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 Roman Empire in the landmarks and culture of Italy's capital city. It may come as a surprise that Rome's population accounts for around 2.5 million of Italy's 60 million residents.

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 383,083 inhabitants, expanding to over 1,520,000 in the metropolitan area. Florence remains one of Italy's most beautiful skylines, with architecture dating back 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 a few hours until the tide begins to fall again, taking the floodwaters with it.

Pompeii may seem eerie to some people, but for many it is a rare opportunity to see a snapshot of a city frozen in time. It—along with neighbouring Herculaneum—was quilted 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 this 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 ruin, 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 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, it may well be worth seeing sooner rather than later.

Entertainment

Vineyards make for great days out on both family holidays to Italy and 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.

Cycling is a popular pastime throughout Italy, and bicycles shops are dotted throughout the north of the country. For a form of self-guided entertainment, hire a cycle and explore the roads of the surrounding countryside. 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. If you're reluctant to cycle off into the sunset without knowing where you're going, there are some cycle tours that provide guides and support vehicles. This gives you the reassurance that you won't 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. In some parts of the country, particularly in northern Italy, diverse staples like rice and potatoes may be equally, if not more, prevalent. In the south of the country, the stunning coastline givesway to a diet that consists mainly of seafood. When eating out, the evening meal typically consists of two main courses. Pasta with sauce may also be served as starter rather than a main

That doesn't mean you can't order three or more courses, however, and the delicious cured meats are well worth sampling. While cured meats are a staple at many restaurants, you are likely to also find them on offer at market stalls. Here you will also find an impressive variety of cheeses. Expect familiar dishes to be quite different from what you're used to - pizzas will generally be on a thin, pastry-like base, while paninis may not be flattened or grilled.

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Need to know

Language

Italian is the primary language of Italy, but others are spoken too. For example, the island of Sardinia has its own native tongue. Wherever you go, there's a very good chance of meeting somebody who speaks English. You're most likely to find English speakers in the main cities and tourists areas, with many people in the hospitality sector also able to speak the language.

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 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 will need a passport valid for six months beyond the length of stay and issued within the past 10 years. Technically it doesn't need to be valid any longer than your return journey, but it's sensible to have at least a few days before the expiry date, in case your return gets delayed. However, if you have an Australian, British, Canadian, American or other EU passport, 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' - has a Mediterranean climate, with hot and very dry summers. In the north, away from the coast, things can be cooler with more precipitation. In the extreme north, the Italian Alps have everything you'd expect of an alpine climate, complete with heavy winter snowfall that produces excellent conditions for skiing and snowboarding.

Main Airports

Italy's busiest airports by passenger traffic are Rome Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino and Milan Malpensa Airport. Both of these see the most significant amount of travellers arriving from outside Europe.

Flight Options

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 highly competitive. This means there are often budget tickets and flexible flights throughout the year.

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 mediterranean.

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 need to buy your ticket in advance from a machine or the bus company's office - you can't pay on the bus. 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 overland journeys are best made using the high-speed trains, which cost more but are capable of speeds up to 360 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 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.

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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 Rome the honour of being one of Europe's oldest sites to have been occupied continually all the way through 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 Rome the honour of being one of Europe's oldest sites to have been occupied continually all the way through 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

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