Daily Dose of Design: How to Travel Like a Local in Italy

Friday, September 14, 2018

How to Travel Like a Local in Italy

It's fun to be a tourist, but it's also really fun to experience a country like a local does in their home on the daily! I like to think that Italy is basically my second home - I go there as much as humanly possible every year and part of me really thinks I'd love to live there 24/7. The atmosphere is completely different than it is in America - there's no real "busy" time of day, or day in general for that matter. Everything is so laid back; the people are relaxed and honestly I find myself feeling so calm and not stressed in the least bit when I'm in Italy. It's such a beautiful country and there's so many things to see, do and experience - and if you want to do things as the Italians do, here's how:

Enjoy your coffee like a true Italian

Italians mean business when it comes to their coffee! At every single gas station - most popular chain you'll see are AutoGrill's - you stop at, you can sit at a bar inside and order a shot of espresso. It's SO different than American gas stations and convenience stores and I always have to laugh to myself at how much pride Italians take in their coffee! You can even order lunch - they always have panini options, pastries, and other snacks. It's rare to find one of the Autogrill's not busy at all times of the day, and you will pass at least six of them every time you drive the autostrada (highways)!

The way you order your coffee can be an easy giveaway that you're American... They take their coffee very seriously there, and will travel at length to get a great cup! These coffee orders are the most common/ones you'll want to know when ordering:

Cappuccino: espresso, steamed milk and froth; a breakfast drink (never ordered after 10 AM)
Un Caffé: a very small cup of coffee, more like a shot of coffee... That's how they do it!
Un Caffé Americano: espresso in a larger cup that's similar to the size you'd get here at a restaurant
Un Caffé macchiato: espresso with a small amount of milk
Un Caffé doppio: a double espresso shot

Get on board with the Italian lunch break rule

To us Americans, it seems totally crazy to go home at lunch time doesn't it? I will never forget the first time I was in Italy as a young girl and even then I had no clue why everything was closed come 1 PM. During the summer, EVERYTHING is closed and it will seem like a ghost town in most spots in Italy, daily, from about 1-4 PM. What we consider "lunch" is their big meal. They go home, eat with their families and then take a nap. Seriously! And then most shops and restaurants will re-open come 4 PM. This is more of something to take note of in the summer, but I mean it's pretty heavenly... Hop on board, change things up from your normal routine back at home and try out the mid-day meal and nap. It's all sorts of awesome!

Go to a Mercato Centrale on Sunday

While they differ region to region and province to province, most Sunday markets are popular to go to buy fresh fruit/veggies/meats and even do some shopping. All of these markets thrive on Sunday mornings, so don't wait until the afternoon to go because there won't be many vendors left. It's SUCH a cool experience and something I do every Sunday when I visit Italy. Something else to point out - you can usually negotiate prices!

Visit the cafes and restaurants on backstreets

There's nothing wrong with visiting the most raved about spots to get a pizza or go to one of the most popular places for the most delicious bowl of pasta, but these are the spots that all tourists will go to. Try a pizzeria or gelateria off the beaten path. There's SO many places and most you wouldn't think to eat or sit at, and going to a more underrated spot will allow you to really get a feel for the culture and you'll likely get to meet some locals too - there is nothing more interesting than meeting and talking to locals in a place you aren't familiar with!

Get used to no AC

A lot/most places in the summer do not have air conditioning. Restaurants, tourist spots, even hotels. A lot of Italian hotels keep their AC off during the day and will have it kick on at night and in the mornings in each room. Italians don't really "believe" in AC, although many homes and most hotels do have it. They use it sparingly and that's something to get used to especially for Americans! Honestly that's always something I worry about because in the summer I rely so heavily on my air conditioning at home. But it really isn't bad like you'd think it'd be - the AC does exist, of course, it's just used sparingly. Get used to that and you're basically a local. ;)

Visit, explore and enjoy every town's Piazza

A piazza is a town center/square and most Italian cities - large and small - have one. In Venice, it's San Marco; Rome has dozens of popular squares (visit Santa Maria in Trastevere if you're close/have time!) and even the smaller towns have piazzas. The town in Calabria that my family is from has one and it's where everyone meets day and night and you can find most of the town there at any given time eating, talking and even listening to music.

These piazzas are very custom for Italy - they're popular and it's one of their "norms". The funny part about it being called a "town square" is that most aren't even square! It's basically the center of each community and usually holds important/political buildings, the main cathedral, any restaurants and cafes that people will frequent often and usually has a fountain or monument of some sort in the center. And if you like to people watch, spend some time in a piazza in the city you're staying in - trust me, lol!

Buy your fruit/vegetables on the side of the road

Especially along the coast, you can find SO many local and small vendors selling fruits and vegetables that they've grown to sell. There's nothing fresher, and the vendor will likely be the nicest person you've ever met and spoken to. They are what we in America would call small business owners - they grow and sell produce and it's always the best you'll buy!

Do NOT try to rush anything, anywhere

Like I said previously, the lifestyle in Italy is very laid back. They live happy, stress-free lives - I think that's something we should all try to do! ;) You won't find many people at all in a rush, ever. When Italians eat and do basically anything else, they take their time. The only time you'll find something rushed in Italy is the driving! Expect some fast drivers; and vespas and Smart Cars buzzing through traffic at all times!

Learn the basics of the language

No one expects tourists to be fluent in Italian in Italy - in fact, many Italians speak English. One of my cousins there speaks English as well as I do - they take learning languages very seriously in Italy but at the same time, it's normal for them to be bilingual and even multilingual. I will admit, being fluent in Italian helps me get around very easily, obviously, but knowing the main phrases/words, having Google Translate on your phone, being willing to learn the language and asking a local will be just fine.

Fare la scarpetta. Always

After lunch or dinner, use your bread to soak up all of the sauce on your plate from your meal and eat it. Probably the best part, and then you'll have successfully fare la scarpetta. ;) This is a total norm for Italians and something they all do during every meal, every day. Who really could complain about using fresh, Italian bread to get every last bit of sauce off of your plate?

Italy is the most beautiful country - I may be a little bias, but there's always something new to try and explore every time you go. It's so fun to see what life is like when you visit another country, so give it a try and most importantly, enjoy every second you have there!


  1. I've been to Italy once and loved it. I was very shocked by the businesses being closed from 1-4. I was like wait what? It's pretty cool that they do that though. We have a different mind set here in the US. Of course when we went, we had to try almost every place with pizza and gelato.

  2. The top-most photo took my breath. Never been to Italy but heard and read so much about it that I've fallen in love with the country. The fruit-shack looks so luscious.

  3. I didn't know know they have lunch break rule! It's very common here in Chile too! Not so much in the capital but they do it in other cities.

  4. your photos are amazing! And i had no idea you could get good coffee at gas stations, thats amazing!

  5. I really want some true Italian coffee now!

  6. LOVE this! I would love to visit Italy one day.

  7. These are such wonderful things to remember! My family is from Italy and I still have family there. It truly is such a different (and wonderful) way to live! Ahhhh!

  8. Wow, that long lunch thing is new information to me! I'd love to visit Italy some day, and I'm super glad I learned about that now, or else I might have been a bit confused when I go over there, hah! It does seem like a wonderful place to be; I love anywhere where everyone is laid back.

  9. Your post brings back so many memories. Italy is my favorite country in Europe! There’s just something about it that makes me happy :)

    Xx, Nailil

  10. This sounds like so much fun and is so interesting! I love the difference between cultures!

    cute & little

  11. Oh my gosh. it's always been a dream to go here!! Your photos are stunning.

  12. Super excited about this post! We are traveling to Italy next summer, so this post was perfect! Can’t wait to refer back to it in the near future!

  13. I need a holiday soon to visit Italy. Thanks for sharing.

  14. This just made me want to visit Italy even more than I ever wanted (and that's a lot, because I REALLY wanted to go to Italy already haha)!

  15. Oh my goodness, traveling to Italy would be a total dream come true for me! I loved this post so much and can’t wait to hopefully someday visit!!

  16. I have always wanted to visit Italy, and this post just magnifies that! When I went to Spain, it took a bit to adjust to the siesta, it's interesting to learn that Italy has something similar. Sign me up for some of that delicious coffee!

  17. Oh my! I really hope to visit Italy one day! These descriptions sound like a dream!

  18. I will be referring to this post when I go! What a dream!!

  19. ohmygosh, I so miss touring Italy! I spent a couple weekends there when I was studying abroad in Spain and I feel like Italy is one of those countries that takes at least a month to fully appreciate! These are all such great tips!

    xo Deborah
    Coffee, Prose, and Pretty Clothes

  20. I love these tips! So informative. Hoping to go back to Italy soon!

  21. I think I need to go back to Italy and try these out! Last time out, my husband and I didn't enjoy Italy as much as we could have.

  22. No A/C in the summer, that's straight up blasphemy. As a native Floridian, I've been conditioned to crave A/C 24/7 LOL

  23. I am dying to go to Italy one day!! looks amazing!

  24. I'm dying to go back to Italy some day! I visited Rome and Venice, but I feel like there is so much to see/do. These tips are super handy and I'll definitely refer back to them when planning my next Italian vacay.

  25. It's SO important to make an effort with the language when traveling. I agree. Great post babe :)

  26. Such a great, accurate post! I went last summer & had a great time, but 100% had to adjust to no AC-- mostly in the bathrooms haha it was always brutal!

  27. I’m going to Italy next summer and this was such a great read! I’m definitely saving this!!!

  28. I'm italian so I LOVE this post! You are pretty spot on, and yeah, scarpetta is a true must ;)

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