Italy is quite a bit more diverses than we think it is, so it’s good to know a thing or two about the food culture in Italy before you get there.

It’s also a good thing to know a few essential Italian food phrases to help you while you’re reading the menu and ordering. We’ve found that even knowing the basic food names for things like chicken, beef, onion, mushroom, will help you immensely.

You know, things that may make you look like a tourist — like asking for Fettuccini Alfredo (which doesn’t exist in Italy), Pepperoni pizza (which doesn’t stand for spicy pork) and asking for salad dressing for your salad (Italians use their delectable olive oil and vinegar to dress their salads).

Menus are often divided into courses and it’s unusually to only order a bowl of pasta for a meal. Instead, you would order an antipasto, primo (pasta), secondo (usually a meat dish) and dolce (dessert). Of course, Pizza Margherita can be found throughout Italy. Try what very well may be the world’s best pizza in Naples.

Seafood and mushroom risotto is a Venetian specialty. Prociutto, porcini mushrooms, burrata (cream filled cheese), ravioli and gnocchi are all on the must-eat list. Just make sure whatever you eat that you’re prepared to embrace the Italian way of eating it. As they say, “When in Rome…” That isn’t where the phrase came from, but it surely applies!

When in Rome… eat like a local! Check out this Twilight Trastevere Tour by Eating Europe. It was one of our favorite food tours we’ve ever done.

what to drink

The two main drinks in Italy are easily wine and coffee. While cocktails and liquors are often served as before or after-dinner drinks, wine and water are the only acceptable mealtime drinks. And who’s complaining?

Italian wine is incredibly diverse and well made. With so many different grape varieties and all that sun, they produce some of the World’s best wine. To go to Italy without trying the wine would be a huge shame. Some of the big wine regions are Tuscany (including Chianti), Barolo, Montepulciano, Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont (among many many others).

Italians also thoroughly enjoy their cafe culture. Sipping on a cappuccino or espresso for breakfast or in the afternoon while relaxing in an outdoor cafe is nearly a national pastime. And don’t forget that delicious limoncello. Served as a digestivo, after dinner, it can easily take the place of dessert with its crisp sweetness. So many great drinks hail from Italy. Try ordering something different every day to get a full spectrum.

Prosecco, bellini, negroni, grappa, limoncello — all Italian drinks.

Travel Tips for Italy

Money and Tipping in Italy

Italy uses the Euro. You can use your credit card at most museums and restaurants, but not everywhere, so always have some cash too. ATMs are easy to find and cheap.

Tipping is generally not necessary. Service is generally included in a restaurant bill, so be sure to check first. If it’s not, a euro or two is fine at casual restaurants, up to 10% in fancier restaurants. Expect to pay a bread and cover charge, which is standard procedure, even if you don’t ask for it. Leave change when ordering a coffee or beer.

Getting Around

The best way to get around in Italy’s big cities is by foot. One of the pleasures of Italy’s cities is the architecture and the atmosphere on the street. You can also find good public transportation in all of the major cities.

If you’re planning on renting a car, which you’ll need for the countryside, make sure you have an International Driving License before you go. Italian law requires drivers that don’t have an EU driving license to show their home country license as well as an International Driving Permit if (or when) they’re pulled over. The rental car company may not require one to rent.