Learning to navigate the intricacies of a new city can be a little tricky, but our expert Tour Directors are more than happy to help out by providing helpful hints and tips throughout the tour. Here, we’re sharing some of the useful points of traveling within Italy our Tour Director recently shared with us on Food & Wine: Flavors of Tuscany & Umbria.
Sending postcards & letters
Stamps are always sold at post offices, but they’re even easier to find at a tobacconist shop. Tobacconist shops are marked by a black and white signpost with a “T,” and the price for a postcard stamp is 90 cents. Bright red or yellow mailboxes can be found at post offices or on the street, but the concierge at your hotel will be more than happy to post your mail for you. If you prefer to visit a post office, they are typically open from 8:30am to 5:30pm.
Exchanging & drawing money
Banks are open Monday to Friday mornings from 8:30am to 1:15pm and after lunch from 2:45pm to 4:15pm. Exchange places (where you can exchange U.S. dollars for euros) stay open throughout the week from about 9am to 7pm and are mainly concentrated around the major tourist attractions. (Keep in mind, you’ll need your passport or another form of ID to exchange money.) Finally, ATMs are easy to find, open 24 hours a day and scattered throughout each city. Just remember that withdrawing money from an ATM will generally result in a foreign transaction fee along with any fees your bank charges.
Public bathrooms can be found in every town and city and they’ll cost about 50 cents to use. By Italian law, all restaurants and bars (excluding take-aways) are required to have bathroom facilities, so it’s best to take advantage when you’re stopping for food and drinks. It also helps to purchase a water bottle, quick snack or an espresso in order to use the restroom.
Eating & drinking: bars
Most bars in Italy are fully-licensed, and besides the wine and spirits, you can always find espresso, cappuccinos and a variety of food items like panini, pastries, sweets, etc. Most of them are also prepared to serve light lunches (think main course and a salad). Tipping is welcome at bars, but not due—you might want to “round up” the bill and leave the change for good service from the waiters.
Eating & drinking: restaurants
Generally more upscale than a bar, all restaurants are fully licensed but can vary greatly in style, type of cuisine and quality. Most restaurants bill a fixed amount for a cover charge (which is for service at a table) and a percentage of the total for service. In restaurants, tipping is customary but not required—a 5-10% tip on the total bill is considered an adequate amount for good service.
Generally speaking, shops are open from 9 or 9:30am to 12:30 or 1:30pm before closing for lunch and reopening around 3 or 3:30pm and closing at 7pm. Exceptions need to be made for touristy areas and big cities like Milan, Rome, Florence, etc. Generally, in tourist-heavy areas or big cities, shops will stay open continuously from the morning to about 7:30pm. Souvenir shops and boutiques that sell typical crafts are usually open all day long throughout the week, even on weekends.
All hotels and restaurants are prepared (and able) to call taxis for travelers; in this case, the meter will be started as the taxi responds to the call. Taxis can also be found in specific spots or “taxi stands” throughout major cities, and the meter will start as soon as you get into the vehicle. The minimum fare is fixed per city (approximately 3 euros) and you might see an extra charge for heavy luggage, Sundays, bank holidays or for nighttime service after 10pm.
What are your tips for traveling in Italy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!