Tips for Traveling in Italy like a Local

By Dana Perkiss

It’s no surprise that Italy is one of the most desired destinations on peoples' wish lists; with its ancient history, exquisite cuisine, and gorgeous white-sand coasts, it’s easy to understand why most people want to visit.

Italian ways of life are beautiful and unique to its culture, and to receive the most authentic experience (not to mention, so you don’t accidentally walk around like a tourist), it’s best to learn about the local way of life before traveling. Here are 8 tips that will help you travel like a local Italian.

1. Skip the bacon and eggs

A classic Italian breakfast starts simply with a coffee or cappuccino, accompanied with cookies or a warm pastry — and not just for the kids. To order a coffee, say, “un caffè per favore”. If you’re just craving a coffee, try not to take it to go. Italian coffee culture includes enjoying your hot cup of “caffé” at the counter, and don’t even think about ordering a cappuccino after 11 AM, unless you want to be walking around with a big “I’m obviously a tourist” sign.

2. Change your meal times

It’s true that Italians love food, which may be why they’re known for “aperitivo”, which is a pre-dinner meal usually consisting of snacks and drinks. Think of it like your local happy hour, where you go with friends to enjoy small bites and a few drinks — and which sometimes turns into a full dinner and more drinks. Since meal times are a bit off and Italians are usually up later, you’ll probably want to opt for a late breakfast because most restaurants don’t offer lunch until 1 PM. Similarly, dinner isn’t typically served until 7 PM, though locals will be eating even later than that.

Note: If you have low blood sugar and this meal schedule isn’t healthy for you, then don’t feel pressured to stick to it. Or, snack on foods that will increase your blood sugar, such as fruit (dried or fresh, and even as juice), fat-free milk, and candy (especially gummies, due to their higher carbohydrates).

3. Steer clear of tourist trap restaurants

Easier said than done, I know. It’s hard not to fall into the trap when a beautiful Italian person is luring you into a restaurant that’s already inviting with its rich, succulent scents. But here’s the thing: a truly good restaurant doesn’t need someone outside tempting people in, and locals won’t waste their time there. Venture off the main streets to find more authentic restaurants, and if the menu is only in Italian, then you’ve definitely found yourself a winner.

4. For the love of Jupiter, please, don’t put ketchup on pizza or pasta

Ketchup on your burger and fries? Totally cool. But unless you want literally everyone to know that you’re a tourist — not to mention kind of disrespecting the chef’s cooking — then eat your pizza and pasta without.

5. As tempting as it may be, don’t go splashing in the fountains

Firstly, this is just plain rude and disrespectful of local culture. Secondly, going in the fountains can lead you to being fined. You never really want to be that tourist, so admire the many fountains of Italy (particularly, Rome) from the edges, get your Instagram pictures, and then move on to the next.

6. Strut your style

If you’re walking around Italy, it won’t be long before you notice how fashionably the locals dress. Fit in with the Italians by strutting your best outfits, showing off your newest shades and shiny shoes — you’ll fit right in.

7. Talk with your hands

It may be a common stereotype, but you’ll notice quickly that in Italy, people really do talk with their hands. Gesturing can add a lot to a conversation, especially when expressing emotions and giving directions. Try using your hands more while you speak, and you may find that conversations become more comprehensible.

8. Explore like a local

A local New Yorker is probably not going to visit the Empire State Building during prime tourist hours, right? (Okay, they’re probably never going to visit at all) But in Italy, you’ll feel more like a local by visiting during the off season, which is about October to March. Similarly, while the most famous sights are definitely worth visiting, it’s also worth walking through the colorfully built stone neighborhoods and exploring local markets, cafes, and pausing for a casual aperitivo.

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