Currency in Italy
Italy uses the euro. It is one of the many European countries that use this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender in all countries.
One euro is divided into 100 cents.
The official symbol of the euro is € and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
- Banknotes: The euro banknotes have the same design in all countries.
- Standard coins: All euro area countries issue coins that have a distinctive national design on one side and a common standard design on the other. The coins can be used in any euro area country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
- Commemorative €2 coins: These differ from normal €2 coins only in their “national” side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country can produce a certain amount of these coins as part of its normal coin production, and sometimes “European” 2-euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. anniversaries of important treaties).
- Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins with other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, have very special designs and often contain significant amounts of gold, silver or platinum. Although they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector’s value is usually much higher and therefore you are unlikely to find them in circulation.
Tipping in Italy
Tipping (la mancia) is not common in Italy, but is only given when a special service is rendered or as a thank you for a quality service. Almost all restaurants (with the notable exception of Rome) have a price for service (called coperto) and waiters do not expect a tip, but they will not refuse it, especially if it is given by foreign customers. However, in cafés, bars and pubs it is not uncommon to leave change when paying the bill by telling the waiter or cashier “tenga il resto” (“keep the change”). Recently, tip jars have become common near the cash register, but they are often banned in public toilets. Leaving change is also quite common among taxi drivers, and hotel doormen may expect a little something. When using a credit card, it is not possible to manually add an amount to the bill, so it is possible to leave a few notes as a tip.
Shopping in Italy
Italy can be quite an expensive country. Like everywhere, the cost of living is higher in the big cities and the centre than in the suburbs and rural areas. As a rule, southern Italy is cheaper than northern Italy, especially when it comes to food; of course, this varies by location.
Meals can be had from €3 (if you settle for a sandwich, panini or falafel from a street vendor); restaurant bills can range from €10 (a hamburger with friessalade and a soft drink from a pub) to €20 (a starter, main course and water from a regular restaurant).
Unless otherwise stated, prices include VAT (identical to sales tax), which is 22% on most goods and 10% in restaurants and hotels. On some products, such as books, VAT is 4%. In practice, you can forget it, as it is always included in the display price. If you are not a resident of the EU, you are entitled to a VAT refund when buying goods exported to countries outside the European Union. Shops offering this scheme will have a ‘Tax Free’ sticker on the outside. Don’t forget to ask for your Tax Free voucher before you leave the shop. These goods must be unused when you pass through the customs checkpoint on your way out of the EU.
If you are planning a trip to the countryside or rural areas, you should not rely on your credit cards as they are only accepted by a small number of shops and restaurants in many small towns.
Remember that it is very common in Italy (even in the winter months) for shops, offices and banks to close by 3pm (often between 12:30 and 3:30pm). Banks in particular have short opening hours, most are only open to the public for about 4 hours in the morning and just under 1 hour in the afternoon.
What to buy in Italy?
Italy is an ideal place for all forms of shopping. Most towns and villages have all kinds of shops, from glitzy boutiques to huge shopping centres, tiny art galleries, small grocery shops, antique shops and newsagents in general.
- Food is without a doubt one of the best memories you can have in Italy. There are thousands of different forms of pasta (not just spaghetti or macaroni). Then, each region of Italy has its typical foods such as cheese, wine, ham, salami, oil, vinegar, etc. Don’t forget to buy Nutella.
- Italian fashion is recognised all over the world. Many of the most famous international brands are based in Italy or were founded there.
Milan is the Italian capital of fashion and design. In the city you will find practically all the world’s major brands, not only Italian but also French, English, American, Swedish and Spanish. Via Montenapoleone is the main shopping spot for the crème de la crème, but Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, Via Sant’ Andrea and Corso Vittorio Emanuele are equally luxurious shopping streets, albeit somewhat less prominent. Corso Buenos Aires is the place to go for bulk or factory shopping. The magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in the centre and Via Dante also house some designer boutiques. Almost every street in the centre of Milan has at least a few clothes shops.
However, Rome and Florence are also serious fashion centres and have some of the oldest fashion and jewellery houses in Italy. In Rome, the chic and beautiful Via dei Condotti leading to Piazza di Spagna will be your main shopping reference point, with boutiques but also side streets such as Via dei Babuino, Via Borgognona, Via Frattina, Via del Corso and Piazza di Spagna. In Florence, Via de’ Tornabuoni is the main shopping street for haute couture, where you will find many designer brands. However, in both cities you will find an abundance of chic boutiques, both designer and non-designer, scattered throughout the centre.
- There are many jewellery and accessories shops in Italy. There are many jewellery and accessories shops that come from Italy. Vicenza and Valencia are considered the jewellery capitals of the country, also known for their goldsmith and silverware shops. Throughout Italy, including Vicenza, Milan, Valencia, Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice, but also in some other cities, you will find hundreds of different jewellery and silverware shops. Besides the most famous ones, there are large, original and trendy jewellery shops all over the country.
- Design and furnishings are things Italy is proud of and rightly famous for. There are excellent quality furniture shops everywhere, but the real place to buy the best deals is Milan. Milan is home to some of the world’s best design spaces and emporiums. To find out about the latest design inventions, visit the Fiera di Milano in Rho, where the latest household appliances are on display. Many Italian cities have great shops for antique furniture. So you can choose between avant-garde furniture and old-fashioned antiques that are, on average, of good quality.
- Glassware is something that is uniquely made in Venice, but is common throughout the country. Venice is the famous capital of Murano (not the island), or glass objects in different colours. You will find beautiful goblets, crystal chandeliers, candlesticks and decorations made of multi-coloured hand-blown glass, which can be designed in modern and funky arrangements or in classic old style.
- Books can be found in bookshops in all small, medium and large towns. The most important book and publishing companies/houses in Italy include Mondadori, Hoepli or Rizzoli. Most of the big bookshops are located in Milan, Turin and Monza, the capitals of publishing in Italy (Turin was named World Book Capital in 2006), but there are also many bookshops in cities like Rome and others. 99% of the books sold are in Italian.
- Art shops can be found all over Italy, especially in the most artistic cities like Florence, Rome and Venice. In Florence, the best place to buy art is the Oltrarno, where there are many workshops selling replicas of famous paintings or similar objects. Depending on which city you are in, you will usually find replicas of notable works of art, but rare art shops, sculpture shops or modern/antique shops can also be found in some cities.
How to buy in Italy?
In a small or medium-sized shop, it is normal to greet the staff at the entrance, not when you approach the counter to pay. A friendly “Buongiorno” or “Buonasera” warms up the atmosphere. When paying, staff usually expect you to put the coins on the designated area or tray rather than giving them the money directly into your hand (old label for handling money to avoid dirty falling coins), and they will do the same when you give change (“il resto”). This is a normal practice, not meant to be rude.
Haggling is very rare and only takes place when peddlers are involved. They usually ask for a much higher initial price than they are willing to sell for and asking price is a sure way to get ripped off. Be aware that peddlers often sell counterfeit goods (in some cases very credible counterfeits) and it is not always in your best interest to buy a Gucci handbag for 30 euros on the street. In all other situations, haggling will get you nowhere. Always beware of counterfeit goods: Italian law can impose fines of up to 3,000 euros on whoever buys them (this is especially true for luxury branded clothing or accessories).