Got everything you need for that Italian trip of a lifetime?
Cool sunglasses? Check!
That appetite for pasta? Oh, yeah. Check!
Now, how’s your Italian? If you’re an experienced traveler, I’m sure you’ve looked into online courses to learn the basics.
Still feel like you could use a little help? No worries!
Make sure to pack these phrases to help you prepare for those common situations travelers find themselves in.
117 Essential Italian Travel Phrases and Words to Pack for Your Trip to Italy
Greetings and good manners
You’re a guest of the country, so you should remember your manners! The Italians are generally a polite bunch and you should generously pepper in these expressions of courtesy during your interactions with them.
Buon giorno — Good morning
Don’t be frugal with the use of this. Belt this out as often as you can. You can never be too respectful to the people who gave the world pizza, risotto and Robert De Niro.
Say, “Buon giorno!” as you enter a small shop, as you walk into a booth, as you sit beside somebody in the lounge or waiting area. If you can, extend a firm handshake.
Buon pomeriggio — Good afternoon
You use this one around lunch time until around 3 or 4 p.m. But don’t be surprised if native speakers open up with a “Buon giorno!” Many Italians skip “Buon pomeriggio” and just use “Buon giorno” during the daytime.
Buona sera — Good evening
You can use “Buona sera” after the “riposo” (afternoon siesta), that’s around four in the afternoon. “Riposo” is that time of the day when small shops close and forego one or two hours of business so proprietors can go home and eat a home-cooked meal and perhaps take a nap.
As a tourist, you should be mindful of this practice when planning your itinerary. You don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of the window salivating for “formaggio” (cheese) with nobody to accommodate you.
The practice may not be as pronounced in a big city like Milan, but it’s always useful to keep in mind.
Buona notte — Good night
This is what you say right before you retire for the night, or when you believe the other person is about to go to sleep.
Ciao — Hi/Hello
Yeah, you’ve heard this one in all those Italian movies you’ve been watching to prepare for your trip. This is the equivalent of a “hi” or “hello” and often heard amongst friends. Say “Ciao a tutti!” (Hello to all!) to address a group. “Ciao” can also mean goodbye. Its meaning is often read in the context of a situation. If the person is walking away from you, then the meaning is pretty obvious.
“Ciao,” although easy on foreign lips, is a bit informal and should only be used to greet a friend, people of your own age bracket or people you can be casual with. For people older than you and those you’re not familiar with, stick with your “Buon giorno” and “Buena serra.”
If all this talk about context and levels of formality is making you doubt your Italian learning abilities, take a deep breath, relax and consider learning with the videos on FluentU. FluentU takes authentic video content from across the web—like news, music videos, movie trailers and more—and makes it into personalized language lessons, so you can learn Italian as it’s actually spoken in real life.
Grazie — Thank you
This is another word you should pass around as often as possible. It’s one of those words that make you and the receiver both feel good. Try it! It’ll also ensure even more stellar service at the restaurant.
Molte grazie — Many thanks
“Molte” is an intensifier and analogous to the English word “very” or “many.” So if you’d like to express your gratitude more profoundly, simply add “molte” in front of “grazie” and you’ll have a winning combination.
Grazie mille — Thanks a lot
Another alternative is “Grazie mille” or “Mille grazie.” “Mille” means “thousand.” So literally you’re saying “a thousand graces.”
Prego — You’re welcome
“Prego” is often translated in textbooks as “You’re welcome” or “Don’t mention it.” But while “prego” is what you say after “grazie,” it also has quite a number of other uses. For example, a shop attendant could utter, “Prego?” to signify their intent to serve you. It’s like they’re saying, “How can I help you?”
Or if somebody asks if a seat is taken, a “prego” response would be taken to mean “be my guest.” The word can also mean “After you,” used to allow an older lady, for example, to enter a room first.
If someone talks in Italian too fast, simply declare, “Prego.” This would mean, “I beg your pardon?” or “Please talk louder/slower.”
“Prego” is like the olive oil of the Italian language, you use it on everything. And on your Italian trip, you’ll be hearing it more than you’ll be speaking it, so watch out for the word.
Scusa — Excuse me (informal)
No matter the emergency, you don’t just approach a native speaker to ask them something without the courtesy of saying, “Excuse me.” They’re probably busy with their own lives, minding their own business, so you don’t want to just barge in with guns blazing.
Have the courtesy of a “scusa” so they can give you their attention and point you to the nearest bathroom. Or better yet, use the formal form…
Mi scusi — Excuse me (formal)
“Scusa” you can use with friends and colleagues. “Mi scusi” is how you open the communication lines with a complete stranger. It’s more formal. It shows that you’re attuned to Italian social dynamics and are giving the person due courtesy.
Mi dispiace — I’m sorry
In the rush of following your itinerary, trying to cover as much geography as possible, it’s possible to get into little misunderstandings or mishaps with a native speaker. You can apologize with a “Mi dispiace.”
By the way, native speakers also use “scusa” to mean “I’m sorry.” So don’t get overly sensitive if a native speaker bumps into you and gives you a “scusa.” They’re not being arrogant, they’re apologizing and are probably just in a hurry to get somewhere.
Arrivederci — Until we see each other again (informal)
Just as you announce your entrance into a shop with a “Buon giorno,” you should also announce your exit. Don’t just quickly fade into oblivion. And besides, you would want the other person to have a good impression of that “American tourist” who was extremely courteous.
There are many different ways you can do this, just as there are many ways to say goodbye in English. Here are some that you can use:
Arrivederla — Until we see each other again (formal)
A più tardi — See you later
Riguardati — Take care
Ci vediamo — See you
Alla prossima — ‘Til next time
Sì — Yes
No — No
“No” means “no,” and “sì” means “yes.” That’s simple enough. But what if you’re not sure of the answer? How can you express uncertainty? You can say:
Forse — Maybe
Può darsi — Maybe
Non lo so — I’m not sure
Penso di no — I don’t think so
On the other hand, if you’re dead sure about something, you can say:
Ma certo — Definitely/Of course
So when a local asks if you like their country, tell the truth and say, “Sì, sì, ma certo!”
Per favore — Please
You can end every other sentence with “Per favore” and sound like an extremely polite tourist.
“Per favore” is often used to wrap up sentences especially involving favors, requests or demands like, “Aiutami, per favore” (Please help me). Or when you want to tell a gelato owner the flavor you want, you can say, “Quello, per favore,” (That one, please) while pointing to the red velvet piece of heaven you had your eye on.
Talking with native speakers
You’ll have no problem being understood in English in touristy areas like hotels, big restaurants and museums. And if you’re talking with young Italians, you’ll probably get away with speaking English.
But what about those times when a little more Italian is required?
One of the things you want to establish early on when talking to native speakers is letting them know that you’re not fluent in their language. Lay your cards on the table before the conversation gets awkward.
If after studying this post, you still feel you need more confidence before communicating with natives, consider ed2go’s Instant Italian course, an online class that prepares you to speak Italian by giving you all the basics as well as practical information of the kind provided here (asking for directions, shopping, etc.). It may just be what you need before you jump on that plane and head off to Italy!
Either way, Italians will appreciate you trying to communicate in their mother tongue and be extra patient with you. Here are some key phrases you need:
Non parlo italiano. — I don’t speak Italian.
Parla inglese? — Do you speak English?
Non capisco. — I don’t understand.
Parli piano, per favore. — Please speak slowly.
Ripeta, per favore. — Please repeat.
The early parts of the conversation are fairly predictable. You’ll most probably be asked what your name is, where you’re from and the kind of work you do. Here are some phrases that you need to practice as well as listen for.
Come ti chiami? — What’s your name?
Literally, you’re being asked what you call yourself or what other people call you—to which you answer:
Mi chiamo, ___. — My name is ____.
Piacere di conoscerti. — Nice to meet you.
Give this compliment to every individual you meet on your trip.
Another question you’ll probably be asked is:
Come va? — How are you?
You can also say, “Come sta?”
If you’re doing well, respond with a “bene” (fine) or “molto bene” (very well). Don’t forget your “grazie” and say, “Molto bene, grazie.” (I’m fine, thank you.)
If you’re so-so, you can say, “Così così.”
Dove abiti? — Where do you live?
Native speakers the world over are always interested in their guests—their nationality, where they come from, where they live. These questions during small talk signify genuine interest from the other person. Have a ready answer through sentences like:
Abito a London. — I live in London.
Sono di Chicago. — I’m from Chicago.
Sono americano. — I’m American.
The conversation could go a million different ways from there, but one question that would most probably be asked is:
Che lavoro fai? — What’s your job?
You can say, “Sono dottore.” (I’m a doctor.) But only if you’re really a doctor.
Think of “sono” as the equivalent of the English phrase “I am,” and you can pretty much use it for things and facts pertaining to yourself like:
Sono sposato. — I’m married.
Sono stanco. — I’m tired.
Asking for directions
No matter how long you prepare for your trip—poring over guidebooks and plotting every twist and turn of your precious few days—there’s really nothing like being in the middle of a city like Florence, for example, and feeling like you might as well be in Buenos Aires.
Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself asking for directions.
Travel tip: To get better directions, ask somebody who’s not headed somewhere himself/herself. Remember, although you might be on your vacation, living the dream, it’s just another day for them. They have errands to do and places to go as well. So if you want to involve a native speaker, someone idly sitting at an outdoor café might be a better target than a harried mother anxious to get home.
This type conversation starts with you approaching the other person with a “Mi scusi,” asking your question, then hearing the directions to your destination.
Here are some phrases that could help you navigate this conversation:
Dove? — Where?
Dov’è il museo? — Where is the museum?
Other places in Italian:
Il teatro —Theater
Il supermercato — Supermarket
La stazione — Train station
L’aeroporto — Airport
L’ospedale — Hospital
La stazione di polizia — Police station
Il parco — Park
Il centro — Town center
Ask your question and you’re done. Now, listen for the directions. They talk really fast and you may have to use “Parli piano, per favore” (Please speak slowly) and “Ripeta, per favore” (Please repeat) to get the gist of the directions.
Be on the lookout for these phrases:
Si gira a destra — Turn right
Si gira a sinistra — Turn left
Si va diritto — Go straight ahead
Si va in quella direzione — Go that way
Si va indietro — Go back
Vicino — Near
Lontano — Far
If you hear “Lontano” from the other person, that may mean your destination is not walking distance and you should consider getting a cab.
Travel tip: Know the exact names of your destination. Don’t just ask where the nearest train station is. Instead of just asking about a train station, ask for the “Stazione di Santa Maria Novella” (Santa Maria Novella Station). That would make it easier for you, as well as for the person you’re asking. So in the planning stage of your trip, as you develop your itinerary, get the exact names of the places, streets, museums, beaches that you want to hit.
And, if you do find yourself in a cab, tell the driver to pull over with this line:
Fermi qui, per favore. — Please stop here.
Vocabulary you need for your shopping trip
Shopaholics! You’ll be forgiven for forgetting the words “destra” (right) or “sinistra” (left), but you should never ever forget the words and phrases in this section.
The beauty of travel is that you could be totally lost one second, not knowing where to go, then out of the corner of your eye a shop bursting with trinkets and baubles suddenly appears. In that fateful moment, you realize you’re exactly where you needed to be.
The opening number of this intricate dance is when the owner or one of the shop’s attendants comes to you and says any of the following:
Cerca qualcosa? — What would you like?
Posso aiutarla?/Mi dica? — Can I help you?
Cosa sta cercando? — What are you looking for?
Don’t take the bait. Play it cool. Say:
Posso guardare? — May I just look?
Spend a few minutes looking closely at the items. But don’t touch. Look slightly disinterested, even if in your heart of hearts, you’re already wondering how everything will fit in the small luggage you managed to bring. (You blame yourself for packing light.)
When you’re ready, point to the item and say something like:
Quanto mi fa pagare? — How much do you want for this?
Quanto costa? — How much?
When the proprietor reveals the price, no matter the figure they give you, respond with a:
È troppo caro! — That’s too expensive!
Mi fa uno sconto? — Can you give me a discount?
They’ll try to look annoyed. They’re really not. Don’t take it personally. They’re just playing their role in the whole drama. If they don’t budge, say:
Fammi un prezzaccio! — C’mon, give me a good deal!
When the price, at long last, does come down, you can finally say:
Lo compro! — I’ll take it!
Never were more beautiful words ever spoken.
If they’re a veteran, they’ll ask you:
Altro? — Anything else?
Find it in your heart to say:
Nient’altro, grazie. — Nothing else, thank you.
Bid your new friend goodbye and move on to the store next to theirs. (Try to finish the whole block before dinner.)
Phrases you’ll need when eating out
You’ve probably dreamt of Italian food even before you finalized those travel dates. Italy is a land of good food and wine, and it would be the tragedy of all tragedies if the wait staff continued to bring you the wrong order just because they thought you meant something else.
If you don’t have a place in mind, start with asking a local, “Dove si mangia bene?” (Where is a good restaurant?)
Generally, a restaurant near touristy areas is more expensive and less authentic. Get off the beaten path and go to a restaurant where the locals eat.
Quanti? — How many?
This is one of the first questions a greeter will ask you. He’s asking how many people are in your group.
Once seated, the waiter could ask, “Che facciamo?” (What do you want us to make?). This is a friendly way of asking for your order.
After getting your food, take your time and enjoy your meal. In Italy, when you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar, you pay a different price for the grub. So you might as well take your sweet time.
The Italians eat in this order: “antipasto” (appetizers), “primo” (main course), “secondo” (second course), “contorno” (side dish), “insalata” (salad), “il dolce” (dessert). But you don’t have to follow this. Simply pick your fancy.
To order, you can say:
Posso ordinare _____? — Can I order the [menu item]?
Your waiter may not be the sensitive and fawning type that you’re used to in America. You might even think he’s not paying you enough attention. Don’t take this personally, just patiently wait for your order. It’ll be worth the wait.
Da bere? — Drinks?
Your waiter will inquire about the liquid situation. What do you want to drink? You can have “un bicchiere di vino rosso” (a glass of red wine) or “un bicchiere di vino bianco” (a glass of white wine). Don’t forget “grazie” and “per favore” and you might just get lavished with extra “pane e coperto” (bread).
For those who want their steak absolutely just the way they like it, here’s how you let the house know:
Preferisco la bistecca [al sangue/cotta al punto giusto/ben cotta]. — I like my steak [rare/medium/well-done].
Un altro, per favore. — Another one, please.
È delizioso. — It’s delicious.
Whether it’s another bottle of wine for your group or another round of their free bread, say it like you mean it.
Il conto, per favore. — The check, please.
They won’t give you the bill until you ask for it, so it’s better to have this phrase ready. You don’t want to have to do the universal sign language to ask for the check when you’re doing so good with your Italian.
By the way, you’re not required to leave a tip in Italy. Of course, nobody would stop you from doing so, but just know that it’s not expected.
Vocabulary for emergency situations
Vacations are days when you have a minimum amount of control. They’re unpredictable in both good and not so good ways. A day may turn out to be more awesome than imagined, but it can also go south faster than you could say, “Oddio!” (Oh my God!)
Uncertainty. That’s just the last thing you need when you’re in a foreign country and have no friend or relative to hold your hand.
Be ready to ask for help. Italians are always ready to extend guests a helping hand, but you have to let them know what’s wrong and how they can assist you.
Aiuto! — Help!
C’è stato un incidente. — There’s been an accident.
Dov’è il bagno? — Where’s the bathroom?
Yes, you’ll have this emergency in Italy. Especially if you don’t space your bathroom breaks regularly or if you’re the type who only goes to the restroom when it’s absolutely necessary.
Fingers crossed that you don’t need to use “Dov’è il bagno?” with the previous one, “C’è stato un incidente.”
Because it’s very difficult to have a good vacation after that.
Chiamate un’ambulanza! — Call an ambulance!
One of the most common emergencies abroad is medical in nature. Be it heat exhaustion, food that doesn’t agree with you or just the stresses of international travel that ails your body or that of a loved one. Remember “Chiamate un’ ambulanza!”
Other important medical emergency-related words are:
Ospedale — Hospital
Farmacia — Pharmacy
Danno — Injury
Dolore — Pain
You can also ask for first aid by saying:
Chiamate il pronto soccorso, per favore! — Call for first aid, please!
For medical emergencies, Italy’s equivalent of 911 is 118.
So instead of screaming, “Call 911!” you say, “Chiama Uno, Uno, Otto!” (Call 1-1-8!)
Chiamate la polizia! — Call the police!
Another common emergency is a tourist-related petty crime.
Ladro! — Thief!
Sono stato assalito. — I’ve been mugged.
These two would be good to know. But rather than memorizing them, it would be much better to know how to stay safe in any foreign country.
The number for the Italian police is 112.
Ho perso il mio passaporto. — I lost my passport.
Losing your passport is one of the worst things that can happen during a vacation. But besides knowing what to say, you should also know what to actually do when you lose your passport abroad.
Mi sono perso. — I’m lost.
Dov’è l’ambasciata americana? — Where is the American embassy?
They’re there for a reason. And your emergency situation is definitely one of them. So run to your embassy when something goes extremely awry. It’s better to be overprepared so have your embassy’s address and contacts ready, even before you get to Italy.
There you go! You’re now set for that Italian adventure. Hope you enjoy your vacation because you definitely deserve it!
Take lots of pictures, and send me some!
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