Ask an Italian where they would most like to live, and the odds are that they will say “right here”. Indeed, if you travel to Italy, you’ll discover that it really does have it all. The country has one of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in Europe, the world’s greatest hoard of art treasures, a relatively benign climate and a delicious and authentic national cuisine.
Continue reading to find out more about...
The country is not perfect though. Its historic cities have often been marred by development, beyond the showpiece sights the infrastructure is visibly straining, and corruption is rife. But as a visitor many of the old clichés still ring true – once you’ve visited, you may never want to travel anywhere else.
Italy might be the world’s most celebrated tourist destination, but it only became a unified state in 1861. As a result, Italians often feel more loyalty to their region than to the nation as a whole. This is manifested in Italy’s cuisines, dialects, landscapes and standards of living.
However, if there is a single national Italian characteristic, it is to embrace life to the full. It’s demonstrated by the hundreds of local festivals to celebrate a saint or the local harvest. It's in the importance placed on good food and in the importance of family. And it's shown in the daily ritual of the evening stroll or passeggiata – a sociable affair celebrated by young and old alike in every town and village across the country.
There is also the enormous cultural legacy. There are remnants of the Roman Empire all over Italy, most notably in Rome itself, while Tuscany alone has more classified historical monuments than any country in the world. And every region retains its own relics of an artistic tradition acknowledged to be among the world’s richest.
If all you want to do is chill out, there’s no reason to be put off. There are any number of places to just lie on a beach, from the resorts filled with regimented rows of sunbeds and parasols favoured by the Italians themselves, to secluded and less developed spots. And if you’re looking for an active holiday, there’s no better place. Mountains run the country’s length – from the Alps and Dolomites in the north right along the Apennines, which form the spine of the peninsula. Skiing and other winter sports are practised avidly, and wildlife of all sorts thrives in the national parks.
Italy Travel facts
Spoken language: Italian (majority of population).
Currency: Euro (EUR €).
Population: Just under 60 million; around three million live in the capital, Rome. Italy has the lowest birth rate in Europe.
Tourist numbers: 63 million in 2018.
Politics: Italy has been a democratic republic since 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum.
Food and drink: the average Italian eats 23 kilos of pasta annually. The nation drinks a staggering 14 billion cups of coffee every year.
Accolades: Italy has 55 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 50 cultural and five natural. Tuscany alone has more classified historical monuments than any other country in the world. The country was also the birthplace of modern banking. The world’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, has been in operation since 1472.
Where to go in Italy
With a stunning coastline, unspoilt towns, cosmopolitan cities, and ravishing mountain scenery, choosing where to go when you travel to Italy is quite a task. Then there’s Italy’s first-rate regional cuisine and excellent wines, not to mention a cultural legacy spanning thousands of years.
You can’t move in Italy’s vibrant capital city, Rome, without bumping into an important historical sight. Venice still captivates with glorious architecture and its maze of waterways, despite the crowds. The lesser visited town of Verona seduces with its Roman sites and medieval buildings in shades of pastel.
In the north Milan wows visitors with the world’s largest Gothic cathedral and provides the ultimate shopping trip. And the nearby Italian Lakes – Orta, Maggiore, Iseo, Garda, and Como, offer enchanting landscapes and lakeside villages exuding charm.
The mountains of the Alps and the Dolomites are perfect territory for outdoor activities, the slopes transformed into winter playgrounds for those seeking snow-related adventure.
In central Italy Tuscany’s gentle rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves, are the backdrop for cities such as Florence and Pisa, home to world-class art. And the region – alongside neighbouring Umbria and Le Marche – is dotted with delightful hilltop towns.
The south is home to the chaotic and irresistible city of Naples, the ancient sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the stunning Amalfi coast. And Italy’s 7600km coastline offers a pick of great beaches – such as in the region of Liguria, as well on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia – which have their own cultural identity.
Get more inspiration on where to go when visiting Italy.
Florence cityscape © Bob Hilscher/Shutterstock
Best time to go to Italy
Deciding when to visit Italy goes in tandem with planning an itinerary for your trip. You might be intent on discovering Italy’s bounty of cultural and historical sights, or you’re heading for one of Italy’s seasonal events or festivals, such as carnival. Maybe you want to spend most of your time on Italy’s beaches, or perhaps you’re leaning towards outdoor activities in the mountains and national parks. Most likely the factors affecting your decision on when to go include the weather, the cost, and what’s on offer at any given time of the year.
The best time to travel to Italy in terms of weather is during spring (April to June) or autumn (September to October). Temperatures are warm and you avoid the unpleasant heat of the summer months, an experience only worsened by busy crowds jostling for a view of this or that ancient ruin, painting, fresco, etc. Also, pretty much the whole of Italy takes its annual summer holiday in August. This leaves the major historical cities empty of locals, leaving only tourists to gawp at the all-important sights. There are fewer tourists during the shoulder seasons too, making this the ideal time to visit Italy.
Winter sees significant bargains on flights and accommodation, apart from in winter resorts, which sees prices hike as the ski season gathers momentum. This is especially the case during the more snow-sure months and during school half-term holidays.
Unpredictable weather in spring makes for a good city break, the ideal time to visit Italy for its churches, museums and galleries, etc.
Find out more on when to visit Italy.
How to get to Italy
Flights to Italy
Regular direct flights serve most of Italy from the UK. Prices vary according to destination, how far in advance you book, and time of year. High season, between June and September will undoubtedly be the most expensive time to travel to Italy. Booking ahead with a budget airline could be three times cheaper than leaving it to within three weeks of travel.
You can fly direct from from various cities in the US to Rome and Milan. Indirect flights are invariably cheaper and increases the destinations options. In Canada you can fly direct from Toronto and Montreal to Rome.
If travelling from Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa, you’ll have to take an indirect route.
Check Skyscanner for bargains on flights.
Get more detailed flight information in our Italy travel guide.
Travelling by train to Italy
Travelling by train to Italy from the UK or other European countries is a way to limit your carbon footprint and can be an enjoyable part of your holiday. An Interrail (European residents) or Eurail pass (non-European residents) is good value if you plan to make several stops enroute. Travelling by sleeper train (available from various European cities) enables you to make the most of your time. As with flying, the cost of train travel generally varies according to how far in advance you book. For sleeper trains, the time of year is an additional factor – as well as how many people you share a cabin with: one to yourself will cost more than sharing with five others. We advise booking ahead for train travel.
Find out more about travel to Italy by train.
Bus to Italy
You can travel to Italy by bus from London with Eurolines, a journey lasting 30 hours! Also check options with Busabout, who offer Europe-wide hop-on-hop-off services.
Find out more about travelling by bus to Italy.
Other options for visiting Italy
As well as low cost package deals, whereby the cost of flights and accommodation are included, several operators offer holidays around specialist interests, such as art, walking, etc. Also check fly-drive deals if you’re planning on renting a car.
Get more detailed information on how to get to Italy in our Italy travel guide.
View of Varenna from Lake Como © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock
How to get around Italy
If you want to see a fair bit of the country when you travel to Italy, maybe take a trip to one of the islands, you’ll need information on how best to get around. Using its extensive rail system is inexpensive, pretty reliable and quick – apart from regional trains, which tend to be slow and don’t necessarily extend to everywhere you might want to go. But regional buses cover the corners the trains don’t reach, although bear in mind that services can be infrequent.
If you want the freedom to stop off wherever you want, you might look into driving, perhaps renting a car or campervan – and mopeds and scooters are a popular way to zip around towns and islands. On the whole, roads in Italy are good and there is an extensive motorway system. And if you’re a cycling enthusiast you may consider using two wheels to get around Italy, either by taking your own bike or by hiring one when you need it, although rental facilities are scarce in rural areas.
For trips to the islands you can hop on a ferry or hydrofoil, and the lakes region in the north operates frequent boats and ferries outside the winter months.
Find out more on how to get around Italy in our Italy travel guide – the lowdown on buses and trains, ticket information, driving and rental, ferry services, bike rental, etc.
10 best places to visit in Italy
- Naples for pizza
It’s not news that Italians can knock out pretty fine pizzas. But to sample the best, head for Naples. Some pizzerias are revered institutions, evidenced by the number of appreciative locals and visitors alike, chowing down on combos of dough and tomato gooeyness. But whichever neighbourhood you’re in, you’re never far from a joint offering up a slice of something thin and crispy.
- Vatican museums in Rome
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.
- Hiking in the Dolomites
The dramatic, spiky landscape of the Dolomites dominating the Trentino-Alto Adige region is perfect hiking country, and its trails are often subject to snow, ice and scorching sun – in the same day. There are plenty of opportunities for day-walks in stunning scenery that are within average capabilities, with routes well signposted. Alternatively, consider tackling one of the longer trails. The strenuous ascents are worth it for the stupendous views across the valleys and glaciers. Wake up to glorious scenery by staying overnight at one of the mountain refuges on the route.
- Piazza San Marco, Venice
Napoleon described the Piazza San Marco as the “drawing room of Europe”. This magnificent square in Venice houses the Basilica di San Marco, Italy’s most lavish cathedral, an amazing sight with its 4000 square metres of golden mosaics. Explore the opulent Gothic Palazzo Ducale, and climb to the top of the Campanile for a stunning view over the city.
- Lake Como
Hemmed in by lush hillsides and dramatic mountains, Lake Como is an unmissable stop on your visit to Italy. 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 delightful villages of Varenna and Bellagio are steeped in character, and towns such as Menaggio, Gravedona ed Uniti and Domaso make good bases for excellent hiking, mountain biking, and sailing opportunities.
- The Duomo, Florence
When in Florence for the first time, it’s impossible not to gravitate straight towards the square at the heart of Florence, Piazza del Duomo, beckoned by the iconic form of the cathedral’s huge, extraordinary dome. Climbing the Duomo is a must. Be awe-struck at Brunellischi’s triumph of engineering, and enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views of the city and beyond.
- Discover Romain remains at Pompeii and Herculaneum
These two sites, buried by the volcanic debris of Vesuvius in AD 79 afford an unparalleled glimpse into ancient Roman daily life and architecture. Allow at least half a day to explore the ruins of Pompeii, taking time to wander away from the crowds to appreciate the town’s atmospheric stillness.
- Driving the Amalfi coast
As road trips in Italy go, this rugged stretch of coastline has to rank as one of the most breathtaking. The stretch between Salerno and Amalfi is the most impressive, the road winding between the looming cliffs that plunge into the ocean. Secluded coves and picturesque towns punctuate the journey, luring visitors into unscheduled stop offs.
- Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro, Sicily
Italy’s first nature reserve is a 7km stretch of untrammeled coastline against a backdrop of steep mountains. There are three walking paths that cover the reserve, the most popular being the coastal route, which offers fantastic views over the aquamarine sea and detours to hidden-away coves. The other, more challenging paths offer a chance for solitude. The reserve contains rare and indigenous flora and diversity of wildlife, including several species of birds of prey, including peregrine falcons. The complete absence of roads makes the reserve blissfully peaceful.
- Mount Etna
The chances of seeing Mount Etna erupt are pretty high, as the volcano dominating Sicily’s eastern side has been spewing its molten rock almost continually since 1998. And the cascading river of lava is quite a jaw-dropping sight. It’s an eerie climb up the blackened and smoking lunar landscape – scenery unmatched anywhere else in Italy. There are great hiking trails on Etna, but be aware that the shifting landscape created by the eruptions can render maps rather unreliable. A guided tour is the safest and most informative way to explore.
Our travel guide to Italy has more on top places and things not to miss.
Statue of Apollo, Pompeii © BalckMac/Shutterstock
Italy travel itineraries
Our carefully-curated travel itineraries will inspire and help you make the most of your trip to Italy. Covering everything from historical sights, art and culture, gorgeous scenery, along with delicious regional cuisines, there’s an itinerary whatever your interests.
Italy is a destination for foodies and every region has its own specialities. If you want to see the country and sample delicious food, our “Foodie’s Italy” itinerary will be right up your street. To make the most of Italy’s great outdoors, check out our “Italy outdoors: mountains and water” itinerary. And to immerse yourself in Italy’s rich art and culture, choose our “Italy indoors: art and culture” itinerary.
Below is a sample itinerary, ideal for those intending to spend eight days or longer around Italy’s attractive lakes and charming historical lakeside villages. You can see all the itineraries in our Italy travel guide here.
Italy’s beautiful lakes
Kick off your tour in the northern city of Milan. Start off with an overview from the roof of the Duomo, the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. Then discover some of Milan’s other renowned sights, such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous mural, The Last Supper, in the Santa Maria delle Grazie, and the frescos by Bernardino Luini in the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. Wander the courtyards of the sprawling Sforzesco Castle, and stroll along Milan’s Navigli District, the system of canals, home to lively cafés and bars. Allow time for shopping, or at least window shopping, in the so-called Quadrilatero d’Oro, or Golden Triangle.
- Lake Garda
The landscape at the northern end is dramatic, with Lake Garda sandwiched between mountains, and villages tucked into the cliffs, while the scenery at the southern end consists of mellow hills and holiday resorts. Explore the lakeside towns, such as splendid Venetian Salo, and pretty Gargnano, or the lively town of Desenzano with its Roman ruins, and take the waters in the Roman spa town of Sirmione. Visit the historic village of Malcesine, from where you can take a cable car up Monte Baldo for some mountain air. Then head to Verona and tour this fabulously handsome city, with its Roman sites, medieval architecture, and elegant squares.
- Lake Como
Wander Lake Garda’s medieval old Town, with its splendid Duomo and take a boat to the town of Bellagio – a delight of steep cobbled streets and buildings in shades of peach. Visit ancient villas nearby, such as Villa Serbelloni, set inside a gorgeous park, and Villa Melzi, its lush gardens full of exotic plants.
- Lake Lugano
Lake Lugano sits on the border between Italy and Switzerland. Along its banks are charming Ventian-style villages, set against breathtaking mountain scenery, where you can take advantage of superb trekking opportunities, mountain biking, among other activities.
Visit towns, such as San Mamete, Porlezza, and Campione d’Italia on the Italian side, Gandria, Morcote, Melide on Swiss soil – for leisurely strolls and a fix of culture. You’ll find medieval churches, museums and galleries, and lavish parks and gardens. Visit the lively city of Lugano for a choice of entertainment, restaurants, bars and shopping.
- Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands
The Borromean Islands, known for their opulent villas, lush parkland, and sub-tropical plants, are the star attractions of Lake Maggiore. Visit Isola Bella, the most stunning of the three, with its sumptuous Baroque gardens and grand palazzo. The quieter Isola Madre has a beautiful garden – home to parrots and peacocks, and a delightful, small palazzo, with a collection of eighteenth-century puppets. Isola Superiore has less in the way of obvious sights, but its attractive old houses and alleys are nevertheless charming.
You can see all the itineraries in our Italy travel guide.
Tips for travelling to Italy
Costs and money
Italy’s currency is the euro. It’s cheaper to use a debit card rather than a credit card to get euros from ATM machines, and credit and debit cards are widely accepted.
Read more on costs and money.
Opening hours and public holidays
Most shops and businesses open Monday to Saturday from around 8am–1pm, and from 4pm–7pm, with some closing on Monday mornings and generally all on Sundays, except for pastry shops, usually open Sunday mornings. Most museums, galleries and archeological sites close on Mondays.
The country pretty much shuts down during national holidays, apart from bars, restaurants and some museums and monuments. Many towns close up during August when Italians take their holidays.
Read more on opening hours and public holidays.
Homosexuality is legal in Italy, and the age of consent is 16. The north is more open to homosexuality than the south – Milan, Turin and Rome have established scenes, while Bologna is seen as the LGBTQ capital. Rimini is a popular gay resort and there are other gay beaches on the coast.
Travellers with disabilities
Travel in Italy can be challenging for people with disabilities, although access to hotels, public buildings and transport is slowly improving. Some trains have disabled facilities and low-level buses are slowly appearing in towns.
Our Italy travel guide offers more travel tips and advice.
Piazza San Pietro in Vatican City, Rome © Banauke/Shutterstock
Travel safety in Italy
Italy is a relatively safe country for visitors. Reduce the chance of petty theft by taking sensible precautions: don’t flash anything valuable, use a money belt and make sure bags can’t be snatched away. You’re most at risk in busy areas, where pickpockets and scippatori or “snatchers” on scooters are most likely to operate.
Read more on travel safety.
Travelling in Italy with children
Italians delight in kids and you’ll find bars and restaurants are very family friendly. Breastfeeding is accepted; however, nappy changing facilities are uncommon, as are high chairs, and the cost of nappies and formula milk is high. You can expect discounts on travel and entry to museums.
Read more on travelling with children.
Travel visa requirements for Italy
EU citizens only need a passport to travel to Italy and can stay indefinitely. Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can also visit Italy on a passport (as long as it’s valid for at least three months from departure date) but can only stay for 90 days. South Africans visiting Italy need a Schengen visa, allowing travel through several countries within the Eurozone. Other nationals should check visa regulations with their nearest Italian embassy or consulate before booking their trip to Italy.
Read more on entry requirements for travel to Italy.
Festivals in Italy
You’re quite likely to come across a festival if you travel to Italy. The Italians love a festival and there are thousands during the year. Religious processions are widespread, Good Friday being particularly well celebrated, and carnival (the big party before the abstemiousness of Lent). Then there are traditional events, such as the Palio horse race in Siena, food festivals, often celebrating regional cuisine, as well as arts festivals, often taking place against a backdrop of Roman or medieval architecture.
Read more on festivals in Italy.
Accommodation in Italy
Although not especially cheap, there is no shortage of options for accommodation when visiting Italy. There are boutique hotels, private and HI hostels, convents and monasteries, B&B’s, self-catering apartments, villas and farmhouses, mountain refuges and camping opportunities. There is also the popular agriturismo scheme: owners of country estates, vineyards and farms rent out converted farm buildings.
Booking ahead is necessary if travelling to Italy in high season; if visiting Rome, Venice, or Florence, advance booking is essential from Easter until late September and over the Christmas and New Year period.
An increasing number of hotels are beginning to base room prices on demand, rather than simply on season, particularly those that have booking facilities online, so be aware that there can be huge fluctuations in price. In addition rates vary greatly between the south and north of Italy, as well as between tourist hot spots and more rural areas. As a rule, substantial discounts are to be had by booking online well in advance, or by looking for last-minute hotel bargains online.
Our travel guide gives an approximate cost of accommodation, based on the cheapest standard high season double.
Rome: around €80 for a fairly simple room; roughly €145-225 for something more elegant; €390-450 for boutique hotel; around €500 for 5 star and luxury boutique.
Florence: around €95 for budget-1 star; €100-€220 for 2 star; 3 star €150-€215; 4 star €290; €350 for 5 star.
Naples: a boutique hotel can cost anything from €75-420; 2 star approximately €85; 3 star €105-170.
Other accommodation options
Hostel: costs around €20 for a dorm bed in a hostel; upwards of €60 for a double room.
Mountain refuge: refuges operated by the rifugi network will cost non-members around €24 a night for a bed (booking essential), roughly double the price in a private rifugi.
Camping on the coast: during peak season expect to pay roughly €12/person; €10–15 for a tent or caravan; €8/vehicle.
Food in Italy
One of the joys of travelling to Italy is being able to sample the wonderful variety of food and drink on offer. From the fresh produce in the local markets and the family-run trattorias offering home-style meals, to the more elaborate cooking in famous fine-dining restaurants, you can embark on a journey through Italy’s food.
Italian cuisine is region specific, with the authenticity of recipes promoting passionate debate among locals. The northwest brings a French influence, with its rich butter, cream and truffle sauces; the northeast is more about Tyrolean ham and dumplings. Umbria in central Italy specialises in salamis, hams, and black truffles, while the southern diet features mediterranean vegetables. Naples is considered to be the home of the humble pizza, and all along the coast seafood dominates, with regions offering twists on classic dishes.
Italian culture is very family orientated, with meal times being a time to come together. And Italians take their food seriously. A traditional lunch menu starts with an antipasto (cold meats, fish or vegetables), followed by the primo (soup, risotto or pasta), then the secondo (the meat or fish course), and concludes with dessert. If you manage all of the courses you’ll probably be undoing your belt a notch or two by the end of your trip.
Find out more about food in Italy.
Drink in Italy
Traditional bars in Italy are typically open all day and where you might go for a coffee in the morning or an alcoholic drink later in the day. Coffee culture is a specialism in Italy, with many Italians playfully scolding the rest of the world for making it and drinking it incorrectly. Espressos and macchiatos are classic choices throughout the day, but order a milky coffee in the afternoon and expect raised eyebrows.
When it comes to wine, Italy is known the world over – indeed the picturesque vineyards of Tuscany provide one of the quintessential images of the country. There’s the classic Chianti of the region, the vigorous Barolo and Barbaresco reds of Piemonte in the northwest, the sparkling Prosecco of Veneto of the northeast, and the sweet Marsala of Sicily. From a quaffable glass of the local stuff, to a drop of something more refined, wine in Italy is usually good value.
Find out more about drink in Italy – wine, beer, spirits and liqueurs, soft drinks and water.
Top image: Amalfi coast © proslgn/Shutterstock