Booking hotels in Italy

Always reserve at least the first night's room—especially if you’re arriving on a weekend—but reconsider that tactic booking the room for the whole first week

Should you book all your hotels ahead of time to be sure you get exactly what you (think) you want? Or should you wing it and wait to find a place to stay until you actually roll into town.

Both. Neither. (I know: I'm a big help; it'll all make sense shortly.) Below is my advice, but first ponder this: Until you're actually in the room, you won't know whether it's got a view of Sr. Peter's...or of the sewage processing plant across the street.

To reserve or not to reserve, that is the question

There are three types of travelers, and for each I have different advice:

  • Type one: You're happiest making an itinerary and sticking to it, and you want to be sure you get the absolute perfect room every night.

    Advice: Go ahead and book rooms for the entire trip now. Seriously. You'll feel better for it.
  • A major caveat
    Look into whether your plans happen to land you in a town on a festival day, in which case you're probably in for the highlight of your trip, but should reserve rooms immediately, from your home country, as far in advance as possible. Same goes for trade fairs (not the trip highlight bit, but definitely the advice about booking ahead).
    Type two: You prefer to play it loose and go with the flow. You have a plan but not a set itinerary, and want to be free to chuck the plans out the window in order to stick around a favorite town longer (or cut out once you realize you're bored), hang out an extra day or two to catch a festival, or just follow that cute guy/girl you just met wherever he/she is going.

    Advice: Don't book too many hotels ahead of time. It will cramp your style and make you wistful for all the missed opportunities of spontaneity (and possibly trip you up with possible bad choices). However, I do recommend that you at least reserve the first night(s), then wing it from there. I'd also book a room for the last night as well, because I know that when I'm pulling into Rome (or wherever) on the final day of a long, tiring trip and know I still have to repack everything for the flight the next day and get up way too early to get to the airport, the last thing I want to have to do is hunt for a hotel.
  • Type three: You're like most people and fall somewhere between the first two types. You truly want to explore, but are also nervous about leaving too much to chance. You have a planned itinerary, but are willing to alter it if some great opportunity comes along (or you discover that the bits of Italy you are truly enjoying are not the bits you expected).

    Advice: Again, reserve at least your first and last nights, plus hotels for any time you plan to spend in the major cities (Rome, Florence, Venice), since the great, cheap, central places sell out fast in those towns. However, give yourself some leeway and leave things open for the rest of your trip, those days you plan to spend exploring Tuscany or Sicily, or hitting the less famous cities. I find peace of mind calling ahead (or booking online) from one city to the next a day or two in advance, but have rarely had any trouble simply searching out a room by phone from the train station upon arrival. (More on all this in the "Hotel Hunting Tips" section.)

The booking procedure

You have four choices when booking:

  1. Using a booking engine (or aggregator)
  2. Using the hotels' websites
  3. Calling the hotel in person
  4. Showing up at the reception desk (in which case you're definitely a "Type two" person).

The first two methods are pretty straightforward: you book online, get a confirmation email, print that out, and bring it along as your receipt/proof of reservation.

Even if you call for a reservation, many hotels these days require you to send an email (some still insist on a fax) with the dates you intend to arrive and leave, how many people, and a credit card number (this protects them from no-shows). All this is a fine procedure, since your copy of the email or fax gives you a printed receipt of sorts to prove you've booked a room (booking errors do crop up from time to time).

That said, some smaller, cheaper hotels won't reserve far in advance for fewer than three nights. This is to protect them from cancellations, and no assurance on your part seems to change their policy. They'll hold a room only if you call from the train station and tell them you're physically on your way.

A note on writing dates, Italian style

Hotel touts
In most cities—Rome especially—as soon as you step off the train or boat hotel touts will swarm you in a feeding frenzy. Some are legitimately drumming up business, others are out to fleece you. Make sure they point to the exact location of their hotel on a map, and get the price set firmly in writing before you go off with them—and never pay in advance. Look at the photos they show you, but remember that a fisheye lens in the room's upper corner and a sneaky collage of the inn's best furnishings all in one room can make a dismal cell look like a palatial suite (well, almost). There's a lot that can go wrong with a hotel room—and a lot that the photos on the Web site won't tell you—so I play it safe by playing by ear. Sure, sometimes I have to scramble a bit to find a room, but I rarely get suckered into settling for a hellhole that's been paid for in advance.
When e-mailing or faxing for a hotel room, don't write down the dates in number format (11/6/17).

Why? Well, while in the USA that would be read as "November 6, 2017" in Italy it'd be "June 11, 2017" because they—like the rest of the world (we're the oddballs)—put the day first, then the month, then the year.

(Actually, if you think about it, the European way makes more sense, as the units go in ascending order: first the shortest—the day—then the month, then the year.)

At any rate, to avoid confusion, just write it out "6 November 2017."

Also, Italian hotels like to define a stay by the arrival date and the day you actually check out, not the last night of your stay. In other words, if the last night you intend to sleep there is Nov. 8, they'll think of you as "departing Nov. 9," so saying you want to stay from Nov. 6 to 8 might end up in only two nights' booking, not three.

I always write both the arrival and departure dates followed by the number of night total in parentheses, again just so there's no confusion: "Arrive: 6 November 2017. Depart: 9 November 2017. (Stay: 3 nights)."

Booking Engines

My favorite booking engines (all, delightfully, now ReidsItaly.com partners) are:

  • HostelWorld (www.hostelworld.com) - Yes, its the premier independent booking site for hostels, but it also includes cheap hotels, campgrounds, and other budget options ignored by virtually every other search engine out there.

I've also begun posting my own hotel picks in every price category for Italy's major cities—a time-consuming task, but at least I've got Rome, Florence, and Venice largely finished.


Those are just the most popular places. To see a full list of hotels in cities, hill towns, ski resorts, beaches, islands, and countryside accommodations all across Italy, click on the map below:

Map of hotels in Italy

An aggregator

HotelsCombined.com - Brings together the results of several booking engines so you can compare side-by-side.

Tips & links

Lodging links & resources
Useful Italian
Useful Italian phrases and terms for lodging

English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra
...an apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
     
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah

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