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Italy Travel Guide

Italy Travel Guide

Italy Travel Guide

Siena, Italy Destinations

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”

Guiseppe Verdi
Manarola, Cinque Terra, Italy

Top Seven Destinations In Italy

  1. Florence and Tuscany Situated on the River Arno, spanned by the beautiful Pont Vecchio, a picturesque small old city with a vibrant young personality. The striking Duomo, Michelangelo’s statue of David, incredible museums, a rich history, Florentine steak, delectable gelato, and dramatic scenery draw many to Florence. Add to that to nearby Tuscany and the lovely hill towns, excellent wineries scattered among the bucolic countryside, and perfect rolling hills make this the perfect destination.
  2. Venice One of our favorites. With its dramatic structures on the waterways, this enchanting city captures your heart with its magical ambiance. Wander the backstreets away from tourists in the later hours, and the mystery of this city envelopes you. There is history, architecture, museums, and you are a short ride away from the islands of Murano and Burano. So much to offer and love.
  3. Amalfi Coast The lush green of the Mediterranean, the turquoise blue of the seas, the magnificent architecture and views that take your breath away. Bays, cliffs, inlets, villages built into the mountains. Villages such a Furore, Positano, Ravella, Atrani, Minori, and so many more than will make you wish you could stay forever.
  4. Sorrento The coast has hidden bays, deep gorges, beaches, cliffs plunging into the sea, and delicious limoncello from locally grown lemons. The resort of Sorrento is known for its beautiful architecture and history.
  5. Pompeii A petrified ancient Roman city literally frozen in time. Visit this gorgeous city, then hike to the top of the Volcano. It is also one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
  6. Rome Italy’s gritty capital city, is known as the Eternal City and was once the center of the vast ancient Roman empire and is almost 3000 years old. This makes a rich historical experience with vast amounts of priceless works of art, palaces, churches, lovely parks and gardens, architectural wonders as the Coliseum, and too many impressive monuments to count. Wander down a regular street, and you come across an archeological site. Throw in the Vatican, renowned cuisine, and lively shopping and nightlife; there is something for everyone.
  7. Cinque Terre Is five ancient cities that are perched on cliffs above the Mediterranean ocean. Colorful homes that seem carved into the steep rocks and cliffs. It’s hard to put in words the wonder of these five cities of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso. They are so magnificent that they are surreal. The “Milk train” brings you to these treasures; stay the night if you can; it is extraordinary after the crowds leave. Manarola, the picture here, is our favorite by far.

Did you know?

Italy Stats

  • Population: 62.4 million
  • Capital City: Rome
  • Currency: Euro (EUR)
  • Government type: Parliamentary Republic
  • President: Sergio Mattarella
  • US State Department Risk Level
  • Ethnic groups: Italian (includes small clusters of German, French, and Slovene-Italians in the north and Albanian-Italians and Greek-Italians in the south)
  • Languages: Italian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German-speaking), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d’Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area)
  • Religions: Christian 83.3% (overwhelmingly Roman Catholic with tiny groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestants), Muslim 3.7%, unaffiliated 12.4%
  • State Department Travel Advisory Level: 3 due to Covid and Terrorism
  • The name Italy comes from the word Italia, meaning “calf land,” perhaps because the bull was a symbol of the Southern Italian tribes.
  • The official name of Italy is the Italian Republic.
  • Almost four-fifths of Italy is either mountainous or rolling hills.
  • Italy suffers more earthquakes than any other European nation.
  • GDP 1.989 trillion Ranks 12th in the world.
  • It is the world’s 7th largest economy.
  • The highest peak in Europe is in Italy. Monte Bianco (White Mountain) is 15,771 feet high and is part of the Alps.
  • Rome is almost 3000 years old (753 bc).
  • Italy’s national day is called the Festa Della Repubblica, which occurs on June 2nd.
  • Over 50 million tourists a year visit Italy. Tourism provides over 60% of the national income.
  • Italy has the most Unesco Sites in the world, 51.
  • Italy’s birthrate is the second-lowest in the Western world.
  • Italy is home to three active volcanoes; Etna, Stromboli, and Vesuvius.
  • There are 1,500 lakes in Italy.
  • Italians’ Inventions: the thermometer, batteries, eyeglasses, jacuzzi, piano, ice cream cone, the espresso machine, and pretzels.
  • Major industries in Italy: Wine, tourism, machinery, iron, steel, chemicals, food processing, textiles, cars, clothing, footwear, and ceramics.
  • Life Expectancy 83 years old, ranking 8 in the world.
  • Literacy Rate 99%.

Funs facts

  • Parmesan cheese originated in the area around Parma, Italy. Italians also created many other kinds of cheese, including gorgonzola, mozzarella, provolone, and ricotta. No one knows when pizza was invented, but the people of Naples made it popular.
  • From 1861 to 1985, more than 26 million people left Italy (mostly from the south) to seek a better life. One in four eventually returned.
  • Soccer is Italy’s most popular sport. Italy has won the World Cup four times (1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006), making the country’s team second only to Brazil’s number of wins.
  • Italy has hosted the Olympic Games three times (1956, 1960, 2006).
  • The first violin appeared in Italy in the 1500s.
  • The Arabs brought dried pasta to Italy in the thirteenth century.
  • The world’s first operas were composed in Italy at the end of the sixteenth century. 
  • Italy was one of the EU founders and is a member of the Group of Eight (G8), a forum for eight of the world’s most powerful nations.
  • The Adventures of Pinocchio was first published in Italy.
  • The Sistine chapel welcomes over 20,000 visitors per day.
  • Italian citizens who are at least 18 years old can vote for the lower house in the parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. Citizens who are at least 25 years old can vote for the 315 members of the upper house, the Senate.
  • The country was under a dictatorship for 20 years. The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini ruled over Italy from 1925 until 1945.
  • The first bank started in Italy.
  • Three of Shakespeare’s 38 plays are set in Italy.
  • The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built in 1173 and began to lean soon after, probably due to a poorly laid foundation.
  • People throw €1,000,000 into the Trevi fountain each year.
  • Italy is home to the world’s oldest university, the University of Bologna, founded in 1088.
  • Some of the world’s greatest artists and writers, such as Michelangelo, Dante DaVinci, originate from Italy.
  • Italy has more masterpieces per square mile than any other country in the world.
  • Ballet originated in Italy in the 15th Century.
  • Italy is the world’s largest wine producer.
  • There are 21 letters in the standard Italian alphabet; they are missing J, K, W, X, and Y.
  • Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. You can mail a letter within Vatican City as it has its own postmark.

Italy Map

Good to know before you go

  • Tipping is not needed in Italy as it is included in your bill. It is not customary or expected. This includes not only restaurants but cab drivers, porters, bartenders, and other service workers. Tipping extra for exceptional service is always welcomed.
  • Credit cards are accepted everywhere. Always have some cash for low-priced items like espresso or treats. Markets prefer cash.
  • Overall, clothing is stylish and well kept. Italians are casual dressers, often wearing jeans and comfortable shoes. You will find very well-dressed Italians in the cities. They are very trendy and fashion-conscious. It is home to top designers Armani, Versace, and Prada, after all.
  • Wear good sturdy shoes. This is an old country with many cobblestone streets, uneven pavement, potholes, and streets so narrow that cars brush you.
  • The Italian roads are good. Major highways are easy to negotiate, back roads, even small towns are quite safe but narrow. Mountain roads might be best if you had some sense of adventure. Toll roads, “autostrada,” are designated with the letter A and are very modern. Speed traps and cameras are common. Italians drive fast but don’t tend to be aggressive. An International Drivers license is important in Italy.
  • Without a rental, you will miss so much of the magic of Italy. There are off-beaten villages, tiny wineries, and wonderful eateries awaiting your discovery. So much to love!!
  • Visiting the Vatican is incredible but can be time-consuming and involves a lot of time in line. Research tours that avoid the line.
  • Italians are big on first impressions; as you meet these lovely people, show politeness and respect, especially in business interactions.
  • Italian is not the most timely of people; they are often late. Plan for that and know this is part of their charm.
  • Italians do love their hand gestures and facial expressions. It can be quite entertaining and keep you engaged. Raised voices may seem as if they are mad, but they are just passionate and expressive.
  • Oh, the wonderful Italian coffee. You will find coffee counters everywhere. Walk up, ask for espresso or cappuccino, and or a couple of euros (best deal anywhere), you will be handed a rich, delicious coffee. It often comes with a small biscotti. People often drink this standing then move on. Or sit and people watch. But don’t ask for a to-go cup; it is frowned upon.
  • Some restaurants are known to play a bit unfair, so be careful. Know the price of what you are ordering. You may find yourself overcharged; look closely. Avoid food with prices based on weight; they can land up being exorbitant.
  • We suggest using Uber or other such services in Italy, especially Rome. Taxis we felt were a risk. We had a scary cab experience in Rome. Our driver demanded more money at our final destination, and when we said that is not what we agreed to, the driver accelerated the vehicle as we tried to get out. In each attempt to leave the vehicle, he repeated it. We paid it as we felt he could harm us. We picked this cab up in front of the Vatican, where many cabs were lined up.
  • Italian meals are relaxed and slow. It is meant to be a gathering time to socialize and enjoy delicious food.
  • You will often see a small cover charge for restaurants of up to 5 euros on your bill. This is meant to “reserve” your table. It is yours for the night, however long you wish to stay. You will not be rushed, so enjoy that glass of wine or espresso.
  • Walking in Italy is a risk as drivers can be ruthless. Look both ways carefully when crossing the street. Stay in the crosswalks.
  • On public transportation, you MUST validate your train and bus tickets. Commercial transportation is known to seek tourists out, expecting you might not know the rules. Ticket checkers can suddenly jump on a train, do a sweep, then be off. You will pay a fine.
  • An Italian meal is a generous amount of fantastic food delivered in multiple courses. The courses include; The Antipasto course, which is appetizers. Often a cured meat platter with marinated vegetables or a fresh tomato mozzarella salad. The Primo is the first course, often pasta but can also include soup, polenta, salad, and risotto. The Secondo is the second course, which involves chicken, meat, or fish and is not large servings. The Contorno is a platter of vegetables that comes with the main course. Finally, Dolce. A sweet dessert. Cappuccino is very common with the Dolce course.
  • Don’t ask for substitutions at restaurants; that is not well received.
  • Bottled water is standard in a restaurant. It is often brought to you as you take your seat, and you will have a choice between still or sparkling. It is not free, and that is not obvious at first. If you don’t wish to have water, tell them no thank you.
  • At the end of the meal, you will need to ask for the check, “Il conto, per favore.” They feel it is rude to deliver it without being requested. It can still be a wait but relax; you are in Italy.
  • The Italians will be more welcoming if you greet them in their language. Learn the basics, show respect to your hosts. You are a guest in their beautiful country.
  • The church is sacred to the Italians. They wear their faith on their sleeve, and it is deep and passionate. Careful to respect that faith. Even eating or drinking while on church steps or the grounds would bring a hefty fine.
  • If you plan to visit a church, your attire will depend if you are allowed in; they adhere to strict dress codes. Short skirts, exposed shoulders, and shorts would not be allowed. Some sites will provide you a shawl to cover, but some won’t, so plan accordingly.
  • Family is core to the Italian culture. You will see families with their children everywhere, including restaurants. They are usually well-behaved and sweet.
  • Italian cuisine is exceptional and involves, yes, a lot of pasta. Estimated pasta consumption is 70 pounds per person annually. There are 140 types of pasta. Stop by a market, and you will be amazed. Grab some to bring home.
  • Italian people can be very superstitious, and here are a few examples: 1. Many hotels in Italy don’t have a 17th floor. Italians believe that this number is unlucky because when the Roman numeral for 17 (XVII) is rearranged, it looks like VIXI, which means death as it translates to “I have lived.” 2. A black cat is seen as a symbol of the devil and witchcraft, so don’t cross its path. 3. Please don’t put a hat on a bed; it is seen as bad luck, as priests do that when they come to give last rights.
  • When dining in Italy, olive oil is the only condiment you will find on your table. Avoid asking for salad dressing or other condiments.
  • Respecting elders is very important in Italian culture. If an elder enters a room, you should stand to show respect.
  • Mosquitos can be an issue in Italy, so come with some bug spray to avoid some itchy nights.
  • Even though their north neighbor France has incredible bread, we found Italian bread less impressive. Maybe that is because it is meant to wipe their remaining sauce off their plate. It does that well.
  • This country has a lot of smokers. There is smoking even indoors still, but that tide is slowly turning. It is still so worth going, even if faced with second-hand smoke.
  • Many Italians speak excellent English. In smaller villages and with older generations, it may be less so. Use google translate or other apps (see below under resources) to communicate.
  • It is a safe country, but pickpockets abound. Be careful who you speak with and keep your distance when you do. Don’t let anyone put something in your hand. Then they will demand payment, and they will follow and scream at you until you pay. Street vendors can be harassing. If you are bothered, say NO, very loud and turn your back, and walk away.

Italy Essential Info

US Consular Emergency
The 24-hour number from a US Phone 1-888-407-4747
Outside of US 011-202-501-4444

US Embassy Rome
Via Vittorio Veneto, 121
00187 Rome, Italy
Telephone: +(39) 06-4674-1
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(39) 06-4674-1
Fax: +(39) 06-4674-2244
Email: uscitizensrome@state.gov

US Consulate to the Holy See
Via Sallustiana, 49
00162 Rome, Italy
Telephone: +(39) 06-4674-1

US Consulate General Florence
Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci, 38
50123 Florence, Italy
Telephone: +(39) 055-266-951
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(39) 06-4674-1
Fax: +(39) 055-215-550
Email: uscitizensflorence@state.gov

US Consulate General Milan
Via Principe Amedeo 2/10
20121 Milano, Italy
Telephone: +(39) 02-290-351
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(39) 02-290-351
Fax: +(39) 02-2900-1165
Email: uscitizensmilan@state.gov

US Consulate General Naples
Piazza della Repubblica
80122 Naples, Italy
Telephone: +(39) 081-583-8111
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(39) 081-583-8111
Fax: +(39) 081-583-8275
Email: uscitizensnaples@state.gov

Emergency Numbers
GENERAL 112
Police 113
Fire 115
Road assistance 116

Country Code
+39

Time Zone
UTC+1

Driving
Right side

Adaptors
“Standard” Euro plug
Type C or F

Tourism Office
http://www.italia.it/en/discover-italy.html

When to go to Italy

The best time to visit Italy is in the spring (April to June) or fall (September and October) when there is nice weather, moderate temperatures, fewer tourists, and lower prices. The summer months can be hot, crowded, and expensive. The winter months are often grey, wet, and cold in the north but temperate south of Rome.

The high season goes from May to September but sneaks into October. Italy draws an enormous amount of tourists, and it can get quite crowded in many popular destinations. Traditional shoulder season is quite different in Italy than most places, a bit farther out. It is March to April and October to November.

The weather with a country this long will be varied. The Italian Alps in the North to Sicily to the South there will be extremes. The temps below will reflect two regions. Tuscany to the North. Rome to the South to Naples.

North

  • Summer 70-104 °F (21-40 °C)
  • Spring 48-79 °F (9-26 °C)
  • Fall 45-81 °F (7-27 °C)
  • Winter 39-54 °F (4-12°C)

South

  • Summer 61-86 °F (16-30 °C)
  • Spring 54-77 °F (12-25 °C)
  • Fall 54-81 °F (13-27 °C)
  • Winter 41-63 °F (5-17 °C)

Our Favorite Italy Resources

This resource section contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Italy Travel Books/Guides

Italy owns your heart from the moment you arrive. It is so diverse, and it isn’t easy to know where to start. It can’t be done in a one or two-week trip. Plan multiple visits. Since it is such a large country, our travel guides’ recommendation will be different. Use an overall guide for deciding what regions to visit for a trip, then buy a more focused guide when those are chosen. The guides below will have more locally-focused guides.

Lonely Planet’s Italy (Country Guide) by Lonely Planet

A passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on Italy’s highlights only has to offer and what hidden discoveries await you. Experience the grand city of Rome, the cobblestone streets of Florence, Venice’s canals, and the ancient preserved city of Pompeii. Great photography and lots of details to aid in planning. Discover this travel guide here

Rick Steves Italy 2020 (Travel Guide) by Rick Steves

Full disclosure, we are huge Rick Steve’s fans, it will be rare we do not recommend one of his wonderful guides, and for Italy, this one is much needed to determine the best ways to plan this amazing country. We love his travel style and perspective. His off-the-beaten-path approach, together with his independent travel philosophy, matches well with how we travel. The guides never disappoint. This book made the cut into our suitcase and was a fantastic resource. Find this must-have guide here

Our favorite websites

1. Italy tourism site

2. US Department of State: Bureau of Consular Affairs Italy Country Info

We cannot encourage you enough to visit this website as you plan and prepare for your trip. This is the US Federal Government addressing the safety, security, travel risk, entry, exit, visa documents mandates, emergency US and Embassy contacts, health, local laws, special circumstances, threats, traveler vulnerabilities, government warnings, and transportation in Italy. This is your best and most reliable resource for all this important info. Check back often before you go, as things can change quickly. Being prepared is essential in all travel, but especially internationally.

Italy International Travel Information (state.gov)

3. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers Health Resource

This CDC travel resource provides essential health info for your specific destination. Using their tool, you can determine which vaccines, medications, and health advice recommendations are needed for Italy.

CDC’s Travelers Health Page for Italy

Our favorite maps

Italy National Geographic Adventure Map, 3304

Easy to read a map with practical road and travel information. Explore the rich history, gorgeous coastlines, ancient cities, and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Major sites and landmarks are well marked. Mapped road network with distances and designations for major highways to the off-the-beaten-path roads. Waterproof and tear-resistant. Though we default to Google maps, this came in handy when service was poor or during construction detours. Find this essential map here

Our favorite apps

Rome2rio: Trip Planner Trip and Holiday Organizer Enter any address, landmark, or city; the app will instantly display all your travel options, booking info, along with accommodation providers and things to do. Find on your local app store.

Rick Steves Audio Europe This app includes a vast library of Rick Steve’s audio content. Get cultural and travel info. Includes self-guided tours of top attractions and historic walks. Extensive Italy options. A must-have. Find on your local app store.

Italian by Nemo Learn essential words and phrases. Hear your own voice back. Perfect your accent. Find this at your local app store.

Duolingo-Language Lesson Audio lessons that help improve your listening and speaking skills. Find on your local app store.

Google Translate We used this often to practice proper pronunciations of Italian words. As we always encourage, it is essential to learn the basics to greet and thank people in the local language. Google translate was an easy app to use. If needed, you can enter text in English, and it will speak back in Italian to aid in communicating with locals. Furthermore, it came in very handy to translate text into images instantly.

Do you have a favorite Italy travel resource? Share your favorites in the comments section at the bottom of this page or

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