Italy Travel Guide-Best of Italy

Demographics and Stats

CULTURE

Italian culture is heavily ‘family orientated’, immersed in arts, architecture, music and food. As the home of the Roman Empire, there’s a lot to uncover about the rich history of this remarkable country. Italians are often seen spending time at family gatherings as the value of family is placed in the highest regard.

More than 90% of people who reside in Italy are Italian, although, a range of diverse ethnicities inhabit in the country as well. Italy is easily accessible from other parts of the world via air, land and sea – European Union citizens can enter the country with their identity cards while all other foreigners require a passport.

Language

Italian is the country’s official language, although accents and dialects vary from one region to another. A large number of local dialects are spoken in Italy. There are two regions in particular where a second official language is spoken – In Aosta Valley, French is spoken, while German is spoken in Trentino Alto Adige. Overall, there are a range of dialects spoken in the country, including
Mlilanese, Piedmontese, Venetian Sardinian, Neapolitan, Sicilian Friulian, Ligurian, and Calabrian.

Religions

It’s no surprise that Roman Catholicism is Italy’s most popular practiced religion as Vatican City is situated in the epicentre of Rome. About 90% percent of the entire population are Roman Catholic, while the remainder of the population are Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Christians of other denominations.

FOOD

Italian cuisine may be the sole reason thousands of travellers flock to the country each year. Italy is renowned for its artistic cuisine. Cheese, pasta and wines are major ingredients of Italian meals, and are available in a variety of shapes, lengths and textures. While pastas and pizzas are known to the rest of the world as staple Italian cuisine, tastes and preferences vary, similarly to dialects. In the South of Italy for example, tomatoes, peppers and ricotta cheese are major ingredients in saucy stews.

HISTORIC SITES AND LANDMARKS

Travellers who are inspired by architecture usually flock to Italy as this is the home of the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the famous Sistine Chapel of the Vatican. Explore jewels of history at museums in Florence, Venice and Rome, or visit an authentic Opera house as opera is an art form native to Italy. Other must-see venues include:
•    Vatican Museums
•    Basilica di San Marco
•    Palazzo Ducale
•    Ruins of Pompeii
•    Galleria Degli Uffizi
•    Mt Etna
•    Cinque Terre

SHOPPING

If you came to shop, you’ve come to the right place. The world’s most famous fashion brands hail from Italy, namely Versace, Prada, Gucci and Armani. Shopping centres and department stores are generally open from 9h00 to 22h00, from Monday to Sunday, while boutiques may close at 19h00.

MONEY

The currency is the Euro. One euro can be divided into 100 euro-cents. And overall, there are eight different coins (1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 euro-cents) and seven notes (5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros).
Credit cards
Credit card payments can easily be made via credit card in Italy as the system has been implemented for years. You will usually not the valid credit card icons on the front door of a department store. Credit cards payments require identification, so be sure to carry your I.D along with you.

NB: Travellers cheques in USD and Euros can be cashed in Italian banks.

TRANSPORT

There are various ways to travel to Italy, namely air, land, and sea. Once in Italy, a reliable transport system is the high-speed rail network which affords you easy access to various Italian cities within a matter of hours. Trains usually have Wi-Fi data access, online ticket purchase gateways, and catering services which are convenient for those city-to-city train rides.

HEALTH REQUIREMENTS

Ensure that you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.

Visa requirements

NationalityRequires Visa
South AfricaYes
AmericanYes
United KingdomNo
European UnionNo
New ZealandYes
AustraliaYes
South Africans must apply for an Italian Schengen visa more than three months prior to travel, ensuring that their passport are valid and will remain valid by the time they leave Italy
Should your nationality not be listed above, kindly contact our dedicated consultants for assistance.

Weather

Mid-April to the end of October are the best months to visit. During this time the temperature averages between 70 – 80? F at night. Towards July, August and September, when the weather is hot and humid, you can expect a flood of tourists roaming through the country. It gets colder in the evening, throughout the year so be sure to bring a jacket or jersey along with you for the evenings. The climate In the North and South are considerably different. While the Northern region experiences extremely cold winters and hot summers, central Italy temperatures are milder. In the south of Italy, spring and autumn is similar to summer temperatures and winters aren’t half as harsh as those experienced in the north.

 

Rome
Rome | Source

Timelessly elegant, Italy’s great cities are some of the most magical places in Europe. Rome, Florence, and Venice are home to awe-inspiring art and architecture, iconic museums, and stunning historical ruins—as well as some of the world’s best food, wine, and shopping. Also beckoning are the sun-kissed olive groves and vineyards, charming hill towns, and atmospheric castles, monasteries, and farmhouses of the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside. Once you’ve been to Italy, it’s easy to understand why travelers return again and again.

Reasons to go

Food: Italy is a pasta lover’s paradise, but don’t forget the pizza and the gelato.

Romance: Whether you’re strolling atmospheric Venice or sipping wine, Italy enchants.

History: The ruins of ancient Rome and the leaning tower of Pisa breathe antiquity.

Art: The big hitters—Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, and more.

Shopping: Few things say quality or style like “made in Italy.”

Stunning landscapes: Tuscany, Umbria, the Cinque Terre, to name just a few.

Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa | Source

Places to go

Rome. Italy’s capital is one of the greatest cities in Europe. It’s a large, busy metropolis that lives in the here and now, yet there’s no other place on earth where you’ll encounter such powerful evocations of a storied and spectacular past, from the Colosseum to St. Peter’s.

Venice. One of the world’s most unusual—and most beautiful—cities, Venice has canals instead of streets, along with an atmosphere of faded splendor. It’s also a major international cultural center.

Northern Italy. In the Veneto region of Italy, the green plains stretching west of Venice hold three of northern Italy’s most artistically significant midsize cities: Padua, Vicenza, and Verona. To the west is Milan, Italy’s second-largest city and its business capital. It holds Italy’s most renowned opera house, and as the hub of Italian fashion and design, it’s a shopper’s paradise. Northern Italy’s attractive coastline runs along the Italian Riviera and includes Cinque Terre and its famous hiking trails and villages. Many of Italy’s signature foods come from the Emilia-Romagna region, where Bologna is a significant cultural center and the mosaics of Ravenna are glittering Byzantine treasures.

Florence. In the 15th century, Florence was at the center of an artistic revolution, later labeled the Renaissance, which changed the way people saw the world. Five hundred years later the Renaissance remains the reason people visit Florence—the abundance of treasures found here is mind-boggling.

Tuscany and Umbria. Outside of Florence, the town of Lucca is laid-back yet elegant while Pisa is still famous for its leaning tower and other impressive buildings. The hills spreading south of Florence make up Chianti, a region of sublime wine and fabulous views. South of Chianti, hillside towns like Arezzo and Cortona offer stunning architecture and gorgeous views of the countryside. In Tuscany, Siena,once Florence’s main rival, remains one of Italy’s most appealing medieval towns. Umbria, north of Rome, is a region of beautiful rolling hills topped by attractive old towns full of history, like Orvieto, Spoleto, Perugia, and Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis.

Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan | Source

Italy at a Glance

Capital: Rome

Population: 60,920,000

Currency: Euro

Money: ATMs are common; cash is more common than credit.

Language: Italian

Country Code: 29

Emergencies: 112

Driving: On the right

Time: Six hours ahead of New York

Documents: Up to 90 days with valid passport; Schengen rules apply.

Getting Around

Air Travel: The major airports are Rome, Milan, Bergamo, and Venice.

Bus Travel: Good for smaller towns.

Car Travel: Rent a car to explore at your own pace, but never to use in the cities themselves (including Rome and Florence). Always rent a GPS along with the car, as Italy’s roads can be confounding. Gas is very expensive.

Train Travel: Excellent and fast between major cities. Slower regional trains connect many smaller towns, as well.

Ways to Save

Stay at an agriturismo. Farm stays are Italy’s best-kept secret. In beautiful settings, they sometimes include meals and are often for half the price of a hotel.

Drink from the free fountains. No need to buy bottled water; fill up at the free public fountains, especially in Rome.

Book rail tickets in advance. Book online ( www.trenitalia.com) at least a week in advance for half the price.

Enjoy aperitivo. This northern Italian tradition entails a drink and a buffet (light or heavy) for about €8–€10.

When to go

High Season: June through September is expensive and busy. In August, most Italians take their own summer holidays; cities are less crowded, but many shops and restaurants close. July and August can be uncomfortably hot.

Low Season: Unless you are skiing, winter offers the least appealing weather, though it’s the best time for airfare and hotel deals and to escape the crowds. Temperatures are still mild, especially in the south.

Value Season: By late September, temperate weather, saner airfares, and more cultural events can make for a happier trip. October is also great, but November is often rainy and (hence) quiet. From late April to early May, the masses have not yet arrived but cafés are already abuzz. March and early April can be changeable and wet.

Big Events

February: Carnival kicks off across Venice and around Italy. www.carnevaleitaliano.it

April: Religious processions commemorate Easter. On Pasquetta (Easter Monday), most Italians picnic.

June: The Festa della Repubblica commemorates Italy’s 1946 vote for the republic. www.festadellarepubblica.it

October: Alba’s Fiera del Tartufo is devoted to the area’s white truffles. www.fieradeltartufo.org

Venice
Venice | Source

Plan Your Budget

BUDGET
HOTEL ROOM
MEAL
ATTRACTIONS
Low
€140
€25
Visiting Florence’s Duomo, free
Mid
€290
€45
Ticket to the vatican and sistine chapel €16
High
€350
€60
Evening Gondola ride in Venice €150
Tuscany
Tuscany | Source
Source
Colosseum, Rome
Colosseum, Rome | Source

Italy’s Top Attractions

  • The Vatican, Rome– The home of the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican City, a tiny independent state tucked within central Rome, holds some of the city’s most spectacular sights, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
  • Ancient Rome– The Colosseum and the Roman Forum are remarkable ruins from Rome’s ancient past. Sitting above it all is the Campidoglio, with a piazza designed by Michelangelo and museums containing one of the world’s finest collections of ancient art.
  • Galleria Borghese, Rome– Only the best could satisfy the aesthetic taste of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, whose holdings evoke the essence of Baroque Rome. Spectacularly painted ceilings and colored marble frame great Bernini sculptures and paintings by Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael, among others.
  • Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi– The giant basilica—made up of two churches, one built on top of the other—honors St. Francis with its remarkable fresco cycles.
  • Piazza del Campo, Siena, Tuscany– Siena is Tuscany’s classic medieval hill town, and its heart is the Piazza del Campo, the beautiful, one-of-a-kind town square.
  • Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence– The Uffizi—Renaissance art’s hall of fame—contains masterpieces by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Caravaggio, and dozens of other luminaries.
  • Duomo, Florence– The massive dome of Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo) is one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering.
  • Ravenna’s Mosaics, Emilia-Romagna– This town off the Adriatic Sea, once the capital of the Western Roman Empire and seat of the Byzantine Empire in the West, is home to 5th- and 6th-century mosaics that rank among the greatest art treasures in Italy.
  • Giotto’s Frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua– A contemporary of Dante, Giotto decorated this chapel with an eloquent and beautiful fresco cycle. Its convincing human dimension helped to change the course of Western art.
  • Palladio’s Villas and Palazzi, Northern Italy– The 16th-century genius Andrea Palladio is one of the most influential figures in the history of architecture. You can visit his creations in his hometown of Vicenza, in and around Venice, and outside Treviso.
  • Piazza San Marco, Venice– The centerpiece of Venice’s main square is the Basilica di San Marco, arguably the most beautiful Byzantine church in the West, with not only its shimmering Byzantine-Romanesque facade but also its jewel-like mosaic-encrusted interior.
  • The Grand Canal, Venice– A trip down Venice’s “Main Street,” whether by water bus or gondola, is a signature Italian experience.
St. Peters Square, Rome
St. Peters Square, Rome | Source

Italy’s Top Experiences

Relaxing Like an Italian

Il dolce far niente, or “the sweetness of doing nothing,” has long been an art form in Italy. This is a country in which life’s pleasures are warmly celebrated, not guiltily indulged.

Of course, doing “nothing” doesn’t really mean nothing. It means doing things differently: lingering over a glass of wine for the better part of an evening as you watch the sun slowly set; savoring a slow and flirtatious evening passeggiata (stroll) along the main street of a little town; and making a commitment—however temporary—to thinking that there’s nowhere that you have to be next, and no other time but the magical present.

Driving the Back Roads

If you associate Italian roads with unruly motorists and endless traffic snarls, you’re only partly right. Along the rural back roads, things are more relaxed. You might stop on a lark to take a picture of a crumbling farmhouse, have a coffee in a time-stood-still hill town, or enjoy an epic lunch at a rustic agriturismo inaccessible to public transportation. Driving, in short, is the best way to see Italy.

Hiking in the Footsteps of Saint Francis

Umbria, which bills itself as “Italy’s Green Heart,” is fantastic hiking country. Among the many options are two with a Franciscan twist: from the town of Cannara, 16 km (10 miles) south of Assisi, an easy half-hour walk leads to the fields of Pian d’Arca, where St. Francis delivered his sermon to the birds. For slightly more demanding walks, you can follow the saint’s path from Assisi to the Ermeo delle Carceri (Hermitage of Prisons), where Francis and his followers went to “imprison” themselves in prayer, and from here continue along the trails that crisscross Monte Subasio.

Wine-Tasting in Chianti

The gorgeous hills of the Chianti region, between Florence and Siena, produce exceptional wines, and they never taste better than when sampled on their home turf. Many Chianti vineyards are visitor-friendly, but the logistics of a visit are different from what you may have experienced in other wine regions. If you just drop in, you’re likely to get a tasting, but for a tour, you usually need to make an appointment several days ahead of time. The upside is that your tour may end up being a half day of full immersion— including an extended conversation with the winemakers and even a meal.

Eating in Bologna

Italians recognize Emilia as the star of its culinary culture and Bologna as its epicenter. Many dishes native to Bologna, such as the slow-cooked meat-and-tomato saucesugoalla Bolognese, have become so famous that they’re widely available throughout Italy and abroad. But you owe it to yourself to try them in the city where they were born, and where they remain a subject of local pride. Take note, however: in Bologna, asugois never served with spaghetti, but rather with tagliatelle, lasagna, or tortellini.

Visiting a Church

Few images are more identifiable with Italy than the country’s great churches, amazing works of architecture that often took centuries to build. The name “Duomo” (derived from the Latin domus, or house) is used to refer to the principal church of a town or city. Generally speaking, the bigger the city, the more splendid its Duomo.

Still, impressive churches inhabit some unlikely places—in the Umbrian hill towns of Assisi and Orvieto, for example. In Venice the Byzantine-influenced Basilica di San Marco is a testament to the city’s East-meets-West character. Milan’s Duomo is the largest, most imposing Gothic cathedral in Italy. The spectacular dome of Florence’s Duomo is a work of engineering genius. The Basilica di San Pietro in Rome has all the grandeur you’d expect from the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.

Discovering the Cinque Terre

Along the Italian Riviera east of Genoa are five fishing villages known collectively as the Cinque Terre. The beauty of the landscape—with vine-covered hills pushing against an azure sea—and the charm of the villages have turned the area into one of Italy’s top destinations. The number one activity is hiking the trails that link the villages—the views are once-in-a-lifetime gorgeous—but if hiking isn’t your thing, you can still have fun lounging about in cafés, admiring the water, and wandering through the medieval streets.

Shopping in Milan

Italian clothing and furniture design are world famous, and the center of the Italian design industry is Milan. The best way to see what’s happening in the world of fashion is to browse the showrooms and boutiques of the fabled quadrilatero della moda, along and around Via Montenapoleone. The main event in the world of furniture design is Milan’s annual Salone Internazionale del Mobile, held at the Milan fairgrounds for a week in April. Admission is generally restricted to the trade, but the Salone is open to the general public for one day, generally on a Sunday, during the week of the show.

Celebrating the Festivals of Venice

Few people love a good party as much as the Venetians. The biggest is, of course, Carnevale, culminating on Fat Tuesday, but with revelry beginning about 10 days earlier. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from the world over come to enjoy a period of institutionalized fantasy, dressing in exquisitely elaborate costumes. The program changes each year and includes public, mostly free cultural events in all districts of the city.

The Redentore, on the third weekend in July, is a festival essentially for Venetians, but in recent years more and more guests have come to view the festivities and now actually outnumber the locals. The Venetians pack a picnic dinner and eat in boats decorated with paper lanterns in the Bacino di San Marco or on tables set up for private parties along the canals. Just before midnight, there’s a magnificent fireworks display. After the fireworks, young people head for the Lido, where there is dancing on the beach until dawn. The next day (Sunday), everyone crosses a temporary bridge spanning the Canale della Giudecca to Palladio’s Redentore church to light a candle. Venice Biennale is a cutting-edge international art exposition held in odd-numbered years from June to November in exhibition halls in the Venice Public Gardens (Giardini) and in the 14th-century industrial complex (Le Corderie) in the Arsenale. It’s the most important exhibition of contemporary art in Italy and one of the three most important in Europe. In even-numbered years the Biennale devotes itself to architecture, and the Biennale di Architettura has become a must for those interested in contemporary architecture.