Italy travel advice – hidden costs, ‘coperta’ explained and the best cheap eats

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If you’re hoping to head to glorious Italy soon you’re likely looking forward to tucking into all of the indulgent and totally delicious food.

The warm weather in much of Europe’s boot means that the produce grown is full of flavour and blushing tomatoes and sweet fruit make the dishes taste divine.

However, as a travel journalist I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Italy – and the cost of food quickly becomes your biggest expense.

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Especially when you can bag flights for £50, trains around the country for under £20 and bus tickets for £1…

Plus, Italian culture means things are often done differently there and so you may end up paying more that you expected your bill would come to.

I’ve rounded up three ways that make meals in Italy cost more than they need to be – and my favourite cheap eats for keeping costs down.

1. Coperta

This is a charge that is added to your bill every time you sit down to eat in a restaurant.

As Brits, you may be surprised when you see an additional two to four euros added to the check per person – but, you’re not being scammed.

Coperta is essentially a charge for taking up the seat, using the linens and all the other bits and pieces you use while at the eatery.

Tourists and locals alike must pay coperta, but feel free to check the cost before sitting down if you’re in a large party and walk away if it’s more than five euros per person – even in Rome.

You can avoid coperta by eating at casual spots with tall tables and no seats or taking your food to go and sitting on the beach or steps nearby.

2. Coffee – bar or table

Italy’s coffee is world famous, rich and delicious.

When ordering a coffee you’ll usually be given a small espresso as is the norm in most of the country.

If you want a long, Americano coffee ask for a cafe lungo.

If you want an iced coffee, ask for cafe Freddy or try the incredibly thick and tasty cafe crema.

The reason coffee is included in this list is that there are actually two prices for the same drink depending on how you enjoy your beverage.

If you stand at the counter to sip your drink you’ll likely be charged a cheaper price of between on to two euros for a basic espresso.

Whereas if you sit down at a table this price is likely to double and can even reach four euros depending on where you are.

So, if you’re trying to save money make sure you stay standing!

3. Service charges and tipping

Tipping, like in the UK is not required in Italy like it is in the Unites States – but it is appreciated.

Often the staff will present your bill and let you know if a tip or service charge has already been added or not to make sure you don’t double up.

But, if the waiter won’t hand you your check properly and asks for a tip make sure you get the receipt from them. It may be that there's already a service charge but they want a tip too…

This isn’t common practice in Italy, but is something to be aware of when you’re trying to save money while travelling.

The best cheap eats to save money around Italy

Arancini, suppli and frittatina

Across Italy, each region has its own take on fried, hand held foods such as the Sicilian arancini, the Roman suppli and the Neapolitan frittatina.

Arancini is a delicious ball of saucy rice that's cooked around a centre of mozzarella, beef and peas while suppli is similar but without the meat.

My favourite is the frittatina – essentially a creamy, carbonara style long pasta fried into a ball.

Particularly delicious versions of the frittatina and arancini can be found at Pizzaria di Matteo in Naples where they cost just one to two euros a piece and make for a filling meal.

Suppli can be found in Rome for around three euros which is much cheaper than many other sandwiches or lunchtime meals.

Takeaway pasta and pizza

Pasta isn't expensive in most Italian cities ranging in price from around six euros to twenty euros if you want fancy seafood on your plate.

But, once you add on drinks, coperta, tips and snacks (that you may be charged for) it costs a lot more for a meal than expected.

Luckily there are takeaway pasta options available like Pastifico Guerra which is near Rome's Spanish steps – they open at 1pm and offer two dishes to choose from at €4.50 for a generous pot.

Meanwhile an entire pizza at Pizzeria Marino in Naples costs just €5 for the whole thing to take away.


Much like our fish and chips, cuoppo shops serve a variety of fried foods served in a paper or newspaper cup.

These traditional Naples snacks include a variety of seafood and shellfish including fried anchovies, white bait, crab claws, squid and prawns.

But, you can also get cups entirely filled with fried vegetables or arancini, squash blossoms or even just chips.

You can get Cuoppo from around €3 a cup at places like Il Cuoppo in Naples or Basilico Italia in Sorrento.


This menu item is on almost every cafe, bakery and lunch spot's roster – and at first it may seem like plain toast we would eat in the UK.

But, for around €3 "toast" actually means a simple ham and cheese toasted sandwich.

That makes it a super cheap breakfast or lunch option for those who are happy to snap it up at the counter and eat it on the go.

It's cheaper than most pastries and while very basic is great for tourists wanting to eat without shelling out for a full breakfast order.

While "toast" isn't a mind-blowing cheap eat it is low cost, quick and great for fussy eaters.


We all know that Italy is famous for its creamy ice cream, but we'd recommend skipping restaurant desserts and opting for a scoop on the way home or to the bar.

You can get a tub of gelato for around €2-3 meaning its half the price of a similar pud in a seated eatery.

And, the flavours can be magical from melon and blueberry to dark chocolate, rice, Biscoff and even avocado.


Trattorias are restaurants which usually have a smaller seating capacity and are less formal than the usual tourist hot spots.

They're often family run or have a small staff – so if you want to make sure you can get a seat try eating at around 7.30pm rather than 8.30pm.

Menus typically feature regional favourites and tasty classics like pasta and pizza.

At a trattoria off the beaten path dishes can cost as little as €6-7 so you won't break the bank.

La Trattoria de Peppino in Naples serves an incredible gnocci alla sorrentina with plenty of cheese and a tomato-based sauce for just €6 and seafood lovers will enjoy their fritture prawns and squid for €10.

Most trattoria still charge coperto, but it's usually around €2 each and they make up for it with cheap wine that comes by the glass as well as by the quarter, half and full bottle.


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