Italy holidays

Experience Italy

Best Places to Visit

It was once said that all roads lead to Rome, and if you want to experience Italy at its most iconic, that holds true to this day. Witness the indelible footprint of the very heart of the Roman Empire in the landmarks and culture of Italy's capital city, not to mention the religious significance of the walled enclave of Vatican City. It may come as a surprise that Rome's population makes it the fourth-largest city in the European Union, accounting for around three million of Italy's 60 million residents, which goes some way towards explaining the cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Florence is also a capital city, not of the country, but of the picturesque and tranquil region of Tuscany. It too is more populated than many people realise, with over 1.5 million people in its metropolitan area, although fewer than 400,000 live within the city limits. Florence remains one of Italy's most beautiful skylines, with architecture dating to the Italian Renaissance. It is sometimes called the Athens of the Middle Ages - and indeed, soon after the Kingdom of Italy was first established, Florence served as its capital from 1865 to 1871.

Venice is a must-see for anyone with a passion for Italian culture, with its unique network of canals in place of streets throughout much of the city. Where there is dry land, there is always the risk of flooding at high tide, and you may hear the sirens to alert you to what is known locally as 'acqua alta' or simply 'high water'. When this happens, even the dry streets and alleys become slightly submerged, and getting around on foot requires a knowledge of where temporary raised walkways are put into place. These provide a safe haven for the few hours until the tide begins to fall again, taking the floodwaters with it.

Pompeii may seem eerie to some people, but to most it is a rare opportunity to see a snapshot of a city frozen in time. It—along with neighbouring Herculaneum—was engulfed in volcanic ash in 79 AD, and rather than destroying the town, this preserved it. Now ongoing excavation work is rediscovering artefacts still in their original positions - a two-millennium-old time capsule of Roman life. Visit on August 24th and you may feel the chills even more than usual as that marks the anniversary of the eruption itself, which killed around 3,000 of the 20,000 population of Pompeii.

Top Landmarks

Mention Italy to most people and there are two landmarks that stand out. The first is a true icon of the country's capital city, and of the Roman Empire's former presence there - the Coliseum. This grand amphitheatre still stands proud in Rome and is one of the architectural wonders high on many people's to-do lists. Although parts of the structure are in a state of near-ruination, it is still an imposing spectacle on the city's skyline and will always be among the biggest tourist attractions in Italy. Head to the interior and the excavated stadium floor will show you the tunnels and elevator shafts used to bring gladiators and beasts alike up from their underground cells in preparation for combat.

The second iconic Italian landmark has got to be the Leaning Tower of Pisa - perhaps the single most photographed attraction in Italy, and almost universally pictured from the same viewpoint. The tower famously began to lean over to one side before construction was even completed, and this is apparent if you look closely at its shape, as extra height was given to the 'lower' side of the masonry in an attempt to straighten up the top part. Genuine concern exists as to how long the tower will remain standing, and work is frequently carried out to try and shore up the foundations and prevent it from leaning too far, so this may well be worth seeing sooner rather than later.

Entertainment

Vineyards make for a great day out on both family holidays to Italy and more romantic breaks. The scenery is usually among the most beautiful and serene the country has to offer. For grown-ups, it's a chance to sample some of Italy's home-grown wines, and possibly food. Longer visits can also be arranged, including overnight accommodation, and these are perfect if you want to spend a little longer in your favourite wine region, so as to sample even more of the food and drink it has to offer.

Cycling is a popular pastime throughout Italy, and bicycles are manufactured particularly in the north of the country. For a form of self-guided entertainment, hire a cycle and explore the roads of the surrounding countryside, wherever you happen to be staying in the country. The terrain may vary, and hilly routes will of course be more challenging, but it's a great way to see the scenery at your own pace while getting out into the open air too. As an alternative, if you're reluctant to cycle off into the sunset without knowing where you are going, there are some cycle tours that provide guides and support vehicles, so you have more peace of mind in case anything goes wrong - and reassurance that you will not get lost.

Dining Out

Many Italian meals are quite simple, combining good quality meats and cheeses, breads, pasta and sauces. However, not every region has a diet centred on pasta – one of the most exciting parts of a package holiday to Italy. In some parts of the country, particularly in northern Italy, diverse staples like rice and potatoes may be equally prevalent. Sometimes, even more so. In the south of the country, the greater significance of the coastline can give seafood more of a presence in the everyday diet. When eating out, the evening meal typically consists of two courses, and pasta with a relatively small amount of sauce may be served as a starter rather than a main.

That does not mean you can't order three or more courses, however, and the delicious cured meats are well worth sampling. There's likely to be a variety available not only in restaurants, but also as fillings for sandwiches from market stalls, with a similarly impressive variety of cheeses. Expect even 'familiar' dishes to be different than you're used to - pizzas will generally be on a thin base more like a light pastry than a doughy bread, while paninis may not be flattened as much as they are in the UK. In fact, they may not be flattened or grilled at all.

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Need to know

Language

Italian is the primary language, but others are spoken too - for example, the autonomous Italian region of the island of Sardinia has its own native tongue. Wherever you go, there's a very good chance of meeting somebody who speaks good English. The best likelihood of this is in the main cities and anywhere tourists are commonly found, and applies even more so to those in hospitality roles, from hotel and restaurant staff to independent shopkeepers.

Currency

The Italian currency, like much of Europe, is the euro. You can easily obtain currency at ATMs with a major debit or credit card, or by exchanging sterling, which is generally best done in a bank or a specialist bureau de change for the best rates.

Visas

Entry into Italy is among the easiest in the world. You'll need a valid passport, which will still be valid on the date of your return journey. Technically it doesn't need to be valid any longer than that, but it's sensible to have at least a few days before the expiry date, in case your return gets delayed. However, you do not need a visa. If you are unsure of any specific circumstances you think might affect this in your case, contact the Italian Embassy before you travel.

Climate

Italy's climate varies depending on where in the country you are. Much of the south - the 'boot' part of Italy - has a Mediterranean climate, with quite hot and dry summers and mild winters. In the north, away from the coast, things can be cooler with more precipitation. In particular, in the extreme north, the Italian Alps have everything you'd expect of an alpine climate, complete with heavy winter snowfall that produces world-beating conditions for skiing and snowboarding.

Main Airports

Rome Fiumicino Airport and Milan Malpensa Airport are the two main airports in Italy, although this is most significant for travellers arriving from outside Europe.

Flight Options

Within the EU, there are several other cities that cater for international flights, including Bologna, Naples, Pisa, Venice, Turin, Genoa, Bari, Catania and Palermo. As one of the continent's most popular tourist destinations, flights to Italy are also a competitive market for the airline operators, with the result that there are more budget tickets and package holidays to Italy available than is the case for many other destinations.

Travel Advice

EU citizens should only need a passport in order to be allowed entry into the country - there is usually no need to apply for a tourist visa. However, the usual caveats apply to this, and if your passport is very close to its expiration date (within six months) then you may need to renew it before your trip.

Other Transport Options

If you have more time to spare, you might like to travel to Italy by train. Simply hop on the Eurostar to Paris, and catch a connection to your Italian escape. If you like, you could even drive, using ferries to get you across the pond.

Getting Around

Whether you’re travelling locally or taking in as much of the country as possible, there are plenty of transport options to help you make the most of your trip.

Bus

If travelling by bus, remember that you usually cannot pay your fare on the bus itself - you need to buy your ticket in advance from a machine or from the bus company's office. Depending on which city you are in, there might also be the option of a fixed-fee card to access local public transport, as well as attractions like museums and galleries. This may also get you a discount in certain shops and restaurants.

Train

Long-distance journeys over land are best made using the high-speed trains, which cost more but are capable of speeds up to 300 km/ph. They link the major cities with one another, including Rome, Milan, Turin, Venice, Florence and Naples, and will get you to your destination much faster than the standard intercity and local services. There are a limited number of overnight services on the longest routes and you can book a sleeper cabin for these. Getting a cabin, rather than a normal seat, is often not much more expensive considering the extra level of comfort it will give you if you try to sleep.

ITALY`S WEATHER TODAY

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MAP

FACTS

  1. 'Rome' in the sense of the Roman Empire was officially founded around 750 BC; however, there is evidence of much earlier occupation in the area.
  2. This gives the present-day location of Rome the honour of being one of Europe's oldest sites to have been occupied continually all the way to modern times.
  3. Perhaps in reference to its longevity, the city has several common nicknames, including 'Caput Mundi' meaning 'Capital of the World', and 'Roma Aeterna' meaning 'The Eternal City'.

FACTS

  1. 'Rome' in the sense of the Roman Empire was officially founded around 750 BC; however, there is evidence of much earlier occupation in the area.
  2. This gives the present-day location of Rome the honour of being one of Europe's oldest sites to have been occupied continually all the way to modern times.
  3. Perhaps in reference to its longevity, the city has several common nicknames, including 'Caput Mundi' meaning 'Capital of the World', and 'Roma Aeterna' meaning 'The Eternal City'.

Where to go in Italy

Cities

Holiday Types

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