Chances are, once you’ve experienced the joys of travelling in Italy, you might never want to visit anywhere else. Its cultural legacy is awe-inspiring, with remnants of the Roman Empire manifest at (pretty much) every turn. Then there’s the diverse landscapes, and the fabulous food - all underpinned by an unmistakeable character of living life to the full.
All the information here is from The Rough Guide to Italy, our in-depth Italy travel guide - check it out for your all your Italy travel needs.
- Language: Italian, with a whopping 34 dialects.
- Population: just under 60 million, with around three million residing in Rome, the capital.
- Politics: Italy has been a democratic republic since 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum.
- Heritage: Italy is home to a staggering 55 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 50 cultural and five natural. Tuscany alone has more classified historical monuments than any other country in the world.
- Food and drink: the average Italian eats 23 kilos of pasta annually, and the nation drinks an astounding 14 billion cups of coffee every year.
Travel Facts about Italy
For more Italy travel tips, read our facts about travelling in Italy article.
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Where to go in Italy - Regions and Areas
Figuring out where to go when you visit Italy is no mean feat. From ancient hilltop towns to modern bustling cities, dramatic mountain landscapes to sweeping coastal scenery, each pocket of Italy delivers something different.
Rome, Italy’s capital, is the one city in the country that owes allegiance neither to the north or the south. It’s quite unlike any other city, and in terms of historic sights it outstrips everywhere else by some way.
Piemonte and Lombardy
The northwest regions of Piemonte and Lombardy make up the country’s most cosmopolitan region, and the two main centres, Turin and Milan, are its wealthiest cities. In the north, the presence of the Alps makes skiing and hiking prime activities, while Lombardy’s lakes and mountains are time-honoured tourist territory.
Liguria, the small coastal province to the south, has long been known as the “Italian Riviera” and is accordingly crowded with sun-seekers for much of the summer. Its capital, Genoa, is a vibrant port town with a long seafaring tradition.
The Veneto and Friuli Giulia
Emilia-Romagna’s coast is popular among Italians, and Rimini is Italy’s brashest (and trendiest) seaside resort. Then there’s the ancient centres of Ravenna, Ferrara, Parma and regional capital, Bologna, one of Italy’s liveliest cities, and traditionally its gastronomic and academic capital.
Central Italy represents perhaps the most commonly perceived image of the country. Tuscany, with its classic rolling countryside and the art-packed towns of Florence, Pisa and Siena, is one of Italy’s most visited regions.
Campania’s capital, Naples, is a unique, unforgettable city, the spiritual heart of the Italian south, and close to some of Italy’s finest ancient sites in Pompeii and Herculaneum, not to mention the country’s most spectacular stretch of coast around Amalfi.
The island of Sicily is a place apart, with a wide mixture of attractions ranging from some of the finest preserved Hellenistic treasures in Europe, to a couple of Italy’s most appealing beach resorts in Taormina and Cefalu, not to mention some gorgeous upland scenery.
Sardinia feels far removed from the mainland, especially in its relatively undiscovered interior, although you may be content just to laze on its beaches, which are among Italy’s best.
Top Attractions - What to see in Italy
Picking landmarks and attractions in Italy everyone should see in a lifetime is a nigh impossible task, but we’ve taken a stab at selecting some of the best places to travel in Italy; sights that will enhance every Italy trip experience.
- The Colosseum is perhaps Rome’s most awe-inspiring ancient monument, an enormous structure that despite the depredations of nearly two thousand years of earthquakes, fires, riots and wars, remains relatively intact.
- Venice’s magnificent Piazza San Marco houses the Basilica di San Marco, Italy’s most lavish cathedral.
- Hemmed in by lush hillsides and dramatic mountains, Lake Como’s captivating landscape is best enjoyed by zigzagging between shores by boat.
- When in Florence, it’s impossible not to gravitate straight towards the square at its hears, Piazza del Duomo, beckoned by the iconic form of the cathedral’s extraordinary dome.
- 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.
- The Amalfi coast - this rugged stretch of coastline has to rank as one of Italy’s most breath-taking routes. Secluded coves and picturesque towns punctuate the scenic journey.
Discover more great places to see in our ultimate list of things not to miss in Italy.
Best things to do in Italy
History and culture
Rome alone has enough historic attractions to warrant dozens of visits (and that’s no exaggeration). Discover more about the Eternal City’s ravishing ruins and architectural treasures, from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, to the Spanish Steps and the Vatican.
Florence is an exquisite city of exquisite art, the jewel in its elegant crown Italy’s finest art gallery, the Uffizi, home to Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and Caravaggio’s “Medusa”, to name but a few of its masterworks. Though meandering Venice’s winding alleys and canals feels like you’re exploring a museum (such is the city’s beauty and uniquely curated vibe), the Accademia museum is an absolute must-visit for art-lovers.
The extensive Italian coast offers plenty of opportunities for sailing and windsurfing. Scuba diving is popular in Sicily and off most of the smaller islands. Water-sports aren’t just restricted to the coast - they can be found in places such as lakes Como and Garda in the north, and Trasimeno and Bolsena further south towards Rome, while river canoeing, canyoning and rafting are popular in the mountain areas of the north of the country. Discover more about sports and outdoor pursuits - our Italy guide to all things active.
Of course, Italy’s coast isn’t all about high energy pursuits. Its beaches are stunning places to soak up the sun; people watch and pose; eat, drink and generally be very merry. Discover the best beaches in Italy, spanning secluded coves, lively seafronts, and dramatic cliff-backed harbours.
Skiing and snowboarding
With the Alps on the doorstep, it’s easy to spend a weekend skiing or snowboarding from Milan, Turin or Venice. Some of the most popular ski resorts are Sestriere and Bardonecchia in Piemonte, and Val di Fassa in the stunning Dolomite mountains. Find out about the best winter resorts for skiing.
Hiking and biking
All these mountain resorts are equally ideal as bases for summer hiking and climbing. The dramatic, spiky landscape of the Dolomites, for example, is perfect hiking country, with its trails often subject to snow, ice and scorching sun in the same day - this is Italy travel at its most epic. For less strenuous treks, the rolling hills of Tuscany and Umbria make perfect walking and mountain-bike country - consider booking a tour in the company of an Italy travel guide who has local hiking or biking know-how.
When is the best time to visit Italy?
Italy is a truly year-round destination, so the answer to the question “what’s the best month to go to Italy?” will depend on what you want from your Italy travel experience. Generally speaking, though, the best time to travel to Italy is spring (April to June) or autumn (September to October). Temperatures are warm and you’ll skirt the stifling heat of the summer months - top Italy travel advice if you want to avoid the crowds, too.
Find out more about the best time to visit Italy.
How to get to Italy
The best way to travel to Italy is to fly. Regular direct flights serve most of Italy from the UK, and you can fly direct from various cities in the US to Rome and Milan. Alternatively, if you travel to Italy by train, you’ll limit your carbon footprint and get to see incredible scenery too. An Interrail (European residents) or Eurail pass (non-European residents) is good value if you plan to make stops en route.
Read on for the best ways to get to Italy.
How to get around Italy
If you’re wondering how to travel around Italy, the 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, though regional buses cover the corners the trains don’t reach. For trips to the islands, you can hop on a ferry or hydrofoil, and the northern lakes region operates frequent ferries outside the winter months.
Learn more about transportation and how to get around Italy.
Where to stay in Italy?
When you visit Italy, an immeasurable variety of accommodation awaits - boutique hotels, youth hostels, self-catering villas, family-run B&Bs, rural farmhouses, mountain monasteries. While rarely particularly cheap, standards are reliable and accommodation is well regulated. Bear in mind, though, that while accommodation is plentiful, you’ll need to book ahead to bag your ideal bunk down spot in popular resorts and major cities.
Discover how to find the best accommodations in Italy.
Food in Italy you need to try
One of the joys of travel to Italy is sampling the variety of quality food and drink. Italian cuisine is region specific - the northwest brings a French influence, with its rich butter and cream sauces, while Umbria specialises in salamis, hams, and black truffles, and the southern diet features Mediterranean vegetables. Naples is considered to be the home of the humble pizza, all along the coast seafood dominates, and pasta is prevalent pretty much everywhere. When it comes to drink, Italians take their coffee seriously, and Italian wine is world-renowned, with Tuscany producing classic Chianti, and Veneto’s Prosecco an effervescent delight.
Read more about local food and drink in Italy.
Culture and festivals in Italy
If you travel to Italy, chances are you’ll come across a festival of one kind or another. The Italians love a party, and there are thousands of festivals throughout the year. Religious processions are widespread, Good Friday being particularly well celebrated, and carnival (the big party before the sobriety 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 about public holidays in Italy.
Nightlife in Italy
The resort area of Rimini is arguably the clubbing capital of Italy, mainly concentrated on the seafront itself, and in the fashionable enclave of Misano Monte (15km south of Rimini and about 5km inland). Also home to legendary nightclubs, cosmopolitan fashion powerhouse Milan does things a little differently. Milanos like to start their evenings early, with an extended “Happy Hour” that begins around six with an aperitivo - a pre-dinner drink that typically lasts until 9pm.
Though not short of night clubs, Roman nightlife is more focussed on al fresco food-based activities. Bustling, bohemian Trastevere comes up trumps for hearty homecooked food and, while Naples lays claim to inventing it, Roman pizza is something to write home about.
Plan your trip to Italy
The saying goes that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you shouldn’t expect to see more than a fraction of the city’s attractions in a short visit. That said, if you’re looking for ideas for a few days in Italy, a (preferably long) weekend in Rome will deliver in magnificent style. The same goes for city breaks in Venice, Florence and Milan, and lesser-visited Bologna and Genoa.
As for ideas for a week (or more) in Italy, you might consider touring the Italian Lakes, or soaking up southern Italy, taking in Naples, Pompeii, Vesuvius, the island of Capri, and Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. Alternatively, exploring the island of Sicily makes for an idyllic longer break.
For more inspiration see some of the Italy itineraries from our Italy travel guide and local travel experts.
- Dining do’s and don’ts - always wish your table mates “Buon appetito!” before eating, never start to eat until everyone is seated, and always serve others before yourself.
- Be mindful that tucking into takeaway treats on the move isn’t always welcome (or legal). Florence, for example, has banned eating on the streets around All’ Antico Vinaio, on account of the mess incurred by the popularity of the areas’s takeaway eateries.
- Be respectful (quiet, and observe any rules around photography) when visiting churches and other religious sites.
- Say “Permesso” when you need to pass someone on the street, as you’d say “excuse me” in English.
Things you need to know before going to Italy
- Electricity - the supply is 220V, though anything requiring 240V will work, and plugs either have two or three round pins.
- Italy’s currency is the euro (Italians pronounce it “eh-uro”).
- Banks give the best exchange rate. Banking hours are normally Monday to Friday mornings from 8.30am until 1.30pm, and for an hour in the afternoon (usually 2.30–4pm).
- Most towns and villages have at least one ATM.
- Opening hours - most shops and businesses open Monday to Saturday from 8am until 1pm, and from about 4pm until 7pm, with additional closures on Saturday afternoons, though an increasing number remain open all day. Traditionally, everything except bars and restaurants closes on Sunday, though in large cities and tourist areas, Sunday shopping is more common.
For advice about practical matters when travelling in Italy, check the travel advice for Italy.
Typical cost and Money Saving Tips for Italy
In general, you’ll find the south of Italy less expensive than the north. 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. 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. Transport and food are relatively inexpensive, and room rates are in line with much of the rest of Europe, but bear in mind that in July and August, when Italians take their holidays, hotel prices can escalate.
- Comfortable shoes - yes, even if you’re strutting around fashionable Milan. Exploring Italy on foot is fabulous fun, so you won’t want to be hindered by inappropriate footwear.
- That said, Italians are known for their style, so even if you’re setting off for a beach or adventure holiday, you’ll want to pack something smart for the evenings.
- Travelling from outside mainland Europe? Bring multi-plug adapter.
- While English is widely spoken, pack an Italian phrasebook. Attempting to speak little lingo is polite, plus it could come in handy in remote rural regions.
- Italian summers are hot, hot, hot - don’t forget the sunscreen.
What to pack for a trip to Italy
Is Italy safe for travel?
Italy is relatively safe for visitors, though you can reduce the chance of petty theft by taking sensible precautions - don’t flash anything valuable, and make sure bags can’t be snatched. 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 in Italy, and for up to date information about safety and travel requirements for Italy, check government guidelines. UK nationals should heed Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice, while travellers from the US should check governmental travel advisory guidelines for Italy.
- Don’t sit down for a coffee if you’re going to down it in one - the cost of a coffee drunk at a table can be double that of drinking it at the counter.
- Don’t ask for a cappuccino as lunchtime approaches - in Italy, the frothy stuff is only supped with breakfast.
- Common sense this one, but steer clear of restaurants that try to usher folks inside. Italy has an abundance of excellent eateries - you don’t need to pay over the odds at joints that hustle for business.
- Avoid depending on debit and credit cards. Lots of gelateria, street food vendors and trinket stalls only take cash - you wouldn’t want to miss out on that ice cream of a lifetime by being beholden to cards.
What you should avoid in Italy?
- Check out The Rough Guide to Italy - our exhaustive, in-depth Italy travel guide that covers everything you need to know before you go, and while you’re on the road.
- You can pick up regional Rough Guides to Italy too, and city guides. Explore the full range.
- Our expert-curated (fully customisable) Italy itineraries are packed with inspiration.
- Given that enjoying Italy’s food, glorious, food is an essential Italy travel experience, taking a food tour is a great way to sample authentic cuisine, whether you’re in Rome, Naples, or Venice.
Useful resources for your travel to Italy
Top image: Amalfi coast, Italy © proslgn/Shutterstock