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13 things to know before going to Italy

A smiling father and daughter in a Fiat 500 car in Italy, with the daughter standing up outside the sunroof

With an unmatched abundance of Unesco World Heritage sites, diverse scenery ranging from some of Europe’s highest peaks to the turquoise waters of the southern coasts, and an endless list of regional cuisines to taste, planning an Italian adventure can easily get overwhelming.

Add a variety of dialects – both spoken and hand-gestured – and hard-to-decipher etiquette rules into the mix and attempting to dive into the local culture can quickly turn into feeling like a fish out of water.

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Returning to Italy after years of living abroad has made many of the odd rules that dictate social interactions more evident to me – even I, as an Italian, find myself often questioning why things work as they do. While clear answers are not always available, I’ve done my best to compile a list of rules, customs and habits that will make every visitor’s time in my homeland a little easier. Here’s everything you need to know before visiting Italy.

1. Italians all go on holiday at the same time (more or less)

For some reason, we Italians have collectively decided that August is the best month to go on holiday. It’s understandable – with temperatures regularly surpassing 35C (95F), expecting people to do anything other than lie on the beach is simply too far-fetched.

During the weeks surrounding the holiday of Ferragosto, on August 15, Italians migrate to the coast en masse, leaving humid cities half empty. Many businesses in the country’s interior close, prices rise significantly, and crowds are the norm on popular beaches. If you choose to travel in the high season, make sure to book your accommodation well in advance.

Cars may be common in Italy but you don’t need on to get around © JupiterImages / Getty Images

2. Italy was built for driving, but it’s not the only option

While the public transport infrastructure is cheap and mostly reliable, Italy remains devoted to driving. Recent stats have shown that the country is second in Europe after tiny Luxemburg when it comes to cars per capita – nearly 40 million vehicles are currently roaming around the country with 59 million inhabitants.

Part of this has to do with the mountainous, uneven geography of the peninsula. Trains cannot reach the more remote corners of the country and the low population of rural areas does not justify frequent bus services. There is also a cultural aspect to Italy’s love for…

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