Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Italy travel guide - Travel S helper

Italy

travel guide

Italy, formally the Italian Republic , is a country situated in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. The country has an area of 301,338 km2 with a predominantly temperate seasonal climate or Mediterranean climate, and due to its shape, is often referred as lo Stivale (the boot). It is the EU’s 3rd most populated nation, with 61 million people.

Since antiquity, the Phoenicians and Greeks, the Etruscans and Celts have inhabited the southern, central and northern parts of the Italian peninsula respectively. Various Italian populations are scattered throughout Italy, alongside other ancient Italian tribes and Greek, Carthaginian and Phoenician colonies. A tribe of Italians, also known as the Latins, established the Roman Empire, which would eventually spread across the whole of Italy, absorbing and conquering a number of other neighbouring civilisations and eventually forming the Roman Republic. Rome eventually became the dominant power, conquering much of the ancient world and becoming the main cultural, political and religious centre of Western civilisation. The legacy of the Roman Empire is widespread and can be seen in the worldwide spread of civil law, republican governments, Christianity and Latin script.

In the Middle Ages, Italy suffered socio-political collapse under devastating barbarian invasions, but in the 11th century many rival city-states and maritime republics enjoyed great prosperity through shipping, trade and banking, even laying the foundations for capitalism. These independent city-states and regional republics, which functioned as the main point of entry into Europe for goods imported from Asia and the Middle East, often enjoyed a greater degree of democracy than the monarchies and feudal states then found throughout Europe, although much of central Italy remained under the control of the theocratic papal states, while southern Italy remained largely feudal, partly due to the succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Spanish and Bourbon conquests in the region.

Renaissance started in Italy then spread throughout the rest of Europe. It gave rise to a renewed interest in humanism, science, research and the arts and marked the beginning of the modern era. During this period, Italian culture blossomed, producing well-known scholars, artists as well as famous polymaths including Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Italian explorers including the famous Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni da Verrazzano have discovered a number of new routes into the Far East and New World and have contributed in bringing Europe into the era of new discoveries. Nevertheless, Italy’s importance as a centre of commercial and political power diminished considerably with the opening of the New World trade routes, as New World imports and trade routes became very influential in Europe and bypassed the East Asian and Mediterranean trade routes which had predominated in many Italian city-states. These tensions and violent rivalries culminated in the Italian wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a series of foreign wars and invasions that left Italian states vulnerable to annexation by neighbouring European powers.

In the mid-nineteenth century, an emerging movement in support of Italian nationalism and Italy’s independence from foreign control led to a period of revolutionary political upheaval known as the Risorgimento, which aimed to revive Italy’s cultural and economic prominence through the liberation and consolidation of peninsular and island Italy into an independent and unified nation-state. After several unsuccessful attempts, the Italian Wars of Independence, the Expedition of the Thousand and the capture of Rome finally led to the unification of the country which, after centuries of foreign domination and political division, had become a great power.

From the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, the new kingdom of Italy rapidly industrialised, particularly in the industrial triangle known as Milan, Turin and Genoa to the north, and quickly acquired a small colonial empire. The southern regions of the country, however, remained largely impoverished and excluded from industrialisation, giving rise to a large and influential diaspora. Although Italy was one of the main victors in the First World War, it fell into an economic crisis and social unrest that led to the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in 1922. Its subsequent participation in World War II alongside the Axis powers resulted in military defeat, economic destruction and civil war as a result of the rise of the Italian resistance movement. In the years that followed, Italy abolished the Italian monarchy, restored democracy, experienced a prolonged economic boom and became one of the most developed nations in the world despite periods of socio-political unrest (e.g. Anni di piombo, Mani pulite, Second Mafia War and the Maxi Trials).

The economy of Italy is the 3rd largest in the Eurozone and the 8th largest in the world. The country has a high level of human development and the highest life expectancy of the EU. At the same time, the country plays a major role in regional and global economic, military, cultural and diplomatic matters, which makes it both a regional and a world power.Reflecting its enormous cultural wealth, Italy is home to 51 World Heritage sites, the largest number in the world, and is one of the most visited countries.

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Italy - Info Card

Population

58,983,000

Currency

Euro (€) (EUR)

Time zone

UTC+1 (CET)

Area

301,230 km2 (116,310 sq mi)

Calling code

+39

Official language

Italian

Italy | Introduction

Weather & Climate in Italy

Due to the large size of the peninsula and the largely mountainous inland conformation, the climate in Italy is very diverse. In most of the northern and central interior regions, the climate ranges from humid subtropical to humid continental and oceanic. The climate in the geographical area of the Po Valley is mostly continental, where the winters are cold and the summers hot.

In Liguria, Tuscany and the majority of the south, coastal areas comply in general with the stereotype of the Mediterranean climate. Conditions in the coastal areas of the peninsula can be very different from those in the high altitudes and valleys of the interior, especially during the winter months when the high altitudes are cold, humid and often snowy. Coastal areas have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although the valleys of the plains can become quite warm in summer. Temperatures in winter typically range from 0 °C (32 °F) in the Alps and up to 12 °C (54 °F) in Sicily, while average temperatures in summer are between 20 °C to over 25 °C .

Geography of Italy

Italy is located in southern Europe, between 35° and 47° north latitude and 6° and 19° east longitude. To the north, Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, and is roughly bounded by the Alpine catchment area, which includes the Po Valley and the Venetian plain. To the south it consists of the entire Italian peninsula and the two Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, as well as many smaller islands. San Marino and the Vatican are sovereign states that are enclaves within Italy, while the Campione d’Italia is the Italian enclave inside Switzerland.

The total area of the country is 301,230 km², of which 294,020 km2 is land and 7,210 km2 is water. Italy, including the islands, has a 7,600 km long coastline and border on the Adriatic, Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, and shared borders with France, with Austria, with Slovenia  and with Switzerland. San Marino and the Vatican.

The country lies at the meeting point of the Eurasian and African plates, which leads to significant seismic and volcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, four of which are active: Etna (the traditional site of the Vulcan forge), Stromboli, Vulcano and Vesuvius. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in continental Europe and is best known for having destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Several islands and hills have been formed by volcanic activity, and there remains a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei, northwest of Naples.

Demographics of Italy

The population of Italy at the end of 2013 was 60,782,668. The resulting population density of 202 inhabitants per square kilometre (520/m²) is higher than that of most Western European countries. Nevertheless, its population distribution is highly uneven. The most densely populated areas are the Po valley (where almost half of the population lives) and the metropolitan areas of Rome and Naples, while large areas including the Alps and the Apennine highlands, as well as the Basilicata plateau and Sardinia are very sparsely populated.

Italy’s population almost doubled during the 20th century, but the pattern of growth has been extremely uneven, as there has been significant internal migration from the rural south to the industrial cities of the north, a phenomenon which was a consequence of the Italian economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s. High fertility and birth rates continued until the 1970s, after which they began to fall dramatically, leading to a rapid ageing of the population. At the end of the 2000s (decade), one in five Italians was over 65 years of age. However, in recent years, Italy has seen a significant increase in the birth rate. The total fertility rate has also risen from a historic low of 1.18 children per woman in 1995 to 1.41 in 2008.

From the end of the 19th century until the 1960s, Italy was a country of mass emigration. During the peak years of the Italian diaspora, the period between 1898 and 1914, approximately 750,000 Italians emigrated every year. The diaspora affected more than 25 million Italians and is considered to be the largest mass migration of modern times. As a result, today more than 4.1 million Italian citizens live abroad, while at least 60 million people of total or partial Italian origin live outside Italy.

Ethnic groups in Italy

In 2014 there were about 4.9 million foreigners living in Italy, about 8.1% of the total population. The figures include more than half a million children of foreign nationals born in Italy – second generation immigrants – but exclude foreigners who subsequently acquired Italian citizenship; this concerns about 130,000 people per year. The official figures also exclude illegal immigrants, estimated to number at least 670,000 in 2008.

From the early 1980s Italy, until then a linguistically and culturally homogenous society, began to attract significant flows of foreign immigrants. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and, more recently, following the EU enlargements of 2004 and 2007, large waves of migration emanated from the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe (notably Romania, Albania, Ukraine and Poland). An equally important source of immigration is neighbouring North Africa (in particular Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia), where the number of immigrants increased sharply following the Arab Spring. In addition, increasing migration flows from the Asia-Pacific region (particularly China and the Philippines) and Latin America have been recorded in recent years.

At present, about one million Romanian nationals (of which about one tenth are Roma) are officially registered in Italy, which is the largest individual country of origin, followed by Albanians and Moroccans with about 500,000 people each. Although it is difficult to calculate exactly the number of unregistered Romanians, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network estimated in 2007 that the figure is likely to be half a million people or more. Overall, the foreign-born Italian population at the end of the 2000s (decade) came from : Europe (54%), Africa (22%), Asia (16%), America (8%) and Oceania (0.06%). The distribution of immigrants is largely unequal in Italy: 87% of immigrants live in the north and centre of the country (the most economically developed regions), while only 13% live in the southern half of the peninsula.

Religion in Italy

The largest religion in the country has been Roman Catholicism by far, despite the fact that Catholicism is no longer officially the state religion. According to the 2010 census, 81.2% of Italians identified themselves as Roman Catholics.

The Holy See, the episcopal jurisdiction in Rome, contains the central government of the entire Roman Catholic Church, including various bodies important for its administration. Often wrongly called the “Vatican”, the Holy See is not the same entity as the Vatican City State, which was only created in 1929; the Holy See dates back to the time of the first Christians. Ambassadors are officially accredited to the “Holy See” rather than to the Vatican City State, and papal representatives to states and international organisations are recognised as representatives of the Holy See.

Minority Christian religions in Italy include the Eastern Orthodox, Waldensians and other Protestant communities. In 2011, approximately 1.5 million Orthodox Christians are estimated to live in Italy, which is 2.5% of the country’s population, while 500 000 Pentecostals and Evangelicals,235. 685 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 30,000 Waldensians, 25,000 Seventh-day Adventists, 22,000 Latter-day Saints, 15,000 Baptists (plus about 5,000 free Baptists), 7,000 Lutherans, 4,000 Methodists.

One of the oldest religious minorities in Italy is Judaism, as Jews existed in ancient Rome before the birth of Christ. For centuries, Italy has been home to Jews who were expelled from other countries, notably Spain. However, as a result of the Holocaust, about 20% of Italian Jews lost their lives, which, combined with emigration before and after World War II, left Italy with a small community of about 28,400 Jews.

The increase in immigration over the last two decades has been accompanied by an increase in non-Christian religions. In 2010 there were 1.6 million Muslims in Italy, 2.6% of the population. In addition, there are more than 200,000 followers of religions originating from the Indian subcontinent, including about 70,000 Sikhs with 22 gurdwaras throughout the country, 70,000 Hindus and 50,000 Buddhists. In 2005, there were an estimated 4,900 Baha’is in Italy.

In order to protect religious freedom, the Italian state allocates shares of income tax to recognised religious communities under a regime called “eight per thousand” (Otto per mille). Donations to Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu communities are allowed; however, Islam remains excluded as no Muslim community has yet signed a concordat with the Italian State. Taxpayers who do not wish to fund religion pay their share into the state welfare system.

Language in Italy

Italian (italiano) is the language originally spoken by most Italians. Each region of Italy has a distinct Romance language in addition to Italian, which may or may not be the native language of the inhabitants, depending on the region: in regions such as Rome or Milan, Italian is now mainly spoken with a slight local influence, while in rural areas the local language is more common; however, people are generally bilingual. Although Italians refer to their mother tongues as “dialects”, in practice they are languages in their own right, a bit like Chinese languages; they have their own spelling and do not always belong to the same language family as Italian.

A good phrase book will be very useful if you are going to a remote place, while in most big cities you will find many people who understand English, Spanish or French. But even in these areas, Italians will be happy if you try to speak Italian or the local language and will try to understand you even if you make many mistakes. If you want your mistakes corrected so that you learn the language better, remember to ask before you start a conversation. Some Italians will not correct you out of politeness. They also appreciate your efforts to speak their language, even if you do it badly, and will not take too much offence at your mistakes.

English is spoken at different levels in busy tourist areas where it can be used by traders and tour operators. If you want to speak in English, try talking in Italian and ask the person if they understand English before continuing.

In South Tyrol, the majority of inhabitants also have Austro-Bavarian, a dialect of German, as their mother tongue (except in the provincial capital of Bolzano), and German (spoken by almost all Austro-Bavarian speakers) is an official language of the autonomous province, along with Italian (these regions were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War).

The Romance languages Spanish, French and Portuguese are not as widely spoken, but as they are very similar to Italian, many will recognise certain words and make themselves understood. In the north-western region (Valle d’Aosta) there are French-speaking and Franco-Provençal minorities. Italian sounds a bit like Spanish. So if you speak Spanish, the locals will usually have no problem confusing you, and you should also find it easy to get by in Italian.

In the northern part of Italy, there are small clusters of other Romance languages such as Ladin, a Romansh language related to Romansh in Switzerland. Friulano, another Rhaeto-Romance language, is still spoken by a small minority in the province bordering Slovenia. In the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia there are several small areas with Greek-speaking communities, and in Puglia, Calabria and Sicily there are an estimated 100,000 Albanian speakers – some of whom emigrated in the Middle Ages and therefore speak the language Arberesh, which has a more medieval sound. Some regions have additional official languages: German in South Tyrol, Slovenian in Friuli Venezia Giulia and French in Valle d’Aosta.

Slovene is the mother tongue in parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, along with Italian, and is widely spoken in villages near the Slovenian border and in Trieste. In almost all cases, Slovenian speakers also speak Italian.

Internet & Communications in Italy

Access to the Internet

WiFi

By law, all public internet access points must record the websites visited by customers, and even the customer’s ID: Expect to be denied access if you cannot provide ID. Hotels providing internet access are not required to record IDs if the connection is provided in the guest’s room, but if the connection is provided in the main public lobby, then IDs are required.

Publicly accessible wireless access without user identification is illegal. Open Wi-Fi hotspots (e.g. those you would expect to find in a shopping centre or café) all have some form of registration (usually unique).

Some activities on the internet are illegal. Apart from the obvious cases (child pornography, trafficking in illegal products such as drugs and weapons), copyright infringement is technically illegal, even if no profit is made. However, enforcement of copyright laws against P2P users is lax, and warning letters from providers are unheard of, unless you use a university’s WiFi. Some websites (mainly related to online gambling and copyrighted material) have been blocked in Italy following court decisions.

Mobile

The mobile market in Italy developed long before that of the United States or other countries (as early as 1993), so reception is guaranteed throughout the country, even off the coast, in the highest mountains and in the smallest villages. 3G or HDSPA internet connections are available from all major Italian operators. Be careful though, internet packages are generally much more expensive than in other European countries.

In addition, contracts often contain inconspicuous usage limits, such as a package advertised as 3 GB per month but with a daily limit of 100 MB.

Traders often do not mention these restrictions and are often themselves unaware that they exist, so it is advisable to check on the supplier’s website.

Also remember that internet tariffs generally only include connectivity if they are covered by a specific operator. When roaming, internet costs can be very high. The coverage of the main operators is very extensive, but it would be advisable to check whether your operator covers your area.

Phone

Landline and mobile phone systems are available throughout Italy.

Landline telephone numbers used to have separate area codes (prefixes) and local numbers. In the 1990s, the numbers were unified and today, when you call an Italian phone, you must always dial the full number. For example, numbers for Rome start with 06, even if you are calling from Rome. All landline numbers start with 0. Mobile phone numbers start with 3. Numbers that start with 89 are high-priced services. If you don’t know someone’s phone number, you can dial various recently established phone services, the most common are 1240, 892424, 892892, but most of them have high rates.

To call abroad from Italy, dial 00 country code area code. The syntax of the local part depends on the country called.

To call Italy from abroad, dial the international dialling code 39 + the area code. Note that when calling an Italian landline, unlike calls to most countries, you do not have to skip the initial zero of the local part.

In case of emergency, call the appropriate number from the list below. These calls are usually free of charge. Calls to 112, 113, 115, 118 can be made free of charge from public telephones without inserting coins. 112 (the standard emergency number in the GSM specification) can be dialled free of charge from any mobile phone (even if your credit is empty or if you are in an area covered by another operator).

  • Emergency number 112 Carabinieri – general emergency
  • 113 Police emergency number – general emergency
  • 114 Blue Phone – emergency number for children (especially in case of various forms of violence)
  • 115 Fire brigade emergency number
  • 117 Guardia di Finanza – for customs, trade and tax matters
  • 118 Emergency health number – use this number if you need an ambulance, otherwise ask for the number of the local Guardia Medica who will send a doctor to you.
  • 1515 State Forestry Department
  • 1518 Traffic information
  • 1530 Coast Guard
  • 803116 A.C.I. (Italian Automobile Club)This service provides assistance in case of car breakdown (if you have a rental car, call the number given there). This is a service offered to ACI subscribers or other automobile clubs associated with ARC Europe. If you are not affiliated with any of them, you will have to pay a fee (about 80 euros).

Always carry a piece of paper with the address and number of your embassy.

If you are in an emergency situation and do not know who to call, dial 112 or 113 (outside major cities it is better to dial 113 for English-speaking operators).

There are no more phone boxes in Italy, mobile phones have long since disappeared and there are only a few of them left in train stations and airports. Moreover, some of these payphones only work with coins, some with phone cards and only a few with coins and phone cards. Only a limited number of payphones (at larger airports) accept credit cards directly. Many companies change their customer service numbers to a flat rate number (area code 199). The local rate applies to these numbers, regardless of where they are called from.

According to national regulations, hotels are not allowed to charge extra for calls made from the hotel (as the operator service must already be included in the room rate), but to be sure, you should ask beforehand.

Calls between fixed lines are charged at the local rate or the national rate, depending on the area code of the originating and destination zones; if both are the same, the call is charged at the local rate. Note that local calls are not free of charge.

Mobile

Italians use mobile phones a lot, though not excessively. The main networks are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia, formerly state-controlled), Vodafone, Wind and 3 (UMTS mobile phones only).

The best thing to do is to buy a prepaid SIM card (from 10 euros) and a cheap mobile phone (from 19 euros) to put it in (if you don’t already have a mobile phone you can use). This is much more convenient.

Mobile phones from Korea, Japan and North America do not work in Italy unless they are tri-band.

Almost all of Italy is covered by GSM, GPRS and UMTS/HDSPA. To buy a SIM card, you need to show a valid ID, e.g. a passport or other official ID. If you do not already have one, you will also need to obtain a Fiscal Codice (tax identification number) – or the vendor can generate one for you from your ID. Subscription mobile phone accounts are subject to government tax, which prepaid SIM cards are not. Hotels sometimes have mobile phones that guests can borrow or rent.

The cost of calls varies greatly depending on time, location, point of departure and point of arrival. Each provider offers a complex range of tariffs and it is virtually impossible to make reliable cost estimates. The cost of calls differs significantly if you are calling a landline or mobile phone. Generally, there is also a difference in cost for incoming calls from abroad. If you have a choice, a call to a landline can be as much as 40% cheaper than a call to a mobile phone.

Post

If possible, wait until you leave Italy before sending postcards, greeting cards and other items to friends and family back home. Italian post is notoriously slow, expensive and unreliable. In towns close to the borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, it may be better to cross the border to send mail – postcards from Slovenia to the UK take just two days, compared to more than a week if sent across the border in Trieste, Italy.

The mailboxes are red and can be found very easily.

There are post offices in every town and most villages – look for the PT symbol. When you enter the post office, you usually have to pull a ticket and wait for your number to appear on the screen when it is your turn. There are different tickets for different services, but to post a parcel, look for the yellow icon with an envelope symbol. Most post offices close around 1 or 2 pm and only one central post office in most cities will reopen in the late afternoon.

Economy of Italy

With a mixed capitalistic economy, Italy is the 3rd largest economy in the eurozone and the 8th largest in the world. The country is a founding member of the G7, G8, the euro area, and the OECD

Italy is considered one of the most industrialized nations in the world and is a leader in world trade and exports. It is a highly developed country, ranking eighth in the world in terms of quality of life and twenty-fifth in the Human Development Index. The country is known for its creative and innovative economy, a large and competitive agricultural sector (Italy is the world’s largest wine producer), and influential and valuable automotive, mechanical, food, design, and fashion industries.

Italy is the sixth largest manufacturing country in the world and is characterized by a smaller number of multinationals than other economies of comparable size, as well as a large number of dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises, notoriously located in several industrial zones, which form the backbone of Italian industry. This has given rise to a manufacturing sector often focused on the export of niche and luxury products, which on the one hand is less able to compete quantitatively, but on the other hand, is better able to compete with China and other emerging Asian economies on the basis of lower labor costs with better quality products.

In 2009, it was the world’s 7th largest exporter. Italy’s closest trade relations are with other EU countries, with which it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Finally, tourism is one of the fastest-growing and most profitable sectors of the national economy: with 48.6 million international tourist arrivals and total receipts estimated at 45.5 billion dollars in 2014, Italy was the fifth most visited and sixth most profitable tourist country in the world.

Italy is part of the single European market, representing more than 500 million consumers. Several national trade policies are governed by agreements between members of the European Union (EU) and by European legislation. Italy adopted the common European currency, the euro, in 2002. It is a member of the euro area and represents around 330 million citizens. Monetary policy in Italy is determined by the European Central Bank.

Italy was hit very hard by the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the subsequent European sovereign debt crisis, which exacerbated the country’s structural problems. After strong GDP growth of 5-6 percent per annum from the 1950s to the early 1970s and a gradual slowdown in the 1980s and 1990s, the country virtually stagnated in the 2000s. Political efforts to revive growth through massive public spending eventually led to a sharp increase in public debt, which exceeded 135% of GDP in 2014, making it the second-highest in the EU after Greece (at 174%). Despite this, most of Italy’s public debt is held by domestic subjects, a big difference between Italy and Greece, and household debt is well below the OECD average.

A yawning North-South gap is a major factor of socio-economic weakness. This is reflected in the huge difference in statistical income between regions and municipalities in the north and south. The richest region, Lombardy, earns 127% of the national GDP per capita, while the poorest, Calabria, earns only 61%. The unemployment rate (11.9%) is slightly higher than the eurozone average, but it is 7.9% in the north and 20.2% in the south.

Entry Requirements For Italy

Visa & Passport for Italy

Italy is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between the countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most countries of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • Before boarding an international flight or ship, there is usually an identity check. Sometimes there are temporary checks at land borders.
  • Similarly, a visa issued for a member of the Schengen area is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.

Foreign military personnel entering Italy under a Status of Forces Agreement do not need a passport and are only required to present their valid military ID and deployment orders. However, their family members are not exempt from the visa requirement.

All non-EU, EEA or Swiss citizens staying in Italy for 90 days or less must declare their presence in Italy within 8 days of arrival. If your passport was stamped upon arrival in Italy, the stamp will be considered as such a declaration. Usually, a copy of the hotel registration is sufficient if you are staying in a hotel. Otherwise, however, you must go to a police station to fill in the form (dichiarazione di presenza). If you do not do this, you risk exclusion. Travellers staying longer than 90 days do not need to fill in this declaration but must have the appropriate visa and obtain a residence permit (permesso di soggiorno).

Minimum validity of travel documents

  • EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, as well as certain non-EU citizens who are exempt from the visa requirement (e.g. New Zealanders and Australians), only need to present a passport that is valid for the entire stay in Italy.
  • Other nationals who are subject to visa requirements (e.g. South Africans) and even some who are not (e.g. travellers from the United States) must have a passport valid for at least three months beyond the duration of their stay in Italy.
  • For more information, visit this website of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

How To Travel To Italy

Get In - By plane

The largest airports are served by the major European airlines. Intercontinental airlines mainly land in Rome and Milan, with Rome being the main international gateway to the country.

Most mid-range international flights arrive in the following Italian cities:

  • Rome – with two airports: Fiumicino (FCO – Leonardo da Vinci) and Ciampino (CIA) for low-cost airlines
  • Milan – with two airports: Malpensa (MXP) and Linate (LIN); in addition, Bergamo (BGY – Orio al Serio) is sometimes called “Milan Bergamo”.
  • Bologna (BLQ – Guglielmo Marconi)
  • Naples (PAN – Capodichino)
  • Pisa (PSA – Galileo Galilei)
  • Venice (VCE – Marco Polo); in addition, Treviso (TSF – Antonio Canova) is sometimes called “Venice Treviso”.
  • Turin (TRN – Sandro Pertini)
  • Catania (CTA – Vincenzo Bellini)
  • Bari (BIS – Palese)
  • Genoa (GOA – Cristoforo Colombo)

Major airlines in Italy

  • Alitalia (IATA: AZ), +39 892010. Italy’s national airline and national carrier. It is part of the SkyTeam alliance and also cooperates and code-shares with other airlines outside the alliance. Rome Fiumicino (IATA: FCO) is the main hub, while Milano Malpensa (IATA: MXP) plays secondary role.
  • Ryanair (IATA: FR), +39 899 55 25 89. Ten bases plus eleven other destinations in Italy.
  • easyjet (IATA: U2), +39 199 201 840. Two bases and many destinations in Italy.
  • Wizz Air (IATA: W6), +39 899 018 874. Connects some Italian airports with Eastern Europe.
  • Blu Express (IATA: BV), +39 06 98956677. Mainly focused on domestic routes, it connects Rome Fiumicino with some international destinations.
  • Meridiana Fly (IATA: IG), +39 89 29 28. Mainly operating in Sardinia, it offers seasonal flights to New York, London, Moscow, Tel Aviv and some other international destinations.

Get In - By train

  • From Austria via Vienna, Innsbruck and Villach
  • From France via Nice, Lyon and Paris
  • From Germany via Munich
  • From Spain via Barcelona
  • From Switzerland via Basel, Geneva and Zurich
  • From Slovenia via Ljubljana to Opicina, a small village above Trieste, or via Nova Gorica and a short walk to Gorizia, Italy.

If you are travelling to or from France on the Thello sleeper train, take a few minutes to buy sandwiches or other food before the journey.

Get In - By car

Italy has borders with France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. All borders are open (without passport and customs controls), but cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks. Switzerland is now part of the Schengen area and has stopped systematic checks on travellers at its land borders since December 2008.

Get In - By bus

With Eurolines. There are regular buses between Ljubljana, the Slovenian coastal towns and Istria (Croatia) and Trieste (Italy). These services are cheap and from Trieste there are many connections to the rest of Italy. There is also a bus service from Malmö, Sweden, via Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, crossing the country before returning to Sweden.

Megabus and Flixbus also serve Italy with national and international routes.

Get In - By boat

There are several ferries from Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most of them arrive in Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi.

There are regular ferry connections between the island of Corsica in France and Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia, Naples and the north of Sardinia. Barcelona is connected to Civitavecchia and Genoa.

Regular ferry services connect Sicily and Naples with some North African ports.

There is a hydrofoil service connecting Pozzallo, on the south-east coast of Sicily, with Malta.

There is a year-round connection between Trieste and Albania and summer connections between Trieste and Piran (Slovenia) and Porec and Rovinj in Croatian Istria. The connection between Trieste and Rovinj takes less than 2 hours, which is faster than the bus connection.

How To Travel Around Italy

Get Around - By train

Trains in Italy are generally of good quality, frequent but not always reliable.

The railway market in Italy has recently been opened to competition. On some high-speed lines, you can therefore choose between the “Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori” (private) and “Trenitalia” (state-owned). On all other lines, the state is the only player, with Trenitalia or a regional operator monopolising the local markets.

  • Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori, +39 060708. NTV’s “.Italo” train was launched on the Italian high-speed network in 2012. Since then, the service has been steadily expanded and currently serves Rome, Milan, Turin, Venice, Florence, Naples and other major cities. Although it does not position itself as a low-cost carrier (it focuses instead on offering a more luxurious service), its prices can be significantly lower than its competitors on certain routes and dates. Consult their website and Trenitalia’s website to choose the cheapest or most convenient option. Italians generally refer to NTV as “Italo”.
  • Trenitalia, +39 892021. Trenitalia operates a wide range of train types: High-speed trains (Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca), Intercity, regional trains (Regionali, Regionali Veloci) and international trains (Eurocity, Euronight).
    High-speed trains are efficient and very comfortable. They can travel at speeds of up to 360 km/h and stop only at major stations. They connect Rome with Turin, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Naples and other cities. They are also by far the most expensive trains. To travel on these trains, you have to pay a supplement to the standard ticket, which includes the reservation fee.
    Regional trains are the slowest, cheapest and most unreliable, stopping at all stations.
    Intercity trains are somewhere between high-speed and local trains. They are usually reliable, but if you have to catch a flight, for example, it is better to pay extra for high-speed trains.

On the timetables displayed in the individual stations, the individual trains are listed in different colours (blue, red, green). Arrival times are shown in brackets next to the name of the respective destination. Please note that some trains only run seasonally or at certain times (e.g. holidays).

Types of trains

On long-distance trains there is 1st and 2nd class. A 2nd class ticket costs about 80% of the price of a 1st class ticket. On high-speed trains, you can also choose between basic, standard and flexible tickets. The basic tickets are of course the cheapest. Seat reservation is mandatory on high-speed trains. This means that your seat is theoretically guaranteed, but also that you have to buy tickets in advance. In fact, many passengers with tickets for other trains who take the wrong train have to pay the cheap fine for not reserving their seat. Therefore, on the main lines or during rush hour, expect your seat to be occupied. In this case, simply show the ticket to get your seat.
During rush hours, on the main north-south routes during holidays or before and after major political demonstrations, the lower type trains can be extremely crowded, to the point that it becomes very uncomfortable. In this case, you might find yourself on a tiny flap in the corridor where you have to move for all the passers-by.

While between Milan and Naples (including Bologna, Florence and Rome) high-speed trains halve journey times, on other routes, such as between Rome and Genoa, Naples and Reggio Calabria, Venice and Trieste, high-speed trains run on the conventional route rather than on a dedicated high-speed line, with journey times barely shorter than those of intercity trains, which could be a waste of money. One only needs to consult the Trenitalia website or the printed timetable, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to find out how long the journey will take.

On long routes, such as Milan – Rome or Milan – Reggio di Calabria, Trenitalia operates special Intercity notte night trains. They depart around 10 pm and arrive in the morning. Depending on the train, you can choose between normal seats, sleeper cabins and sleeper cabins of different categories. The seats are the cheapest, but even the sleeper cabins are not overpriced and are a very relaxing way to travel long distances. Also remember that some trains are not equipped with air conditioning. So bring your own bottle of water in the hot summer months.

Get tickets

The queues to buy tickets can be very long and slow, so arrive at the station early. There are touch screen ticket machines which are very useful, efficient and multilingual, but there are never many of them and queues can be very long.

You can also buy tickets online on the Trenitalia website; you will receive a code (codice di prenotatione (PNR)) with which you can collect the ticket from a ticket machine in the station (“Self Service”). For some trains (but not all) you can also choose the “no ticket” option, where you print the ticket yourself. You can also choose the option to have a “voucher” printed on the train if you need it. By default, the page only shows the “best” (usually more expensive) connections – you can select “show all connections” to see if there are also slower but cheaper connections.

High-speed trains can be full, so if you are pressed for time, you should buy these tickets in advance. In general, you should buy tickets before you get on the train. Italian Railways recently (late 2007) launched a campaign against fare fraud and introduced higher fines (starting at €50). If you are really late and don’t have a ticket, it is probably best to speak directly to the conductor (il controllore or il capotreno) outside the train when you board.

Rules

Remember that you must validate the ticket before boarding most trains by stamping it in one of the white boxes (marked Convalida). Travelling with an unstamped ticket is technically the same as travelling without a ticket. It is very important that you do not forget to validate your ticket, as train conductors are generally not tolerant in this area. The exception is tickets that indicate the day and time of travel; as they are only valid for a specific train, they usually do not need to be validated.

The cheapest way to travel in an area is to buy an area card. A card displayed near the validation machine shows you how many zones you have to pay for between stations. To buy a zone card for the next region, you have to get off at the last station and board the next train due to the short stops (usually in about 1 hour).

Smoking in public places has been banned in Italy since 2005. Smoking on an Italian train is subject to a fine.

Offers

There are also special offers, some of which are reserved for foreign tourists and others are available for locals. Some offers are passes that allow you to travel for a selected period of time, while other special offers are regular tickets sold at low prices with certain restrictions. Before you decide to buy a pass, first check if it is cheaper than buying a regular ticket (or better a regular ticket at a reduced price, if available).

If you travel a lot, are not Italian and live in another EU country, you can buy a TRENITALIA PASS: you buy a number of travel days that you can use within two months, but you have to pay a supplement for the obligatory reservation services, i.e. TBiz, Eurostar Italia and Intercity, which varies from 5 to 25 euros depending on the type of train. Details can be found on the website, as well as on the RailChoice website.

Trenitalia‘s Ticketless option is only available when you book online or through an authorised travel agency, and only for high-speed and intercity trains. With the Ticketless solution, you can buy a ticket online, receive a PNR code by post and board the train directly. You can choose to receive a receipt by email or collect it on the train. On board, you have to give the driver your PNR code so that he can issue the receipt or confirm your presence on board if you have already received the receipt by e-mail.

Get Around - By plane

The advent of low-cost carriers has made domestic flights a viable option for almost everyone. If you book in advance, airline tickets for long journeys are often cheaper than train tickets. The main competitors in the domestic air travel market are Alitalia, Ryanair and Easyjet. Blue Express and Meridiana Fly follow them, with other smaller operators appearing and disappearing frequently.

Get Around - By car

Italy has a well-developed system of motorways (autostrade) in the north, while in the south the quality and extent is somewhat less good. Each motorway is identified by an A followed by a number on a green background. Most motorways are toll roads. Some have toll booths that give you access to an entire section (such as the tangenziali of Naples, Rome, and Milan), but generally, most have toll booths at the entrance and exit; on these motorways you must collect a ticket at the entrance and the amount of your toll is calculated at the exit according to the distance traveled. Tolls vary depending on the motorways and the sections; as a guide, you should expect to pay between €0.06 and €0.12 per kilometer. Do not lose your entry ticket, because if you do, you will be deemed to have entered the motorway at the station furthest from your exit and will be charged the maximum possible toll. All the blue lanes (marked “Viacard”) at the toll stations are vending machines that accept both major credit cards and prepaid cards (called Viacard), which are sold at petrol stations along the motorway or, for example, in several tobacconists in the city. If you have problems with the machine (e.g. your credit card cannot be read), press the “Assistenza” button and wait for an operator to help you – be prepared to pay your toll in cash if the problems persist. Do not reverse to change lanes, even if you can see others doing so, unless clearly requested to do so by staff or police; reversing at toll booths is equivalent to reversing on the motorway and carries a very heavy fine if you are caught doing so.

Many Italians use an electronic toll system and there are reserved lanes marked with the sign “Telepass” or simply with a “T” in yellow. Driving in these lanes (controlled by a camera system) without this device will result in a fine and the payment of the toll for the longest stretch. Due to agreements with other countries, as a foreigner you also have to pay a surcharge for localization in your country.

Speeding offences are much rarer today than in the past, due to much stricter enforcement in recent years. There are a number of automatic and almost invisible systems that penalize speeding and dangerous driving. In addition, the Italian Road Police (Polizia Stradale) operates several unmarked vehicles equipped with speed cameras and sophisticated camera systems. Since 2006, several sections of Italian motorways have been equipped with an automatic system called Tutor with automatic number plate recognition, which checks the average speed of all vehicles on a section of road. Coverage of this system is being extended to an increasing number of motorways. In some cases, traffic signs remind drivers of the presence of this system.

If virtually all vehicles around you seem to behave and scrupulously adhere to the speed limit or even slightly undercut it, it is a good indication that there is some kind of control system in place on that road. As a foreigner, it is best to remain cautious and respect the limits and rules at all times, even if crazy driving residents fool you into thinking that a certain speed limit or “no overtaking” sign is just a suggestion: from time to time these residents meet the police on their way.

The flashing of your headlights can be interpreted differently than you would like. Depending on the situation, the flashing may be interpreted either as a request to swerve or as a request to move forward. An oncoming vehicle flashing repeatedly may warn you of danger or a police car/checkpoint further down the road (although this practice is prohibited).

Unless other limits are specified, the general speed limits apply:

  • 130 km/h on motorways (autostrada) (110 km/h in rain) ;
  • 110 km/h on roads with pavements separated by slopes marked by blue signs at the entrances, called superstreet ;
  • General speed limit of 90 km/h on motorways and roads outside built-up areas ;
  • 50 km/h in an urban area – an urban area beginning with a white sign with the name of the city in black letters and ending with a similar sign crossed out in red.

Italian legislation allows a tolerance of 5% (minimum 5 km/h) for speed limits. Fines are usually very expensive. If you are caught speeding more than 40 km/h, you can expect a fine of more than 500 euros and an immediate driving ban of 1 to 3 months (you can reach the destination of your current journey). Non-resident drivers of foreign-registered vehicles must either pay their fine on the spot if they accept it, or pay a deposit on the spot if they intend to appeal later; in both cases, you will have to pay something immediately and the police will not hesitate to accompany you to the nearest ATM to withdraw the money you need. It is true that the probability of getting caught is not very high, but you really don’t want that to happen to you.

Since 2003, all vehicles outside built-up areas, i.e. also on motorways, must always drive with headlights on. Motorbikes must always and everywhere be driven with their headlights on.

The issue of drink-driving has received much attention in recent years following a number of fatal accidents. The tolerated limit is 0.50g/L in the blood; exceeding it is a criminal offence punishable by heavy fines, suspension of driving licence, imprisonment and, in the most serious cases, even immediate confiscation of one’s vehicle. The limit for drivers under 21 years of age or with less than 3 years of driving experience or for professional drivers is zero. Unfortunately, although controls are stricter than before, they are still insufficient and drink-driving is still a problem.

All passengers are required to wear seat belts and children under 10 must sit in the rear seats. Children under 12 must use either an approved car seat or booster seat, depending on their age.

At unmarked intersections, you must give way to any vehicle coming from the right. Be on your guard, because many Italians seem to ignore this rule and will insist that there is no right of way just because they are going straight or driving on what they think is the main road, even if the intersection is actually completely unmarked. This usually happens in big cities at night when the traffic lights are off at certain intersections. This is both confusing because you never know whether the intersecting road is marked or not, and dangerous because you can expect the vehicle coming from the left to let you through if it assumes you have a “give way” sign and proceeds like a bullet.

Be aware that many Italians don’t take road markings too seriously (some don’t even seem to notice that there are road markings…), which can be strange if you come from north of the Alps. On multi-lane roads, always watch out for vehicles from other lanes entering you on bends. Lane markings on multi-lane roundabouts are systematically ignored and virtually all drivers “cut” when going through the roundabout and again when leaving it, without signage of course. In Italy, there is some confusion about the correct behaviour at large roundabouts; you should be careful there and expect vehicles to enter, turn and exit at any time without signage, and never drive alongside other vehicles on a roundabout assuming that the others will respect the lane markings.

The road signs used in Italy are designed according to EU recommendations and mainly use pictograms (no text). Motorway signs are written on a green background, while general road signs (including signs for divided roads, superhighways with separated levels) are written on a blue background and urban or local road signs are written on a white background.

If you have a timetable, use the motorways – marked in green – when available and avoid using the general roads – marked in blue – for long journeys (except for the divided lane, segregated super road). Tolls on motorways can be quite expensive, but they can significantly reduce your travel time, while general roads can be annoyingly slow because they are heavily used by local traffic, can be clogged with trucks, have many roundabouts or traffic lights, and often pass through towns and villages with no bypass. On the other hand, general roads often offer stunning scenery and should be your first choice if you are not in a hurry and want to explore the true nature of the country.

Fuel prices are the same as in Western Europe and are significantly higher than in North America and Japan. As of 2012, prices will be around €1.80/l for petrol and €1.70/l for diesel. Most stations offer only one type of 95 octane petrol and one type of diesel; some other stations also offer premium petrol and/or premium diesel. At many petrol stations, there is a significant price difference between self-service and servito refuelling. The respective petrol pumps are marked accordingly when you enter the petrol station and you are expected to stop at the pump(s) depending on which service you want. If you stop at a pump that is serviced by a petrol pump attendant, simply wait and a petrol pump attendant will come out within seconds.

Traffic in Italy’s big cities is very heavy and finding a parking space can sometimes be a difficult, if not impossible, undertaking. It is therefore not advisable to drive in Italian big cities unless you really need to. In principle, in any big city, it is best to park your car in a park-and-ride facility or somewhere on the outskirts of town and use public transport, which is quite reliable and fairly cheap. Be very careful with traffic restricted zones (ZTLs). These are traffic restricted zones in many medium and large Italian cities, mainly but not only in the historic centres, where only registered vehicles are allowed. Entry into an LTZ is signalled by signs and cameras that easily go unnoticed by tourists driving. Every year, many tourists report that they have received a fine (about 100 euros) for entering an LTZ without knowing it. Tourists who rent a car end up with one or more tickets several months later at home, including an additional fee for the administrative formalities necessary to send the papers abroad. In addition, rental companies can charge 15 to 50 euros for giving the driver’s details to the police. Thus, entering these areas without permission can easily lead to a fine of more than 200 euros. If you have booked accommodation in a city centre and plan to drive there, you should check in advance whether it is in such a restricted area and whether you are entitled to a permit.

EU licences are automatically recognised. If you do not have an EU driving licence, you will need an international driving licence in addition to your national licence in order to drive. To get your driving licence officially recognised (adeguamento or tagliando di riconoscimento), you must pass a medical examination. If it is lost or stolen, you can request a duplicate from the Italian authorities.

In Italy, all motor vehicles must be insured for at least third party liability (assicurazione).

Get Around - By bus

Local

Buy tickets for city buses in corner shops, bus company offices or from vending machines before boarding (on some systems, tickets can also be bought onboard a vending machine). It is not usually possible to buy tickets from the bus driver. The payment system for most public transport in Italy (suburban trains, city buses, metro) is based on voluntary payment combined with a variable application. Tickets are purchased before boarding and validated at a machine in the vehicle; inspectors may enter the vehicle to check passengers’ tickets and impose fines on those who do not have a validated ticket. Bus company inspectors are usually recognizable by an item with the company logo. When issuing a fine notice, inspectors are allowed to look at your documents and must issue some kind of receipt with the date, time, and place. They may never collect the fine directly (which can usually be paid at a post office). Assaulting an inspector while on duty is a serious offense.

In general, daily, weekly, monthly and year-round tickets are available, in addition to multi-ride tickets. These can, but do not have to be validated. Almost all cities have a different fare system, so you should check the fare formulas and ticket availability in advance. For tourists, it can be very convenient to buy day (or multi-day) tickets that allow you to travel as much as you want in one day (or more). Every major city also has some kind of City Card, a flat-rate card that allows you to use public transport, visit a number of museums and get discounts at shops, hotels and restaurants.

Check both these options at local tourist offices or on the city’s website (often in the form www.comune. cityname.it like www.comune.roma.it).

Intercity

Intercity buses used to be a niche market in Italy, but the situation has changed radically in recent years with the entry of several international operators. Megabus and Flixbus may be the biggest players at the moment, but they are far from the only ones.

Get Around - By boat

Approaching Italy by sea can be a great experience and is a good alternative to the traditional “excursions” on land. Chartering a yacht in Italy is an enriching way to discover the country. Although the yacht charter industry is smaller than you would expect from this incredibly popular destination, there are many reasons to choose a yacht over a conventional land-based approach. The Italian coast, like the French, attracts luxury yachts of the highest standard. “Sailing around Italy from a private yacht is surprisingly convenient and comfortable.

Italy’s spectacular coastline is best enjoyed from the sea and Italians know this! You can swim whenever you want and many famous sights are within easy reach of the seafront. Travelling on a private yacht also offers you some relief from the crowds and traffic that are traditionally unavoidable in Italy’s most popular destinations. There are large and distinct nautical regions in Italy: Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily. Each has its own flavour and focus. Plan your itinerary carefully, as each region is rewarding in its own way.

Get Around - By thumb

In Italy, hitchhiking is associated with the hippies of the 1960s and the “on the road” culture. It is therefore seen as outdated and unnecessary. You will almost never find Italians hitchhiking unless there is a serious problem with the bus or another form of transport. Also, these days you often see prostitutes on the side of the road pretending to be hitchhikers to attract customers, so it is advisable to avoid being mistaken for one of them.

Hitchhiking in tourist areas in summer works well because tourists from northern Europe will give you a lift, and it works well in very rural areas as long as there is regular traffic (because you are always playing the game), but hitchhiking near big cities or along busy roads is extremely frustrating. Hitchhiking along motorways and highways is prohibited. Apart from hitchhiking, it is also a bit difficult: Italians are generally nice people, but they are extremely unlikely to pick up hitchhikers.

Destinations in Italy

Regions in Italy

  • Northwest Italy (Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy and Valle d’Aosta).
    The Italian Riviera, including Portofino and the Cinque Terre. The Alps and world-class cities such as Italy’s industrial capital (Turin), its largest port (Genoa) and the country’s main business centre (Milan) share with visitors to the region magnificent landscapes such as the region around Lake Como and Lake Maggiore and lesser-known Renaissance treasures such as Mantua and Bergamo.
  • North-East Italy (Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto).
    From the canals of Venice to the gastronomic capital of Bologna, from impressive mountains like the Dolomites and top ski resorts like Cortina d’Ampezzo to the delicious rooftop landscapes of Parma and Verona, these regions offer much to see and experience. German-speaking South Tyrol and the cosmopolitan city of Trieste offer a unique Central European atmosphere.
  • Central Italy (Lazio, Abruzzo, Marche, Tuscany and Umbria).
    This region breathes history and art. Rome is proud to have preserved the wonders of the Roman Empire and some of the most famous sites in the world, while offering the atmosphere of a dynamic metropolis. Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, is Tuscany’s main attraction. The beautiful countryside and nearby cities such as Siena, Pisa and Lucca also have much to offer those who want to discover the rich history and heritage of the country. Umbria is home to many picturesque towns such as Perugia, Orvieto, Gubbio and Assisi.
  • Southern Italy (Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania and Molise)
    The hustle and bustle of Naples, the dramatic ruins of Pompeii, the romantic coastline of Amalfi and Capri, the laid-back Puglia and beautiful beaches of Calabria, and the booming agri-tourism industry make this lesser-visited part of Italy an ideal place to explore.
  • Sicily
    This beautiful island is famous for its archaeology, its seascape and for its cuisine, which is among the best that Italian cuisine has to offer.
  • Sardinia
    Large island located about 250 kilometres west of the Italian coast. Beautiful landscapes, splendid seas and beaches: an important holiday destination for mainland Italians.

Cities in Italy

There are hundreds of Italian cities. Here are nine of the most famous:

  • Rome (Rome) – The Eternal City has been ravaged by sacks and fascists, urban disasters and traffic jams, and is as impressive to visitors today as it was two thousand years ago.
  • Bologna – one of the world’s great university cities with a wealth of history, culture, technology and food
  • Florence (Firenze) – the Renaissance city known for its architecture and art, which had a great influence on the whole world
  • Genoa (Genova) – an important medieval maritime republic; its port brings tourism and trade, as well as art and architecture
  • Milan (Milano) – one of the world’s leading fashion cities, but also the most important commercial and business centre in Italy
  • Naples– one of the oldest cities in the western world, its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Pisa – one of the medieval maritime republics, it houses the characteristic image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Turin (Torino) – a well-known industrial city, home to FIAT, other automobiles and the aerospace industry. Le Corbusier defined Turin as “the city with the most beautiful natural setting in the world”.
  • Venice (Venezia) – one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, known for its history, art and of course its world famous canals.

Other destinations in Italy

  • Amalfi Coast – stunningly beautiful rocky coastline, so popular that private cars are banned in the summer months
  • Capri – the famous island in the Bay of Naples, once a favourite holiday resort of the Roman emperors
  • Cinque Terre – five small, picturesque towns stretching along the steep coast of Liguria
  • The Italian Alps – some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe, including Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa
  • Lake Como – its atmosphere has been appreciated for its beauty and uniqueness since Roman times.
  • Lake Garda – a beautiful lake in northern Italy, surrounded by many small villages
  • Pompeii and Herculaneum – two nearby cities that were buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and are now being excavated to show life in Roman times
  • Taormina – a charming town in the hills on the east coast of Sicily
  • Vesuvius – the famous dormant volcano with a breathtaking view of the Bay of Naples

Accommodation & Hotels in Italy

In larger cities and tourist areas you’ll find a good range of accommodation, from top brand hotels to family-run bed & breakfasts and room rentals, but hostels are really few and far between. Camping is a good way to save money and campsites are generally well run, but especially in summer operators tend not to accept last-minute groups of young people (given the high risk of problems such groups of Italians cause) so it’s best to book in advance. Farm stays are an increasingly popular way to discover Italy, especially in the rural areas of Tuscany, Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo, Sardinia and Puglia. They offer an excellent combination of good quality, healthy food, beautiful views and low prices. If you prefer independent accommodation, it is quite easy to find it on the beautiful Amalfi Coast or on the less commercial and more authentic Calabrian coast.

The rating of a hotel can only be considered as a general indication of what you will get for your money. There are many wonderful 2-star hotels that you will want to return to every year and many 5-star hotels that you will never want to set foot in again. As in all countries, the star rating is based on a bureaucratic evaluation of the facilities offered and does not necessarily have anything to do with comfort. Often, the only difference between a 3-star hotel and a 4-star hotel is that the latter offers all meals, while the former only offers breakfast.

Things To See in Italy

There is so much to see in Italy that it is hard to know where to start. Practically every little village has one or two interesting places, plus a few other things to see.

  • Etruscan Italy. If you’re short on time and can’t travel outside the big cities, don’t miss the incredible collection of the Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. With a rental car, you can visit the painted tombs and museum of Tarquinia or the huge funerary complex of Cerveteri, all within easy reach of Rome.
  • The Greek influence. The well-preserved Greek temples of Agrigento, in south-western Sicily, and Paestum, south of Naples, give a good idea of the extent of Greek influence on Italy.
  • Roman ruins. In the south, in Sicily, in the north of the country, Italy is full of reminders of the Roman Empire. In Taormina, Sicily, you can visit the Roman theatre, with stunning views of Mount Etna on a clear day. Also in Sicily, don’t miss the well-preserved mosaics in Piazza Armerina. If you go north to south of Naples, you will find Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were covered in lava by Vesuvius and are therefore amazingly well preserved. In Rome and in every street in the centre, it seems that some pieces of inscribed Roman stones have been incorporated into newer buildings. Don’t miss the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the aqueducts, the Via Appia and a dozen museums dedicated to Roman ruins. Further north, don’t miss the Roman amphitheatre of Verona.
  • Christian Italy. The Vatican is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Although it is located within Rome, it has the status of a separate state. Don’t miss St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. Rome itself has over 900 churches, many of which are worth a short visit. Throughout Italy you will find truly amazing Christian architecture, spanning Romanesque (700-1200), Gothic (1100-1450), Renaissance (1400-1600) and ornate Baroque (1600-1830) styles. Although theft of works of art is a problem, churches and cathedrals in large cities keep a large number of paintings and sculptures, and some have been moved out to city and church museums. Frescoes and mosaics are everywhere, and they are quite amazing. Don’t just look for churches: There are fascinating monasteries to discover in rural areas. If you plan to visit churches, note that all but the largest are usually closed between 12:30 and 15:30.
  • Byzantine cities. The Byzantines controlled northern Italy until they were driven out by the Lombards in 751. Venice is of course world famous and nearby Chioggia, also in the lagoon, is a smaller version of it. The churches of Ravenna have incredible mosaics. Visiting Ravenna requires a bit of a diversion, but it’s worth it.
  • The Renaissance. Start with a visit to Piazza Michelangelo in Florence to admire the famous view. Then explore the many museums, both inside and outside Florence, that house Renaissance masterpieces. The Renaissance or Revival (Rinascimento in Italian) lasted between the 14th and 16th centuries and is generally thought to have begun in Florence. The list of famous names is endless: in architecture, Ghiberti (the bronze doors of the Duomo), Brunelleschi (the dome) and Giotto (the bell tower). In literature: Dante, Petrarch and Machiavelli. In painting and sculpture: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Masaccio and Boticelli.
  • Streets and squares. You could visit the cities of Italy without ever going into a church, museum or Roman ruin and still have a good time. Just walk around and keep your eyes open. Apart from the northern Po and Adige valleys, most of Italy (including the cities) is hilly or mountainous and offers magnificent views. Look up as you walk around to see the stunning rooftop gardens and classic bell towers. In cities like Rome, note the constant juxtaposition of expensive shops and small workplaces for artisans. Look for interesting food shops and places where you can get a good gelato. Above all, enjoy the atmosphere.

Operas. If you are interested in the famous Italian operas, they are performed in various cities: Milan, Verona, Parma, Rome, Venice, Turin, Spoleto, Florence, Palermo, Genoa.

Islands

  • Sicily,
  • Sardinia,
  • Capri,
  • Ischia,
  • Elba,
  • Procida,
  • Aeolian Islands,
  • The Tremiti Islands,
  • Ustica,
  • Pantelleria,
  • The Aegadi Islands,
  • Pelagic Islands
  • Dino Island

Museums

Every major city has a number of local museums, but some of them have national and international significance.

These are some of the most important permanent collections.

  • Uffizi Museum. In Florence, it is one of the largest museums in the world and a must-see. Due to the large number of visitors, it is advisable to book tickets in advance to avoid hour-long queues.
  • Brera Art Gallery. In Milan, a beautiful seventeenth-century palace houses a prestigious museum with a number of paintings, including some notable Renaissance ones.
  • The Museum of the Etruscan Academy of the City of Cortona. In Cortona, Tuscany.
  • Egyptian Museum. It houses in Turin the second largest Egyptian collection in the world, after that of the Cairo Museum.
  • The Aquarium. In Genoa, one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, the Porto Antico (old harbour) is located in an area that was completely renovated in 1992 by the architect Renzo Piano.
  • Museum of Science and Technology. In Milan, one of the largest in Europe, it houses collections on ships, planes, trains, cars, motorbikes, radio and energy. Recently it also acquired the Toti submarine, which is open to visitors.
  • Museum of Roman Civilisation. Rome has the world’s largest collection on ancient Rome and a wonderful replica (scale 1:250) of the entire urban area of Rome in 325 AD, the time of Constantine the Great.
  • National Museum of Cinema. In Turin, inside the beautiful Mole Antonelliana, historic building and symbol of the city.
  • Automobile Museum. In Turin, one of the largest in the world, with a collection of 170 cars covering the entire history of the automobile.
  • The Vatican Museum. Strictly speaking, not in Italy, because the Vatican is its own territory. Visit the museum to see the Sistine Chapel, rooms painted by Raphael, amazing old maps and much more.
  • The Etruscan Museum in the Villa Giulia in Rome. Amazing collection of Etruscan art.

Things To Do in Italy

One of Italy’s great advantages is that its long, slender shape means that when you’re tired of sightseeing, you’re only a relatively short distance from a beach. But once you’re there, you might be a bit lost, especially if you come from a country where the beach is free for everyone.

In theory, this is the case in Italy, but as with many things in Italy, practice can be somewhat different from the law. Many stretches of beach, especially those near urban areas, are leased to private concessions. In season, they cover almost the entire beach with rows and rows of deckchairs (lettini) and umbrellas (ombrelloni). You have the right to pass these facilities without having to pay for them, and you must be able to walk along the sea in front of them. The beaches in Calabria are more affordable, most of them are free, you only have to pay for the equipment you want to rent.

South of Rome there are 20 km of free beach in the Circeo National Park. This is thanks to Dr MarioValeriani, who was responsible for this area after the Second World War and, despite the very generous bribes offered by a multitude of investors and private millionaires, never granted planning permission because he believed that it was a natural wonder that had to remain as it was. So today we can all enjoy this expanse of nature. You can bring your own chair and solar blanket and only have to pay a parking fee at the main road.

If renting lettini by the day in establishments is not particularly expensive, they can fill up very quickly. Free beaches are everywhere: they are easily recognisable by the absence of regimented rows of lettini. They can be very crowded: On a Saturday or Sunday in summer, you won’t find a deserted beach anywhere. Most facilities offer full services, including entertainment, a bar and restaurant, sports lessons, a kindergarten and much more. Near urban areas, you will never be far from a seafood restaurant on the beach or at least a bar. On the beach, topless women are more or less accepted everywhere, but complete nudity is absolutely not accepted in Italy and is punishable by a heavy fine and/or arrest.

Classical music

Italy was the cradle of Western opera at the end of the 16th century, so it is not surprising that it has one of the most famous opera houses in the world, the most famous of which is the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The very first opera was Jacopo Peri’s Dafne (now lost), first performed in 1598 in Florence’s Palazzo Corsi. However, the oldest opera still regularly performed today is Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which was premiered at the court of Mantua in 1607. Another important city in the history of opera is Venice, where the first public opera house was built, allowing paying members of the general public access to what was once court entertainment for the aristocracy. In fact, Italian opera was the most popular form of entertainment for the aristocracy in all European countries except France in the early 18th century, and even operas premiered in non-Italian-speaking regions such as London and Vienna were written in Italian. Many Italian composers such as Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini are still revered by classical music lovers, and some of their works have even found their way into modern pop culture. In addition to the locals, many foreign composers such as Handel and Mozart composed several critically acclaimed Italian operas that continue to delight audiences today.

In addition to opera, Italy has historically been instrumental in the development of other genres of Western classical music. The concerto was first popularised by the Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli in the Baroque period, and the symphony has its origins in the overtures of Italian Baroque opera. The ballet, although it has a French name and terminology and is more commonly associated with France or Russia, originated in Italy during the Renaissance. Indeed, it was de rigueur for European composers, regardless of their origins, to spend some time in Italy studying music, and to this day most of the terms used in Western musical scores are still in Italian.

Visit the vineyards

Italy is famous for its wine. And its vineyards are mostly located in the middle of beautiful landscapes. An organised trip is probably the best solution. Day trips can usually be organised by your hotel if you are staying in a large wine region like Chianti, or by the local tourist office. Many companies offer longer tours that include meals and accommodation. A simple web search for “Italian winery tours” or “wine tour Italy” will help you find them. Note that these longer tours usually emphasise good food, good wine and quality accommodation and are therefore expensive.

Cycling tours

Several companies offer cycling excursions in the Italian countryside. They provide bicycles, a guide and transport for your suitcase, and for you if it all gets a bit too tiring. The tours vary depending on your interests. Usually you change the city and the hotel every day. If you like cycling, this is a great way to get to know Italy off the beaten track. Search Google etc. for “Cycling Italy” for companies.

Sailing

Sailing is one of the best ways to see Italian islands like Sardinia and Sicily. Most charter companies offer many options, from unmanned boats to crewed boats with cabins, with all types of boats.

Spectator sports

Italy is a sports-mad country and as such football, rugby and many other sports are followed with devotion, albeit sometimes violently. In the 1980s, Italy was one of the first European countries to adopt American football, although corruption within the national federation and scandals have since greatly reduced interest in the sport.

Food & Drinks in Italy

Food in Italy

Cuisine

Italian cuisine in Italy is different from what they call “Italian Cuisine” in America. It is truly one of the most diverse countries in the world, and there are different specialities in every region, and even in every town and village you go to. It might be misleading, for example, to say that the cuisine of northern Italy is based on hearty dishes rich in potatoes and rice, that the cuisine of central Italy is mainly pasta, roasts and meat, and that the cuisine of southern Italy is vegetables, pizza, pasta and seafood: there are so many cross-influences that trying to classify them would only confuse you. And anyway, contrary to popular belief, Italian cuisine is not just based on pasta and tomato sauce – that is only a small part of the nation’s food; rice, potatoes, lentils, soups and other similar dishes are very common in some parts of the country. Italian cuisine is based on a wide range of ingredients, and Italians often have very specific tastes that may seem foreign to Americans and other visitors.

For example, a sandwich stand may sell 4 different types of ham sandwiches, each containing ham, mayonnaise and cheese. The only thing that can be different between the sandwiches is the type of ham or cheese used in them. Rustichella and panzerotti are two examples of sandwiches that are very popular among Italians and tourists. Also, Italian sandwiches are very different from the traditional Italian-American “hero”, “submarine” or “hoagie” sandwiches (which, by the way, means nothing to an Italian). Instead of large sandwiches with a pile of meat, vegetables and cheese, sandwiches in Italy are often quite small, very flat (especially when quickly heated and pressed on a panini grill), and contain a few simple ingredients with rarely, if ever, lettuce or mayonnaise. The term panini can be a little confusing for travellers from northern Europe, as it refers to a flat, heated sandwich on a grill. In Italy, the term is synonymous with “rolls” (plural – singular is panino), which can be plain rolls or sometimes with a basic filling.

Americans will notice that Italian pasta is usually offered with a variety of sauces, not just tomato and alfredo. Also, Italian pasta is often served with much less sauce than in America. This is partly because pasta in a restaurant is usually considered the first course of a three- or four-course meal, rather than a meal in its own right.

Structure of a traditional meal: In general, Italian meals on weekdays look like this: Breakfast, lunch one dish, dinner one dish. Coffee is served almost every hour, especially around 10 am and at the end of the meal. At weekends and in restaurants (on other occasions), a meal generally consists of: Antipasto (starter: pickled vegetables, mixed cold cuts, seafood, etc.), Primo (pasta or rice dish), Secondo (meat or fish dish) often with a side dish called Contorno, and Dolce (dessert).

Like the language and the culture, food in Italy differs from region to region. Local ingredients are also very important. In warm Naples, citrus and other fresh fruits play a prominent role in dishes and alcoholic drinks, while in Venice fish is obviously an important traditional ingredient.

A note about breakfast in Italy: it is very light, often just a cappuccino or a coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and a fruit jam. If you’re not sure, don’t expect a big breakfast. In Italy, it is not customary to eat eggs and bacon or the like for breakfast – just the thought of it disgusts most Italians. In fact, salty foods are not usually eaten for breakfast. Besides, cappuccino is a breakfast drink; ordering one after lunch or dinner is considered a bit strange and a typical “tourist thing”. A small espresso is considered much better for digestion.

Cornetto (pl. cornetti) is another pleasant element of the Italian breakfast: a croissant or light pastry often filled with jam, cream or chocolate.

Lunch is considered the most important part of the day, so much so that Italians set aside an hour for eating (and in the past, another hour was reserved for a nap). All shops close and resume their activities after the two-hour break. To compensate, shops stay open later than in most other European cities, often until 8pm. In a small town, if you try to find a free place during the “pausa pranzo” (lunch break), you are very lucky. This is not the case in the centre of larger cities or in shopping centres.

Dinner (i.e. the evening meal) is usually taken late. If you are in a restaurant before 8pm in the summer, you will probably eat alone, and it is quite normal to see families with small children continuing to eat after 10pm.

In Italy, cooking is considered a kind of art. Grand chefs like Gualtiero Marchesi and Gianfranco Vissani are considered artists halfway between TV stars and magicians. Italians are very proud of their culinary tradition and generally love to eat and talk about it. However, they don’t think too highly of common prejudices, such as the idea that Italian cuisine consists only of pizza and spaghetti. They also have a distaste for the “bastard” versions of their dishes that are popular elsewhere, and many Italians find it hard to believe that the average foreigner can’t even manage a basic “proper” pasta dish.

A note on service: don’t expect the kind of dedicated and focused service you find in American restaurants. In Italy, this is considered a bit boring and people generally prefer to be left alone while they eat. You should expect the waiter to come to you after the first course, perhaps to order something as a second course.

It’s important to know that the most famous Italian dishes like pizza or spaghetti are pretty lame for some Italians, and eating out in different regions can be an interesting opportunity to try lesser-known local specialities. Even something as simple as pizza has important regional differences. Naples has a relatively thick, soft crust, while Rome’s is much thinner and crispier (both styles have a thin crust compared to American pizzas, for example).

When you go out to eat with Italians, read the menu and remember that almost every restaurant offers a typical dish and that in some towns there are centuries-old traditions that you are welcome to learn. People will be happy if you ask them about local specialities and they will be happy to advise you.

In northern Italy, around 5pm, most bars, especially in cosmopolitan Milan, prepare an aperitif with a series of platters of snacks, cheeses, olives, meats, bruschetta and much more. It is NOT considered a meal, and if you treat yourself to it as if it were dinner, you probably won’t be much appreciated. All these dishes are usually free for anyone who buys a drink, but they are meant as a snack before the meal.

Specialties

Almost every city and region has its own specialities, which can be briefly listed here:

  • Risotto – Carnaroli or Arborio or Vialone Nano (etc.) Rice that has been fried and cooked in a shallow pan with broth. The result is a very creamy and hearty dish. Meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables and cheese are almost always added, depending on the recipe and the place. Many restaurants, families, cities and regions offer a signature risotto, or at least some kind of risotto, in addition to or instead of a signature pasta dish (risotto alla Milanese is a famous Italian classic). Risotto is a typical dish of Lombardy and Piedmont.
  • Arancini – Fried rice balls with tomato sauce, eggs, peas and mozzarella. It is a Sicilian speciality, but now common throughout the region.
  • Polenta – Yellow maize flour (yellow groats) cooked with broth. It is usually either served creamy or left to rest and then cut into shapes and fried or roasted. It is a very common dish in northern mountain restaurants, usually eaten with venison or wild boar meat. In the Veneto region, the best polenta is “polenta bianca”, a special and tasty white corn flour called “biancoperla”.
  • Gelato – This is the Italian word for ice cream. Non-fruit flavours are usually made with milk only. Gelato, which is made with water and no milk ingredients, is also known as sorbetto. It is as fresh as a sorbet, but tastier. There are many flavours, including coffee, chocolate, fruit and tiramisù. When you buy in a gelateria, you can choose between a waffle cone or a cup; in northern Italy, you pay for each ‘scoop’ of flavour, and the panna (milk cream) counts as a flavour; in Rome, you can buy a small waffle cone (about €1.80), a medium (€2.50) or a large (€3.00) with no limit on flavours, and the panna is free.
  • Tiramisù – Italian cake made of coffee, mascarpone and ladyfingers (sometimes rum) with cocoa powder on top. The name means “pick-me-up”.

Pizza

Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. Most cities have pizzerias that sell by the gram. Look for a “Pizza al taglio” sign. When you order, just point to the display or tell the waitress what kind of pizza you want (e.g. pizza margherita, pizza con patate (fried or roasted), pizza al prosciutto (ham), etc.) and the quantity (“Vorrei (due fette – two slices) or (due etti – two tenths of a kilogram) or just say “di più – plus” or “di meno – minus, per favore”). You slice it, heat it in the oven, fold it in half and wrap it in paper. Other grocery shops also sell pizzas by the slice. Italians consider them a kind of second-class pizza, which you only choose if you can’t have a “proper” pizza in a specialised restaurant (pizzeria). You can save money by eating your meal on the go – many sandwich shops charge extra if you want to sit down to eat. Remember that pizzas in many parts of the country have a thinner bread base and contain less cheese than pizzas outside Italy. The most authentic and original pizza can be found in Naples. It often contains a range of ingredients, but the most common is the Margherita pizza (tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella di bufala) or the Margherita with prosciutto.

The traditional round pizza can be found in many restaurants and specialised pizzerias (pizzerias). However, it is rare to find a restaurant that serves pizza at lunchtime. Don’t wait anywhere for the thick crust pizza like in America.

Takeaway pizzerias (pizzerie da asporto) are now ubiquitous in many cities. They are often run by North African immigrants and their quality can vary, although they are almost always cheaper than restaurants (on average €4-5 for a margherita, but sometimes as little as €3) and are also open at lunchtime (some are also open all day). Some also serve kebabs, the quality of which can also vary. Although takeaway pizzerias are considered “second-rate pizzas” by most Italians, they are quite popular among the large population of university students and are usually located in residential areas. They should not be confused with the “Pizza al Taglio” shops that are still very popular in Rome. This is a kind of traditional fast food in the capital that can be found on every street corner. The quality is usually very good and the pizzas are sold by weight; you choose the slice of pizza you want, then they put it on the scales and tell you the price.

Cheese and sausages

Italy has almost 800 types of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, and more than 400 types of sausage.

If you want a real kick, try to find one of the large open markets, which are always open on Saturdays and usually on all other days except Sunday. There you will find all kinds of cheeses and cold meats.

Restaurants and bars

Italian bars in the centre of big cities charge more (usually double the final bill) if you drink or eat sitting at a table outside instead of standing at the bar or taking your order to go. The reason for this is that bars charge a very high fee for setting up tables and chairs outside. Since most people don’t use tables anyway, it was decided a long time ago to only charge those who do. The further you are from the streets in the centre, the less this rule is enforced. When you order a coffee or other drink in a bar, you first have to go to the cashier and pay what you want. Then you give the receipt to the barman who will serve you.

Restaurants always charged a small coperto (cover charge). Attempts were made a few years ago to ban this practice, with limited success. The rule now seems to be that if you have bread, a coperto can be charged, but if you explicitly say you don’t want bread, no coperto can be charged. This happened mainly because of backpackers who would sit down at a table, occupy it for an hour by simply ordering a drink or a salad and eating huge amounts of bread.

Some restaurants now charge a service fee, but this is far from common. In Italian restaurants, you never expect to get a big tip. The 15% that is customary in the United States can kill an Italian waiter in a heart attack. Just leave a euro or two and they will be more than happy.

The traditional meal may include (in order) an antipasto (cold seafood starter, vegetables au gratin or ham and salami), a primo (first course – pasta or rice), a secondo (second course – meat or fish), plus a contorno (mainly vegetables), cheese/fruit, dessert, coffee and spirits. Upscale restaurants usually refuse to make changes to the dishes offered (exceptions are readily granted for babies or people with special diets). Middle-class restaurants are usually more accommodating. A simple pasta dish with tomato sauce, for example, may not be on the menu, but a restaurant will almost always be willing to prepare one for children who refuse to eat the rest of the menu.

If you are part of a large group (say four or more), it is appreciated that you do not all order completely different pastas. While the sauces are pre-cooked, the pasta is freshly cooked and it is difficult for the restaurant if one person wants spaghetti, another fettuccine, a third rigatoni, a fourth penne and a fifth farfalle (butterfly-shaped pasta). If you try such an order, you will inevitably be told that you will have a long wait (because the cooking time is not the same for all types of pasta)!

When a pizza is ordered, it is served as a primo (even if it is not formally considered as such), along with other primi. If you order pasta or pizza and your friend has a steak, you will get your pasta dish and the steak will probably come after you have finished eating. If you want the first and second courses to be brought at the same time, you have to ask for it.

Restaurants that offer dietary foods, of which there are very few, usually write it clearly on the menus and even outside; the others usually do not have dietary resources.

To avoid cover charges and if you are on a tight budget, almost all Italian stations have a buffet or self-service restaurant (Termini station in Rome is a good example). Prices are always reasonable and the food is generally of good quality.

Gastronomia

A gastronomia is a type of self-service restaurant (usually you tell the staff what you want instead of serving yourself) that also offers takeaway food. This can be a good opportunity to enjoy traditional Italian dishes at a relatively low price. Note that this is not a buffet restaurant. You pay according to what you order.

Drinks in Italy

Bars, like restaurants, are non-smoking places.

Italians like to go out in the evening, so it is customary to have a drink in a bar before dinner. It’s called the aperitif. In the last two years, on the initiative of Milan, many bars have started to offer cocktails at a fixed price at aperitif times (18 – 21 years) with a free and often very good buffet. It is now considered elegant to have this kind of aperitif (called happy hour) instead of a structured meal before going dancing or whatever.

Water

Although it is drinkable, tap water (acqua del rubinetto) in some regions of the Italian peninsula can be cloudy and have a slightly unpleasant taste. Most Italians prefer bottled water served in restaurants. Be sure to tell the waiter that you want still water (acqua naturale or acqua senza gas) or water with natural gas or with added carbon dioxide (frizzante or con gas).

Rome in particular is especially proud of the quality of its water. This dates back to Roman times, when aqueducts were built to carry pure mountain water to all the citizens of Rome. Don’t waste plastic bottles. You can fill up your containers and water bottles at any tap or fountain that flows constantly through the city, safe in the knowledge that you are getting fresh spring water of excellent quality.

Wine

Italian wine is exported all over the world, and names like Barolo, Brunello and Chianti are known everywhere. In Italy, wine is a major issue, a kind of test that can guarantee the respect or inattention of an entire restaurant staff. By doing your homework, you ensure that you get better service and better wine and even end up paying less.

DOC, DOCG, IGT?
The Denominazione di origine controllata certificate primarily limits the grape blend permitted for the wine and is not in itself a guarantee of quality. The same applies to the stricter Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita. These two designations stand for a traditional, regionally typical wine, such as Chianti, and are often a good partner for local cuisine. But some of the best Italian wines are labelled with the less strict Indicazione geografica tipica, often the sign of a more modern and “international” wine.

Before arriving in Italy, try to find out about the main wines of the region you plan to visit. That way you can make the most of it. Italian cuisine varies greatly from region to region (and sometimes from city to city), and the wine reflects this diversity. Italians have a long tradition of pairing wines with dishes, and there is often a wine to go with each dish. The popular “colour rule” (red wines with meat dishes, white wines with fish) can be happily broken if offered by a sommelier or if you really know what you are doing : in Italy there are many strong white wines to go with meat (a Sicilian or Tuscan Chardonnay), as well as delicate red wines for fish (perhaps a Pinot Noir from South Tyrol).

Unlike in the UK, for example, the mark-ups for wines on restaurant wine lists are usually not excessive, giving you the opportunity to experiment. In the larger cities, there are also many wine bars where you can taste different wines by the glass and eat delicious snacks with them. Unlike in many other countries, wine is rarely served by the glass in restaurants.

In small villages far from the cities (especially in Tuscany), vino della casa (house wine) can be a great opportunity to drink what the customer would really drink in person or could even be the product of the restaurant itself. It is also usually a safe choice in decent restaurants in the cities. Vino della casa may be bottled, but in inexpensive restaurants it is just as likely to be available in a quarter, half or litre carafe. As a general rule, if the restaurant seems honest and not too geared towards tourists, the house wine is usually not too bad. That said, some house wines can be awful and make you look bad the next morning. If it’s not too good, it probably won’t do you much good, so send it back and order it off the wine list.

Italians are rightly proud of their wines and foreign wines are rarely served, but many foreign grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are increasingly used.

Beer

Although wine is a traditional everyday product, beer is also very common. Beer is not part of the Italian tradition in the same way as wine, but in the last 30 years there has been an explosion of English-style pubs in every city, large or small, usually with a wide selection of beers of all kinds, ale, stout and cider, from all over the world. The main Italian beers include Peroni and Moretti, which are usually on offer in cafés during the day. If you like beer, there are many bars that specialise in serving a wide range of bottled beers (see the city article for more details), as well as Irish pubs and similar establishments. There are a growing number of microbreweries throughout the country. They are often run by local beer enthusiasts turned brewers who run small breweries with an attached pub. Their association is called Unionbirrai.

In the Trieste region it is much more common to drink Slovenian beers and the most popular brands are “Union” and “Zlatorog”. Surprisingly, it is often cheaper to buy Slovenian beer in Italy (Trieste) than in Slovenia itself.

Other drinks

  • Limoncello. A liqueur made from alcohol, lemon peel and sugar. Limoncello can be considered a kind of “moonshine” product (although it is usually made with legally obtained alcohol) because every Italian family, especially in the southern part of the country (near Naples) and in the south of the country, has its own recipe for limoncello. Because lemon trees adapt so well to the Mediterranean climate and produce a large quantity of fruit continuously during their long fruiting season, it is not unusual to find many lemon trees in the yards of villas, bending under the weight of their harvest. You can make a lot of lemonade, or even better, make your own limoncello. It is mainly considered a dessert liqueur served after a hearty meal (similar to Amaretto) and is used for various celebrations. Its taste can be compared to that of a very strong and slightly thick lemonade, with a hint of alcohol. It is best served chilled in small glasses that have been placed in the freezer. It is better to drink it in small sips rather than treating it like a shooter.
  • Grappa is made by distilling the grape skins after the juice has been extracted for winemaking. So you can imagine the flavour it can have. If you want to drink it, make sure you get a bottle that has been distilled several times.

Limoncello, grappa and similar drinks are usually served after a meal to aid digestion. If you are a good customer, restaurants will offer you a free drink and may even put the bottle on the table for you to help yourself. Be careful, these are very strong drinks.

Coffee

Bars in Italy offer a huge number of possible permutations for a way to drink a cup of coffee. But you won’t get 100 different types of beans or “gourmet” coffees. If you like that sort of thing, you should get your own. A bar makes coffee from a commercial blend of beans supplied by a single roaster. There are many companies that supply roasted beans and the brand used is usually prominently displayed inside and outside the bar.

Here are the basic coffee preparations:

  • Caffè or Normal Caffè or Espresso – This is the basic unit of coffee, usually drunk after a meal.
  • Caffè ristretto – It contains the same amount of coffee but less water, which makes it stronger.
  • Caffè lungo – This is the basic unit of coffee, but water is additionally passed through the ground coffee beans in the machine.
  • Caffè americano – It contains much more water and is served in a cappuccino cup. It looks more like an American breakfast coffee, but the quantity is still much smaller than in the United States.

So far, so good. But this is where the permutations begin. For the same price as a regular coffee, you can have a shot of milk added to any of the above. This is called the macchiato. Hence caffè lungo macchiato or caffè americano macchiato. But this splash of milk can be hot (caldo) or cold (freddo). So you can ask for a caffè lungo macchiato freddo or a caffè americano macchiato caldo without the bartender twitching an eyebrow. You can also have one of these options decaffeinated. Ask for a caffè decaffeinato. The most popular brand of decaffeinated coffee is HAG, and it is quite common to ask for a HAG coffee even if the bar does not use that particular brand.

If you really need a pick-me-up, you can ask for a double dose of coffee, or a doppio. You have to specify this when paying at the checkout and it costs twice as much as a regular coffee. All the above permutations still apply, even if a coffee ristretto doppio might be a little strange.

And if you need a dose of alcohol, you can ask for a caffè corretto. This usually involves adding grappa, brandy or sambuca; “corretto” is the Italian term for “piqué”. Usually only plain coffee is corretto, but there is no reason why you cannot “correctto” any of the above combinations.

Then there are the coffee drinks with milk, as follows:

  • Cappuccino – Needs no introduction. If you don’t like the foam, you can ask for a cappuccino senza schiuma.
  • Caffè latte – Often served in a glass, this is a small amount of coffee with the cup/glass filled with hot milk.
  • Latte macchiato – This is a glass of milk with a hint of coffee on top. The milk can be hot or cold.

Finally, in summer you can have a caffè freddo, which is actually a simple coffee with ice, a caffè freddo “shakerato” (coffee shake with ice) or a cappuccino freddo, which is a cold latte without foam.

This list is by no means exhaustive. With an overflowing imagination and a love of experimentation, you should be able to find many more permutations. Take advantage of it!

Money & Shopping in Italy

Currency in Italy

Italy uses the euro. It is one of the many European countries that use this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender in all countries.

One euro is divided into 100 cents.

The official symbol of the euro is € and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.

  • Banknotes: The euro banknotes have the same design in all countries.
  • Standard coins: All euro area countries issue coins that have a distinctive national design on one side and a common standard design on the other. The coins can be used in any euro area country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
  • Commemorative €2 coins: These differ from normal €2 coins only in their “national” side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country can produce a certain amount of these coins as part of its normal coin production, and sometimes “European” 2-euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. anniversaries of important treaties).
  • Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins with other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, have very special designs and often contain significant amounts of gold, silver or platinum. Although they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector’s value is usually much higher and therefore you are unlikely to find them in circulation.

Tipping in Italy

Tipping (la mancia) is not common in Italy, but is only given when a special service is rendered or as a thank you for a quality service. Almost all restaurants (with the notable exception of Rome) have a price for service (called coperto) and waiters do not expect a tip, but they will not refuse it, especially if it is given by foreign customers. However, in cafés, bars and pubs it is not uncommon to leave change when paying the bill by telling the waiter or cashier “tenga il resto” (“keep the change”). Recently, tip jars have become common near the cash register, but they are often banned in public toilets. Leaving change is also quite common among taxi drivers, and hotel doormen may expect a little something. When using a credit card, it is not possible to manually add an amount to the bill, so it is possible to leave a few notes as a tip.

Shopping in Italy

Italy can be quite an expensive country. Like everywhere, the cost of living is higher in the big cities and the centre than in the suburbs and rural areas. As a rule, southern Italy is cheaper than northern Italy, especially when it comes to food; of course, this varies by location.

Meals can be had from €3 (if you settle for a sandwich, panini or falafel from a street vendor); restaurant bills can range from €10 (a hamburger with friessalade and a soft drink from a pub) to €20 (a starter, main course and water from a regular restaurant).

Unless otherwise stated, prices include VAT (identical to sales tax), which is 22% on most goods and 10% in restaurants and hotels. On some products, such as books, VAT is 4%. In practice, you can forget it, as it is always included in the display price. If you are not a resident of the EU, you are entitled to a VAT refund when buying goods exported to countries outside the European Union. Shops offering this scheme will have a ‘Tax Free’ sticker on the outside. Don’t forget to ask for your Tax Free voucher before you leave the shop. These goods must be unused when you pass through the customs checkpoint on your way out of the EU.

If you are planning a trip to the countryside or rural areas, you should not rely on your credit cards as they are only accepted by a small number of shops and restaurants in many small towns.

Remember that it is very common in Italy (even in the winter months) for shops, offices and banks to close by 3pm (often between 12:30 and 3:30pm). Banks in particular have short opening hours, most are only open to the public for about 4 hours in the morning and just under 1 hour in the afternoon.

What to buy in Italy?

Italy is an ideal place for all forms of shopping. Most towns and villages have all kinds of shops, from glitzy boutiques to huge shopping centres, tiny art galleries, small grocery shops, antique shops and newsagents in general.

  • Food is without a doubt one of the best memories you can have in Italy. There are thousands of different forms of pasta (not just spaghetti or macaroni). Then, each region of Italy has its typical foods such as cheese, wine, ham, salami, oil, vinegar, etc. Don’t forget to buy Nutella.
  • Italian fashion is recognised all over the world. Many of the most famous international brands are based in Italy or were founded there.

Milan is the Italian capital of fashion and design. In the city you will find practically all the world’s major brands, not only Italian but also French, English, American, Swedish and Spanish. Via Montenapoleone is the main shopping spot for the crème de la crème, but Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, Via Sant’ Andrea and Corso Vittorio Emanuele are equally luxurious shopping streets, albeit somewhat less prominent. Corso Buenos Aires is the place to go for bulk or factory shopping. The magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in the centre and Via Dante also house some designer boutiques. Almost every street in the centre of Milan has at least a few clothes shops.

However, Rome and Florence are also serious fashion centres and have some of the oldest fashion and jewellery houses in Italy. In Rome, the chic and beautiful Via dei Condotti leading to Piazza di Spagna will be your main shopping reference point, with boutiques but also side streets such as Via dei Babuino, Via Borgognona, Via Frattina, Via del Corso and Piazza di Spagna. In Florence, Via de’ Tornabuoni is the main shopping street for haute couture, where you will find many designer brands. However, in both cities you will find an abundance of chic boutiques, both designer and non-designer, scattered throughout the centre.

  • There are many jewellery and accessories shops in Italy. There are many jewellery and accessories shops that come from Italy. Vicenza and Valencia are considered the jewellery capitals of the country, also known for their goldsmith and silverware shops. Throughout Italy, including Vicenza, Milan, Valencia, Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice, but also in some other cities, you will find hundreds of different jewellery and silverware shops. Besides the most famous ones, there are large, original and trendy jewellery shops all over the country.
  • Design and furnishings are things Italy is proud of and rightly famous for. There are excellent quality furniture shops everywhere, but the real place to buy the best deals is Milan. Milan is home to some of the world’s best design spaces and emporiums. To find out about the latest design inventions, visit the Fiera di Milano in Rho, where the latest household appliances are on display. Many Italian cities have great shops for antique furniture. So you can choose between avant-garde furniture and old-fashioned antiques that are, on average, of good quality.
  • Glassware is something that is uniquely made in Venice, but is common throughout the country. Venice is the famous capital of Murano (not the island), or glass objects in different colours. You will find beautiful goblets, crystal chandeliers, candlesticks and decorations made of multi-coloured hand-blown glass, which can be designed in modern and funky arrangements or in classic old style.
  • Books can be found in bookshops in all small, medium and large towns. The most important book and publishing companies/houses in Italy include Mondadori, Hoepli or Rizzoli. Most of the big bookshops are located in Milan, Turin and Monza, the capitals of publishing in Italy (Turin was named World Book Capital in 2006), but there are also many bookshops in cities like Rome and others. 99% of the books sold are in Italian.
  • Art shops can be found all over Italy, especially in the most artistic cities like Florence, Rome and Venice. In Florence, the best place to buy art is the Oltrarno, where there are many workshops selling replicas of famous paintings or similar objects. Depending on which city you are in, you will usually find replicas of notable works of art, but rare art shops, sculpture shops or modern/antique shops can also be found in some cities.

How to buy in Italy?

In a small or medium-sized shop, it is normal to greet the staff at the entrance, not when you approach the counter to pay. A friendly “Buongiorno” or “Buonasera” warms up the atmosphere. When paying, staff usually expect you to put the coins on the designated area or tray rather than giving them the money directly into your hand (old label for handling money to avoid dirty falling coins), and they will do the same when you give change (“il resto”). This is a normal practice, not meant to be rude.

Haggling is very rare and only takes place when peddlers are involved. They usually ask for a much higher initial price than they are willing to sell for and asking price is a sure way to get ripped off. Be aware that peddlers often sell counterfeit goods (in some cases very credible counterfeits) and it is not always in your best interest to buy a Gucci handbag for 30 euros on the street. In all other situations, haggling will get you nowhere. Always beware of counterfeit goods: Italian law can impose fines of up to 3,000 euros on whoever buys them (this is especially true for luxury branded clothing or accessories).

Festivals & Holidays in Italy

Public holidays in Italy

Date English name Local name
1 January New Year’s Day Capodanno
6 January Epiphany Epifania
Monday after Easter Easter Monday Angel Monday, Albism Monday
25 april Liberation Day Liberation Day
1 May International Workers’ Day Labour Day (or Workers’ Day)
2 June Republic Day Birth of the Italian Republic, 1946
15 August Ferragosto/Assumption Day August and Assumption
1 November All Saints’ Day
8 December Immaculate Conception Immaculate Conception (ou simplement Immacolata)
25 December Christmas Day
Boxing Day Saint Stephen’s Day Santo Stefano

In addition, each city or village celebrates a holiday on the occasion of the feast of the local patron saint: for example, Rome – 29 June (SS Peter and Paul), Milan – 7 December (S Ambrose). In South Tyrol, the holiday tends to be Whit Monday (which is also a holiday in North Tyrol and the rest of the German-speaking world).

Public holidays and local saints’ days are not carried over if they fall on a weekend. The number of working days that fall on public holidays therefore varies from year to year.

The following days are not public holidays, but are nevertheless fixed by law:

Date English name Local name Comments
7 January Flag Day Festa del tricolore Made a national day by
Law No. 671 of 31 December 1996.
27 January International Holocaust Memorial Day Giorno della Memoria Made a national day by
Law No. 211 of 20 July 2000.
17 March Anniversary of the Unification of Italy Anniversary of the Unification of Italy Only in 2011 for the 150th anniversary.
4 November National Unity Day and Armed Forces Day National Unity Day and Armed Forces Day This date was a public holiday from 1919 to 1977 and marked the anniversary of the ratification of the Villa Giusti Armistice between Italy and Austria-Hungary.

Traditions & Customs in Italy

Italy has a reputation for being a hospitable country and Italians are friendly and accommodating, as well as very used to small talk and interaction with foreigners. Italian society is also much less formal than that of northern European or English-speaking countries, especially in terms of introductions (Italians rarely introduce their friends in a very casual, informal way, so don’t always expect a proper greeting) and dress code. Also, do not expect the average Italian to speak or even understand English, and do not expect those who do to speak English in your presence: you will revert to Italian almost immediately.

However, once a foreigner has a sufficient command of the language, he should begin to use polite language when addressing older people, people outside his circle of friends and any office or shop worker with whom he comes into contact. In fact, the use of familiar verbs and pronouns is quite rare, except among friends, family and sometimes peers. The Italian form of politeness uses the third person singular instead of the second person singular: “Lei” (also the word for “she”, but used for both men and women as a formal way of saying “you”) instead of “tu” (you [familiar]).

Italians greet their family and close friends with two light kisses on the cheek. This also applies to men. To avoid the kiss ending on the lips, note that you move first to the right (you kiss the other person on the left cheek), then to the left. Otherwise, the rules of the handshake are the same as everywhere else in the Western world.

Today’s Italians are no longer the Romeos described in the films of the 1950s.

Every other issue is more or less the same as in other Western countries, without having to do or not do anything special.

Clothes

Entire essays could be written about the Italians’ relationship with clothing. Three of the most important observations:

  • Most Italians (especially young people from the upper and middle classes) are very concerned about their appearance; don’t be surprised or offended if people accuse you of being “eccentric” because you’re not wearing the latest jeans or tailored shoes.
  • It is important not to judge people by their choice of clothes. Styles don’t necessarily carry the same connotations in Italy as they do in the UK or some other countries. A woman in high heels, miniskirt and make-up at eight in the morning is probably going to work in a bank. Almost all young people indulge in tight T-shirts and casual knitwear (and are very surprised at the reaction they get when they transfer their sense of style and grooming to a less “sophisticated” climate).
  • Sometimes the dress code is written down. If you visit a church or religious site, you should cover up; no bare backs, breasts, shoulders and sometimes knees. Sometimes museums and other attractions can also be strict; for example, no swimming costumes. If you are going to visit a church or religious site, it is advisable to cover up, for example with a jumper or a large scarf. Some churches provide coverings, for example sarongs are given to men in shorts so they can modestly hide their legs. Although there are no written rules, it should be noted that bare breasts and large areas of sunburnt skin are unacceptable outside beaches or tanning areas, regardless of the temperature. It is considered impolite for a man to wear a hat in a Catholic church.

LGBT Rights in Italy

In Italy, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can face legal difficulties not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Sexual activity between men and women of the same sex is legal in Italy, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples cannot enjoy the same legal protection as opposite-sex couples.

Italian opinion has changed and people are now more in favour of LGBT rights, but they tend to be more repressive than other European nations. Tolerance of others is part of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, which at the same time has a generally negative attitude towards sexual relations between homosexuals. Nevertheless, there is an important liberal tradition, especially in the north and in Rome. Conservative Italian politicians, such as former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, have spoken out against extending gay rights. A Eurobarometer poll published in December 2006 found that 31% of Italians surveyed supported same-sex marriage and 24% recognised the right of same-sex couples to adopt (EU average: 44% and 33% respectively). A 2007 poll found that 45% of respondents were in favour, 47% against and 8% unsure about supporting a civil partnership law for homosexuals.

Although more information is available on websites dedicated to LGBT people, here is a brief summary of the situation: Although violence against openly gay people is uncommon, some Italians still feel disturbed by public displays of affection by same-sex couples and stares are almost guaranteed. Some same-sex couples prefer to avoid public attention. As elsewhere, younger generations tend to be more open-minded than older people, but one should not make assumptions one way or the other.

Culture Of Italy

Divided for centuries by politics and geography, Italy developed a unique culture until its unification in 1861, characterised by a variety of regional customs and local centres of power and patronage. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a series of magnificent courts competed for the best architects, artists and scholars, producing an immense heritage of monuments, paintings, music and literature.

Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites (51) than any other country in the world and has rich collections of art, culture and literature from different eras. The country has a broad cultural influence throughout the world, not least because many Italians emigrated to other places during the Italian diaspora. In addition, the country has an estimated total of 100,000 monuments of all kinds (museums, palaces, buildings, statues, churches, art galleries, villas, fountains, historic houses and archaeological remains).

Architecture

Italy has a very broad and diverse architectural style that can be classified not only by period but also by region, due to the division of Italy into several regional states until 1861. This created a very diverse and eclectic range of architectural designs.

Italy is known for its notable architectural achievements, such as the construction of arches, domes and similar structures in ancient Rome, the foundation of the Renaissance architectural movement from the late 14th to the 16th century. It was also the home of Palladianism, a style of architecture that inspired movements such as neoclassical architecture and influenced the designs of nobles who built their country houses around the world, including the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States in the late 17th to early 20th centuries. Many of the finest works of Western architecture, such as the Colosseum, Milan Cathedral, Florence Cathedral, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the blueprints of Venice, are found in Italy.

Italian architecture has also strongly influenced the architecture of the world. The British architect Inigo Jones, inspired by the designs of Italian buildings and cities, brought the ideas of Italian Renaissance architecture to 17th century England, drawing inspiration from Andrea Palladio. The term Italianate was popular abroad in the nineteenth century to describe foreign architecture built in the Italian style, particularly in the style of Renaissance architecture.

Visual arts

The history of Italian visual art is part of the history of Western painting. Roman art was influenced by Greece and can partly be considered a descendant of ancient Greek painting. However, Roman painting has important unique features. The only surviving Roman paintings are wall paintings, many of which come from villas in Campania in southern Italy. These paintings can be divided into 4 “styles” or main periods and may include early examples of trompe l’oeil, pseudo-perspective and pure landscape.

Panel painting became more common in the Romanesque period under the strong influence of Byzantine icons. Towards the middle of the 13th century, medieval art and Gothic painting became more realistic, with the beginning of interest in the representation of volume and perspective in Italy with Cimabue and then his pupil Giotto. From Giotto onwards, the treatment of composition by the best painters also became much freer and more innovative. They are regarded in Western culture as the two great medieval masters of painting.

The Italian Renaissance is considered by many to be the Golden Age of painting; it extends roughly from the 14th to the mid-17th century, with significant influence outside the borders of modern Italy as well. In Italy, artists such as Paolo Uccello, Fra Angelico, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, Filippo Lippi, Giorgione, Tintoretto, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael, Giovanni Bellini and Titian raised painting to a higher level by using perspective, the study of human anatomy and proportion, and the development of an unprecedented refinement of drawing and painting techniques. Michelangelo worked as a sculptor from about 1500 to 1520. His great masterpieces include his David, his Pietà, his Moses. Other great Renaissance sculptors include Lorenzo Ghiberti, Luca Della Robbia, Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi and Andrea del Verrocchio.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the High Renaissance produced a stylised art that became known as Mannerism. Instead of the balanced compositions and rational approach to perspective that characterised art at the beginning of the 16th century, the Mannerists sought instability, artificiality and doubt. The imperturbable faces and gestures of Piero della Francesca and the calm virgins of Raphael are replaced by the troubled expressions of Pontormo and the emotional intensity of El Greco. In the eighteenth century, Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, Artemisia Gentileschi, Mattia Preti, Carlo Saraceni and Bartolomeo Manfredi are among the greatest painters of the Italian Baroque. Later, in the 18th century, Italian Rococo was mainly inspired by French Rococo, as France was the founding nation of this particular style with artists such as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Canaletto. Italian neoclassical sculpture focused on the idealistic aspect of the movement with Antonio Canova’s Nudes.

In the 19th century, the most important Italian Romantic painters were Francesco Hayez, Giuseppe Bezzuoli and Francesco Podesti. Impressionism was brought to Italy from France by the Macchiaioli, led by Giovanni Fattori, and Giovanni Boldini; Realism by Gioacchino Toma and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. In the twentieth century, with Futurism, especially through the works of Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla, Italy re-established itself as a pioneering country in the artistic development of painting and sculpture. Futurism was replaced by the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, which had a strong influence on the Surrealists and subsequent generations of artists.

Literature and theatre

The foundation of the modern Italian language was laid by the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, whose greatest work, the Divine Comedy, is considered one of the most important literary statements produced in medieval Europe. Italy has no shortage of famous literary figures: Giovanni Boccaccio, Giacomo Leopardi, Alessandro Manzoni, Torquato Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto and Petrarch, whose most famous means of expression, the sonnet, originated in Italy.

Important philosophers include Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Niccolò Machiavelli and Giambattista Vico. Modern literary figures and Nobel Prize winners include the nationalist poet Giosuè Carducci (1906), the realist writer Grazia Deledda (1926), the modern playwright Luigi Pirandello (1936), the poets Salvatore Quasimodo (1959) and Eugenio Montale (1975), and the satirist and playwright Dario Fo (1997).

Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio is the most famous children’s classic by an Italian author.

Italian theatre can be traced back to the Roman tradition, which was strongly influenced by the Greek. As with many other literary genres, Roman playwrights tended to adapt and translate from Greek. For example, Seneca’s Phaedra was based on that of Euripides, and many of Plautus’ comedies were direct translations of Menander’s works. In the sixteenth and up to the eighteenth centuries, commedia dell’arte was a form of improvisational theatre that is still performed today. Itinerant troupes of players set up an open-air stage and amused themselves with juggling, acrobatics and, in general, humorous plays based on a repertoire of fixed characters with a rough scenario, called canovaccio.

Music

From folk music to classical music, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. The instruments associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the predominant classical music forms, such as the symphony, concerto and sonata, originated in the innovations of Italian music in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Among the most famous Italian composers are the Renaissance composers Palestrina and Monteverdi, the Baroque composers Scarlatti, Corelli and Vivaldi, the classical composers Paganini and Rossini, and the Romantic composers Verdi and Puccini. Modern Italian composers such as Berio and Nono played an important role in the development of experimental and electronic music. While the tradition of classical music remains strong in Italy, as evidenced by the fame of the myriad opera houses such as La Scala in Milan and San Carlo in Naples, and performers such as pianist Maurizio Pollini and the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Italians have a thriving scene for contemporary music.

Italy is known to be the cradle of opera. It is believed that Italian opera was founded in the early 17th century in Italian cities such as Mantua and Venice. Later, the works and plays of 19th and early 20th century Italian composers such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini are among the most famous operas ever written and are now performed in opera houses around the world. The La Scala opera house in Milan is also recognised as one of the best in the world. Famous Italian opera singers include Enrico Caruso and Alessandro Bonci.

Introduced in the early 1920s, jazz took off particularly strongly in Italy and remained popular despite the xenophobic cultural policies of the fascist regime. The most important centres of jazz music in Italy today include Milan, Rome and Sicily. Later, Italy was at the forefront of the progressive rock movement of the 1970s, with groups like PFM and Goblin. Italy was also an important country in the development of disco and electronic music. Italo-disco, known for its futuristic sound and extensive use of synthesizers and drum machines, was one of the earliest genres of electronic dance, as were European forms of disco outside of Euro-disco (which later influenced several genres such as Eurodance and Nu-disco).

Producers/composers like Giorgio Moroder, who won three Oscars for his music, had a great influence on the development of EDM (Electronic Dance Music). Today, Italian pop music is represented every year by the Sanremo Music Festival, which served as the inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest, and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. Singers such as pop diva Mina, classical crossover artist Andrea Bocelli, Grammy winner Laura Pausini and European frontrunner Eros Ramazzotti have achieved international fame.

Cinema

The history of Italian cinema began a few months after the Lumière brothers started showing films. The first Italian film lasted only a few seconds and showed Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing into the camera. The Italian film industry emerged between 1903 and 1908 with three companies: Società Italiana Cines, Ambrosio Film and Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and Naples. Within a short time, these first companies achieved a decent production quality and the films were soon sold outside Italy. The cinema was then used by Benito Mussolini, who founded the famous Studio Cinecittà in Rome for the production of fascist propaganda until the Second World War.

After the war, Italian cinema was widely recognised and exported until its artistic decline in the 1980s. Italian directors of the period include Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni and Dario Argento. Films include treasures of world cinema such as La dolce vitaThe Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Bicycle Thieves. The period from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s was the heyday of neorealist cinema and reflected the poor state of post-war Italy.

As the country became richer in the 1950s, a form of neorealism known as pink neorealism took hold, and in the 1960s and 1970s other film genres such as sword and sand, followed by spaghetti westerns, were popular. In recent years, the Italian scene has only occasionally received international attention, with films such as Life is Beautiful directed by Roberto Benigni, Il Postino: The Postman with Massimo Troisi and The Great Beauty directed by Paolo Sorrentino.

Italy is the most awarded country at the Academy Awards in the category “Best Foreign Language Film” with 14 awards won, 3 special awards and 31 nominations.

Sport

By far the most popular sport in Italy is football. The Italian national football team (nicknamed Gli Azzurri – “Les Bleus”) is one of the most successful in the world and has won four FIFA World Cups (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006). Italian clubs have won 48 major European trophies, making Italy the second most successful country in European football. Serie A, Italy’s top football league, is the fourth most successful in Europe and is followed by millions of fans worldwide.

Other popular team sports in Italy are volleyball, basketball and rugby. The Italian national men’s and women’s teams are often among the best in the world. The Italian national basketball team’s best results were a gold medal at Eurobasket 1983 and Eurobasket 1999, and a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. Lega Basket Serie A is widely regarded as one of the most competitive in Europe. Team rugby enjoys great popularity, especially in the north of the country. The Italian national team competes in the Six Nations Championship and is a regular at the Rugby World Cup. Italy is one of the top nations in world rugby. The Italian men’s national volleyball team became world champions three times in a row in 1990, 1994 and 1998, and also won three silver medals at the 1996, 2004 and 2016 Olympic Games. Italy also has a long and successful tradition in individual sports. Cycling races are a well-known sport in the country. Italians have won more UCI World Championships than any other country except Belgium. The Giro d’Italia is a cycling race that takes place every year in May and is one of the three Grand Tours, along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, each lasting about three weeks. Alpine skiing is also a very popular sport in Italy and the country is a popular international ski destination, known for its ski resorts. Italian skiers have performed well at the Winter Olympics, the Alpine Ski World Cup and the World Championships. Tennis is very popular in Italy, where it is the fourth most played sport. The Rome Masters, founded in 1930, is one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world. Italian professional tennis players won the Davis Cup in 1976 and the Fed Cup in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013. Motorsport is also very popular in Italy. Italy has won by far the most MotoGP world championships. The Italian Scuderia Ferrari is the oldest Grand Prix team still active, having raced since 1948, and with 224 victories it is statistically the most successful Formula 1 team in history.

Historically, Italy has been successful at the Olympic Games, participating in the first Olympics and in 47 out of 48 Games. Italian athletes won 522 medals at the Summer Olympics and 106 more at the Winter Olympics, for a total of 628 medals with 235 golds, making it the fifth most successful nation in Olympic history in terms of total medals. The country has hosted two Winter Olympics (1956 and 2006) and one Summer Olympics (1960).

Fashion and design

Italian fashion has a long tradition and is considered one of the most important in the world. Milan, Florence and Rome are the most important Italian fashion capitals. According to Global Language Monitor’s Top Global Fashion Capital Rankings2013, Rome ranked sixth in the world, while Milan was twelfth. Leading Italian fashion brands such as Gucci, Armani, Prada, Versace, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Fendi, Moschino, Max Mara, Trussardi and Ferragamo, to name a few, are among the top fashion houses in the world. Likewise, the fashion magazine Vogue Italia is considered one of the most prestigious in the world.

Italy also has a strong presence in design, including interior design, architectural design, industrial design and urban planning. The country has produced some well-known furniture designers, such as Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass, and Italian terms such as “Bel Disegno” and “Linea Italiana” have entered the vocabulary of furniture design. Examples of white goods and classic Italian furniture include Zanussi washing machines and refrigerators, Atrium’s “New Tone” sofas and Ettore Sottsass’ postmodern library inspired by Bob Dylan’s song “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”.

Today, Milan and Turin are national leaders in architectural and industrial design. The city of Milan hosts the Fiera Milano, the largest design fair in Europe. Milan also hosts important events and venues related to design and architecture, such as the “Fuori Salone” and the Salone del Mobile, and has hosted designers such as Bruno Munari, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni.

Cuisine

Modern Italian cuisine has evolved through centuries of social and political change and has its roots in the 4th century BC. BC. Italian cuisine itself is strongly influenced by Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine and Jewish influences. Important changes took place with the discovery of the New World, when elements such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and corn were introduced, which are now at the heart of the cuisine, but were not introduced in large quantities until the 18th century. Italian cuisine is known for its regional diversity, the richness of its taste differences and is considered one of the most popular in the world, exerting a strong influence abroad as well.

The Mediterranean diet is the foundation of Italian cuisine, rich in pasta, fish, fruit and vegetables, and characterised by its extreme simplicity and variety, with many dishes consisting of just four to eight ingredients. Dishes and recipes are often derived from local and family traditions rather than created by chefs, making many recipes perfect for home cooking, which is one of the main reasons for the growing popularity of Italian cuisine worldwide, from America to Asia. Ingredients and dishes vary greatly from region to region.

A key factor in the success of Italian cuisine is its heavy reliance on traditional products; Italy has the most traditional specialities protected by European legislation. Cheese, cured meats and wine are an important part of Italian cuisine, with many regional variations and protected designations of origin or geographical indications. Together with coffee (especially espresso), they are a very important part of Italian food culture. Desserts have a long tradition of combining local flavours like citrus, pistachios and almonds with mild cheeses like mascarpone and ricotta or exotic flavours like cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon. Gelato, tiramisù and cassata are among the best-known examples of Italian desserts, cakes and pastries.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Italy

Stay safe in Italy

In case of emergency, call 113 (Polizia di Stato – State Police), 112 (Carabinieri – Gendarmerie), 117 (Guardia di Finanza – Financial Police), 115 (Fire Brigade), 118 (Medical Rescue Service), 1515 (State Forestry Administration), 1530 (Coast Guard), 1528 (Traffic News).

Italy, like most developed countries, is a safe place to travel. There have been few incidents of serious terrorism/violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively domestically motivated. An example is the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence by the Italian mafia. Almost all major incidents are attributed to organised crime or anarchist movements and are rarely, if ever, directed against travellers or foreigners.

Crime

The rate of violent crime in Italy is low compared to most European countries. If you are reasonably careful and use common sense, you will not find any risks to your personal safety even in the less affluent areas of the big cities. However, petty crime can be a problem for unwary travellers. Travellers should be aware that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, sometimes in collaboration with street vendors; the usual precautions against pickpockets should be taken. Cases of rape and armed robbery are increasing slightly.

You should exercise the usual caution when walking alone at night, although it is still reasonably safe for single women to walk alone at night. Italians often offer to accompany their girlfriends home for safety, although crime statistics show that sexual violence against women is rare compared to most other Western countries.

The Mafia, the Camorra and other crime syndicates, although notorious, are never involved in petty crime and do not harass tourists or passers-by.

Prostitution, mostly run by criminal organisations of semi-legal foreigners such as Nigerians, Albanians and Romanians, is widespread in the night-time streets of medium-sized and large cities. In Italy, prostitution is not exactly illegal, although the authorities are taking a tougher stance than before. Brothels are illegal, however, and pimping is a serious offence, considered by the law to be a form of slavery. In some areas, it is even a criminal offence to stop your car in front of a prostitute, although the rows of prostitutes along many streets, especially in the suburbs, indicate that the law is not enforced. Due to the ambivalent situation regarding prostitution, many prostitutes are victims of trafficking. In general, being a client of a prostitute is of dubious legality and is discouraged. It is a criminal offence to be a client of a prostitute under the age of 18.

There are four types of police forces that a tourist may encounter in Italy. The Polizia di Stato (State Police) is the national police force and is mainly stationed in the big cities and near railway stations; they wear blue shirts and grey trousers and drive cars painted light blue with the word “POLIZIA” on the side. The Carabinieri are the national gendarmerie and are present in both small communities and towns; they wear very dark blue uniforms with vertical fire-red stripes on the trousers and drive cars of a similar colour. There is no real difference between the roles of these two large police forces: both can intervene, investigate and prosecute in the same way. The Guardia di Finanza is a police force responsible for border controls and fiscal matters; although they are not patrol police, they sometimes help other forces to control the territory. They are dressed all in light grey and drive blue or grey cars with yellow markings. All these police forces are generally professional and trustworthy, corruption is practically unknown. Finally, the municipalities have a local police force, with names like “Polizia municipale” or “Polizia locale” (in the recent past it was called “Vigili urbani”). Their style of dress varies from town to town, but they always wear some kind of blue uniform with white piping and details, and drive cars with similar markings, which should be easy to recognise. These local police forces are not trained for major police operations, as until recently they were mainly traffic officers assigned to minor tasks; in case of major crimes, the Polizia or the Carabinieri are more likely to be called.

After leaving a restaurant or other commercial establishment, it is possible, though unlikely, that you will be asked to present your bill and documents to Guardia di Finanza officials. This is perfectly legitimate (they check that the establishment has printed a proper receipt and therefore pay tax on what has been sold).

For all practical matters, including reporting a crime or requesting information, you can contact one of the types of police mentioned above. Recently, the Italian army has also been directly responsible for protecting important places, including some sites in the city that you want to visit and that could be the target of terrorist attacks; in case of emergency, you can definitely ask them for help, but be aware that they are not police officers and they have to call the real police so that you can report a crime, etc.

In Italy, police officers are not allowed to levy fines and do not have the power to ask you for money for any reason (unless you are stopped in your foreign vehicle and have to pay a fine, see the section on driving above).

Possession of drugs is still illegal, but only punishable above a certain amount.

The main emergency number operated by the State Police is 113. The emergency medical number is 118, but the 113 call centre staff are trained to deal with errors and will put you in touch with the actual emergency medical services immediately.

In Italy, there are many bars that appeal to tourists and foreigners on the theme of “country of origin” and are called “American bars” or “Irish pubs”. In addition to travellers, these bars attract a large number of Italians who go there specifically to meet travellers and other foreigners, among other reasons. While the motivation of the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there may be the odd petty criminal lurking in these establishments hoping to take advantage of disoriented or drunken travellers. Travelling in groups to these places is an easy solution to this problem. Otherwise, if you are alone, avoid getting drunk!

If you go into town by car, avoid the pedestrian zones (ZTL [www]), otherwise you will face a fine of about 100 euros.

As in other countries, there are gangs known to manipulate ATMs by placing “skimmers” in front of the card slot and obtaining a clone of your card. Check the machine carefully and if in doubt, use another one.

Naples and Rome are the cities with the highest crime rates against tourists. Both cities are teeming with shady characters and special attention should be paid to places near the main historical monuments (e.g. the Colosseum) and tourist meeting points (e.g. Piazza Campo de’ Fiori in Rome). It should also be noted that all train stations in the country attract “shady characters” and that train stations at night are generally not places where you want to stay too long.

Tourist scams

Read legends about tourist scams. Most of them occur regularly in big cities like Rome, Milan or Naples.

Around popular tourist spots are groups of Indian (or Bangladeshi, or sometimes African) men trying to sell cheap souvenirs. They may also carry roses and say they are giving you a gift because they like you, but as soon as you accept their “gift” they demand money. They are very persistent, begging and pessimistic, and often the only way to get rid of them is to simply be rude. Do your best not to accept their “gifts” because they will follow you everywhere and ask you for money. By simply saying “no” or “vai via” (“go away”), you can get rid of them until the next vendor comes to you. Another typical encounter in tourist places is that of the fake “deaf-mutes” who enter restaurants or bars and leave small items (lighters, key rings or small toys) on the tables with a note asking for financial help. Do not examine their goods; leave them downstairs and they will come and get them and leave again.

A special scam is when plainclothes police officers approach you and ask you to look for “drug money” or to see your passport. This is a scam to take your money away. You can scare them by asking to see your ID. The Guardia di Finanza (policemen in grey uniform) do the customs work.

A newer scam is that men will approach you, ask you where you are from and start putting bracelets around your wrists. When they are done, they will try to charge you more than 20 euros per bracelet. If someone tries to grab your hand, pull it back quickly. If you are caught, you can refuse to pay, but this may not make sense if there are not many people around. Carry small notes or change in your wallet. If you get caught paying for the wristband, you can convince them that you only have one or two euros.

Another scam is to be approached by a man who asks you to help him pay a large bill, usually 20 or 50 euros. Do not give him your money. The bill he gives you is a fake, but at first glance it looks real.

The best advice to avoid scams is to stay away from anyone you have never seen before who starts talking to you.

When you take a taxi, don’t forget the number plate on the car door. In seconds, the taxi bill has increased by 10 euros or more. Be careful when giving money to the taxi driver. In Italy, until 2012, all licensed taxi drivers are actually native Italians. Any car claiming to be a private taxi driven by a non-Italian, e.g. an Indian or Hispanic, is therefore most likely a scam.

Racism

Racist violence is rare, but it is in the news several times a year.

Italians may regard a person with significant “foreign” characteristics as an immigrant and, unfortunately, treat them with some contempt or condescension.

Tourists can generally expect not to be insulted to their faces, but unfortunately occasional racism and bigotry are not absent from conversation (especially in bars and especially when sports games are played with non-white players).

Sporting aggression (hooliganism) against foreigners is not unknown and supporters of foreign teams playing in Italy should take particular care not to wear their colours openly outside the sports ground on the day of the match.

The open display of affection by same-sex couples can be frowned upon, especially in the more conservative regions.

Stay healthy in Italy

Italian hospitals are public and offer quality care free of charge to EU travellers, although, as elsewhere, you may have to wait a long time for treatment unless you have a serious condition. Emergency rooms are called PRONTO SOCCORSO. Emergency assistance is also provided for non-EU travellers. For non-emergency assistance, non-European citizens must pay out of pocket, there is no agreement with the American health insurance (although some insurance companies may reimburse these costs later).

In Italy, there is a four-colour emergency code, with red being the most immediate (help will be given without delay) and white being the lowest (anyone with a red, yellow and green code will beat you to it). With a white code, which means the treatment is not urgent and no emergency staff are needed, you will also have to pay for the whole consultation. So don’t go to Pronto Soccorso just to check your knee after last year’s fall.

In southern Italy, the water may come from desalination plants and sometimes have a strange taste due to prolonged droughts, but it is always perfectly safe as the state carries out continuous testing. If in doubt, use bottled water. Elsewhere, tap water is perfectly drinkable and very well maintained. If it is not, the warning “NOT DRINKABLE” will be displayed.

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