ITALY TRAVEL GUIDE
One of the world's best-loved destinations, Italy is also known as the land of la dolce vita meaning "the sweet life". Aside from being home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, the nation has absolutely remarkable landscapes varying from snowy mountain peaks of the Alps and Apennines, to sunny picturesque coastlines and even numerous tranquil alpine lakes and natural hot springs scattered in between. You can go skiing in the Alps, visit Roman ruins or explore the Grand Canal in Venice.
Being of Italian descent and having family throughout Italy, we've spent quite some time in Italy. Our most recent trip was during 2018 when we enjoyed a 4-month long road trip in a 27-year-old campervan!
ITALY QUICK FACTS
- Currency: Italy has the Euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries. One Euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official Euro member issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
- Electricity: 230V AC electricity. Power outlets are round two-prong sockets (type F which also accepts type C and type E). Be sure to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic gadgets. If you are from a country with 110V as a standard be aware that you will need a voltage converter.
- Visa: Italy is a member state of the European Union and Schengen Agreement. Citizens of EU countries can enter Italy freely on a valid passport or national identity card, while those from many non-EU countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, among others, do not need a visa for a stay of up to ninety days. All other nationals should consult the relevant embassy about visa requirements. Legally, you’re required to register with the police within three days of entering Italy, though if you’re staying at a hotel this will be done for you. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry and that you have an available completely blank page in your passport.
- Safety: Italy, like most of Europe, is a generally safe country. While violent crime involving tourists is rare, petty theft is not uncommon in all the big cities, on beaches, and at major tourist sights. Tourist scams are most prevalent in bigger cities such as Rome, Milan, or Naples. Make sure that you don’t accept any “gifts” in the form of trinkets, flowers, or bracelets from any vendors. Be stern and respond to them saying "no" or "vai via" ("go away"). Do not help someone “trying to break a large cash note” as this is notoriously fake money. In most places tap water is perfectly drinkable and where it is not, a "NON POTABILE" warning is usually visible. After leaving a restaurant or other commercial facility, it is possible, though unlikely, that you are asked to show your bill and your documents by Guardia di Finanza agents. This is perfectly legitimate (they are checking to see if the facility has printed a proper receipt and will thus pay taxes on what was sold). It's a good idea to review your insurance coverage before you leave to make sure it's adequate. We would suggest checking out either SafetyWing or World Nomads, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
- Language: Italy's primary language is Italian and although English is understood and spoken in larger cities and tourist destinations this should not be relied on. Once you venture into the countryside and visit smaller, rural villages you should be prepared for no English whatsoever.
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ITALY PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
6 January, Epiphany
25 April, Liberation Day
1 May, May Day
Sunday nearest 2 June, Republic Day
15 August, Assumption of the Virgin Mary
1 November, All Saints Day
Sunday nearest 4 November, WWI Victory
8 December, Immaculate Conception
26 December, St. Stephen’s Day
Also, Easter Monday.
FESTIVALS IN ITALY
Italy has an abundance of festivals celebrating all sorts of things, from religion to food and art. Many Italian festivals are based on historical events and can include processions with people dressed in period costumes, contests between neighbourhoods of the town, flag-throwers, food, and fireworks. Summer is the height of the festival season, as you travel in Italy, look for posters advertising a festa or sagra. Here is but a small selection of the most important and interesting events.
- Carnevale: From January 27 to February 13, the floating city of Venice is transformed into an extravagant masked ball. The festival, which is believed to have originated in the 12th century, celebrates the anticipation of Lent (a time when Christians abstain from revelry and eating meat). While the opulent masquerade balls require invitations with steep ticket prices, the candlelit parade of boats, concerts, and street performances are free and open to the public. Venice has one of the top carnival festivals in the world but Carnevale is celebrated in many Italian towns. Viareggio, on the coast of Tuscany, is known for its elaborate floats, and parades are held on several weekends.
- Battle of the Oranges: Each year in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, the townspeople of Ivrea divide into nine squads and spend the next three days having Italy’s biggest food fight. This famous ‘battle’ reenacts a 12th-century skirmish with citrus fruit in what is one of Europe’s biggest food fights. Participants either run through the streets or hurl oranges from one of the ‘battle buses’ which patrol Ivrea.
- Marriage of the Seal: During the last weekend of May, Venice celebrates its nautical prowess with a huge procession of rowboats from St Mark’s to the Port of St Nicoló. Thousands line the waterways to watch the drama unfold and catch one of the races that see small teams compete in river sprints. Festa della Sensa culminates at the church of St Nicolò and a market is held in the nearby square.
- L'ardia Di San Costantino: Taking place in July, this is one of the biggest festivals in Sardinia when an exhilarating horse race commemorates Constantine's victory at the Mulvian Bridge in 312. It's much more than a race, and it has an interesting spiritual twist. Besides watching the races, the large array of food stands makes it a great festival for eating.
- Festa della Madonna Bruna: On July 2 each year, the people of Matera commemorate a medieval miracle first celebrated in 1389. For the Festa della Bruna, a statue of the Virgin Mary is carried slowly through the streets on a grand chariot pulled by mules and escorted by the columns of ‘knights’ on horseback. The colourful procession, accompanied by a marching band, church, and state dignitaries, ends with a huge fireworks display.
- Verona Opera Festival: Each summer in late June to early September, Verona’s Roman amphitheatre opens its doors for a series of classical performances. The famous venue, unchanged for thousands of years, is one of the best places to see live music in Italy.
- Calcio Storico: The Calcio Storico Fiorentino is held during June in Florence. It resembles a combination of soccer, rugby, and wrestling which originated during the 6th. Teams of 27 players compete to try to get a ball to each other’s end but, unlike football, opposing players can tackle using punches, kicks, and elbows. The official rules were written in 1580 by Count Giovanni de Bardi and even today cannon fire still signals the start of the match.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ITALY
While you can visit Italy all year round, it’s worth knowing what to expect in each season, especially if you need a particular climate for your travels or if you’re planning on hitting all the top tourist attractions but want to avoid the crowds. Italy's best travel months are May, June, September, and October. Unfortunately, they're also the busiest and most expensive time to visit. Crowds aside, these months combine the convenience of peak season with pleasant weather.
The heat in July and August can be grueling, particularly in the south, where temperatures regularly exceeded 30°C. August is also when many Italians take their summer vacations and the big cities tend to be quiet this time, but beach and mountain resorts are jam-packed. You can also expect the scene in the major historic cities – Rome, Florence, Venice – to be slightly artificial, as the only people around will be fellow tourists.
April & May - Perfect spring weather; ideal for exploring vibrant cities and blooming countryside.
June & July - Summer means beach weather and a packed festival calendar.
September & October - Enjoy mild temperatures, autumn cuisine, and the vendemia (grape harvest).
Between November and April, you can expect cooler weather, and you'll miss most of the sweat and stress of the tourist season - although during major holidays crowds can certainly gather. Off-season, you should expect shorter hours at tourist sights, more lunchtime breaks, and much fewer available activities. During the middle of winter, temperatures often drop to near 0°C in the Milan area and beach towns are nearly shut down.
The best time to visit Italy, in terms of the weather and lack of crowds, is April to late June, and September or October. If you’re expecting beach time and plan to swim, however, bear in mind that only the south of the country is likely to be warm enough outside the May to September period.
ITALY WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Predominantly Mediterranean; Alpine In Far North; Hot, Dry In South
ITALY TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN ITALY
The snow sports season in Italy can start as early as late November and lasts until late April in the north. The busiest period is from mid December through to February, with the lesser crowded times in the beginning of December and March. Italy has many excellent spots for noth skiing and snowboarding.
HIKING & CYCLING IN ITALY
The best time for outdoor activities in Italy is from May to June and September to October. In most regions, July and August are just too hot, although at higher altitudes it can be bearable.
BEACH OPTIONS IN ITALY
Italy's coastline is filled with beaches, varying from rocky cliffs to pebbled shores and even some sandy beaches. Italians love going to the beach and although the weather is good from May to September, the months of July and particularly August are by far the hottest and busiest.
SURFING IN ITALY
The best season for surfing in Italy is by far winter followed by autumn and spring, with summer bringing very little swell or waves. Some great areas for surfing include Tuscany, Sicily, Veneto, Sardinia and Lido Di Ostia.
KITESURF IN ITALY
The best wind in Italy can be found from March through til October with consistent winds that are thermal based. Just keep in mind that July and August are peak tourist seasons so you might end up having to dodge the swimmers! Great spots for kitesurfing beginners include La Stagnone, Porto Pino and Porto Pollo.
For more details on kite surfing in Italy expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN ITALY
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
ITALY TRAVEL COSTS
As in every country, you can travel around for as cheap or as expensive as you want. Italy can be one of the more expensive European countries to visit, but how much a visit will cost depends on where in the country you go and when. Much of Italy is little or no more expensive than its Eurozone neighbours, with reasonably priced accommodation and restaurant food. That said, you’ll find the south much less expensive than the north and as a broad guide, expect to pay most in Venice, Milan, Florence, and Bologna, less in Rome, while in Naples and Sicily prices drop quite a lot in comparison. During the height of summer, in July and August when the Italians take their holidays, hotel prices can escalate; outside the season, however, you can often negotiate much lower rates.
Some basics are reasonably inexpensive, such as transport and, most notably, food, although drinking can be pricey unless you stick to wine. Room rates are in line with much of the rest of Europe, at least in the major cities and resorts. As an indication, you should be able to survive on a budget of about €50–60 per day if you stay in a hostel, have lunchtime snacks and a cheap evening meal. If you stay in a mid-range hotel and eat out twice a day, you’ll spend closer to €130–140 per day. An option to save on both accommodation and food costs is to consider renting rooms or apartments, through services like Airbnb. In an expensive city like Paris, this will be the best value.
We ended up spending quite a bit of time in Italy during 2018 on our camper-van trip and even during July it is possible to do it affordably in this way. Even in notoriously expensive Venice, we found a convenient camper stop at €18 EUR for a 24-hours stay regardless of the number of persons and it includes all camping services! Italy has a good network of area sosta (camper service areas). These provide free or low-cost camper-van camping in almost all towns as well as rural spots. Some areas are service points only and do not permit overnight stay and then there are areas which permit (or tolerate) overnight parking where there might be no service whatsoever. You could easily save by seeking out more free camping spots or you could choose to spend a whole lot more at the many luxurious campsites across the country.
ITALY TRAVEL TIPS
Unless you opt for a single-base holiday, you will probably find yourself travelling around Italy a fair bit. When planning on how to get around Italy, it is worth considering personal and public transport options. Most rail and bus services are good value and efficient. Regular ferries service the islands, and local buses link more remote areas. However. especially around the southern parts of Italy, trains can often run well behind schedule and may not be air-conditioned. Internal flights can be worthwhile and even work out cheaper than the train for some of the longer journeys. We found it easy enough to drive our rather unwieldy camper-van around for a few months although we did avoid major cities and for the most part any toll-roads. In rural areas roads can get very narrow and you should allow for enough time to reach your destination than when using major roads. Car rental is easily accessible and might be cheaper than expected.
Europe Campervan Budget Report (103 nights) 2018
Buying your own food in Italy can be very cheap and the best way to experience the country’s cuisine. The market is your friend and you will find plenty of bread, cheese, and meat shops around – this is how the locals eat! They go to their markets, buy food, and cook it at home. By visiting a discount grocer like Aldi or Lidl, you will get away for even less. If you want an idea of what groceries cost in Lidl have a look at the video walkthrough we did in Italy. Also, keep an eye out for “workers’ lunches” across Europe, these are generally also good value for money and will usually consist of a small set menu and drink for the day.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF ITALY
Figuring out where to go in Italy might be the hardest part of your trip! With so much to see and experience, we would recommend you to take enough time to explore this alluring country at a slower pace. You can easily find yourself constantly rushing from city to city rather than staying longer and experience a destination in a more unique and authentic way. Cinque Terre is a good example as few tourists stay over-night and the towns take on a completely different vibe after the day-trippers depart.
In Italy, everywhere you go you’ll find a culture steeped in history with ancient hilltop towns to modern bustling cities, dramatic mountain landscapes to sweeping coastal scenery and idyllic beaches, each pocket of the country have something different to offer. As if this wasn’t enough, Italy’s world-famous, authentic cuisine and fantastic wines are second to none.
Rome - Facie up to awe-inspiring art and iconic monuments.
Venice - Take to the water and cruise past Gothic palaces, domed churches, and crumbling piazzas.
Florence - Explore this exquisite Renaissance time capsule.
Naples - Work up an appetite for the world's best pizza in Naples' baroque backstreets.
Turin - Visit Turin's regal palaces and magnificent museums.
Siena - Admire the glorious Gothic architecture and Renaissance art.
Amalfi Coast - Bask in the Amalfi Coast's inspiring sea views.
Verona - Enjoy an open-air opera in one of Italy's most romantic cities.
Bologna - Feast on foodie delights and medieval architecture in hedonistic Bologna.
Syracuse - Revel in drama at an ancient Greek theatre.
A one-week whistle-stop tour of Italy is just barely enough to take in the country's three most famous cities. After a couple of days exploring the unique canal scape of Venice, head south to Florence, Italy's great Renaissance city. Two days will whet your appetite for the artistic and architectural treasures that await in Rome.
After the first week, continue south for some sea and southern passion. Spend a day admiring art in Naples, a day investigating the ruins at Pompeii, and a day or two admiring the Amalfi Coast. Then backtrack to Naples for a ferry to Palermo and the gastronomic delights of Sicily.
Vatican Museums in Rome
Rome is a city that has been frozen in time, full of archaeological treasures and magnificent piazzas that reflect the good old days, yet with all the benefits that a modern and innovative city offers. Rome has no shortage of museums. However, nothing in the city rivals the Vatican museums, home to some of the world’s largest and richest collection of art and culture. You will struggle to see everything in just one visit so the features you really shouldn’t miss are the Raphael Rooms and, of course, the Sistine Chapel, with its world-renowned ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo.
As independent travellers, we usually prefer to have a go at activities ourselves but like most big cities, Rome can be a little bit overwhelming initially. To help you make the most of your time, have a look at a few of our recommended tours.
Skip-the-Line Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Tour – No trip to Rome would be complete if you don’t visit the Vatican. Immerse yourself in the Vatican's awe-inspiring art with no-wait access to the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – Skip the long lines to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill as you follow in the footsteps of Roman emperors and gladiators.
Rome Highlights Segway Tour – Discover the many beautiful sites of Rome in a completely unique way on a guided Segway tour.
Built on a hundred islands with wealth from trade with the East, exotic-looking palaces are laced together by sun-speckled canals. While not the cheapest city in Italy, Venice has a vibe and charm well worth experiencing, even if just for a day. By day, Venice is a city of museums and churches, packed with great art. At night, when the hordes of day-trippers have gone, another Venice appears. Wander the streets and take a gondola ride, or head to the Old Jewish Ghetto for some cheap drinks in one of the many hip bars.
Drive the Amalfi coast
As road trips in Italy go, this rugged stretch of coastline has to rank as one of the most breathtaking. However, the roads are narrow and parking spaces few and far between and a good alternative to make the trip from Sorrento to Salerno along the breathtaking Amalfi Coast is by bus.
Hike the Cinque Terre
The region of Cinque Terre boasts stunning mountains covered in vineyards with five impressive (and traffic-free( villages carving a good life out of difficult terrain. Both locals and travellers enjoy the area's unique mix of Italian culture and nature while the region is now well-discovered and jam-packed during summer, you're bound to love this unique place. As well as a range of hiking paths and some truly breathtaking views, this region is also home to some of the best seafood in Italy as well as incredible local wine.
Cinque Terre Day Tour from Florence – Although staying overnight is recommended, if you are short on time explore the rugged Cinque Terre region of the Italian Riveria on this full-day trip from Florence.
Monterosso: Cinque Terre Kayak Tour – View the stunning Cinque Terre National Park from a unique and exclusive perspective on-board your kayak.
Sailing Tour in the Gulf and Cinque Terre – Enjoy the views of La Palmaria island, Porto Venere, and Cinque Terre National Park on a sailing tour from La Spezia.
The Italian lakes are an ideal place to slow down and take a break from your busy vacation and the delightful villages of Varenna and Bellagio are a top choice. The vast, captivating landscape is best enjoyed by zigzagging slowly between shores by boat, and you can visit beautiful villas set in plush gardens, positioned along the lakeside.
The birthplace of our modern world is home to the best Renaissance art in Europe. In a single day, you can see Michelangelo's David, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and climb the modern world's first dome, which dominates the skyline of which is heralded by many as the most beautiful city in Italy. When you are in Florence for the first time, it’s impossible not to gravitate straight towards the square at its heart, Piazza del Duomo, beckoned by the iconic form of the cathedral’s huge, extraordinary dome.
Italy's dramatic rocky rooftop, the Dolomites, offers some of the best mountain thrills in Europe. The bold, light-grey cliffs and spires flecked with snow, above green, flower-speckled-meadows and beneath a blue sky, offer a powerful, unique, and memorable mountain experience. There are plenty of opportunities for day-walks in the stunning scenery that are within average capabilities, with routes well signposted. Wake up to glorious scenery by staying overnight at one of the mountain refuges on the route.
Tours Around Italy
If you prefer travelling with a group tour, we highly recommend G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around the world offering loads of different tour types that cater to all travellers such as well as wellness tours, tours for 18-30-year-olds. If you like the idea of travelling in a group and make new friends, check out the variety of tours that G Adventures has and the details and dates of each trip. We suggest using the filters in the sidebar to help you find a tour that fits your travel dates and travel style.
WHAT TO EAT IN ITALY
Italian food is as diverse as it is exquisite. With a diverse range of culinary traditions and some of the freshest local ingredients, you can be sure that you’ll have some truly gourmet meals wherever you go in Italy. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for their recommendations; this will usually elicit strong views and sound advice. The importance Italians attach to food and drink makes any holiday in the country a treat.
If you don’t know where to start while in Italy, here are a few dishes that you need to try. They contain their own unique twist of flavours and textures, all mixing into one singular dish that will send your senses to heaven and back.
- Risotto alla Milanese - In central-northern Italy, on the plains of the Po river, pasta often takes second place to rice, usually in the shape of risotto, and in the case of Milan, as risotto alla Milanese, whose beauty lies in its golden colour and delicate, saffron-infused flavour.
- Pizza - An iconic Italian dish, it would be a crime to visit Italy and not gorge on a traditional pizza! Easy, cheap, and filling, pizza has long been a common snack or meal, especially in Naples where tomato sauce was first added. For a quality, pizza opt for somewhere with a wood-fired oven (forno a legna) rather than an electric one, so that the pizzas arrive blasted and bubbling on the surface and with a distinctive charcoal taste. Simple is best and the most popular choice among locals is the delicious Margarita with a thin and crispy crust.
- Ribollita - In Tuscany, this dish is considered a special treat in the autumn! With its roots in the peasant cooking of the region, this vegetable soup is thickened with bread instead of meat, because that is what was cheaper and more readily available for hundreds of years in the desperately poor Italian countryside. Ribollita means “reboiled”, a reference to the fact that in the impoverished past this rich, rustic Tuscan soup of cannellini beans, cavolo nero, carrots, celery and more, was the reheated minestrone of the previous day, but with the addition of stale bread and other inexpensive leftovers and ingredients. You will find few soups to be heartier or tastier.
- Ossobuco - The world-famous ossobuco alla milanese is a bone-in veal shank, cooked at low heat until meltingly tender in a broth of meat stock, white wine, and veggies. Traditionally, it’s accompanied by a gremolata (lemon zest, garlic, and parsley). Despite the popularity of ossobuco (which literally means ‘hollow bone’), it’s not always common to see it on restaurant menus because it needs about three hours of cooking time.
- Tiramisu - This “pick-me-up” dessert is another now ubiquitous Italian dish, with several cities and regions claiming its invention. If you want to branch out from gelato in the world of Italian sweets, your first stop should be the deceptively simple Tiramisu, which is probably the country’s most beloved after-dinner dessert. What’s not to like about a dangerously sweet and calorie-laden confection of coffee, cocoa, and creamy mascarpone?
- Gelato - No trip to Italy is complete without gelato! If you’re tempted to have a scoop (or two) a day don’t worry, it’s totally normal to eat gelato on a regular basis in Italy, especially in the summer.
LGBTQ IN ITALY
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Italy have changed significantly in recent years, although LGBT persons may still face some legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents and LGBT people still face cases of homophobia. In Italy, same-sex sexual activity have been legal since 1890 and Italy has recognised same-sex civil unions since 5 June 2016, providing same-sex couples with most of the legal protections enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples.
Italy is considered a gay-friendly country and public opinion on homosexuality is generally regarded as increasingly culturally liberal with a majority of people in support of same-sex relationships. There are also annual Gay Pride Parades in Milan, Rome, Bologna, Florence and Naples amongst other cities.
WHERE TO STAY IN ITALY
Accommodation in Italy can be mightily expensive (especially during peak summer season), so the cheapest options would be dorm rooms in hostels while in the cities and camping in rural areas. Private rooms in hostels and hotels can range greatly, so it may be worth taking a look at Airbnb for better value options, especially in the cities.
If budget is not a problem for you, the countryside is full of large houses and villas that you can find on The Big Domain, so treat yourself to an unforgettable stay. If you’re travelling during peak season or holidays, it is best to book your accommodations in advance. We recommend checking sites like Booking.com, Agoda, or Hostel World.
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PLAN YOUR TRIP
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