Don’t just do as the Romans do.
Talk like them, too.
The different lifestyle, culture and, of course, language can get a bit overwhelming when you’re visiting a new country.
Sometimes you might feel tempted to hang out in the tourist-friendly spots and revert to speaking your native language.
But if you’ve got a dream holiday planned for Italy, you’ll get the most out of your trip by learning how to see, explore and speak like the locals do.
From ordering regional cuisine to bargaining at the market to simply giving an appropriate “hello,” memorizing the phrases that Italian natives use will help transform your trip from a tourist vacation to a real travel experience.
Below, we’ve collected dozens of useful Italian phrases for a variety of situations you’ll encounter during your stay in Italy, including some local lingo that you wouldn’t find in a textbook.
Just start with the following phrases and in no time you’ll be navigating the city, ordering the best wine and enjoying your trip to the fullest!
Why Learn These Italian Phrases Before Going to Italy?
Learning some Italian before your plane lands will help you get the most out of your visit, for several reasons:
- The Italians you encounter won’t necessarily speak English. This probably isn’t a surprise, but for those that don’t know it yet, many people in Italy don’t speak English. You’ll probably find some people that do, but in many cases their English won’t be that good. Learning some useful phrases beforehand will help you communicate once you arrive and get a more immersive Italian experience.
If you find yourself having difficulty explaining something in Italian you can say: Mi scusi, ma non parlo bene l’italiano. (I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Italian that well).
- You’ll have an easier time navigating Italy and Italian life. If you make an effort and learn some basic Italian phrases or sign up for an Italian language course, it’ll be very easy for you to get around and you’ll avoid getting lost while looking for somebody that speaks English.
Plus, it’s definitely more fun to be able to order un bicchiere di vino rosso (a glass of red wine) in restaurants in Italian!
- You’ll be treated like family. You’ll likely find that Italy is a friendly nation and many Italians just love it when someone speaks their language, even if it’s only 50 words. They’ll be really happy and they’ll always be ready to help you improve your language skills. If you don’t understand them, don’t be scared to ask them to repeat: Non ho capito, può ripetere? (I didn’t understand, can you repeat?).
The Most Useful Italian Phrases Every Traveler Should Learn
Here’s our list of essential Italian phrases, organized thematically for different situations that you’ll encounter on your trip.
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Learn All the Italian Greetings
If you want to be 100 percent sure that you’ll make a good first impression when you’re in Italy, a good start is definitely the greetings! You probably already know the famous ciao and arrivederci (don’t worry if not—we’ll cover those below) but learning a few more won’t hurt!
Greetings are important in Italian culture:
For the Italian people, greetings are very important. Normally when they meet, they’ll say buongiorno to one another, and if they’re friends or family they’ll give a kiss on both cheeks. The first impression is very important for them, so make sure to always greet them!
How to say hello and goodbye in Italian:
Ciao — Hi and bye
You’ve probably already heard the word ciao, but here are some useful tips when using it.
First of all, ciao can be used as both “hi” and as “bye.” Second of all, ciao is a very informal way of greeting, so if you want to greet a friend, you can use it. But if you find yourself in a more formal situation, it’s always best to use some of the more “formal” greetings that we’ll cover below.
Buongiorno — Hello and good morning
When you enter a shop, a restaurant or you see your host in the morning at breakfast, you should use the word buongiorno, which means both “hello” and “good morning.”
Salve — Hello
Salve is the more formal way of saying “hello.” When you meet somebody for the first time, it’s more respectful to say salve than a simple ciao.
Buonasera — Hello and good evening
Don’t be surprised if you hear Italians saying buonasera already around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. It’s their way of saying hello in the afternoon/evening and it also means “good evening.”
Arrivederci — Goodbye
When you want to say goodbye in a more formal way, you can use the word arrivederci. For example, you wouldn’t say arrivederci to your friend (to him or her you’d say ciao) but you could say it to the taxi driver or to the shop assistant.
Una buona giornata — Have a good day
If you really want to make a good first impression when you leave, say, a restaurant, you can wish your waiter “a good day” by saying una buona giornata!
Buona serata — Have a good/nice evening [to be used when you’re leaving]
When you leave the restaurant after an amazing dinner you can wish a good evening in Italian using buona serata. Note buona serata is different from buonasera, which is used as a way of greeting people when you see them for the first time (like a hello). Buona serata is used when people are leaving and they want to wish “a nice evening.”
A presto — See you soon
When talking to someone that you think you’ll see again someday, it’s always a good idea to add a presto to your goodbye.
A dopo — See you later
A dopo, by contrast, is something you can say to your friends if you have any intentions of seeing them later in the day.
Must-know Italian Phrases for Shopping Addicts
Do you like shopping? Well, who doesn’t?! If you plan to do some shopping in Italy, make sure to learn some useful phrases and words that’ll help you make the best choice!
Shopping in Italy is a must:
Okay, you’ve already made some plans for sightseeing while in Italy and maybe you’ve found some cool places for dinner and drinks, but did you add shopping to your itinerary? If haven’t done it yet, make sure you leave some free time for it. Italy is the country of fashion and you can find some good quality items over there. Just make sure it says “made in Italy” on the label.
Where to go for shopping in Italy?
You shouldn’t miss the so-called local markets. In Italy a market is called a mercato and there you can find really nice clothes, bags, accessories and more at a good price.
Get shopping with these useful phrases:
Mi scusi, quanto costa? — Excuse me, how much does it cost?
If you’re shopping at the local mercato, it’s very likely that some of the prices might be missing. If you can’t see a price you can ask the salesperson, Mi scusi, quanto costa? Just make sure you’ve learned your Italian numbers beforehand, in order to avoid further confusion!
To be even more specific, you can say Non riesco a vedere il prezzo, quanto viene? (I can’t see the price, how much is it?).
Posso pagare con la carta? — Can I pay with a card?
It’s always best to have cash with you when you’re in Italy, because a lot of places don’t accept cards—especially in the small cities. However, in most cases, the big brands will have no problem accepting your credit card. If you’re not sure whether you can pay with a card, just ask!
Another way to ask this is Accettate carte di credito? (Do you accept credit cards?).
Dove sono i camerini? — Where are the changing rooms?
Some stores, especially in the big cities, might get busy and you might not be able to find the changing rooms. In those cases, the best solution is to ask Dove sono i camerini?
You can also use the phrase Dove posso provare questo? (Where can I try this?).
C’è uno sconto? — Is there a discount?
Before you pay, always ask if there’s any discount if you’re not sure!
Feeling bold? You could even ask for a discount by saying Mi può fare uno sconto? (Can you give me a discount?).
Essential Phrases for Dining at Restaurants
You probably can’t wait to go to a beautiful restaurant in Italy and order a glass of red wine and some amazing pasta dish, but don’t forget to learn a few phrases that’ll help you order the best stuff!
Some useful tips for dining out in Italy:
If you intend to enjoy the real Italian cuisine, try not to go to the so-called “touristy” restaurants, because those are the worst. You’ll find them normally very close to the main tourist attractions and you’ll see a lot of foreign people eating there.
Food is very important for the Italian people and there are lots of great places that you can go to. How to find the good places? Just look around—very often they’re small hidden restaurants with only a couple of things on the menu and only Italian people visiting them.
In those places, you’ll definitely use some Italian, since almost no tourists go there and the staff won’t be used to talking in English.
What’s il bar in Italian?
Before we get to the phrases below, here’s a language quirk that’s very important to understand. Il bar in Italian doesn’t refer to a bar, like a place where you can go for a drink with your best friend. Il bar is the place where Italians drink their coffee and where you can go for an espresso or for breakfast.
Learn how to order the best pasta while in Italy, using these Italian phrases:
Posso prenotare un tavolo per due? — Can I book a table for two?
If you want to go to a nice restaurant and try high-quality Italian food, it’s always best to book a table. Italians frequently go out for dinner, so if you don’t book a table you might not be able to eat where you want.
Another phrase to try out is Siamo in due, possiamo prenotare? (We are two, can we book?).
Possiamo ordinare? — Can we order?
When you’ve made your choice and are ready to order, just call your waiter and ask him or her, Possiamo ordinare?
Siamo pronti e vorremmo ordinare. (We are ready and we would like to order.) is another phrase you can use.
Voglio ordinare una bottiglia di vino rosso, quale mi suggerisce? — I want to order a bottle of red wine, which one would you recommend?
Wine is a must in Italy. If you’re not familiar with the Italian wines, don’t be afraid and ask for help using the phrase above.
C’è una specialità locale? — Is there a speciality of the area?
Every region in Italy has different speciality and it’s always a good idea to ask the waiters if there is any.
Vorrei ordinare un dolce. — I would like to order a dessert.
Don’t skip the dolci. A tiramisù is never a bad choice!
Possiamo avere il conto, per favore? — Can we please have the bill?
When you’re ready to pay, simply ask your waiter for the bill. Just don’t be surprised when you see the coperto (cover fee) on it. It’s an added fee per-person and it’s usually somewhere around two or three Euros.
Don’t Get Lost! Learn How to Ask for Directions in Italian
Italy is full of lovely small streets and if you want to experience the real Italian “lifestyle,” you shouldn’t miss those hidden places. But there’s something to consider… be really careful not to get lost, as it can be a bit difficult to find someone that can help you out in English.
Or you could just learn how to ask for directions in Italian!
These are the must-know Italian phrases if you don’t want to get lost:
A destra — To the right
A sinistra — To the left
Mi scusi, per andare in centro? — Excuse me, how can we go to the center?
Scusi, dove posso trovare la fermata dell’autobus? — Sorry, where can I find the bus stop?
Dove si trova la stazione del treno? — Where is the train station?
At some point you’ll probably have to take the train in Italy. Please remember to always validate your ticket before going on the train.
Dove posso comprare i biglietti per l’autobus? — Where can I buy tickets for the bus?
You can’t buy bus tickets when you’re already on the bus, so you’ll need take care of that before you board. You can buy the tickets from the station or from the tabaccheria (tobacco store or the tiny shops that sell cigarettes and bus tickets!).
Italian Phrases You Won’t Find in Your Textbook
Here’s a little bonus for you as you’re teaching yourself Italian—10 great Italian phrases that you’ll probably hear very often, but won’t be able to find in your textbook or dictionary.
10 phrases that only native speakers use:
Sono incazzato/a nero — I’m really mad/pissed off
This phrase is often used and if you hear somebody saying that, it means that he or she is very mad. For example:
Ho perso il mio cellulare, sono incazzato nero! — I lost my cell phone and I’m really mad!
Oggi c’è lo sciopero dei treni, non riesco ad andare al lavoro e sono incazzata nera! — There’s a train strike today, I can’t go to work and I’m pissed off!
Prendere in giro — To make fun of
Another very common Italian expression that’s used when people make fun of each other.
In quattro gatti — Only a few people
This literally means “with four cats,” and it’s used to describe situations where there are only a few people or almost nobody.
Me ne frega — I don’t care/I couldn’t care less
This is probably one of the most used Italian expressions!
In bocca al lupo — Good luck
This expression can be literally translated as “In the mouth of a wolf,” but it’s used to wish good luck.
Sono solo come un cane — I’m a loner/ lonely
People use this phrase when they want to say that they’re very lonely, and it literally means “I’m alone as a god.”
Ogni morte di papa — Hardly ever/almost never happens
Its literal translation would be “when the Pope dies.” You can use it when you’re talking about something that happens very rarely or almost never.
Non vedo l’ora — I can’t wait
This expression is also very common. People use it when they’re excited and can’t wait for something to happen.
Che palle — What a pain
This expression literally means “what balls.” It’s another phrase that Italians use when they want to complain about something.
E’ un ricco sfondato — He’s very rich
If you’re talking about someone who’s extremely rich, this is the phrase that you should use if you want to sound like a native!
When you learn all these phrases you’ll be ready for your big adventure! And if you just can’t get enough, start learning these 117 Italian travel phrases!
Buon viaggio! (Have a good trip!)
Mariya is an Italian language teacher with a passion (or rather, an addiction) for coffee and Italian culture. She is the founder of MyLanguage and she creates personalized lesson plans for people who feel the same way about the language and teaches private online lessons.
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