Ben Hall wanders away from the magnificent monuments to unearth some true Italian culture.
WHAT Cheap eats and drinks in local cafes and bars.
HOW MUCH From €1.20 ($2.10) to €6.
WHY GO Bars and cafes perform a vital function in the daily lives of Italians. This is where they meet, chat, people-watch, eat and drink often all at once.
Once you've seen the sights and monuments in the city or town you're in, entering a local bar or cafe offers a fascinating and important insight into Italian culture. It also opens up an authentic and fun culinary world that is easy on the wallet, even with the euro's scary exchange rate.
In truth, the difference between bars and cafes is blurred as they both serve alcohol and have their own personality and type of customer.
Some are more geared towards workers, with coffee and snacks for breakfast and lunch, and go quiet later in the day, while others are the opposite, with more of a late-afternoon-evening vibe, a younger crowd and a closing time of 3am.
Generally, you get a good idea of what you're in for when you step inside and the worst thing that can happen is you spend €0.90 on a good espresso while checking out the joint.
What they nearly all have in common, though, is a good selection of snack food and light meals that are inexpensive.
This is where Italians go for a quick lunch or to spend large parts of their day sipping a drink and grazing.
From a tramezzino, or small multi-level sandwich for about €1.20, to freshly made salads for €5 and daily pasta specials for €6, the bars and cafes are a great place to eat real Italian food on the cheap while taking in the local culture.
Drinks vary in price, depending on your preference, and apart from the ubiquitous espresso shot, mineral water will cost anything from €1 to €2 and a good wine is fairly inexpensive.
A house red or white vino rosso or vino bianco can cost just €2, while a really good one, like a Valpolicella Riserva, can be €4.
Most places are generous and pour to the top of the glass. Comparatively, beer is fairly pricey at about €4 or €5 for a "birra media" of 400 millilitres.
Restaurants, or ristoranti, are generally more upmarket and therefore more expensive. In the more touristy areas such as Florence, Pisa, Venice and parts of Rome, horror stories abound of final bills that cost hundreds of euros for average food.
Trattorie are more humble and traditional eateries with basic Italian fare but again these can be a bit of a trap in the popular areas.
The best way to find the most authentic bars and cafes is to head down the quieter streets and literally follow the locals.
That's not to say the bars and cafes on the main squares should be avoided they're often a fun way to take in the Italian atmosphere with a drink it's just that they will often be more expensive.
Watch what the locals do in this situation; on a nice day they're usually sitting on a bench or the steps of a church and taking in the atmosphere with a ready-made salad or sandwich from a nearby supermarket. These can range in price from €2 to €5, depending on their quality.
Be aware that in some places, such as Venice, this type of "picnicking" is frowned upon in the busier tourist areas and you may be asked to move on.
FREE STUFF Some of the popular bars and cafes offer free sandwiches and pasta during a happy hour early in the evening as the Italians enjoy their pre-dinner aperitivi. As long as you buy a drink and don't do a "Homer Simpson" at the self-serve bar, this can be a fun and cheap way to have a light dinner.
BONUS Being part of a genuine cultural experience and the opportunity to gain some inside knowledge from locals, who are often willing to share their secrets with those who venture into their world.
OTHER OPTIONS Pizzerias generally sell nothing but pizza and their takeaway slices can cost €2. An osteria is a little like a trattoria but is more geared towards drinking. An enoteca is a wine bar that also has some food, mostly as snacks.