Your guide to holidaying in ​Italy

italian-italy-t-shirtsImagine yourself wandering around ancient Roman cities, meandering through sun-baked grape vines and basking on golden coastline flanked by cascading hillside villas. How about admiring iconic art, or watching impossibly good-looking locals zip around on pastel coloured Vespas? Welcome to Italy. Or should we say, EAT-aly in a nod to the pizza, pasta, and mountains of gelato that you’re guaranteed to devour?

How long can I stay without a visa?
Thanks to reciprocal agreements, New Zealand citizen holders with a valid passport are not required to obtain a visa to enter Italy, as long as they stay no more than 90 days. Hello three months of fabulous food!

What’s the local currency?
The Italians use Euros, so don’t forget to stock up before you go.

Do I need to tip?
Tips are generally included in the final price, so simply look for “servizio incluso” on the bill. If you don’t see this, a 10-15% gratuity is always appreciated. A word of warning: restaurants in touristy areas like Venice’s St Mark’s Square are notorious for slapping ‘piazza’ prices onto bills. Basically, a 20 Euro surcharge will be added for sitting in such a coveted spot. The best way to avoid this is to eat like a local and seek out hidden gems as opposed to overpriced tourist traps.

Transport to and from the airport
Most travellers touch down in Leonardo da Vinci airport, where taxis will whisk you to any destination in Rome for around 50 Euros. Gulp. Yes, they’re pricey. If you want to be thrifty you can catch regional (FLI) trains to Rome Termini in just under an hour, or ride the non-stop Leonardo Express. We guarantee after a 24+ hour flight from NZ you won’t want to deal with public transport. So why not ask your House of Travel consultant about pre-booking a transfer?

venice-grand-canal-water-boats-161850Getting around
Uber is now available in most large Italian cities and is a much cheaper alternative to taxis. If you do hail a taxi don’t be surprised if you get charged an additional €1 for each piece of luggage you pop in the boot. Of course, if you’re feeling spontaneous you could always hitch a ride on the back of a Vespa. Self-drive tours are the quintessential way to see Italy, especially if you want to soak up the Tuscan countryside.

Weather: What can you expect when you go?
Summer is a beautiful time to visit and sees Italy drenched in sunshine. That said, major cities can feel impossibly crowded in the summer so why not consider visiting in spring or autumn? If you’re flirting with the idea of a winter getaway expect a considerable difference between the north and the south. January days can be as low as −2 °C in Milan and as high as 20 °C in Palermo.

Need to know phrases
It’s always worth brushing up on your Italian, even if it’s just for fun. “Per favour” means please, “grazie” means thankyou and “parli inglese?” means do you speak English. Introduce yourself with “mi chiamo” (I call myself) and greet locals with a friendly “buongiorno” (good day), “buona sera” (good evening) or “buona note” (goodnight). Don’t forget to ham it up with your best Italian accent.

Rules and customs
By law, you’re supposed to carry a photocopy of your passport at all times.

Getting a coffee fix
The Italian love affair with coffee runs deep, and sipping on a cup of impossibly strong espresso alongside locals is a rite of passage. For an in-depth look at Italian coffee have a read through this explainer article.

italian-pizza-restaurant-italyInsider tips
Beyond the big-ticket sights, Italy is all about creating your own adventures. For example, rather than fork out an eyewatering sum for a private gondola ride in Venice you can enjoy a similar experience on a local “traghetto” for a couple of Euros. While the Lonely Planet does come up with some fantastic recommendations, getting lost in Rome and finding your own rustic trattorias and wine bars is all part of the fun. Find some of the best in Rome’s trendy Trastevere neighbourhood.

Mobile usage – to roam or not to roam?
From updating your social media accounts to checking TripAdvisor reviews, the best way to avoid lofty fees from your NZ carrier is to purchase a local Italian SIM card. TIM and Vodafone are two of the best, with tourist friendly plans that will cost you around $50 for 30 days.

Top Italian eats
Let’s face it, you haven’t done Italy unless you stuff yourself silly. Start with Risotto al Nero di Sepia, a jet black dish made with inky cuttlefish. Venice’s Ristorante Tintoretto is a fantastic place to try it, tucked away off the main canals which gives it a laid-back vibe. Venture into any gelato store and you’ll be mesmerised by pastel-coloured peaks. If you’re in Florence don’t miss Gelateria La Carraia, aka gelato heaven. If you though you loved Panna Cotta just wait until you try the authentic Italian version. They’re beyond magnificent. Said to be inspired by Lucrezia Borgia’s navel button, you’re probably familiar with tortellini. But until you devour a plate in the gastronomic heart of Italy (i.e. Bologna) you haven’t lived. Ignore the guidebooks that recommend all the obvious spots and seek out La Traviata, a local family run trattoria. Wash it all down with an affogato, a wonderful creation that combines two of Italy’s most famous exports – espresso and gelato. Add a crunchy slither of biscotti and a nip of Frangelico and you’re in business.