Welcome to the Salt & Wind Travel step-by-step guide for planning a trip to Italy. Keep scrolling for the table of contents and to read all our tips. Or, for a PDF version to take with you, click here.
What's In This Guide
Click the links to go directly to the sections listed below:
- How To Plan A Trip
- Best Time To Travel To Italy
- Where To Go In Italy
- What To Eat
- What To Drink
- Eating And Drinking Tips
- What To Pack
- Essential Travel Tips
Let the wanderlust abound; you're traveling to Italy!
As a food-first travel company, we at Salt & Wind Travel adore the "Bel Paese." We seek destinations with a sense of place, vibrant food cultures, and creative local scenes. Italy checks those boxes while also having awesome architecture, rich history, and postcard-worthy panoramas, which is why it's one of the places we help people like you travel in good taste.
For more than five years, we've worked as travel advisors to Italy and, frankly, it's one of our favorite things to do. We've created this guide to help you effortlessly plan your trip.
Whether it's your first or your tenth time in Italy, start by deciding when to go. The winter is better for the Alpine ski resorts, the spring for road tripping, the summer for beach time, and the fall for wine harvest. Then organize flights, lodging, activities, and, our favorite, where to eat and drink.
Join our free travel community to ask questions of fellow food and travel lovers.
And, of course, if you need anything else, don't hesitate to reach out to us so we can help you plan your trip.
Aida, Kristen, and Team Salt & Wind Travel
How To Plan Italy Travel
There are three general ways you can plan your trip to Italy: by deciding on when to go, where to go, or what you want to do.
Where To Go vs. When To Go
That's to say that traveling in winter is better for doing indoor activities in the cities or alpine sports in the mountains. If you decide where to go first, make sure you're traveling there when the weather is good and the crowds are fewer.
And, if you have a specific to-do on your bucket list, like mastering pasta in Bologna, attending a truffle festival in Piedmont, wine tasting on Mount Etna, or touring olive oil groves during harvest, then you'll want to go around specific dates.
Ideally, you'd have at least 90 days to plan the trip, although it can be done in as short as 30 days. If you have 90 days or more, book your flight and lodging at this time.
You'll want to wait within a few months of travel to arrange ground transportation, be it train travel, private car, or rental car.
Aside from in-demand fine dining spots, you'll want to book most restaurant reservations, museum tickets, and small group tours within the last six weeks before travel.
Questions To Ask Yourself
To get in the mind frame of planning your trip, ask yourself these questions:
Where do I want to splurge versus save?
Do I want to do all fine dining and high-end wine tastings? Do I want to stay in a luxury hotel at every stop? Or should it be a mix with a farm stay, a chic apartment, and some 5-star spots?
What is the goal of this vacation?
Are you aiming to see historic sights like the leaning tower of Pisa? Trying to check off something on the bucket list like visiting Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper or boating on Lake Como? Or do you want a laid-back vacation where you're stay put and just relax?
Are there any activities, attractions, tours, tasting, or meals that are must-dos?
Think about what you can do on your own (i.e. an audio guide or self-led tour) versus experiences where paying a local expert will give you deeper knowledge or better access.
What pace do I want to travel?
Should it be all-systems-go every day? Or do I want room for exploring and playing things by ear? Make sure to give yourself a day or two to acclimate to the time zone and some leeway in case your flights are delayed or canceled.
What are my pet peeves in travel and how do I avoid them?
For some people, this is a small bed or bathroom while others hate crowds. Once you've got that all sorted you can narrow in on the nature of your trip and start planning.
Best Time To Travel To Italy
The best time of year to travel to Italy depends on what you want to do.
The weather varies as you go from the wintery temperatures of the Alps to the balmy beach weather in Sicily. We're fans of traveling to Italy during the shoulder season period, generally April to June and September to November.
Avoid traveling to Italian cities in August when many businesses shut down for summer break and turn into virtual ghost towns.
You'll also want to account for any significant Italian holidays, be it Liberation Day, Ferragosto, or Christmas.
Here will get into the weather, the month-by-month events of note, the major holidays, and when to travel for your travel interests.
Best Times To Visit Italy By Interest
Most of our clients at Salt & Wind Travel travel to eat, be active, or relax.
For Cooking Classes
Classes are available year-round, but go when ingredients you crave are in season. Say in fall for truffles, summer for tomatoes, or spring for artichokes.
For Wine Tasting
Go in the late spring to experience bud break or in August or September to witness the harvest.
To Road Trip
If where you're going has inclimate weather (the Alps), make sure to travel when roads are clearer.
For The Beach
The beach season in Italy runs from Easter until early-to-mid-September. Outside of this, there may be bad weather and lots of amenities shut.
Most schools and public offices shut during major holidays, but you can read more specifics about each holiday and what is open here.
It's worth noting that there are all sorts of regional holidays from patron saint's days to sagre or festivals for various foods and harvests.
The low season runs from November to March, and prices can be much lower, but the weather can be bad. Shoulder season runs in Spring and early Fall and is our favorite time. The high season is summer when families abound, and prices are high.
By The Season
January - March
It can be bitter in the north while there may be sunshine in the islands.
April - June
A lot of festivals and incredible local produce though it can still be rainy and cloudy.
July - August
The weather can be unbearably hot, and crowds everywhere, but the beaches are lovely.
September - October
Our favorite time, there is generally good weather and lots of festivals.
November - December
The holiday season is incredible, but the weather can be cold, especially in the north.
Situated in Northwest Italy near the Alps, Piedmont is one of the colder regions. It has a frigid winter, but we adore it from summer through fall when mild and sunny temperatures.
Sandwiched between the Alps and the Po River, this Northern region experiences a notoriously dense fog in the colder months. Aside from that, Lombardy has relatively temperate weather.
Our favorite time of year is late Spring and early Fall.
Of all the regions in Italy, Venice has been the hardest hit by over-tourism. There are shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in the center of Venice during the high season, so we encourage you to avoid that time of year.
We suggest making a day trip to Venice then exploring other gems in the region like Verona, Padua, and Cortina.
This region has relatively fewer travelers, so that you can go pretty much any time of year. The weather is best during the shoulder season.
The weather in Tuscany is similar to that of Washington DC in that there are four seasons, but it doesn't usually get a lot of snow. The spring and fall are incredible, but the summer can be very humid unless you're at the seaside.
Between having the capital city of Rome and the Vatican, the region of Lazio always has a lot of travelers. The climate is similar to Portland with four seasons, but the temperatures are never all that extreme aside from July and August when it can get scorching.
The weather is nice in Sicily year round though they get rainstorms in the summer and winter. The summer can be muggy and hot, especially if you're inland. Go in spring!
Where To Go In Italy
The top mistake our travel advisory clients make when going to Italy? They don't budget enough time.
The country is nearly the size of California, with a ton of culture and biodiversity, so there is a LOT to see. We suggest a trip be a minimum of 10 days and plan to book at least four nights in major cities and two nights in smaller towns.
The second mistake is that people only go to the big cities. The country was city-states until unification in the mid-19th century, so there is a lot of cultural diversity across the various towns and it's well worth seeing.
The best way to get to know Italy is to visit a mix of cities and small towns.
Our Top Italy Itineraries
Here are our tops spots to add to your bucket list.
The classic city is a must-visit for first-time travelers so that you can experience must-see sights like the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, and Trevi fountain for yourself. But, if you've been before, plan to visit again because, like New York, there is always something new be it an up-and-coming neighborhood or a new food trend.
The most-adored of the bigger cities, the art and history are significant. Go for tradition and a taste of Italian preppy life. Spend a day or two in the countryside in the towns or Siena or other historic Tuscan hilltowns. Then do a weekend in Maremma, Livorno, or Forte dei Marmi.
The wealthiest region and center of Italian banking and fashion, Milan is fully saturated. We go to Lakes Como and Garda on our group trips and visit the Franciacorta wine region. But we also adore day-tripping to Sirmione.
Wine Fanatic's Piedmont
Food and wine lovers flock to Piedmont for its storied cocktail culture, its celebrated wines (from Barolo to Barbaresco), and specialty foods like tajarin, hazelnuts, chocolate, and truffles.
Trekking The Dolomites
The pink-tinged, jagged granite Dolomites are the thing outdoor lovers dream of tackling. Hike the wildflower-clad mountains in the spring or ski the fabled, glamourous resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo before it gets on everyone's radar when it's home to the 2026 winter Olympics.
Food Lover's Emilia Romagna
Tied with Piedmont as the most food-focused region, the capital, Bologna, is known as the fat one or "La Grassa" because it is home to dishes like mortadella, tortellini, and lasagne Verde. Also, head to Modena for balsamic vinegar and Parma, home to Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto.
Natural Wine Umbria
If natural wine is your main sipper, head to Umbria, where several producers are making their mark in the low-intervention world.
Seaside In Naples & Amalfi Coast
Start your trip in the bustling, boisterous maze of streets that make up old Naples and take a day to explore Pompeii. Then clock in some time on the sea with a day trip to Ischia, Procida, or Capri and relax staying in one of the cliffside towns of the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento to Positano.
Beach Time In Sardinia
From star-studded sandy beaches to hidden teal coves, the island of Sardinia has a beach for everyone.
Food Lover's Sicily
The island of Sicily has such incredible food and wine that various towns are celebrated for single ingredients, from the Bronte pistachios of Etna to the chocolate of Modica.
Where Not To Go
We agree that Venice and Cinque Terre are gorgeous, but they're suffering from overtourism, so we'd suggest only making a day trip.
Get even more advice on where to travel in Italy by reading where to travel based on your personality.
What To Eat
There is no "one" cuisine when it comes to Italian food. Instead, the various regional styles come together as the food we call "Italian."
The country takes tremendous pride in preserving its food traditions with groups like Slow Food. While you can indeed find non-Italian food from Chinese to Indian to plant-based options the days, classic Italian food reigns.
Get to know the local food by visiting markets, doing street food tours, attending cooking classes, shopping at gourmet stores, and eating, of course.
Before You Go
Before you set foot in Italy, you can learn its food traditions by cooking a few of the most iconic foods.
Ingredients From Italy
First, start by understanding which ingredients originally come from Italy. While you likely know artichoke is from there, you may be surprised to learn that tomatoes are not!
Stock your pantry with iconic Italian ingredients to get to know classic flavors
Some recipes are totally transportive, including all these recipes that we cook when we miss Italy.
A few must-make iconic dishes (that happen to be some of the most popular recipes on the site) include:
What To Eat
Across the country, we insist you try foods, including bread, cheeses, olive oil, salami, pasta, and desserts.
Then there are dishes and ingredients (truffles!) only found in certain areas.
Each region has a bread to call its own. Start by getting to know the types of focaccia.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is the king of Italian cheeses, but make sure to try other styles of cheese like Asiago and Caciocavallo.
Every region also has iconic desserts though we particularly love biscotti, budino, gelato, and cannoli.
Speaking of gelato, there's a big difference in quality. Make sure you know how to choose which gelato is freshest and made with artisanal ingredients.
Difference In Italian Food
Each of Italy's 20 regions has its own food specialties. But you can generally distinguish between the North and South.
Northern Italian food has more "continental" flavors and ingredients akin to France and Germany, while Southern Italian food is more Mediterranean.
The Fat Line
An informal border across the country is known as the "fat line." North of this line, which is just south of Milan, the predominant fat is butter, while it's olive oil to the south.
Northern Vs. Southern Food
Southern Italy is generally about seafood, tomatoes, peppers, and olive oil. The north has been historically about the land, using ingredients like beef, veal, cream sauces, lots of cheeses, eggs, and butter.
Top Food Regions
What To Eat In Piedmont
You already know the renowned liquors and wines from this area, like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Campari, and Vermouth, but Piedmont's food deserves the hype, too. A few iconic dishes are agnolotti del plin, Baci di Dama, and gianduja. Read more about these iconic foods here.
What To Eat In Lombardy
This region is best known for Milan and the Lakes, but don't sleep on the classic food. Dishes like risotto Milanese and cotoletta (aka Veal Milanese) come from there as do desserts like amaretti, torta sbrisolona, and panettone.
What To Eat In Tuscany
Though you can get incredible seafood at the beach, this region embraces the countryside with iconic dishes like Fagioli all'uccelletto, crostini al fegato, bistecca Fiorentina, and torta della nonna.
What To Eat In Bologna
If pasta, prosciutto, and Parmigiano-Reggiano are your faves, you'll want to spend time in their home region of Emilia-Romagna. We insist you eat tortellini, lasagna, and a good amount of mortadella.
What To Eat In Rome
With a history dating back millennia, you'll find rich dishes in Rome with an equally rich history. Try pizza Bianca, the cacio e Pepe pasta, and many artichokes.
What To Eat In Sicily
The agricultural riches of Sicily combined with its history— wherein cultures from the Greeks to the Arabs spent time there—means the island has a unique cuisine. You'll find dishes that seem North African or Middle Eastern but are decidedly Sicilian, from caponata and sfincione to cassata and even lemon leaf meatballs.
What To Drink
There is a lot to try when it comes to alcohol and Italy.
You're probably well aware that the wine culture is one of the most diverse, but you may not know that the cocktail culture is as storied as that of the United States and that the craft beer scene is world-renowned.
Dip into the Italian cocktail culture by doing aperitivo. Though it originated in Northern Italy, it is now standard across the country.
The Italian craft brewing scene has come into its own and is putting Italy on the map in the beer world.
We get it: Italian wine can be confusing. And, it's no surprise seeing as the country has the most known native grapes anywhere (roughly 2,000!).
The easiest way to get to know it all is to travel region-by-region and taste as you go.
Classic Italian Wine Regions
- Piedmont: For bubbles from Asti and high tannin, celebrated reds of Barolos.
- Lombardy: For traditional method sparkling wine from Franciacorta
- Veneto: For bold Amarone or bubbly Prosecco
- Emilia Romagna: For Lambrusco or Pignoletto
- Tuscany: For Chianti Classico and Sangiovese
- Umbria: For whites to love from Grechetto and Trebbiano varieties.
- Sicily: The wines are as diverse as the topography, with everything from Marsala to cult organic reds.
Eating & Drinking Tips
Yes, part of the reason we're dedicating a section to eating and drinking customs is that we're a food-first travel company.
But, also, it's because there are some very specific things to know about dining before traveling to Italy.
Know Your Osteria From Your Cafe or Trattoria
There are various labels for eating establishments from bar to cafe and enoteca to taverna, and, traditionally, each indicates a different level of service and price.
Italian Dining Tips
We often get guests telling us they're surprised by how rigid Italians can be about food. But, it's understandable in a country where food is a part of their cultural DNA. Here are a few things about dining in Italy that surprise Americans.
Essential Eating Etiquette
We're not trying to get fussy, but knowing a bit of etiquette will help a lot.
Some are common stateside, while others, like using two spoons or a fork and spoon as serving "clips," may not be familiar to you.
Avoid Having A Bad Meal
Yes, Italy's food is generally well above par.
But, seeing as it's one of the most visited countries on the planet, you can come across tourist traps.
You'll want to avoid spots with menus in many languages or with people who are trying to get you to come inside. Here are a few other ways to make sure you avoid a crappy meal.
What To Pack
In general, there are a few travel essentials we won't travel without. Head to our Amazon shop for all our must-have travel carry-on items. Read on for what to pack for Italy.
La Bella Figura
Italians live by the concept of "la Bella figura," which means to present yourself (through everything from your manners to your clothing) in the best possible light.
While you don't need to dress trendy, locals will appreciate it if you look your personal best.
Italy has embraced a more casual style as of late, so you can wear jeans, walkable flats (preferably not running shoes), and a nice top almost everywhere. "Sophisticated-casual" attire is appropriate at most restaurants.
For men, we recommend collared shirts and slacks. For women, we suggest dresses, skirts or dressy pants. Nice jeans are acceptable but do not wear shorts or sneakers to dinner.
Formal Vs. Informal
The Northern Italians and the Florentines in the major cities tend to be more formal and fashion-forward. (That goes for not only clothing but also manners, by the way.)
As you go to the smaller towns, you'll find people dressed in a refined, put-together manner but not necessarily fancy.
In summer, at the beach towns, you can dress in more resort-type wear. In contrast, dress practically if you're trekking through the Apennines or the Alps.
Essential Travel Tips
U.S. citizens traveling in and out of Italy must have a passport valid six months beyond the last day of their trip.
It's not required by law, but we recommend you have it any time you're traveling. There are various services for providing trip insurance, but we prefer Allianz. Many credit cards (such as Chase Sapphire and AmEx) include travel insurance as part of a trip purchase.
Dos and Don'ts
So long as you conduct yourself as you do at home, you should be golden. Here are some specific tips:
- Do learn a few words of Italian as locals appreciate it!
- Do greet people. Say "Buongiorno" (or "Buonasera")
- Do always have I.D. on you (a photo of your passport is adequate) — it's the law in Italy.
- Do be careful when crossing the street, as motorists often ignore crosswalks.
- Don't be a jerk. Do drugs. Start fights—display public drunkenness. Urinate in public. Jump in fountains. Climbing on monuments. You get it.
- Don't sit at a "bar" in Italy. When you go to a "bar" (whether it serves coffee or alcohol), you will usually pay 2 to 3 times as much the minute you sit. Instead, stand at the bar like the locals do and save a few euros!
- Don't buy anything from illegal street vendors. It's illegal and, if caught, you'll be hit with a fine.
- Don't eat food on the steps of churches as it's becoming a ticketable offense in quite a few Italian cities.
You'll want to bring along money and credit cards (FYI, traveler's checks are obsolete) -- just remember to call your credit card before traveling abroad to notify them of your travel plans.
We recommend you pull out Euro at ATMs once you land in Europe instead of using a currency exchange service. Keep in mind that your bank will charge you a fee each time you use the ATM, so it's best to pull out the maximum amount of money each time you use it.
However, you can use credit cards in most places, so you shouldn't need more than 100 Euros in cash at any time.
A reminder to let your credit cards know that you will be abroad before traveling. Also, many places in Europe will not accept American Express, so it is best always to have another type of credit card. Remember that chip credit cards (which you dip instead of swipe) are the norm in Europe, so it'll be quicker for you to pay if you use a credit card with a chip.
Shopping & VAT Refunds
If you plan to do any significant amount of shopping, you'll want to know about the VAT (called the IVA) tax. This value-added tax of 22% is added to almost anything. If you spend more than €155 on any purchase, you can claim a refund.
Keep in mind this only applies to purchases from retail outlets that have a "Tax-Free" sign. Before you make your purchase, ask the vendor for a tax-refund voucher.
Driving In Italy
We generally find that driving on the highways is doable for most Americans, but driving inside cities can be overwhelming.
And, we pretty much do not recommend you drive in the regions of the Amalfi Coast or most of Sicily as the drivers are aggressive and the roads windy.
All in all, Italy is a safe country to visit.
COVID has undoubtedly affected the country, and there are many rules in place, so be sure to read up on restrictions.
The average issues travelers run into are bag-snatchers or pickpockets, so keep an eye on your valuables.
When traveling, there is always a possibility of theft. While you're enjoying the sights, remember to stay alert and always be aware of your immediate surroundings, especially in crowded locations and tourist areas. Carry only the cash you need for the day, along with a copy of your passport on your phone, and leave the rest in a locked safe in your room.
For more safety tips, refer to U.S. State Department's website at travel.state.gov
Dial 112 in case of any general emergency.
Have any additional questions?
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