Italy dips down out of Europe and into the Mediterranean like a lady's leg firmly planted in a sleek stiletto, so it's hardly surprising that Italians are known for their impeccable style and fashionable dress sense. They're also known for once having an empire that stretched across the globe, and for having the most spectacular churches, frescos, sculptures and Renaissance paintings in all of Europe.
The Italy of today is littered with the relics of more than 3,000 years of history, and an atmosphere that ranges from the Armani-wearing, scooter-driving, espresso-drinking buzz of its cities to the quiet, pastoral existence of its beautiful hillside olive farms and seaside fishing villages. Italy is also home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country on earth, with an incredible 47 sites of global historical significance dotted around the country.
From the depths of the canals in Venice, which floats on a series of islands in an Adriatic lagoon, and the bleached sands of San Remo on the Riviera, to the rocky crags of the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines, Italy has everything from beach holidays to luxury mountain ski resorts.
Italy's cities reveal awe-inspiring architecture from the curved arches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to the crumbling magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome. Home of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Botticelli, its artworks are a visual delight to all visitors.
Nestled into the outskirts of Rome is the independent Vatican City, the seat of the Pope and home to the famous St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. The influence of the Holy Catholic Church on the people of Italy is still evident today in a series of holy festivals, carnivals, and parades involving young and old alike in almost every city, town and village.
Language: The official language of Italy is Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country.
Passport/Visa: The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Furthermore, all foreign passengers to Italy must hold visible proof of financial means to support themselves while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Note that visitors may be refused entry, either for public security, tranquillity, order or health reasons.
Extensions of stay in Italy are possible, by applying to local authorities. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Currency: The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtain Euros through any bank, ATM or bureau de change. ATMs are widespread. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends but tend to have better rates than foreign exchange houses.
Electricity: Electrical current in Italy is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use, including the European-style two-pin plug.
Travel to Italy
Littered with more than 3,000 years of history, Italy is a sightseer's paradise. Spend some time in Rome taking in famous sites like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon. With artworks on display from the likes of Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Botticelli, it's a visual buffet for all visitors.
Head north to explore the canals of Venice by gondola or indulge in the wonderful shopping in the fashion capital of Milan. A little further is the magical city of Florence, teeming with culture and Italian flair. Or one can continue south past Rome to Naples and explore the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed by Mount Vesuvius, which can be seen standing sentinel over the city. Italy takes a lifetime to explore properly because there is so much on offer for visitors. From the gondola-lined canals of Venice to the white sandy beaches of San Remo, to the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines, Italy has everything from beach holidays to luxury mountain ski resorts and a whole lot more in between.
The most popular time of year to visit Italy is during the summer months when most of the country can be enjoyed like a fine Italian wine - slowly. A trip to the rolling hills of Tuscany is in order to sample some fine wine and olive oil, as well as plenty of old style Italian cuisine, while taking in the scenery of cypress trees, lush vines and olive groves. But if you've got a skiing holiday in mind, head to the Italian Alps and visit the resorts of Courmayer and Brevil Cervinia which boast world-class skiing.
Climate in Italy
Italy has a largely temperate climate with regional variations. In summer the northern parts of Italy are warm with occasional rainfall, the central region is somewhat stifled by humidity, and the south scorches under the dry heat. In winter, conditions in Milan, Turin and Venice are dominated by cold, damp and fog and Tuscany's winter temperatures approach freezing, while temperatures in the south of the country are more favourable, averaging 50 to 60ºF (10 to 20ºC). Most people visit Italy in the summer months between June and August; however, we think the best time to visit is in spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) when the weather is good and there are fewer tourists. Travel is also cheaper off-season. The sea is warm enough for swimming between June and September. Visitors should note that most Italians take their vacation in August and many shops and restaurants are closed during this period; it also means that during August the coastal resorts are crowded with locals. The ski season runs between December and April and the best time to walk in the Alps is between June and September. The best time to visit Italy will vary depending on region and desired activities.
Health Notes when travelling to Italy
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to Italy and you should be able to travel without special vaccinations and medications. Medical facilities in Italy are good but travel insurance is still recommended for non-EU citizens as medical attention can be expensive. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services provided they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Although it should be possible to get most medication in Italy, travel authorities always suggest that you take any prescribed medication that you require with you, in its original packaging, and with a signed and dated letter from your doctor explaining what it is and why you need it.
Safety Notes when travelling to Italy
Tourists in Italy should be vigilant to ensure their safety in public places and tourist sites as the Italian Government has warned that the risk of international terrorist attacks has increased. Domestic terrorism continues, but targets are usually Italian authorities; however, there is a slight possibility of being caught up in attacks. Tourists are vulnerable to pickpocketing and muggings in the bigger cities, particularly on public transport, in crowded areas and around tourist sites, and should exercise caution when carrying large amounts of cash and valuables. Make intelligent use of hotel safes and split valuables between people, bags and pockets to limit the damage if you are pickpocketed. Be particularly careful around the main train station, Termini. Visitors should be wary of groups of children, some of whom will distract attention while the others try to steal what they can. Strikes by transport workers take place regularly throughout Italy and delays are possible. Anti-austerity strikes have also become common and travellers are advised to avoid these mass gatherings which can degenerate into violence.
Customs in Italy
In Italy, it is an offence to sit on steps and in courtyards near public buildings, including the main churches in Florence; eating and drinking in the vicinity should also be avoided. Shorts, vests or any other immodest clothing should not be worn inside churches.
Duty Free in Italy
Travellers over 17 years from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco. As well as this, travellers do not have to pay duty on 4 litres of wine, 16 lires of beer or 1 litre of spirits over 22 percent volume, or 2 litres of alcoholic beverages less than 22 percent volume. Other goods up to the value of €300 is also permitted (reduced to €150 for children under 15). Travellers from EU countries travelling within the EU are limited to 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine (of which 60 litres may be sparkling), 20 litres of fortified wine, 10 litres of spirits, 1kg of tobacco, 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 1kg of tobacco and 400 cigarellos, perfume up to 50g or 250ml eau de toilette, and other goods for personal consumption to the value of €175 per adult or €90 for children under 15 years. EU citizens are also able to claim tax back if the VAT rates in Italy are higher than those in their country of residence. Prohibited items include narcotic drugs, medicinal products, arms and weapons, explosives and protected animal and plant species.
Doing Business in Italy
Italians can be very formal and old fashioned but are also warm and welcoming. Face to face communication is best, and often a third party introduction can speed initial negotiations. Business attire is formal and very stylish, and handshakes are the norm. First impressions count for a lot in Italy. Expect plenty of gesticulating and interruptions, or people talking over each other. Business cards are used. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy in Italy can slow down deal-making. Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday but can vary according to season and region.
Communication in Italy.
The international access code for Italy is +39. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). All numbers must be preceded by 0, whether originating in Italy or out, unless calling a mobile phone. City/area codes are in use, e.g. 02 for Milan and 06 for Rome. There can be high surcharges on calls made from hotels and it is generally cheaper to use a calling card. Public telephone boxes take phone cards for local and international calls, which can be bought from newsagents. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts.
Tipping in Italy
Tipping is customary in Italy and 10 to 15 percent of the bill is acceptable in restaurants (unless, as is increasingly the case, a 15 percent service charge has already been added to the bill). Hotels add a service charge of 15 to 18 percent, but it is customary to tip the service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxi drivers, but a 5 to 10 percent tip is always appreciated. Passport/Visa Note The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Furthermore, all foreign passengers to Italy must hold visible proof of financial means to support themselves while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Note that visitors may be refused entry, either for public security, tranquillity, order or health reasons. Extensions of stay in Italy are possible, by applying to local authorities. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination.
The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtain Euros through any bank, ATM or bureau de change. ATMs are widespread. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends but tend to have better rates than foreign exchange houses.