For so many people, a trip to Italy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, due to receiving bad advice or just not planning their trip effectively, many visitors to Italy find their trip ruined by one (or all!) of these thirteen Italy travel mistakes.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Italy several times, including a two-year period where I lived in one northern Italian city. Through my own travelers, and by talking to other travelers, I’ve learned the most common Italy travel mistakes, from little things that create inconveniences to major problems that force travelers to head home early.
You must read all thirteen of these potential pitfalls so that you can avoid them on your own trip to Italy. And if you’ve already finished your trip, leave a comment at the end letting me know if you made any of these mistakes (or another mistake that I might have missed!).
1. Rushing From City to City too Quickly
Ask yourself why you want to go to Italy. Is it to stare, wide-eyed, at the world’s most iconic historic sites? Is it to savor mouthwatering cuisine? Is it to get lost in narrow cobblestone alleyways with Vespas leaning against pretty wooden doorways? Or is it to spend 75% of your trip on buses, trains and planes, pausing only momentarily for a photo before rushing on to your next stop?
It’s no secret that the biggest Italy travel mistake is trying to cram too many destinations into too short of a trip. Italians coined the phrase la dolce vita for a reason. Slow down and enjoy “the sweet life”. If you have a week, consider dividing your time between two destinations. Ten days? Make it three. I promise, you won’t get bored!
I also recommend that you book an open-jaw (also known as multi-city) flight to and from Italy. This allows you to fly into one city and home from another, so that you don’t have to waste time rushing back to the airport where you started your trip. On my most recent trip to Italy (just a few months ago!) I flew into Catania and out of Rome.
2. Planning Every Day Down to the Minute
I’ve seen people create massive spreadsheets for their Italy trips, with a new tab for each day and their activities planned, literally, minute-by-minute. Don’t be one of those people.
Over-planning your trip is one of the biggest Italy travel mistakes for two hugely-important reasons. First, if you’ve planned too much and something goes wrong, it throws off the entire rest of your trip. Second, if every moment of your trip is planned in advance, you’ll feel anxiety about embracing any exciting, spontaneous opportunities that come your way. If I had rushed through Agrigento, Sicily and only visited the famous Valley of the Temples, I never would have discovered the beautiful, hidden alleyway full of murals shown above.
Instead of planning every minute of every day, consider making a rough plan where you identify the #1 most important thing you want to do each day, and then filling in the rest of your time once you arrive and get your bearings.
3. Wasting Money on Taxis
You rarely need to take taxis in Italy. On my most recent trip, which was just over a month in length, I didn’t take any taxi rides. Here are some easy ways to avoid wasting money on taxis in Italy:
- Purchase a multi-day transit pass. I was in Rome for a week so I bought a CIS Pass at Termini Station. For €24 I could ride buses, trains and the metro all week.
- Stay in a central location. In Turin, I like to stay near Via Roma, as from there I can walk all over the city. (Speaking of Turin, it’s such an underrated gem – see why here!)
- Instead of paying for a taxi to the airport, use public transportation to reach an airport hotel or B&B with a complementary shuttle. In Rome, I highly recommend the family-run Sleep and Fly Rome Airport in Fiumicino.
4. Dining at Inauthentic Tourist-Trap Restaurants
If the restaurant has a menu board in eight languages and photos of every dish, it’s probably a tourist trap. Can you still eat there? Sure, but there’s probably something more authentic, and more delicious, within easy walking distance.
My favorite way to find authentic local restaurants is to do a food tour with an expert guide whose business, and reputation, depends on the quality of their recommendations. If you don’t want to devote a full day (or even half a day) to a food tour, you can also ask the staff at your accommodation where they like to eat, seek out recommendations online from local bloggers, or follow the crowds of office workers at lunch and see where they go (that’s how I discovered Panino Giusto in Milan – I was the only foreigner in the restaurant over lunch!).
5. Losing Your Valuables to a Pick-Pocket
I have to confess that this is one Italy travel mistake I’ve made myself. To be fair, I was very young and inexperienced. I was pickpocketed on a bus in Italy many years ago, and frankly, it was a crime of opportunity. I was returning from sunbathing by the river with a huge, floppy beach bag that didn’t zip closed. The person in the seat beside me sneakily reached in and stole my phone, but kindly left my wallet!
From my experience, I learned the importance of carrying a purse that closes securely. I prefer cross-body bags that zip closed and have a flap over the zipper, like this one from Travelon. Travelon bags have additional anti-theft features like locking zippers, anti-slash fabrics and RFID-blocking technology, but to me the most important thing is the flap over the zipper.
Guys, you can absolutely get a small courier bag or backpack to carry your things when you’re out for the day. Again, look for one with secure zippers, and swing the bag around to the front of your body when you’re in a crowded location or on public transportation.
To reduce the risk of losing everything to a pickpocket, only bring what you need for the day. Personally, I carry one credit card, one debit card, a little cash and a color copy of my passport. I leave the rest of my cards, my actual passport and most of my cash in the hotel safe (or hostel locker).
6. Wasting Too Much Time in Lines
One of the most common Italy travel mistakes is wasting time standing in long lines to enter museums, galleries and historic sites. For people used to breezing right into tourist attractions back home, the capacity limits at many of Italy’s most famous tourist spots (like Rome’s Pantheon, above) can be a very unpleasant surprise.
If there’s something you absolutely must see while you’re in Italy, then you absolutely must check if you can reserve your ticket in advance. I almost missed out on seeing The Last Supper in Milan because I didn’t book my tickets in advance (and capacity is exceptionally limited – only 31 people can be in the room at a time!). The Vatican Museum, the Uffizi Gallery, even Turin’s National Museum of Cinema (read more about that amazing museum in this guide!) should all be booked in advance to avoid having to queue… or even being turned away!
(As for Rome’s Pantheon, you only need to book tickets in advance for weekend visits, and they are free.)
7. Not Bringing a Great Guidebook
I love traveling with a great guidebook. Yes, I took my Lonely Planet Best of Rome guidebook around the city with me, and even snapped a photo of it at Piazza Navona for proof!
Whether you pack a comprehensive guidebook to review in your hotel room while you blow-dry your hair (that’s what I call efficient travel!) or a smaller guidebook to keep in your bag throughout the day, it’s nice to have accurate, reliable tourist information on hand without needing to stare at a screen. With a reputable guidebook, you never have to worry that someone’s recommendation was based on a commission or kickback.
My recommended guidebooks for Italy are:
- Lonely Planet’s city-specific guides (Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan)
- Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook for always-updated highlights across the country
8. Expecting Things to Be the Same Everywhere
Italy is the tenth-largest country in Europe, spanning from the Alps in the North to the Mediterranean Sea in the South. The different Italian states were only united as one nation in 1848 – less than two hundred years ago. As each region of Italy has its own unique history, geography, climate, industry and even dialect, the country is actually quite diverse and the local culture is varied.
Travelers who expect things to be the same all across Italy would be making one of the worst Italy travel mistakes. There is a stereotype that Northern Italy tends to be more business-oriented, punctual and organized, while the South is more relaxed and laissez-faire. You’ll see this in things like public transportation, which tends to run on a reliable schedule in the North but is something of a free-for-all in the South (don’t let that deter you from traveling around Sicily by public transportation, however!).
You’ll enjoy your Italy trip a lot more if you embrace the differences in each location that you visit. Sample the regional cuisine. Admire the local architecture. Listen to the nuances of the local dialect. And yes, ride the local transportation… whenever it shows up!
9. Only Staying in the Big Cities
Venice, Florence, Rome. Venice, Florence, Rome. Venice, Florence, Rome. At times, it can seem like that is the only itinerary that exists in Italy. While it’s true that these three cities have lots to offer tourists, limiting your trip to these destinations is one of the most common Italy travel mistakes. Big cities have lots to offer, but it’s the small towns that will capture your heart.
When you’re planning your Italy itinerary, I would highly recommend that you budget time for a stay in a smaller (or even just less-famous) city, as well as some time in smaller towns and villages (even if it’s just for the day). Smaller cities are a breath of fresh air: you can stroll down the middle of the street without worrying about being hit by a Fiat 500, you can wave to the grandmothers hanging delicate laundry out their windows, and you can stop for an espresso (or a glass of wine…) at a local cafe and pay with your loose change. It’s hard to explain, but somehow a quiet little church or lovely stone staircase can seem just as monumental, and steeped in history, as the Colosseum.
What are my favorite small(er) towns in Italy? I love Monreale (an easy half-day trip from Palermo), Rivoli (just outside Turin), Verona (an overnight trip from Venice) and Ravello (on the Amalfi Coast).
10. Getting Turned Away Due to Dress Code
Many of Italy’s most famous tourist attractions are related to the country’s strong Catholic faith and have dress codes to match. In churches, and in attractions connected to churches, relatively modest dress may be required. In Rome, for example, most of the Vatican City is governed by a dress code. Similar rules apply at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
Some women choose to wear a regular sleeveless top and then wrap up with a large shawl when modesty is requested, but I actually prefer to roll up a lightweight linen blouse in my purse and throw it on as required.
In Florence, the Uffizi Gallery prohibits “undignifed” clothing such as bathing suits and wedding dresses (the latter, I assume, because it’s undignified to try to sneak an unauthorized wedding photo shoot into the gallery!).
Most restaurants in Italy accept diners in casual dress, especially at the lunch hour. However, if you’re going out for fine dining, check with the restaurant to see if they have a dress code (if you don’t speak Italian you can always ask your accommodation to call).
At Rome’s Michelin-starred Il Pagliaccio, running shoes (sneakers, trainers, etc.), shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops are always prohibited (even at lunch). You’ll find similar rules at Harry’s Bar in Venice, where you might be able to sip one of their signature bellinis in the ground-floor bar in your shorts (no promises!), but the upstairs dining room requires more formal attire.
11. Expecting Everyone to Speak English
There’s a bit of a theme with this tip and tip number eight (above). Simply put, approaching your Italy trip with too many preconceived expectations could very well ruin your trip. Expecting things to be a certain way (or worse, demanding things to be a certain way) is a common Italy travel mistake for novice travelers.
Many Italians don’t speak English. Many Italians only speak basic English. Many Italians speak perfect English. You should be prepared for this before you visit.
How can you handle the language barrier? Personally, I like to pop a local SIM card into my phone and use Google Translate on those occasions where body language and cognates don’t suffice. If you don’t want to pay for data, or prefer not to rely on a phone when traveling, you can also purchase a pocket-sized phrasebook or dual-language dictionary.
If there are any essential phrases that you may need to communicate in Italian, like an allergy or medical condition, consider getting them translated for you and then laminated onto a piece of card-sized paper that you can store in your wallet.
12. Missing Out on Staying in Your Great Neighborhood
I’ve definitely made this Italian travel mistake before. I’ve chosen a hotel based on someone else’s recommendations, without considering whether or not it was really located in the best neighborhood for my kind of travel.
If you’re going to be staying anywhere for more than a day or two, I think it’s really worthwhile to pause and take your time choosing the right home base for your visit. On my recent trip to Palermo I chose to stay west of the city center, near the Castello della Zisa, because I’d read that it was a very peaceful and safe area. Actually, it turned out to be inconvenient and borderline-inaccessible by transit. As a confident solo female traveler, I should have stayed in a busier, more central district like Kalsa or Monte de Pieta, since I ended up spending most of my time there anyways.
Before you book your accommodation in Italy, identify what kind of neighborhood you’d like to stay in. Do you want to be close to nightlife and luxury shopping? Or in a quiet residential area full of locals? Do you plan to explore by foot or hop around the city on the tram? Use those keywords as a starting point in your search for hotels.
Personally, I like to use the map search tool on Booking.com to zoom around a city and compare all the highly-rated accommodation in a certain area. In addition to filtering by price, I also filter by user review score (I aim for hotels with a score of 8 or higher, unless I’m desperate!).
13. Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do, Because You Think You “Should”
I lived in Italy for two years and didn’t go to Rome or Florence. Instead, I explored the Amalfi Coast, Liguria and cities spanning the north of the country.
Years later, when I finally made it to Rome, I skipped the Vatican Museums in favor of the MAXXI Contemporary Art Museum. I admired the Colosseum from outside, but spent an entire afternoon inside Eataly.
If the biggest Italy travel mistake is trying to do too much in too little time, the second-biggest Italy travel mistake is doing things you don’t feel excited about doing, just because you think you should (or because someone tells you that you should).
Please, spend your trip to Italy doing things you love, whether that’s floating in the salty sea water beside the lighthouse in Trapani, attending the biannual Slow Food Cheese Festival in Bra, taking a cheesy photo with the Leaning Tower of Pisa or marveling at the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel (mind the dress code!). You never know when you’ll be able to return to Italy (for me, it was nearly a decade between when I moved away and when I first returned as a tourist) so make every moment count.
Did you make any of these Italy travel mistakes during your travels? Let me know in the comments (and also let us know if you have any other Italy travel tips!)
For more Italy travel ideas and inspiration, check out my full collection of Italy posts.