Italy


Overview

Italy travel guide, Italy tourism and travel information including facts, maps, culture, transport, weather in Italy, and popular places to visit

Since the days of the Roman Empire, Italy has been at the forefront of Western civilisation, a cultural powerhouse and energetic innovator. It's also stunningly beautiful, with the mountains of the Alps and the Dolomites to the north and the cones of Stromboli and Etna in the south - though the iconic images of the country are usually the rolling landscapes of its Tuscan heartland.

From the great Renaissance city states of the north to the rugged, sunblasted provinces in the south, it encompasses tiny, postcard-pretty villages, wild national parks and the 'eternal city', Rome.

Want beaches? Take your pick from over 9000km of coastline, with beaches ranging from the tiny coves of the Quinqueterre to the boulder-strewn white sands of Sardinia, lapped by turquoise waters.

Want mountains? As well as the Alps, there are the exceptionally beautiful sheer cliffs, glaciers and karst systems in the Dolomites and, running the length of the country like a spine, the Apennines.

Want culture? Italy has more Unesco-listed culture sites than any other nation.There are Roman ruins, majestic public buildings, domed churches and, of course, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Italy's ancient towns and cities are still thriving, lively places: see them at their animated best each evening, as the locals take to the streets in their finery for the daily passagiata.

And if wilderness is what you’re after, Italy’s got national parks aplenty, many of which you can hike through for days without seeing another soul. The most well-known – Abruzzo National Park – is a haven for nature-watchers with opportunities to spot bear, wolves and wild boar and a great place to explore.

As if this wasn't enough, it's backed by Italy's legendary cuisine. With the best food and drink in the world, this is one country that it's a pleasure to explore.

 Wanderlust recommends

  1. Go Forage. There's no shame in searching out wild plants in food-obsessed Italy. The locals will hunt for hours for seasonal berries, mushrooms and Italy’s white gold – truffles – in the woodlands of Tuscany, and even argue about which brand of mineral water will go best with it
  2. Study an Eruption. Volcanic Italy is the best place in Europe to see geothermal activity. Study rumbling Stromboli or Etna, and then witness the earth's power in the preserved city of Pompeii
  3. Spot Golden Eagles. Europe's largest raptor is often seen soaring, along with griffon vultures, above the ancient trails of Sicily’s Nebrodi Mountain Park
  4. Best by Bike. Italy’s chain of specialist cycle hotels, complete with maintenance workshops and overnight laundry facilities, mean the whole country is open to exploration by bike.
  5. Escape the Crowds. Avoid the high-season crowds in Tuscany by changing your itinerary: Le Marche, for instance, has charmingly crumbling hilltop citadels - and they're almost all deserted  
  6. Meet the Dead. The Capuchin catacombs at Palermo have a gruesome appeal: the walls are lined with bodies, still wearing their funeral best, dating back over the centuries
  7. Go to Ground. Explore underground chapels, altars and frescos and stay in a cave hotel in the little-visited region of Basilicata
  8. Visit Venice. Walkable Venice is one of those places you just have to see. Wander at will then catch a vaporetto back to your hotel: inexpensive and unforgettable

Wanderlust tips

If you’re planning to visit a church make sure you dress respectfully. This means no shorts for men or women. Shoulders should be covered. You may be asked to leave the building during services if you are not taking part in them. If you are allowed to stay, keep voices lowered and avoid flash photography.

I wish I'd known...

Holly Gurr on the one thing she wished she'd known on her arrival:  

"Italians like to drive fast. Very fast. Both pedestrians and car-hirers need to take extra care as roads can be both hair-raising and heavy with traffic."

Susie Maggie Thorne adds her tips on visiting Italy:

"Service charge is usually automatically added into your bill but there's also something called a 'coperto' which is an extra charge on top of your bill and tip for using sit in services. It charges for the tablecloth and silverware etc and can be quite hefty. In touristy areas restaurants will usually advertise if they don't use this charge; make sure you ask to avoid nasty surprises."

"Many historical points of interest are also religious areas so you won't be allowed entry if you're not covered up. Bare legs and shoulders are the usual offenders and while forgetful travellers can buy scarves in the street, they can be quite pricey."

"Siestas actually happen! Even busy centres like Verona and Milan get a little sleepier in the early afternoon as shops shut for lunch. Most restaurants and bars will stay open but don't be surprised to see retail outlets closed for a couple of hours."

Daisy Cropper suggests what you need to know before travelling to Italy:

"Travelling without a ticket on the train would land me a €20. Don't board a train without one. And make sure you get it validated – this can also lead to a fine."

"Wild camping is tolerated by farmers. The first night of our trip to Tuscany was in a really horrible campsite (like something from a horror movie), second a beautiful, isolated field. Just camp somewhere you won't be spotted from the road."

Further Reading

Travel in Italy: Vital statistics

 

  • Capital of Italy: Rome
  • Population of Italy: 60 million
  • Languages in Italy: Italian  
  • Time in Italy: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from April – October)
  • International dialling code in Italy: +39
  • Voltage in Italy: 220 AC 50 Hz
  • Visas for Italy: Visas for Italy
  • Money in Italy: Euro (€). Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are widely accepted. Tipping taxi drivers is not common practice but tipping is expected in hotels and restaurants.
  • Italy travel advice: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Italy tourism board: Italy

     

    When to go to Italy

    Most of the country has a Mediterranean climate – hot summers and mild winters. But for travel here you also want to bear in mind the crowds. Avoid July and August when prices and the number of tourists soar along with the temperature.

    April to June are the best months to visit in terms of weather.

    For those who don’t mind the cold, winter is the best time to see the cities crowd-free. In the North and mountain areas, winters are as cold as Northern Europe and of course, this is high season for winter sports in the Italian Alps.

    You might also want to time your visit to coincide with a festival: not a month goes by without one. In February, the most extravagant Carnival festivities are held in Venice and Viareggio, but many other Italian towns put on lavish displays. Good Friday is celebrated with religious processions throughout Italy, the most colourful of which are in the south. May sees a month-long truffle festival in Alba. Verona’s opera season begins in June and Siena’s famous palio (a bareback horse race dating back to medieval times) is held in July and August.

    International airports

    Rome Fiumicino (FCO), 26km from the city; Bologna (BLQ), 6km; Genoa (GOA), 6km; Milan Malpensa (MXP), 45km; Milan Linate (LIN), 10km; Naples (NAP), 7km; Pisa (PSA) 2km; Palermo (PMO), 30km; Turin (TRN), 30km; Venice (VCE), 10km.

    Getting around in Italy

    By air: Internal flights are coming down in cost and there are some good deals to be had on flights to the islands. Domestic operators include Air One , Alitalia and Meridiana .

    By boat: For a comprehensive guide to all ferry services in Italy see Traghettionline  in Italian. Or for an English website, try the booking agent Viamare.

    By train: Italy has a comprehensive rail network throughout the country, ranging from the Regionale, which stops at every station to the super fast Eurostar Alta Velocità, which connects the major Northern cities. Book your train journeys in advance at Trenitalia  to save on the fare. Make sure you validate your ticket - stamp it with the special machines provided on the platform. Claiming ignorance as a foreign visitor won't always spare you the hefty on the spot fine.

     

    By road: Buses in Italy are operated by numerous companies. They are no always cheaper than the trains but are invaluable if you are trying to reach small towns and villages.

    Outside the main holiday season it can be a pleasure to drive as provincial roads are lined with some of Italy’s most beautiful scenery. Don't expect to loiter: Italians drive fast and are rarely patient. If you’re in a rush, use the toll roads. To avoid lengthy queues as you leave the autostrada, buy a prepaid card. These come in denominations of €25, €50 and €75, are on sale in most banks and can be used throughout Italy.

    On the islands, in the mountains and in the cities it is usually possible to rent a bike and this can be a great way to explore winding and often pedestrianised streets.

    Italy accommodation

    Accommodation in Italy is reliable, if expensive. In the main tourist destinations – Rome, Florence, Venice – it is advisable to book ahead, during the periods from Easter to late September and over Christmas and the New Year.

    Agriturismo, accommodation on working farms, is an increasingly popular option. This ranges from the very basic, (sorry, charmingly rustic), to luxury locations with swimming pools. For information on agriturismo throughout Italy, see Agriturist.

    It is also possible to stay in some of Italy’s many monasteries and convents – though some are single sex and take only pilgrims or those on a spiritual retreat.

    If you’re planning on hiking, check out the network work of 500 rifugi (mountain huts) run by the Club Alpino Italiano. These are spartan but in magnificent settings.

    Italy food & drink

    Food in Italy varies dramatically from region to region but what unites all Italians is their great obsession with it.

    Lunch is the main meal of the day. This traditional consists of antipasti (cold meats, breads, cheese and tapenades), followed by primo piatti (normally a pasta – and don’t think because this is a starter you’ll get less than main course-sized portions), secondo piatti (the main course – meat or fish accompanied by vegetables) and finally fruit or dolci (desserts).

    Vegetarians will find plenty of tasty treats but should watch out for misleading dish descriptions. Many Italians throw in a bit of prosciutto or anchovies into sauces without a second thought.

    The best way to eat in Italy is to sample local products. The focus in Sicily is on seafood. Piedmont has many creamy French-style dishes, while cuisine in the Tyrol region has a considerable Austrian influence.

    Emilia-Romagna is the gastronomic heart of Italy – home to Parma ham, parmesan and balsamic vinegar – and Napoli can lay claim to inventing pizza.

    Truffle-lovers should head to Umbria, while olive aficionados will be happiest in Liguria where the olives are small, dark and nature’s work of art.

    All this great food should of course be washed down with a local wine and the meal finished off with Italy’s great-quality coffees.

    Health & safety in Italy

    There are few major health hazards. Tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease can occur in rural and forest areas, so use insect repellent and remove ticks promptly and carefully. Minimise the possibility of viper bites by wearing boots, socks and long trousers when walking through undergrowth where snakes might be present. Antivenin is widely available in libraries, which is probably where you'll have to go to look up which snake bit you.

    Good healthcare is readily available throughout Italy. EU citizens should carry a European Health Insurance Card to access free hospital treatment. Tap water is safe to drink throughout the country.

    Pickpockets and bag-snatchers are found in most cities. Avoid flashing valuables when out and about and don’t leave them on view in your rental car. Take care when crossing the street as Italian drivers are notorious for not stopping – even at pedestrian crossings.