3 Things You Didn't Know You Needed to Know about Italian Apartment Buildings

Whether you are new in town or just haven’t been to visit a friend or family member living in Italy yet, you might be in for a few surprises when you show up to their apartment building for a visit or a meal. You might find that you keep trying to visit them on the wrong floor for instance. Or you might find that, once you finally find the right floor, there are no identifying features to tell you which apartment is theirs!

Here are three things Americans need to know when visiting (or moving into) an Italian apartment building, starting with why you need to know them.


1. There are a LOT of apartment buildings in Italy

A typical Italian apartment building.
Image credit: Pixabay.com

In America, there are certain cities where it seems like everyone lives in an apartment. But when you look at the country as a whole, seven out of every ten people live in a single family home (and eight out of every ten would prefer it). In Italy, the data skews in the opposite direction. A whopping 50 percent of Italians live in an apartment, making it much more likely that a person you’d be visiting would live in an apartment than a house.

Italy’s apartment buildings are (in my humble opinion) usually prettier than the ones I’ve seen in America, with bright, colorful exteriors, and almost all of them have balconies and terraces. Obviously there are many Italians (like my husband) who would still prefer to live in a place with more grass and space to plant flowers, but Italy is a bit crowded these days and in order to fit everyone into the cities, apartment living has become the norm.

So, to make a long story short, if a friend invites you over to their “house,” don’t be surprised if that “house” is actually an “apartment building!”


2. The first floor is not the first floor

You won't see this button layout in an Italian building!
Image credit: Unsplash.com

This is something my husband and I have argued about for months, and is the one thing we will never agree upon. In America, the ground floor and the first floor are the same floor: it is the first floor you come to on a house, building, etc.

In Italy and the rest of Europe, however, the first floor you come to is called pianoterra, the ground floor, and what we think of as the second floor is called the first floor (primo piano). So, for instance, if your friend says they live on the first floor of their apartment building and you go right in the door and expect to find their apartment without taking any stairs to the upper floor, you won’t find them.

Instead, think of the ground floor as floor 0, the next one up as 1, the next one up as 2, etc. The key to remembering, I have found, is to start counting with zero instead of one, even if this is hard for us Americans to wrap our heads around.


3. You probably won’t see any apartment numbers on the door

Again, you probably won't see a number like this in Italy! (Although the weathered look is all the rage in some places).
Image credit: Unsplash.com

In America, if you live in an apartment and are giving someone your address, you will most likely give them the address of the building, and then something like “apartment 26” or “apartment 2B.” In Italy, as far as I have seen, there is no such designation.

Every apartment resident has their own mailbox with their name on it and a clearly labeled doorbell so that you can buzz them and talk to them, but there are no actual numbers on any of the individual apartments inside. (I brought this up with my husband, and he seemed to think it was weird that someone might need a number to find the apartment they were looking for… even if all the doors inside look almost exactly the same).

Anyway, the only thing you can do is ring the bell and ask for directions, or have your friend come down and bring you to their apartment themselves. You usually can’t get into the building without a key to the gate anyway, but if you were ever able to, you might be wandering around forever, knocking on doors trying to find your host!

Is there anything that you found surprising about apartments in Italy? Is there anything else we need to know about them? Tell us in the comments!

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