Italy – By Yvonne Gordon
The pizza and pasta alone would be reason enough to visit. But Italy is far more than it’s most famous exports. Not only does the country that gave us La Dolce Vita have world class food and wine, but there’s an abundance of art, architecture and culture to enjoy – this, after all, is the country with more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in the world. From the canals of Venice, Tuscany’s tiny medieval hilltop towns and the history of Pompeii through to the lakes of Garda and Como and the peaks of the Dolomites, there’s plenty here for everyone to explore, from families to adventure travellers. The Mediterranean lifestyle and weather makes Italy an absolute pleasure to discover. What’s not to love?
Currency: The main currency is the Euro. Most main towns have bureaux de changes and banks for exchanging other currencies.
Getting to Italy:
- Italy is well served by airports and international airlines. The main international airports for long-haul flights are Rome and Milan, with other large airports including Bergamo, Venice and Naples. European airlines fly to smaller airports throughout the country such as Pisa, Bologna and Florence.
- You can also get to Italy by road or rail, via neighbouring European countries France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
- There are regular ferries to Italy from Greece, Croatia, Malta and North Africa. The Italian coast is also a popular destination for cruise ships.
Getting Around Italy:
- Italy has an excellent rail network with frequent, well connected services and high-speed trains, such as the Frecciarossa, between major cities.
- Buses are more suited to local travel.
- Driving is also an option. Italians drive on the right and roads are good, although parking can be tricky in towns and cities due to restrictions. Petrol is expensive, diesel less so, and many motorways have tolls. There are regular ferry services to most of the offshore islands.
When To Go To Italy?
- Peak tourist season in Italy is from June to September, with the hottest weather also during this time in both the north and south of the country.
- Most tourist attractions are open year-round though popular areas like Rome, Venice and Florence can become overcrowded and uncomfortable in high season.
- Spring and autumn bring cooler temperatures, slightly lower prices and fewer crowds, making sightseeing more comfortable.
- Winter can be cold, especially in the north of Italy, when skiing in the Alps is popular.
Festivals/Events in Italy:
- Italians love a party and you’ll find festivals, especially in summer, in nearly every town and village.
- Some of the main events include Carneval in Venice, which takes place in late February/March every year (just before Lent) with colourful costumes and floats, and Easter, which is celebrated in every area but particularly in Rome, when the city comes alive for around two weeks with celebrations, processions and masses centred around Easter weekend itself.
Food & Drink in Italy:
- Home of pizza, prosecco, pasta, Parma ham and Parmesan (and that’s just the Ps), Italy is a food lover’s paradise. Each region has its own speciality dishes, so look out for the best Bolognese sauce in Bologna, the finest tagliatelle in Umbria, delicious cannoli in Sicily and, of course, authentic pizza in Naples.
- Coffee is always taken in the morning (usually an espresso), aperitivos happen before dinner and lunch is usually the main meal of the day.
Top 5 things to do in Italy:
- Get lost in Rome
- Drive the Amalfi Coast
- Hike the Cinque Terre trail
- Take a waterbus around Venice
- Experience the art of Florence
For more information check out our Top 10 Things to do in Italy.
Ultimate Luxury Experience:
- For a one in a million, luxury experience, take a tour of Lake Como in a private classic wooden boat with your own driver. On the lake, in North Italy’s Lombardy Region and set at the foot of the Alps, you’ll see the most beautiful lakeside villas. It’s possible to arrange a private guided tour of one or two of the best before stopping for lunch or dinner at a lakeside restaurant.
- On the lake, you’ll see islands, bridges, waterfalls and secret swimming spots, while relaxing, sipping Prosecco and enjoying laidback life on the water in one of the world’s most beautiful natural settings. If it’s good enough for George Clooney…
Ultimate Family Experience:
- What makes a visit to the ruins of Pompeii, near Naples, so fascinating is that the city was frozen in time after the volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year AD79 and covered the town in ash, the city discovered 1,500 years later, meaning travellers get a glimpse of life in an Italian town 2,000 years ago.
- There are, of course, parts of the visit that feel a bit morbid, especially for younger children, given the catastrophic events that took place here. But walking the town’s streets means families can step back into the past and learn Roman history with each step, visiting the ruins of old shops and homes with ornate frescoes, tiled mosaic floors and perfectly preserved details, like cooking and wine vessels. If your kids are learning about Roman history at school, Pompeii is a ‘must see’.
What To Pack:
- Italy can get extremely hot, especially in the south, so pack plenty of sun cream, sunglasses and head protection during the summer months and bring a reusable water bottle that can be filled for free at many public fountains. In winter, temperatures plunge, especially in the north, so bring appropriate cold weather clothing. For the Dolomites and other mountain ranges, good walking boots, warm layers and a good jacket are essential.
- Dress modestly and wear conservative clothing (no shorts and long sleeves) to visit some of the main tourist attractions, especially religious sites, such as churches and basilicas. Wear sturdy shoes for outdoor activities and for visiting archaeological sites. A rain jacket can come in handy.
- Voltage in Italy is 220 volts and plugs have two round pins, so bring appropriate adaptors.
Health & Safety in Italy:
- No vaccines are required for Italy and EU citizens are covered for hospital medical treatment with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). All visitors to Italy should have a good travel insurance policy to cover medical emergencies and theft.
- Take care when driving and crossing roads in urban areas as Italian drivers can be fast and don’t always stop at crossings.
- Keep an eye on personal belongings, especially in main urban areas where pickpocketing and bag snatching can be common. Don’t leave personal belongings on view in unattended vehicles.
- Female travellers should avoid quiet areas and unlit streets at night.
Travel Tips for Italy
- Accommodation in some cities can include a room tax per night (between €1 and €5 per night), so check if this is included in rates when booking.
- Italians live to eat, meaning lots of time and thought is put into food. Be prepared for a long feast, especially during festivals and special events.
- Italians often put great emphasis on appearance and they’re known for their chic style. Don’t be afraid to dress up, especially for dinners and evening events, and try to dress modestly for visiting tourist attractions and especially churches.
- The Palazzo Venart in Venice, a restored 16th century Palazzo, with original features, gardens opening on to the Grand Canal and a Michelin-starred chef.
- The Hotel Santa Caterina is the ultimate Amalfi Coast romantic getaway, with clifftop views, a private beach and suites with sunken hot tubs and heated infinity pools.
- The three-Michelin star restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence for a colourful feast for the senses.
- In Naples, the home of pizza, tuck into authentic pizza from Pizza La Notizia
You have to go to…
- The Sistine Chapel if you are in Rome, where Michelangelo painted the famous ceiling in the early 1500s.
- In Florence, the magnificent Duomo’s dome and bell tower have to be seen.
Before you go…
- Italy’s amazing scenery is the setting of many movies, so for a true classic, see Cinema Paradiso.
- For Amalfi Coast inspiration, check out The Talented Mr Ripley, though the murder and identity theft elements don’t need to be part of your holiday.
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Yvonne Gordon is an award-winning travel writer whose work has appeared in publications across the globe, including The Irish Independent, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, AFAR.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, Fodor’s Travel and TravelDK.com. Awards include Travel Writer Of The Year at the Travel Extra Travel Journalist of the Year Awards 2016.
Follow her travels at @yvonne.gordon on Instagram.