Love shopping? What to buy in Italy
Italy uses the euro (€, EUR). It is one of 25 European countries that uses this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 25 countries together have a population of more than 334 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. All bills or banknotes have exactly the same design and all are legal tender in all Eurozone countries.
Tips (la mancia) are not customary in Italy but are offered only if a special service is given or to thank for a high quality service. Almost all restaurants (with the notable exception of Rome) have a price for the service (called coperto) and waiters do not expect a tip, but they will not refuse it, especially if given by foreign customers. In cafés, bars, and pubs it’s however not uncommon, on paying the bill, to leave the change saying to the waiter or to the cashier “tenga il resto” (“keep the change”). Recently tip jars near the cash register are becoming widespread, however in public restrooms is often forbidden. Leaving the change is also quite common with taxi drivers, and hotel porters may expect a little something. When using a credit card, it is not possible to add manually an amount to the bill, so it is possible to leave some notes as a tip.
Italy can be quite an expensive country. As everywhere, major cities and central locations have a higher cost of life than suburban and rural places. It is a general rule of thumb that Southern Italy is less expensive than Northern Italy, especially for food; this will, of course, vary by location.
Meals can be had from as cheap as 3€ (if you are happy with a sandwich, panini or falafel from a street vendor); restaurant bills can be anything from 10€ (a burger with fries\salad and a soft drink from a pub) to 20€ (a starter, main course and water from a regular restaurant).
Unless otherwise stated, prices are inclusive of IVAsales tax (same as VAT), which is 22% for most goods, and 10% in restaurants and hotels. On some products, such as books, IVA is 4%. In practice, you can forget about it since it is universally included in the display price. If you’re a non-EU resident, you are entitled to a VAT refund on purchases of goods that will be exported out of the European Union. Shops offering this scheme have a Tax Freesticker outside. Be sure to ask for your tax-free voucher before leaving the store. These goods have to be unused when you pass the customs checkpoint upon leaving the EU.
If you plan to travel through countryside or rural regions you probably should not rely on yourcredit cards, as in many small towns they’re accepted only by a small number of shops and restaurants.
Remember that in Italy (even during the winter months) it remains very common for shops, offices and banks to close for up to 3 hours during the afternoon (often between 12.30 and 15.30). Banks, especially, have short hours with most only being open to the public for about 4 hours in the morning and barely 1 hour in the afternoon.
What to buy
Italy is a great place for all forms of shopping. Most cities, villages and towns, are crammed to the brim with many different forms of shops, from glitzy boutiques and huge shopping malls, to tiny art galleries, small food stores, antique dealers and general newsagents.
Food is definitely one of the best souvenirs you can get in Italy. There are thousands of different shapes of pasta (not only spaghetti or macaroni). Then, every Italian region has its typical food like cheese, wine, ham, salami, oil, vinegar, etc. Don’t forget to buy Nutella.
Italian fashion is renowned worldwide. Many of the world’s most famous international brands have their headquarters or were founded in Italy.
Jewelry and accessory shops can be found in abundance in Italy. There are loads of jewelry and accessory stores which hail from Italy. Vicenza and Valenza are considered the country’s jewelry capitals, which are also famous for their silverware and goldware shops. All over Italy, notably Vicenza, Milan, Valenza, Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice, but also several other cities, you can find hundreds of different jewelry or silverware boutiques. Apart from the famous ones, there are some great quirky and funky jewelry stores scattered around the country.
Design and furniture is something Italy is proudly and justifiably famous for. Excellent quality furniture stores can be found all over, but the real place to buy the best deals is Milan. Milan contains among the top design rooms and emporia in the world. For the newest design inventions, attend the Fiera di Milano in Rho, where the latest appliances are exhibited. Many Italian cities have great antique furniture stores. So, you can choose between cutting-edge, avant-garde furniture, or old world antiques to buy in this country, which are, by average, of good quality.
Glassware is something which Venice makes uniquely but which is spread around the whole of the country. In Venice is famously the capital of Murano (not the island), or glassware made in different colours. Here, you can get stunning goblets, crystal chandeliers, candlesticks and decorations made in stunning, multi-coloured blown glass, which can be designed in modern, funky arrangements, or the classical old style.
Books can be found in bookshops in every small, medium sized or big city. The main book and publishing companies/stores in Italy include Mondadori, Hoepli or Rizzoli. Most big bookstores are found in Milan, Turin and nearby Monza, which are the capitals of Italy’s publishing trade (Turin was made World Book Capital in 2006), however cities such as Rome and more boast loads of book shops. 99% of the books sold are in Italian.
Art shops can be found all over in Italy, notably the most artistic cities of Florence, Rome and Venice. In Florence, the best place to go for buying art is the Oltrarno, where there are numerous ateliers selling replicas of famous paintings or similar things. Usually, depending in what city you’re in, you get replicas of notable works of art found there, but also, you can find rare art shops, sculpture shops, or funky, modern/old stores in several cities.
How to buy
In a small or medium sized shop, it’s standard to greet the staff as you enter, not when you approach the counter to pay. A friendly ‘Buongiorno’ or ‘Buonasera’ warms the atmosphere. When paying, the staff usually expect you to put coins down on the surface or dish provided, rather than placing money directly into their hands (old money-handling etiquette to avoid messy coin droppings), and they will do the same when giving you your change (‘il resto’). This is normal practice and is not intended to be rude.
Haggling is very rare and only ever takes place when dealing with hawkers. They will generally ask for an initial price that is much higher than what they are willing to sell for, and going for the asking price is a sure way to get ripped off. Be advised that oftentimes hawkers sell counterfeit merchandise (in some cases, very believable counterfeits), and that hoping to buy a Gucci purse for 30€ off the street might not be in your best interest. In all other situations, haggling will get you nowhere. Always be careful about counterfeit merchandise: Italian laws can apply fines up to 3000€ to people who buy it (this mostly applies to luxury brand clothing or accessories).
Written by The Travel Valet
Photo courtesy of Fototeca ENIT