Italy brings to mind world-famous artworks, street cafés serving pizzas and espressos, sunny beaches, secluded olive groves and of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Centuries of history are still evident, making Italy reminiscent of an uninhabited museum gallery where you can view historical relics like the Forum, and the Coliseum while dodging scooters and motorcycles. For those a little less historically minded, Italy’s great skiing, memorable diving and fine local wine and seafood will make you glad you came.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Renaissance art, Roman ruins, a whole lot of coastline, as much cheese, sausages, pizza and wine that you can get your hand on, skiing in the Dolomites, diving off Sardinia, taking a photo holding up the Leaning Tower, la dolce vita, Pompeii’s frozen-in-time victims and Venice|Venice’s gondolas.
What’s Not: Summer heat and crowds, heavy traffic, Dolce & Gabbana, speeding scooters, pickpockets in large cities, cat calls by local men, many Italians outside the main cities can’t speak English, rip-off tourist prices.
When to Go
March to May and September to November are the best times to visit Italy for sightseeing. If you’re not on the beach, the summer is likely to prove on the hot side for most, especially in the south, and the crowds can be a little intense. For skiing, January to March is the best time to hit the slopes.
Getting There & Away
There are two international airports in Rome as well as airports in Florence, Milan and Venice. There are over 30 domestic airports country-wide with several airlines operating internal flights. Rail lines connect Italy to the rest of Europe with the highest number of fast, overnight trains coming from France. If you are driving, most roads to Italy come through the Alps and Apennines from Austria, France, Slovenia and Switzerland. The roads in Italy are in excellent condition, and many of the main roads have tolls. Drivers should be aware that gas stations are often closed during the siesta hour (from noon until 15:00).
Health & Safety
Italy is generally safe, although pickpockets operate in tourist crowds, particularly in Naples and Rome. Gangs of children sometimes swarm tourists, distract them and then steal their wallet while they are confused. Take reasonable precautions such as using a money-belt under your clothes and slinging cameras across your body.
Food & Hospitality
Most restaurants and cafés have tables outside where you can enjoy the street atmosphere while sipping cappuccino and indulging in pizza and pasta, but they’ll charge you extra for every little thing. In the summer, there are a large number of open-air concerts. There is no lack of nightlife in any of the major cities including live music of every kind, theaters, movies and opera. Accommodation is plentiful, if not a little pricey in the tourist hotspots. Off the beaten track, holiday villas offer a more laid-back alternative.
Italy can be enjoyed as a romantic two-day weekend in Rome, or a two-week romp through the major cities. To really explore the country, even on a whirlwind tour, you’ll need at least a month.
One week in Rome to discover its Roman treasures and shop until you drop.
Two weeks in the North: Milan, Venice, Pisa and the Riviera.
One week in the Central region: covering Florence, Capri and Naples.
One day to explore Pompeii’s ruins.
One week on the autonomous islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
One week skiing in the stunning Dolomites.
Rome: is home to amazing art and architecture by names such as Michelangelo and Raphael. Rome has more tourist sites than any other city in Europe including the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Coliseum and the Forum.
Venice: the most famous scenes from Venice, St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, are depicted in dozens of famous paintings, but nothing rivals the real experience of serenely floating along the city’s narrow canals and waterways.
Naples: located under the shadow of the active volcano Vesuvius, Naples occupies one of the most beautiful settings of any city in Europe. Although some of the urban areas are a little run down, there are still plenty of churches and palaces to enjoy, and nearby Pompeii is a must.
Milan: is probably the only serious rival to Paris in the spheres of modern fashion and art. The Gothic Duomo Cathedral is one of the largest churches in the world and even if you don’t like opera, you can still enjoy ogling the opulence of the Scala theater.
Piedmont: this area encompasses both the source of much of Italy’s wealth as well as agricultural fields, mountain ski resorts and many wineries.
Capri: swim off the rocks, explore the Blue Grotto or climb to Emperor Tiberius’ luxury villa on Italy’s most visited island.
Sicily: Italy’s most populous island is generally a peaceful agricultural area however the capital, Palermo, is full of life, good art and beautiful architecture as well as thousands of mummified bodies in the catacombs of Capuchin Monastery.
Sardinia: Italy’s other southern island has only recently been improved with tourist infrastructure. Its fine sand beaches draw Italian celebrities to its shores, as does the laid-back lifestyle. It’s the only part of Italy without motorways.
Florence: some of the most famous authors and artists of Italy were responsible for bringing the city of Florence to prominence and many of their works remain in the city including the statue of David.
Pisa: it hasn’t been possible to climb the famous Leaning Tower at Pisa since 1990 due to a large scale project to reduce its tilt.
Wine tasting: Italy is famous for its many local wines, liqueurs, vermouths and apéritifs.
Skiing: the Dolomite Mountains are one of the most popular locations for skiing in Italy however the treacherous winter conditions of the roads mean that many people prefer the slopes in Piedmont, Aosta Valley and along the Swiss border.
Water sports: with 8,500kms of coastline, you won’t have any trouble finding a place to indulge in almost any form of water sport imaginable.
Diving: some of the best diving in Italy is off the Sardinian coast, but diving facilities are also available on the coasts of Tuscany, Liguria and the Tremiti Islands.
Golfing: first-class golf courses are located throughout Italy, and the weather in the south means that you can golf in Sardinia virtually year-round.
Shopping: the boutiques of Rome and Milan are unparalleled in their selection (and price!) of elegant designer wares. Venice is still famous for its glass and lace and Florence for its gold jewelry.
Festivals & Events
The majority of Italy’s festivals are centered on the Catholic calendar, with the main events being held around Easter and Christmas.
February: Carnivale in Venice has the largest crowds and best costumes at this pre-Lent celebration, but good celebrations are to be had almost anywhere.
April: Easter is the best celebration to check out, with the fireworks display in Florence being very impressive.
June to August: experience the best-known open-air opera in the world when the Verona Opera performs in a Roman arena.
August: the world’s oldest international film festival is held in Venice.
September: the Venice Regatta features people in medieval costumes and a gondola race along the Grand Canal.