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When it comes to planning a trip to Italy, you might quickly find yourself spoilt for choice. Hiking in the Dolomites? Sunbathing on the Amalfi coast? Wine touring in the Tuscan countryside? Brushing up on ancient history at the ruins of Pompeii? The list of things to do and places to visit in Italy is endless, which is why we’ve created this handy Italy guide to help ensure you curate the Italian trip of a lifetime! Keep reading below to find out the best time to visit the country, how to get there, and how to get around. We’ve also covered the best destinations for first-time visitors, how to travel like a local and how to explore Italy safely.
- By air: Most developed countries have direct or indirect flight paths into Italy, and most airports are well connected to city centres. The top five busiest airport entry points are Rome, Milan, Bergamo, Venice, and Catania. Make sure you use flight comparison sites to check flight prices against each airline.
- By land: Italy can be accessed by crossing the borders of France, Switzerland, Austria or Slovenia. If arriving by car, Italian law requires drivers without a European Union driving license to show their home country license, as well as an International Driving Permit when (or if) pulled over. If you’re arriving in a rental car, the car company will likely have asked for the necessary permits prior to booking.
- Rome: Italy’s capital is probably the first destination that springs to mind at the mentioning of this beautiful country, and a visit won’t disappoint as Rome offers the very best of Italian culture, history, and customs. Get ready to ride a Vespa through the city centre, marvel at ancient history of the Colosseum, and toss a coin into the iconic Trevi Fountain. A visit to Rome ticks a number of attractions off the old bucket list!
- Florence: Head to Florence; a city renowned for its Renaissance architecture, incredible art galleries and romantic side streets painted pastel colours. To get a taste of authentic Italy, look no further than Florence.
- Tuscany: When thinking of Italy, an image of rolling green vineyards, pink-orange sunsets and winding tree-lined country roads most likely pops up — which means you’re thinking of Tuscany. This region doesn’t disappoint first-time visitors to the country, especially if you are a food, wine and beautiful countryside aficionado.
- Venice: Made up of 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, Venice offers an iconic slice of Italy that’ll go down a treat with first-timers. Gondola rides down the canals, visits to Gothic palaces, and people-watching in Piazza San Marco are all popular activities in the area.
- Amalfi Coast: Spread over 50 km of coastline and home to some of the quaintest pastel-coloured fishing villages in the country, a trip to the Amalfi Coast is a no-brainer for first-time visitors and coastal enthusiasts! Between the seafood pasta, picturesque hikes and cliffside lemon groves, the list of things to enjoy is endless!
- Naples: This birthplace of the Neapolitan pizza is just a stone's throw from the ancient city of Pompeii and a short drive from imposing Mount Vesuvius and its many walking trails. The city of Naples has to lot to offer since there are so many interesting things to do in Naples for all first-time visitors. For real history, outdoor adventures, and incredible architecture one can’t go wrong with Naples and Pompeii.
EU members visiting Italy need not worry about having a travel visa, all you require is a valid passport with at least six months remaining validity before your departure date.
Non-EU members may enter Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business reasons without a visa. Anyone intending to stay in the country longer than 90 days must obtain a permit of stay.
While it’s hard to talk about Italy as a whole instead of each individual region, the general consensus is that Italy’s peak season runs from mid-June through August, the shoulder season runs from April through mid-June, and the off-season runs from November through March.
If you’re looking for a holiday under the hot sun in a bustling destination without having to worry about restaurants or bars being closed for the season, then plan to visit Italy in peak season. To avoid the crowds but still enjoy access to the best attractions, restaurants, and hotels plan to visit Italy in shoulder season. Alternatively, if you’re on a super strict budget, and you don’t particularly mind risking missing out on the best restaurants and hotels (which sometimes close over the winter) then opt for the off-season. One of the biggest perks of the off-season is that you can enjoy Italy like a local! Read more on the best time to visit Italy.
The length of time you spend in Italy depends on where you’re planning to visit. If you are planning a trip to Italy as a city break to the likes of Rome, Florence, or Milan, we’d recommend two to three days per city. If you’re combining a city break with a visit to the surrounding countryside and smaller towns, then we’d suggest spending a week in Italy. For a multi-city road trip, we’d recommend atleast 10 days; you’re bound to find lots of little towns to stop off at on the way. However, if you can give Italy more time — and we wholeheartedly suggest that you do — nothing beats a two-week adventure hopping from an Italian city to a medieval town to a coastal paradise!
Contrary to popular belief, the cost of a trip to Italy largely varies from traveler to traveler and can be done on any budget, from a bargain-basement weekend spent in hostels or cheap Airbnb to high-end luxury stays and private fast-car hire for road trips through the countryside.
If you're still not sure about how much a trip to Italy costs, here's an estimated average daily budget per person:
- Budget travel: USD 55 – 80*. This includes food (around USD 23 with breakfast and lunch from the supermarket), attractions, accommodation (around USD 28 for a hostel) and public transport.
- Mid-range travel: USD 140 – 155*. Food around USD 55 per person (coffee and pastry breakfast, pizza slice/ pasta for lunch, nice evening meal), attractions (USD 11 – 17 entry fee per attraction), accommodation (USD 70 per night) and transport (USD 3 public transport, USD 11 petrol for short distances).
- Luxury travel: USD 250 – 300+*. Food around USD 115 (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner eaten out with drinks), accommodation at USD 180 per night and attractions up to USD 33 for skip-the-line or private tours. Transport the same as mid-range.
Before departing on your trip, you might want to take out the majority of your holiday spending money in cash, or better yet, check the exchange rate every week before your trip and exchange when the rate is best. You can, of course, plan to pay for the majority of things on your credit card but:
- Check to see if your credit card provider charges overseas withdrawal fees
- Consider taking a debit card instead of a credit card to avoid accruing interest on transactions
- Consider whether you’re happy to pay the ATM fee in Italy (not all ATMs are free)
- Always bring some cash for bus rides, tipping, loose change, etc
When planning a trip to Italy it’s good to decide in advance how you’re going to get around.
Public transit: Exploring by public transport is both cheap and relatively efficient and can be done so by rail or bus. However, make sure to validate your ticket. Instead of buying tickets from the driver, they expect you to have pre-purchased a ticket and then it's your job to validate it: usually via a machine which you insert the ticket into. Just because the driver pays no attention to you (and nobody actually asks you to validate your ticket), don’t be fooled that you can ride for free — you’ll still be landed with a hefty fine if an inspector hops aboard and asks to see your ticket.
For ease of travel, it's sometimes more straightforward and cheaper to purchase a travel pass for the duration of your stay. Travel passes can cover a full-day, multi-day, weekly, or fortnightly travel meaning you only have to purchase one ticket for the duration of your stay – just don’t lose it.
Car hire: If you’re wanting to get around Italy independently by hiring a car, make sure you have the confidence to drive the Italian way! Road rage in some of the big Italian cities can be quite daunting to new overseas drivers and it isn’t for everyone. Indicating is a thing of the past, brute force is the Italian way of changing lanes, with little regard for safety. Keep your wits about you, check your mirrors regularly, and don’t make any sudden movements without assuming someone else is about to cut you up! Make it out of the city, and the driving becomes a little more manageable as the traffic pans out and the roads become a little emptier. But don’t let your guard down, you’re still driving in Italy!
- Food etiquette: Only drink wine or water with a meal, anything else is considered disrespectful to the dish! Also, remember to avoid eating with a spoon and instead use a fork like a local.
- Tipping culture: Tipping is not expected, though if you see ‘coperto’ on the bill you’ll pay USD 1 – 3* per person and if you see ‘pane’, you’ll pay USD 1 – 1.5 per person.
- Speak with your hands: It’s not just in the movies that Italians speak with their hands! The hand gestures are used as almost a second language and are thrown in to underline expressions and thoughts. Try copy them!
- Learn a few popular phrases: Buon giorno (good morning), ciao (hello), grazie (thank you), prego (you’re welcome) and mi scusi (excuse me) are good basic phrases you should know. A very essential Italy travel tip to travel and talk like a local!
- Riposo: Be aware of riposo in Italy, which means ‘rest’ in English. Riposo is the time of day in Italy when shops shut, cafes close, and basically everything takes a break for a ‘rest’. Don’t get caught out and plan to do something during this rest period that can begin anywhere from noon to 1:30 pm and run until 2:30 pm to 4 pm!
- Coffee culture: Only order milk coffees in the morning (cappuccinos are a popular breakfast drink), never after a full meal. Keep it simple, no fancy flavour orders, please. Espresso isn’t a thing, order a caffe instead.
- Wine is big in Italy: Always order wine from the region you are in. Chianti is a blend, not a type of grape. When a server offers you a taste from a bottle before he pours a full glass, it’s to check if it has gone bad (corked), not to see if you like it!
Italy is generally considered to be one of the safest nations in the world, and while it’s nice to think that the lovely locals are as friendly as they are welcoming, it’s always good to keep your wits about you, especially as a traveler in your non-native country. Always keep your belongings on your body, or always in your eyesight when dining in restaurants and cafes, traveling on buses and trains, and when stopping to take photos of attractions (don’t just dump your bag on the floor and stare through your camera lens). Likewise, always keep your money and valuables relatively hidden away, try not to flaunt your expensive camera too much, or your travel money! Finally, always make sure you’ve taken out a comprehensive insurance policy to cover your property and valuables while abroad.
Below we’ve listed a couple of lesser-known facts about Italy, along with tips and advice on how to go about these.
- Italy is a divided nation. Northern Italy and southern Italy are two divided nations and the more time you spend traveling between the two the sooner it becomes apparent that they really are worlds apart! Everything above Rome is considered to be northern Italy, this area is considered to be an industrial workhorse and produces over 99% of Italy’s exports. The north is also bordered by France, Switzerland, and Austria so the cultural melting pot is a real mix. In contrast, southern Italy is far more traditional and set in its roots, and you’ll find lots more hidden heritage sites that have gone untouched over the years. The south is also influenced by its overseas neighbors Greece and Spain and exudes a Mediterranean culture.
- Spaghetti bolognese doesn’t exist. That’s right, it doesn’t exist! Not even in the birth town of Bolognese, Bolgona, will you find spaghetti bolognese, but you will find tagliatelle al ragu a similar dish made using a wider style of pasta. If you ever see spaghetti bolognese on the menu, you’re in a tourist trap!
- Pizza isn’t brilliant everywhere. Tourists visiting Italy come with the hopes of chowing down on a slice of the world’s best pizza in the country of its very birth. However, Italians don’t tend to eat that much pizza, and the mass pizza restaurants you’ll find today were opened to serve the influx of tourists craving a slice of the good stuff! That’s not to say Italy doesn’t do good pizza; it’s just that you’ve got to head to Naples for true Neapolitan pizza.
- It’s illegal to buy fake designer bags in Italy. While many come to Italy to enjoy purchasing fine Italian leather goods, others come to pick-up bargain fake designer goods sold on the streets or at local markets but purchasing said products could get you into a lot of trouble. The majority of these counterfeit bags are sold on the streets by illegal immigrants and the government's policy to crack-down on this is to punish anyone who purchases fake goods with unlimited fines.
In conclusion, whether you opt to soak up the authenticity of southern Italy, or to enjoy the bustling melting pot of northern Italy, there’s a little something here for everyone. We hope you enjoyed our comprehensive guide to traveling in Italy for your handy travel tips, tricks, and advice and will take it all onboard next time you sit down and start planning a trip to Italy! For now, simply enjoy picturing yourself soaking up the sunshine on the Amalfi Coast, dining on Neapolitan pizza in Naples, sipping wine in the Tuscan countryside, and marveling at ancient ruins in Rome. Italy really has it all!
If you're planning to take a trip to Italy, connect with our travel expert for an ease in traveling to Italy.
*Note: Prices are as of April, 2019