Eating Well, but Cheaply in Italy

Fine Dining Italian Style – Tips for Travelers on a Budget

While the pound is battling against the Euro, affordable travel in Italy may seem an elusive goal. But you can dine on fine local food without breaking the budget.

With the pound at a low after Brexit, it’s time to think seriously about money-saving strategies, and one place where travelers can usually save without missing out on wonderful experiences is in the cost of dining out in Italy. Here are a few tricks and tips for low-cost dining:

Choosing Restaurants Wisely

  • When looking for restaurants, avoid the heavily touristed streets and look in the neighborhoods where locals live and work. The farther from a popular attraction, the more likely the street will be to have local food at local prices. The added benefit is finding authentic dishes that are typical of the region, not the same old “Italian” dishes that foreigners expect and ask for everywhere. There is a lot more than spaghetti, and the place to find it is where the locals dine.
  • Don’t be afraid of eating places without English menus. Travelers will be welcomed and if necessary, the waiter will use pantomime or show the actual foods so those who don’t read Italian can make a selection. Restaurants in Italy post a menu with prices, so you can get an idea of the range before entering, even without being able to read the names of dishes.

Looking for Lunch in Italy

  • For lunch, look for a tavola calda. They serve hearty cafeteria-style meals where each dish is visible to customers, who ask for a serving of the ones they want. Prices are designed for locals. Many travelers do as locals do, and make this their main meal.
  • Another lunch strategy, especially for those who like to make full use of daylight hours and don’t want to spend a long time over lunch, is to eat in a café or bar instead of a restaurant. These usually serve sandwiches or delicious alternatives, such as bruschetta (normally a plateful in Italy, instead of a few little tidbits).

Dining Out in the Evening

  • In the evening, do as the locals do and eat a lighter meal, ordering just a pasta course or an appetizer. These are usually ample, especially after a larger meal at midday. Consider ordering two appetizers instead of a main course; it is perfectly acceptable to ask a waiter how big servings are, and if he indicates that they are large, this could avoid wasting food – or overeating.
  • Order vino de tavola – table wine – instead of a bottle. These are usually good local wines, often from small vineyards whose product never makes it beyond local tables. If in doubt, ask to “prova” – sample a little bit first to see if it is good. This is perfectly acceptable, and if it isn’t up to par, order a bottle from the wine list instead.

For more not-to-be-missed Italian travel tips, visit