What not to do in Italy — 25 things to know
Over 5 years of traveling to — and living (part-time) in Italy — I’ve learned a lot about the country’s cultural customs.
For first-time travelers to Italy, visiting the country can be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.
Rather than second-guess your way during your travels across the country, get some invaluable tips from my list.
I’ve put together a post listing 25 things of what not to do in Italy. It should be a helpful start to get your vacation started off on the right foot.
Ordering coffee — what not to do in Italy
You may have read about some ‘rules’ regarding drinking coffee in Italy.
While nothing’s set in stone, expect to receive a few (strange) looks if you do any of these things.
1. Keep cappuccinos for the morning
Don’t order a cappuccino with your lunch or dinner, and especially never with pasta.
During the two times I dared to take a cappuccino after midday, the reception was less than welcoming!
2. Ask for an Americano not an espresso
Don’t order a ‘coffee’ at a bar or restaurant and expect to a get a black coffee. Italians will understand your order as an espresso.
Instead, ask for an Americano and get it right the first time.
3. Beware of scam coffee drinks
A story from 2019 told the story of 2 tourists who paid €81 ($87 /£71) for 2 burgers and 3 coffees. The drinks consisted of 2 ‘doppio (double) cappuccinos’ and 1 ‘doppio Americano’.
The tourists were at a café near the Vatican and paid more than they bargained for.
Not only did they get ripped off by the prices, they also got duped with the coffees. ‘Doppio’ cappuccino or Americano doesn’t exist; the only doppio that does is a double espresso.
4. Sitting down costs more
When you’re in the mood for a quick coffee, prices will differ depending on where you drink it.
Take it at the counter, and it may cost €1 ($1.10/£0.87).
Enjoy the pleasure of sitting at a table, and it may double, or even triple in price. Just something to think about, especially if you’re on a budget.
Keep cappuccinos for breakfast time — what not to do in Italy
“While nothing’s set in stone, expect to receive a few (strange) looks if you do any of these things.”
Tips on eating — what not to do in Italy
5. Parmesan cheese on fish dishes
There’s one thing that Italian restaurants outside Italy have in common: they offer Parmesan cheese on nearly everything.
And while this may be acceptable for many pasta and pizza dishes, the same doesn’t apply to fish.
When eating anything with fish in Italy, don’t expect waiters to arrive with the cheese grater on hand. It’s something they don’t do, and is looked upon as gross, plain and simple.
Again, this isn’t something that’s set in stone, but is more commonplace knowledge.
6. No eggs for breakfast
While many of us may enjoy the occasional fried or scrambled eggs for breakfast, expect the opposite in Italy.
Sweet breakfast items, like brioche (croissants) or other pastries, are the norm here, along with a cup of coffee.
Naturally, most hotels will serve eggs for breakfast along with traditional foodstuffs like oatmeal. This tip is something to bear in mind when traveling through the country.
7. Put the ketchup down
Don’t put ketchup on your pasta or pizza. While this may sound obvious, many enjoy a splodge of the red condiment on more than just their fries.
Not only is ketchup not needed on pasta or pizza, but it also ruins the authentic flavors of the dish.
Say no to Parmesan cheese — on fish dishes
Dress decorum — what not to do in Italy
8. Flip flops are for the beach
When the warm weather arrives in Italy, so too do changes in the way that people dress. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is their choice of footwear.
Unlike some places where a bit of sun means breaking out the flip flops, Italians reserve theirs for the beach.
Even in temperatures of 30°C (86F), you won’t see Italians going to the supermarket in their flip flops. Those stay indoors, and only come out when it’s vacation time.
9. Dress appropriately
When visiting the many churches in Italy, and especially some of the bigger Duomo (cathedrals), observe the correct dress.
During our visit to Palermo Cathedral, it was the peak of the summer season (August) and unbearably hot. Unsurprisingly, many visitors were also dressed in summer attire and unaware of the cathedral’s dress code.
When we arrived at the door, we’d to pay €1 ($1.10/£0.88) for a poncho to wear inside. While you can keep them after your visit, it’s more useful to know the appropriate dress beforehand.
Remember to cover your shoulders, and to wear skirts/shorts that are below the knees when visiting churches.
Save flip flops for the beach
Travel expectations — what not to do in Italy
10. Not booking transportation from Venice airport
There’s a great confusion for first-time travelers visiting Venice. Many expect to find the city center not too far from the airport terminal.
Instead, they don’t realize that they need to take another form of transportation to reach the vaporetto (water bus) port.
Saying that, make sure that you’ve booked your bus tickets ahead of your arrival. It’s less stressful than having to line up to buy tickets, and having to battle with other visitors.
Once you reach the vaporetto terminal, you can get your tickets from the booths or from the information desk.
11. Book an early dinner
While dinnertime at home may be around the 7/7.30pm mark, the same can’t be said in Italy. Many Italians eat dinner late, around 8, 8.30pm, or sometimes even later during summer.
If you want to do as the locals do, make that dinner reservation later than usual.
12. Hail a taxi
Taxi services need to be hired beforehand. Hotels and restaurants will most likely have a telephone number, and will usually book one for you.
What’s more, popular ride-sharing apps like Uber or Lfyt don’t exist in Italy, so don’t even try.
13. Avoid restaurants with staff ushering you inside
This one should (hopefully) scream common sense. In the big Italian cities, it’s commonplace to see staff trying to entice guests inside their restaurants.
While some may be okay, it’s best to err on the side of caution. For one, it’s restaurants in tourist hotspots that usually use this tactic.
This means that you may be potentially paying double for your meal, and for something that’s sub-standard.
I should point out that this goes across the board in most countries, not just in Italy.
Order, don’t hail, your taxi beforehand — what not to do in Italy
14. Don’t pay for everything with a credit card
If you live in a country where [credit] card is king, you’re probably not used to carrying around much cash.
However, when visiting Italy, it’s more the other way around. While many places do accept credit cards, there are more that prefer to take cash.
This is particularly the case when paying for smaller items like a coffee or brioche. Make sure to have some cash on hand, and avoid the disapproving looks in the process.
15. Don’t ask for ‘well done’
Florence is the home of beautiful art, architecture and a mouthwatering cuisine.
When in the beautiful capital of Tuscany, I highly recommend you (carnivores) to try a Bistecca alla Fiorentina. This delicious cut of meat comes from the Chianina cow, a breed only found in Tuscany.
Whatever you do, don’t ask for your steak to be well done, or ‘ben cotta’. Bistecca alla Fiorentina should be a little pink on the inside, and melt like butter in the mouth.
16. Don’t go shopping from 1 to 3.30pm
Like Spain, Italy also has a period throughout the day when shops, banks and services are closed.
While they don’t call it a ‘siesta’, it’s something to be aware of when visiting the country. Times can vary as to when shops and services re-open, but the majority close at 1pm for lunch.
17. Arrive at the right time
As mentioned in point no. 11, Italians do things a little differently when it comes to mealtimes.
When visiting Italy, restaurants will open for lunch, but will close after the service is finished.
This is different from London, where for example, restaurants tend to stay open even after the lunch rush.
As a general rule, most places serve lunch from 12.30 to 3pm (maximum). Dinner service really varies on the region.
In the Dolomites, many restaurants will have closed its kitchens by 9.30pm, so arriving earlier is a must. Restaurants in Sicily, however, tend to stay open till late, some of them still serving food until midnight.
18. Keep your soccer affiliations to yourself
This next one won’t apply, or may not even make sense, if you don’t follow soccer.
When visiting Naples, there’s one thing you absolutely mustn’t say here: that you’re a Juventus supporter.
There’s a long-time rivalry between the 2 main teams, Juventus F.C. and Napoli S. S. C. Both sides have faced bans from traveling to matches in each other’s respective city.
In 2018, Napoli fans could once again travel to see their team play in Turin — home of Juventus. This, however, didn’t apply to Napoli fans from the Campania region, where the football club is based.
‘Ben cotta’ and Bistecca alla Fiorentina don’t go together
Language — what not to do in Italy
19. Say thank you, the right way
When you learn a new language, it’s a given that you’re going to make a lot of mistakes.
However, along with learning the words and the grammar, getting the pronunciation right is also important.
The first Italian word I said was ‘grazie’. An essential phrase in our daily vernacular ‘thank you’ is a good one to know. But, what I didn’t know, was that my pronunciation was completely wrong.
Rather than saying ‘grat-zee-eh’, I was saying ‘grat-zee’. While it’s not super far off the correct pronunciation, it’s good if you can get it right. It’s something that Italians will also appreciate.
20. Don’t say ciao to everyone
It’s easy to be in a foreign country, and overuse a phrase that you hear the locals frequently say.
‘Ciao’, meaning hello and goodbye, is a word you’ll probably hear about 20 times a day.
However, use ‘ciao’ sparingly, and only with people you already know. For anyone else, for example, when in a café or restaurant, use ‘buongiorno’ (good morning/day) or ‘buonasera’ (good evening).
21. Keep English to a minimum
I know many of you will be reading this, and thinking, well that’s obvious. However, try telling that to the many visitors that come to Italy thinking that Italians can understand them speaking English.
Many Italians find the English language difficult to pronounce. Those who work in hospitality are more likely to speak a good level of English, but many simply don’t.
That said, if you really want to get the most of your Italy trip, learn some simple phrases. Apps like Duolingo or Babbel are great resources to help kickstart your learning.
Only say ‘ciao’ to people you know, and keep English to a minimum in Italy
Decorum — what not to do in Italy
22. No sounds while eating
Where would you place your eating and drinking etiquette on a scale of 1 to 10?
If you’re someone that enjoys making sounds when they eat, you’d probably score between 1 to 3 in Italy.
Unlike the Japanese culture, where slurping up your ramen is encouraged, Italians see it differently.
That said, try not to slurp up your spaghetti, or let out a satisfied sigh after a sip of water. Though you may not realize it, some Italians will be paying attention.
23. Bathe only where it’s allowed
I can wholly relate to Italians’ annoyance with this next one, as I’ve seen travelers do this.
It may be clear to many, but if you didn’t know, bathing in historic fountains is forbidden. The same goes for the canals in Venice, where there have been sightings of travelers going for a swim.
Instead, cool off in one of the many beautiful lakes and beaches around the country. Lake Garda, Como and the Smeralda Coast in Sardinia are a few that come to mind.
Bathe and swim in the lakes and seas; leave the fountains and canals alone — what not to do in Italy
24. Don’t look people in the eye
A local friend of mine told me this next one, so I’m not speaking from personal experience. That said, please bear in mind, this doesn’t apply to all people from Naples.
When walking through the streets of the city, he told me that it’s best to avoid direct eye contact.
He elaborated that some Neapolitans have a reputation for having a high temperament and may call you out.
Saying that, keep your gaze straight ahead and carry on walking.
25. Don’t eat in inappropriate places
Most of us like trying out a bit of the local street food when we travel. In Italy, there are many cities, like Palermo, that have a great street food culture.
And while it’s fine to try as much street food as we want, it’s not okay to eat in random places. By this, I mean eating on public transport, leaning against public monuments, or walking and eating.
Instead, Italians prefer to eat in the restaurant or, better yet, take it home.
What are your 3 takeaways from this post? Is there anything that surprises you from this list? Drop me a note in the comments below.
Till next time, happy boutique travels x
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....