What immediately comes to mind when people think of Italy is – pizza, pasta, the Colosseum and maybe the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Sure, Italy has all of that, but there is so much more this Mediterranean country has to offer. You can spend a romantic holiday in a quaint hotel on the Amalfi Coast or floating through the canals of Venice.
If you’re short on time, you can just explore one of Italy’s famous cities for the weekend or the lucky ones out there can spend weeks backpacking between different destinations across the country.
Italy’s popularity is clearly reflected in the number of visitors the country receives each year. With around 94 million tourists each year, Italy is the 4th most visited country in the world.
People are attracted to Italy by its rich culture, history, fashion, art, beaches, mountains and of course cuisine. Each area of Italy offers something different, providing endless opportunities for adventure and exploration.
You can immerse yourself in Italy’s history by visiting one of its famous cities like Rome, Florence or even Pompeii, a city literally frozen in time. Alternatively, you can escape to the Italian countryside where you’ll be greeted by rolling vineyards and winding roads perfect for exploring by moped.
Italy has every kind of natural landscape you can think of; 4,000 miles of dramatic coastline, a hikers dream in the form of the Dolomites or stunning lakes like Lake Como.
And we haven’t even mentioned the numerous islands that surround Italy’s coastline. Islands like Sardinia, Sicily, Sorrento (to name just a few) offer perfect turquoise-waters and a glimpse at a different pace of life in Italy.
If you do have an upcoming trip to this wonderful country in the South of Europe, then this guide will prepare you with everything you need to know about visiting Italy!
Top places to visit in Italy
Italy spans an area of over 300,000 km², giving you plenty of land to explore. And unlike other countries that only have a few well-known destinations, Italy has a ton.
Enough to keep you coming back time and time again, or just make you never want to leave.
As hard as it is to pick, here are our top 3 places to visit in Italy:
- Rome – a capital city inundated with a history that spans 28 centuries, frozen in time by monuments such as the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel. Rome was one of the world’s most powerful ancient cities. This is clearly reflected nowadays in it’s extravagant and impressive architecture that you can’t help but admire as you walk around the bustling city. You can even tick another country off your list by visiting the smallest country in the world, Vatican City, which is enclaved within Rome. Exploring Rome basically never stops, but when you’re ready for a next adventure, consider making you way down south. From Rome to Naples takes only a little over 1 hour with the highspeed train.
- Venice – an iconic Italian city famous throughout the world for it’s romantic canals, elegant gondolas and rich history. As you drift along the waterways (a must-do in Venice) you’ll be treated to views of Venice’s stunning architecture and a number of it’s 200 churches. There’s often a common misconception that Venice is just for romantic getaways. This couldn’t be more wrong! The city is perfect for anyone that wants to explore Italian culture, taste great food and wander the streets feeling like you’re in a movie. The journey from Milan to Venice takes only 2.5 hours by train.
- Amalfi Coast – we’re kind of cheating here as the Amalfi coastline is actually 50km long and includes destinations like Amalfi, Sorrento, Salerno and Positano to name a few. All of which are definitely worth visiting if you want to experience a dramatic coastline, quaint beaches and stunning islands to explore. Each destination has something different to offer, meaning you can fill your trip to the Amalfi coast with new adventures and islands every day. Inevitably though, this kind of beauty has attracted tourists from all over the world, so it can often feel very busy especially during the summer months. The trip from Rome to Amalfi takes only 2 hours if you travel by train via Salerno.
When’s the best time to travel to Italy?
Instinctively you’re probably thinking the best time to travel to Italy is in the summer. The sun shining, not a cloud in the sky, making that dip in the sea that bit more refreshing.
Arguably, this isn’t actually the best time to visit Italy. Sure, during the months of July (~30°C) and August (~30°C), you’ll have almost guaranteed hot and perfect weather, but this also brings the crowds and sometimes an unbearable heat.
For this reason, we think the best time to visit Italy is between April-June (~20-27°C) or September-October (~22-27°C). During these periods, the weather will still be warm and the sky’s blue, but you’ll have fewer people brushing up against you at the popular tourist spots.
Another plus of travelling during this time, which we all love to hear, is that prices will be lower outside of peak tourist seasons. You can treat yourself to a few more ice-creams with the money you save!
During winter, between October and April, temperatures drop significantly but not to an unbearable level. In December, Italy’s average temperature is still 13°C.
However, if you’re travelling during this time you’ll find that attractions operate on shorter winter times and some hotels and restaurants may be shut for renovation.
Weekend trips to popular cities like Milan, Rome and Venice can still be a lovely break though, so don’t disregard Italy completely during the winter months. Just make sure to wrap up warm!
How to get around in Italy
When visiting Italy, many holiday-makers decide to stay put in one place. This is actually a big shame as it’s relatively easy to move around in Italy.
Here’s a short overview of the main transport options:
- By train – Italy’s national train network is extensive and efficient, making it one of the most popular forms of transport. The train network is run by a company called Trenitalia, which offers online booking services. To get the best price, we recommend booking a few weeks ahead as prices tend to go up closer to the departure date. You’ll be able to travel between cities in no time due to the high-speed network. For example, the fast train between Rome and Florence takes 1.5 hours as opposed to the slower regional train taking 4 hours. This speed does come at a higher cost though, so make the decision based on your time and budget.
- By bus – most of the time if you’re travelling between cities, the train will be the best option. Long distance buses aren’t as common in Italy. However, in some cases you may need to rely on a combination of the two. For example when you arrive in the city, the local bus can get you closer to your accommodation. In general, the quality of the buses is very good. Most of them tend to be relatively new and air conditioned, providing a comfortable journey. Although most people assume the bus will be the cheapest option, this isn’t always necessarily the case. If you book the train in advance, it can often be cheaper than the bus.
- By plane – Domestic flights in Italy can often save you a large amount of time, especially when travelling to islands such as Sicily or Sardinia. If you plan ahead or are just lucky, you can find flights that are cheaper than taking the train. Italy’s main domestic airlines include Alitalia, Air Dolomiti, Blue Panorama, Meridiana or larger airlines like Ryanair can also be good. It’s always good to be aware of your travel footprint though. Taking a short haul flight can be up to 10 times more polluting than taking a more environmentally-friendly option like the bus.
- By ferry – Italy has more than 4,000 miles of coastline, with a number of popular islands dotted within the Tyrrhenian Sea, making boat travel a necessity. To get to the popular islands of Sardinia or Sicily the only other option besides flying is taking a ferry. Other islands on the Amalfi coast that can easily be reached by ferry are Sorrento, Naples, Positano, Amalfi. The main boat companies in Italy are Caremar, Tirrena, Moby and Siremar. Similar to flights and train tickets, the further you book in advance, the cheaper the tickets should be.
- By car – If you’re only visiting large Italian cities it may not be worth renting a car as they offer such great public transport. Driving is thereby often slower compared to the high-speed train network. However, if you’re heading into the Italian countryside to places like Tuscany, renting a car may be a good option. The average price of renting a car is €30 a day, plus the cost of insurance which is mandatory in Italy. (Tip: Check out our guide on car rental tips to avoid extra charges.)
Visa for Italy
As Italy is part of the Schengen Zone, a trans-European agreement that allows visa-free travel between countries, visiting Italy can be relatively stress-free.
Visitors from a large number of countries are able to visit Italy for 90 days within a 180 day period without the need for a Visa. These countries include those in the EU, Britain, USA, Canada, Australia.
All visitors must have a valid passport with at least 6 months left before its expiry date to enter the country.
The Perfect Packing List for Italy
If you’re travelling to Italy during the summer just know that it’s going to be hot. It’s best to bring loose-fitting, cool clothes and of course your swimsuit if you’re making your way to Italy’s spectacular beaches.
Aside from the essential travel gear, here are some that have become permanent fixtures on our packing list:
- Reusable water bottle – they’re better for the environment and can save you money on water.
- A portable charger – there’s probably going to be a time when your phone’s battery is on red, at a time that you desperately need it.
- An adaptor – Italy uses plugs C, F and L. You can recognise these types of plugs predominantly by the two round prongs. A universal travel adaptor is a great purchase if you’re travelling between different continents.
What other tips should you know?
Here’s a selection of the best tips and pieces of information that may make your trip to Italy that bit easier:
Similar to most of Europe, Italy also uses the Euro as its currency. As of February 2021, $10 is equivalent to €8.30.
A lot of places within Italy do accept debit and credit cards, but it’s always good to have some cash on you just in case. Within the cities there will be a number of ATMs available to withdraw money.
PRO-TIP: If your home currency is not the Euro, try to avoid Euronet ATMs as they tend to charge extra high fees. Also always choose the option to withdraw money without conversion. Trust us, your bank will do this cheaper than the ATM.
The language spoken in Italy is Italian.
It’s always good to know a few essential words before travelling to a place, so here’s a few to get you started:
- Hello – Ciao
- Thank you – Grazie
- Please – Per favore
- Sorry – Spiacente
- Beer – Birra
Food and drink
Italy is famous for its food. It’s a renowned cuisine all across the world, but what better place to sample it than from its homeland.
It goes without saying that you have to eat as much pizza and pasta as you can when in Italy, so below we’ve focused on some other dishes that you have to try:
- Cannoli – a staple in a Sicilian’s diet, Cannoli’s are tube shaped shells of fried pastry dough filled with a creamy filling usually containing ricotta. A perfect snack after a delicious bowl of pasta.
- Fried Zucchini flowers – are a traditional appetiser or antipasto served in restaurants. The zucchini is coated in a light batter and often filled with mozzarella. If you weren’t hungry before, we’re sure you are now!
- Focaccia – is one of the most famous Italian flatbreads from north-west Italy. This delicious bread is made with flour, water, and olive oil then topped with coarse salt, rosemary, cherry tomatoes, onion, and other veggies.
- Cacio e Pepe – we know we said we weren’t going to talk about pasta here, but cacio e pepe is a mouth-watering dish you just have to try, especially if you’re in Rome. The dish is simple. Pecorino cheese and black pepper, that’s it! But trust us it’s good!
- Gelato – Even though it’s not recognised as an official dish by most people, we can’t end this section without having mentioned the Italian gelato. If there is one country in the world where you need to get a gelato ice cream, it’s Italy.
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