Here is a collection of miscellaneous useful information for your travel in Italy:
See also our tips for driving in Italy.
Getting Euros (cash)
2. Avoid change bureaus!!
Choose your card
Always turn down conversion to dollars
Italian weather forecasts are notoriously bad, and Italy has many mountains and hills that create lots of microclimates which the local forecasting office completely ignores (until recently they wouldn’t even forecast the temperature!). For the area around Milano (including Biella) the forecast for South Switzerland published by Switzerland’s MeteoSwiss is the best (click on “detailed forecast” for a 5-day forecast); for the rest of Italy there generally isn’t a good source, although Tempo Italia seems a bit better than others (but still plenty wrong). There truly is nothing like the U.S.’ National Weather Service! For a guide to converting between °C and °F click here.
Wi-Fi in Italy is very hard to find, especially the free kind, mostly due to idiotic government restrictions that force the access provider to collect ID information of it users (of course, all in the name of antiterrorism). Most hotels provide very expensive service, and make sure you contact them ahead to confirm availability and pricing.
"Free" dialup internet access
You can connect for the cost that is less than a local call (but check with your hotel, as they often charge 8x as much!) anywhere in Italy with the following settings:
Services are provided by Telecom Italia. If you need an outbound (SMTP) email server, try out.aliceposta.it or mail.tin.it or see you mail service provider help pages.
Italy (and most of the world) uses the GSM 900/1800 and UMTS 2100 mobile phone standards, which are in different frequencies than the ones used in the U.S. (GSM 850/1900 and UMTS 850/1900). However, some U.S. GSM operators offer tri- or quad-band “world phones” that work in Europe, and some non-GSM operators offer dual-technology phones that work there as well.
If you have one of these phones, you most likely need to check with your operator to ensure that roaming is allowed and to check on prices, which are usually astronomical. A better alternative is to buy a prepaid “SIM” card for your phone in Italy (calls are about €0.15-0.20 per minute outbound, free inbound)—just make sure that the phone is not “SIM locked”. If you have a locked iPhone you may be able to unlock it by following instructions here. With an Italian prepaid SIM you can also get an inexpensive mobile data plan, such as one that costs €20 for whopping 1GB of data within a month.
You can also rent a phone with service, either in Italy or before departure. At Milano’s Malpensa airport you can rent from the Eurochange Business Centre; prices are very high so call them ahead at +39 02 5858 1074 to make a reservation and confirm prices. For renting a phone in the U.S. before you leave, check out a Google listing.
Most payphones accept coins, and all accept the prepaid “scheda telefonica”, which can be purchased at any newsstand, post office, tobacconist, supermarket and most bars, and comes in multiple denomination starting at €1. Calls to Italy landlines are €0.10 per 55 seconds; calls to N. America and Europe are €0.91 first minute, €0.61 thereafter (in 11 second increments).
For international calls, you can buy a card called “Time”, Telecom Italia’s prepaid international card. Calls to N. America and Europe using this card are only €4¢ per minute. The card is available in denominations of €5, €10 and €25. A similar card, “No Distance”, costs €12.7¢ per minute.
Take note that these prices are much lower than those of a calling card issued by AT&T, MCI, Sprint, etc. A ten minute call at AT&T’s “standard” calling card rates is a whopping $27.74 (plus taxes)—the first minute alone costing $4.15 (plus taxes). The only exception is if you signed up for a special international plan that includes calling cards (most don’t), like AT&T’s “International Anywhere Plan” (which is no longer offered).
Phone numbers in Italy start with 0 if landline, 3 if mobile; you need to dial all the digits all the time. To direct-dial international, dial 00 + country code + phone number (e.g. 00-1-415-555-1212). Directory service for Italy is available by dialing 1254 and is extremely expensive (€2 for a call a bit over 1 minute); it's free on the internet at http://1254.virgilio.it/
All prices are inclusive of service, including at restaurants, and tipping is not practiced (just look around). Exceptions to this rule is rounding up a taxi fare or a restaurant bill to the next Euro, and repeat customers who may leave a small coin (5¢ or 10¢) at the bar with their daily caffè. If a toilet is attended and there’s no posted price, tip the attendant 20-50¢—only if the place is kept clean! Porters have published rates, and hotel bellhops are paid by the hotel for their job but those of 5-star hotels are used getting something from their mostly American clientele.
Be aware of petty theft
Petty theft is endemic in Italy. Lost items are rarely returned, and high-tourist areas (Biella does not qualify) are magnets for pickpocketers and purse-snatchers, the latter even on motor scooters.
Luggage not in the truly immediate vicinity is also prime candidate for snatching; if you are traveling by train consider buying a cable lock as modern trains have luggage racks that are not visible from your seating area.
Never leave anything in sight in a parked car, and never leave a car unlocked.
Also check your restaurant bills carefully: in tourist cities, manually calculated bills often have an incorrect summation and/or you may be billed for extras you didn't order.
If you have an early morning flight and you prefer to spend the night close to the airport (which is a 45 minute train ride away from downtown Milano, or over 1hr and €80 in rush hour by taxi), the closest hotels are Villa Malpensa, the Crown Plaza, a Holiday Inn Express and the First Hotel.
Avoid Eurail passes