Italy

Italy Tourist Guide & Info

Introduction

A country of olive oil and pasta, wine and sunshine, roman ruins and renaissance palaces, Italy has a lot to offer its visitors. Although some of these images are appealing, it would be a shame if that was the only thing you come away with. Italy is a modern country with deep Roman Catholic roots, full of interesting stuff for the casual tourist and even more for the educated visitor. It is easy to spend two weeks in major tourist centers without any reason to get bored, but it is equally simple to get off the beaten track. 

Italy is a large country in Southern Europe. It is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites – art and monuments are everywhere around the country. It is also famous worldwide for its cuisine, its fashion, the luxury sports cars and motorcycles, as well as for its beautiful coasts, lakes and mountains. 

Of the hundreds of Italian cities, here are nine of the most famous: Rome, Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Pisa, Turin, and Venice.

 

Essential Info

  • Capital :
    Rome
  • Currency :
    Euro
  • Driver's License :
    A valid driver's license is accepted but an International Driving Permit is recommended.
  • Electricity :
    220V at 50Hz
  • Entry Requirements :
    A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information.
  • GMT Time :
    +1hr. Daylight savings time is applied.
  • Government :
    Republic
  • Land size :
    301,230 km2
  • Language :
    Italian officialy; minor German, French and Slovenian
  • National Airlines :
    Alitalia
  • Population :
    58,147,733 approx
  • Religion :
    Roman Catholic 90%, other 10% (Protestant, Jewish, Muslim)
  • Required Vaccines :
    none
  • Tourist Season :
    April to June, and September to October
  • Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada :
    Consult the "Country Travel Advice and Advisories" of Italy

 

Origin & Culture

Cuisine

Breakfast for Italians might be coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and cold cuts or cheese. Lunch is seen as the most important part of the day, so much that they have one hour reserved for eating and another for napping. Also, a traditional Italian meal is separated into several sections: antipasto (marinated vegetables, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat course), dolce (dessert). Salads often come with the secondo. 

For a cheap meal you may like to track down an aperitivo bar which in the early evening will serve a series of plates of nibbles, cheese, olives, meat, bruschetta and much more, all this food is typically free to anyone who purchases a drink but is intended to be a pre-meal snack. The tradition of Aperitivo is particulary felt in Milan. 

Italian Specialties

– Risotto – Rice that has been sautéed and cooked in a shallow pan with stock. The result is a very creamy and hearty dish. Meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and cheeses are almost always added depending on the recipe and the locale.
– Arancini – Balls of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, and cheese that are deep fried. They are a southern Italian specialty, though are now quite common all over.
– Polenta – Yellow corn meal that has been cooked with stock. It is normally served either creamy or allowed to set up and then cut into shapes and fried or roasted.
– Gelato – This is the Italian version for ice cream. The non-fruit flavours are usually made only with milk and the fruit flavours are non-dairy.
– Tiramisu – Italian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, cookies and cocoa powder on the top. 

In Italy you can find nearly 400 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, and 300 types of sausages. Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In many large cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. Many sandwich shops charge an additional fee if you want to sit to eat your meal.

 

Culture

The culture of Italy can be found in the Roman ruins remaining in much of the country, the precepts of the Roman Catholic Church, the spirit of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the architecture. It can also be tasted in Italy's food. Italy's capital Rome has been the center of Western civilization, and is the center of the Catholic Church. In Ancient Rome, Italy was a center for art and architecture. There were many Italian artists during the Gothic and Medieval periods, and the arts flourished during the Italian Renaissance. Later styles in Italy included Mannerism, Baroque and Rococo. Futurism developed in Italy in the 20th century. Florence is a well known city in Italy for its museums of art. Great influences from Italy have also marked Literature and Cinema. 

The music of Italy range across a broad spectrum, from her renowned opera to modern experimental classical music; and from the traditional music of the many ethnically diverse region to a vast body of popular music drawn from both native and imported source. Historically, musical developments in Italy in the Middle Ages and Renaissance helped create much music that spread throughout Europe. Innovation in the use of musical scales, harmony, notation, as well as experiments in musical theater led directly not just to opera in the late 16th century, but to classical music forms such as the symphony and concerto, and to later developments in popular music. 

Appearances matter in Italy. The way you dress can indicate your social status, your family's background, and your education level. Fashion is a part of Italian society. Italian designers such as Armani, Prada, Gucci, Versace, and Valentino (just to name a few), are considered to be some of the finest in the world. The city of Milan takes its place amongst the most prestigious and important centers of fashion in the world.

 

Geography

The boot-shaped peninsula is surrounded on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the east by the Adriatic Sea. The Alps form its northern boundary. The largest of its northern lakes is Garda; the Po, its principal river, flows from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. 

There are several active volcanoes in Italy: Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe; Vulcano; Stromboli; and Vesuvius, the only active volcano on the mainland of Europe. 

Italian islands include Sardinia and Sicily, also Capri, Ischia, Elba, Procida, Aeolian Islands, Aegadian Islands, Tremiti and Pantelleria.

 

History

In 1713, after the War of the Spanish Succession, Milan, Naples, and Sardinia were handed over to the Hapsburgs of Austria, which lost some of its Italian territories in 1735. After 1800, Italy was unified by Napoleon, who crowned himself king of Italy in 1805; but with the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Austria once again became the dominant power in a disunited Italy. Austrian armies crushed Italian uprisings in 1820–1821 and 1831. In the 1830s, Giuseppe Mazzini, a brilliant liberal nationalist, organized the Risorgimento (Resurrection), which laid the foundation for Italian unity. Disappointed Italian patriots looked to the House of Savoy for leadership. Count Camille di Cavour (1810–1861), prime minister of Sardinia in 1852 and the architect of a united Italy, joined England and France in the Crimean War (1853–1856), and in 1859 helped France in a war against Austria, thereby obtaining Lombardy. By plebiscite in 1860, Modena, Parma, Tuscany, and the Romagna voted to join Sardinia. In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi conquered Sicily and Naples and turned them over to Sardinia. Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia, was proclaimed king of Italy in 1861. The annexation of Venetia in 1866 and of papal Rome in 1870 marked the complete unification of peninsular Italy into one nation under a constitutional monarchy. 

Italy declared its neutrality upon the outbreak of World War I on the grounds that Germany had embarked upon an offensive war. In 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies but obtained less territory than it expected in the postwar settlement. Benito (“Il Duce”) Mussolini, a former Socialist, organized discontented Italians in 1919 into the Fascist Party to “rescue Italy from Bolshevism.” He led his Black Shirts in a march on Rome and, on Oct. 28, 1922, became prime minister. He transformed Italy into a dictatorship, embarking on an expansionist foreign policy with the invasion and annexation of Ethiopia in 1935 and allying himself with Adolf Hitler in the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936. When the Allies invaded Italy in 1943, Mussolini's dictatorship collapsed; he was executed by partisans on April 28, 1945, at Dongo on Lake Como. Following the armistice with the Allies (Sept. 3, 1943), Italy joined the war against Germany. A June 1946 plebiscite rejected monarchy and a republic was proclaimed. The peace treaty of Sept. 15, 1947, required Italian renunciation of all claims in Ethiopia and Greece and the cession of the Dodecanese islands to Greece and of five small Alpine areas to France. The Trieste area west of the new Yugoslav territory was made a free territory (until 1954, when the city and a 90-square-mile zone were transferred to Italy and the rest to Yugoslavia). 

Italy became an integral member of NATO and the European Economic Community (later the EU) as it successfully rebuilt its postwar economy. A prolonged outbreak of terrorist activities by the left-wing Red Brigades threatened domestic stability in the 1970s, but by the early 1980s the terrorist groups had been suppressed. Italy adopted the euro as its currency in Jan. 1999.

 

Nature

Although larger mammals are scarce, chamois, ibex, marmot, and roe deer are found in the Alps, and bears, chamois, and otters inhabit the Apennines. The fox is common. Birds like the eagle hawk, vulture, buzzard, falcon, and kite; as well the quail, woodcock, partridge, and various migratory species abound in many parts of Italy. Lizards and snakes and scorpions are also found. Abundant marine life inhabits the surrounding seas.

 

Sports

Auto racing receives much attention in Italy, while the nation is host to a number of notable automobile racing events, such as the famed Italian Grand Prix. The Italian flair for design is legendary, and it should come as no surprise that Ferrari has won more Formula Ones than any other manufacturer. Motorcycle racing is followed by a lot of spectators as well. 

Other common sports in Italy include Rugby, Basketball, Volleyball, cycling, tennis, golf, track and field, skiing, the bobsleigh, roller hockey, bocce and cue sports. 

Along the beautiful water coasts all the know water sports can be practiced: sailing, motor boating, swimming, diving, water polo, rowing, and water skiing.

 

Other Useful Info

Banks & Money
Italy is part of the Eurozone, so the common currency of the European Union, the Euro (€), is legal tender in Italy. 

Italy is quite an expensive country. It's best to exchange currency or traveler's checks at a bank, not a cambio, hotel, or shop. Traveler's checks can be changed at all airports and some travel agencies. ATMs are prevalent in all Italian cities and even the smaller towns. ATMs are linked to a national network that most likely includes your bank at home. 

Credit cards are accepted in major cities but if you plan to travel through the countryside or rural regions you probably should not rely on them. Many small towns only accept cash.

 

Climate
Italy and the large islands of Sicily and Sardinia have very changeable weather in autumn, winter, and spring in marked contrast to the settled sunny weather of summer. Disturbed weather can continue into late May and may commence any time after early September. Throughout the winter, however, cloudy rainy days alternate with spells of mild, sunny weather. The climate of the coastal regions is a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and generally hot and dry summers. 

The least number of rainy days and the highest number of hours of sunshine occur in the extreme south of the mainland and in Sicily and Sardinia. Here sunshine averages from four to five hours a day in winter and up to ten or eleven hours in summer. 

Generally, the hottest month is July and the coldest month is January. The inland northern areas of Italy have a continental climate typically classified as humid subtropical climate, while the coastal areas and the peninsula south of Florence generally fit the Mediterranean climate stereotype. Temperature differences are less extreme in the summer. Summer is usually more stable, although the northern regions often have thunderstorms in the afternoon hours. South of Florence the summer is typically dry and sunny. 

In the winter there can be a considerable difference in temperature: it can be -2C and snowing in Milan, while it is 12C in Rome and 18C in Palermo. 

For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.

 

Communication

Payphones are widely available, especially in stations and airports. Some work with coins only, some with phone cards only and some with both coins and phone cards. 

Internet Cafes are becoming common place and can be found in most towns. You will be charged according to the amount of time spent using the computer. Some larger hotels may offer also internet services.

 

Health
While safe to drink, the tap water in many parts of Italy can be cloudy with a slight off taste. Most Italians prefer bottled water, which is served almost exclusively in restaurants. Make sure you let the waiter know you want regular water or else you could get frizzante (club soda water). The exception to this is Rome where they have exceptional pride in their quality of water. You can refill your drinking containers and bottles at any of the constant running taps\fountains dotted around the city. 

At the pharmacist, medicines must be ordered from the counter, even for non-prescription medicines. Since drug brand names vary, it is better to carry prescriptions using the international nomenclature in addition to the commercial brand name.

 

Official Holidays
1 – New Year's Day 

March/April – Easter Monday 

April
25 – Liberation Day 

May
1 – Labor Day 

August
15 – Assumption of the Virgin 

November
1 – All Saints' Day 

December
8 – Feast of the Immaculate Conception
25 – Christmas Day
26 – Santo Stefano

 

Safety

Petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors. The rate of violent crimes in Italy is considered moderate, and while a portion of violent crimes are committed against travelers, it is normally not a problem. However, instances of rape and robbery as a result of drugging are increasing. Travelers should be careful when going out at night alone. 

Travelers should also be sure to ask for prices before making transactions with most vendors. Taking pictures with jovial, high-spirited costumed mascots will be followed up with a demand for payment. Some other examples are when gelato is purchased or a shoe shine is desired, prices should be asked for beforehand, since reports of extreme price gouging has occurred.

 

Shopping

Many towns have flea markets and small markets for antiques & collector's items, generally during weekends. Take care when buying antiques since Italy is renowned for skilled imitators. Prices generally fixed and bargaining not general practice, although discount may be given on large purchase. 

The Italian Wine is the most exported all over the World. In Italy the wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure you respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff. Better know wine regions include: Latium, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, The Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Campania, Sicily, and Marsala.

 

Taxes & Tips
There is no departure tax at the airport. 

All the bills include the service charges, so tipping is not necessary. Tipping the taxi drivers, hotel porter, chamber maids is expected. 

The value-added tax (VAT) on most goods and services is of 20%. Refunds are made for the tax on certain goods and merchandise if you spend a minimum of 175€ in the same store on the same day, and if you are not a resident of the European Union. You must then get the Retail Export Form from the store, have customs stamp your form when leaving (have purchases with you) and then mail it in for your refund when back home.

 

Transportation

Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. French and Austrian borders are open, but cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks. Switzerland is not part of the Schengen zone, and full border checks apply. Italy has a well-developed system of highways in the northern side of the country while in the southern it's a bit worse for quality and extension. Even if speeding is very common on autostrade, be aware that there are a number of automatic and almost invisible systems to punish speeding and hazardous driving. Also Italian Highway Patrol has several unmarked cars equipped with speed radar and camera system. 

The Italian rail system has different train types. Newer trains are not necessarily more comfortable. The main practical difference between train types is reliability. Intercity services are generally very reliable. During commuter hours or on major north-south routes during the holidays the lower train types can become extremely full. Remember that you must validate the ticket before boarding, by stamping it in one of the yellow boxes (marked Convalida). 

There are a few national bus services but the train is usually better. Most big cities offer a public transportation service, such as buses or in certain cities a subway system. 

There are several ferries departing from Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most of them arrive to Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi. Some regular ferry services connect Sicily and Naples to some North African harbors. 

The Italian coast, like the French coast, attracts luxury yacht charters of the highest standards. Touring Italy from a private yacht is surprisingly convenient and comfortable. There are major distinct nautical regions in Italy: Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily.

 

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