Explore Italy a country in Southern Europe. Together with Greece, they are acknowledged as the birthplace of Western culture. Not surprisingly, it is also home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. High art and monuments are to be found everywhere around the country. Explore Italy to find out more.
It is also famous worldwide for its delicious cuisine, its trendy fashion industry, luxury sports cars and motorcycles, diverse regional cultures and dialects, as well as for its beautiful coast, alpine lakes and mountain ranges (the Alps and Apennines). No wonder it is often nicknamed the Bel Paese (the Beautiful Country).
Two independent mini-states are surrounded entirely by Italy: San Marino and Vatican City. While technically not part of the European Union, both of these states are also part of the Schengen Area and the European Monetary Union (EMU). Apart from different police uniforms, there is no evident transition from these states and Italy’s territory, and the currency is the same. Italian is also the official language in both countries.
Certainly, humans inhabited the Italian peninsula for at least 200,000 years; Neolithic civilizations flourished in prehistoric Italy but were either wiped out, or assimilated, around 2000 BC by a group of Indo-European tribes, which are collectively known as the Italic peoples. These were more or less closely related to each other and comprised tribes such as the Latins, Etruscans, Umbrians, Samnites, Sicels, Ligures, Oscans, just to name a few. The Etruscan civilization was among the first to rise in the 6th century BC and lasted until the late Republican period; it flourished in what are now northern Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Greek colonies were established in Sicily and the southern part of Italy: the Etruscan culture rapidly became influenced by that of Greece. This is well illustrated at some excellent Etruscan museums; Etruscan burial sites are also well worth visiting. Rome itself was dominated by Etruscan kings until 509 BC, when the last of them – Tarquinius Superbus – was ousted from power and the Roman Republic was founded. After a series of wars, the Romans sacked the nearby Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BC; this triggered the collapse of the Etruscan confederation and the Etruscan people themselves began to be assimilated.
Ancient Rome was at first a small village founded around the 8th century BC. In time, its primitive kingdom grew into a republic – which would later evolve into an empire – covering the whole Mediterranean and expanding as far north as Scotland and as far east as Mesopotamia and Arabia.
The climate of Italy is highly diverse, and could be far from the stereotypical Mediterranean climate. Most of Italy has hot, dry summers, with July being the hottest month of the year. Autumns are generally rainy. Winters are cold and damp (hence often foggy) in the North, and milder in the South. Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior’s higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The Alps have a mountain climate, with cool summers and very cold winters.
Regions of Italy
Northwest Italy (Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy and Aosta Valley)
- Home of the Italian Riviera, including Portofino and the Cinque Terre. The Alps, world class cities like the industrial capital of Italy (Turin), its largest port (Genoa), the main business hub of the country (Milan), share the region’s visitors with beautiful landscapes like the Lake Como and Lake Maggiore area, and little known Renaissance treasures like Mantova.
Northeast Italy (Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto)
- From the canals of Venice to the gastronomic capital Bologna, from impressive mountains such as the Dolomites and first-class ski resorts like Cortina d’Ampezzo to the delightful roofscapes of Parma and Verona these regions offer much to see and do. South Tyrol and the cosmopolitan city of Trieste offer a uniquely Central European flair.
Central Italy (Lazio, Marche, Tuscany, Abruzzo and Umbria)
- Breathes history and art. Rome boasts the remaining wonders of the Roman Empire and some of the world’s best known landmarks, combined with a vibrant, big-city feel. Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, is Tuscany’s top attraction, whereas the magnificent countryside and nearby cities like Siena, Pisa and Lucca have much to offer to those looking for the country’s rich history and heritage. Umbria is dotted with many picturesque cities such as Perugia, Orvieto, Gubbio and Assisi
Southern Italy (Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania and Molise)
- Bustling Naples, the dramatic ruins of Pompeii, the romantic Amalfi Coast and Capri, laidback Apulia and stunning unspoilt beaches of Calabria, as well as up-and-coming agritourism help making Italy’s less visited region a great place to explore.
- The beautiful island famous for archaeology, seascape and some of the best cuisine the Italian kitchen has to offer.
- Large island some 250 km west of the Italian coastline. Beautiful scenery, megalithic monuments, lovely seas and beaches: a major holiday destination for high budget tourists.
- Rome (Roma) — the capital, both of Italy and, in the past, of the Roman Empire until 285 AD
- Bologna — one of the world’s great university cities that is filled with history, culture, technology and food
- Florence (Firenze) — the Renaissance city known for its architecture and art that had a major impact throughout the world
- Genoa (Genova) — an important medieval maritime republic; its port brings in tourism and trade, along with art and architecture
- Milan (Milano) — one of the main fashion cities of the world, but also Italy’s most important centre of trade and business
- Naples (Napoli) — one of the oldest cities of the Western world, with a historic city centre that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is also the birth-place of pizza.
- Pisa — one of the medieval maritime republics, it is home to the unmistakable image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
- Turin (Torino) — a well-known industrial and historical city, first capital of Italy and home of FIAT. The city’s also renowned for its large amount of baroque buildings.
- Venice (Venezia) — one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, known for its history, art, and of course its world famous canals
- Praia a Mare’s stunning beach, facing Dino island
- Isola Bella, Borromean Islands, Lake Maggiore (Italy)
- Italian Alps — some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe, including Mont Blanc and Mount Rosa
- Amalfi Coast — stunningly beautiful rocky coastline, so popular that private cars are banned in the summer months
- Capri — the famed island in the Bay of Naples, formerly a favoured resort of the Roman emperors
- Cinque Terre — five tiny, scenic, towns strung along the steep vineyard-laced coast of Liguria
- Lake Como — its atmosphere has been appreciated for its beauty and uniqueness since Roman times
- Lake Garda — a beautiful lake in Northern Italy surrounded with many small villages
- Matera — in the Basilicata region, Matera boasts the “sassi”, well-preserved rock-cut settlements that are a World Heritage site and one of Southern Italy’s many important attractions
- Pompeii and Herculaneum — two neighbouring cities covered by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, now excavated to reveal life as it was in Roman times
- Vesuvius — the famous dormant volcano with a stunning view of the Bay of Naples
Italy has a national airline, Alitalia based in Rome as well as a new competitor in Milan called Air Italy.
Italy is one of the main battle grounds for European low cost airlines several routes to/from and within Italy are offered. The larger airports are, of course, served by the major European airlines.
Intercontinental airlines mainly arrive in Rome and Milan, with Rome being the main international gateway into the country.
In Northern and Central Italy there’s a well-developed system of motorways (autostrade), while in the South it is a bit worse for quality and extent. Every motorway is identified by an A followed by a number on a green backdrop. Most motorways are toll roads. Some have toll stations giving you access to a whole section (particularly the tangenziali of Naples, Rome, and Milan, for example), but generally, most have entrance and exit toll stations; on those motorways, you need to collect a ticket upon entrance and your toll amount will be calculated upon exit depending on the distance covered.
Not surprisingly, Italian is the language spoken natively by most Italians.
English is widely spoken at varied levels of proficiency in the well-traveled touristic areas where it may be used by shopkeepers and tourist operators. Outside of that, you will find that most Italians are not conversant in English, a relatively new subject in schools (first introduced in the 1970s instead of French).
There is so much to see in Italy that it is difficult to know where to begin. Virtually every small village has an interesting location or two, plus a couple of other things to see.
What to buy
Italy has the euro (€) as its sole currency.
If you plan to travel through countryside or rural regions you probably should not rely on your credit cards, as in many small towns they’re accepted only by a small number of shops and restaurants. What to buy in Italy.
What to eat
Risotto – Arborio 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. Many restaurants, families, towns, and regions will have a signature risotto or at least style of risotto, in addition or in place of a signature pasta dish (risotto alla Milanese is a famous Italian classic). Risotto is a typical dish in Lombardy and Piedmont.
Arancino – A deep fried ball of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, and cheese. It’s a southern Italian speciality, though are now quite common all over. It is NOT to be confused with supplì, which are a strictly Roman speciality and are pretty much unheard of in the rest of the peninsula.
Polenta – Yellow corn meal (yellow grits) 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. It is a very common dish in northern mountains restaurants, usually eaten with deer or boar meat.
Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. The non-fruit flavors are usually made only with milk. Gelato made with water and without dairy ingredients is also known as sorbetto. It’s fresh as a sorbet, but tastier. There are many flavors, including coffee, chocolate, fruit, and tiramisù. When buying at a gelateria, you have the choice of having it served in a wafer cone or a tub; in northen Italy you’ll pay for every single flavour “ball”, and the panna (the milk cream) counts as a flavor.
Tiramisù Italian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, and ladyfingers (sometimes rum) with cocoa powder on the top. The name means “pick-me-up”.
The traditional, round pizza is found in many restaurants and specialized pizza restaurants (pizzerie). The “Ristorante-Pizzeria” is very common in Italy: it is basically a restaurant that serves also handmade pizza. Until a few years ago, it was rare to find a restaurant that serves pizza at lunchtime, nowadays it is not so and pizza at lunchtime is quite common (sometimes it is better to ask to a waiter if they do that before ordering).
In Italy you can find nearly 800 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, and over 400 types of sausages.
If you want a real kick, then try to find one of the huge open markets, which are always open on Saturdays and usually during other days, except Sunday, as well. You will find all types of cheese and meat on display.
Where to sleep
In major cities and touristic areas you can find a good variety of accommodations, from world-class brand hotels to family-managed bed & breakfasts and room rentals, but hostels are really few.
Hotel star ratings can only be taken as a broad indication of what you will get for your money. There are many marvellous 2-star hotels that you will want to return to every year and many 5-star hotels that you will never want to set foot in again. The star rating, as in all countries, is based on a bureaucratic assessment of the facilities provided and does not necessarily relate to comfort. Often the only difference between a 3-star and 4-star hotel is that the latter offers all meals while the former only offers breakfast.
Italian hospitals are public and offer completely free high-standard treatments for EU travellers, although, as anywhere else, you may have a long wait to be served. Emergency assistance is granted even to non-EU travelers. For non-emergency assistance, non-EU citizens are required to pay out-of-pocket, there is no convention with US health insurances (although some insurance companies might later reimburse these expenses). Nonetheless, a requirement for a Schengen visa is that you have valid travel insurance which includes emergency expenses covering your entire trip anyway.
Water in southern Italy might come from desalination and sometimes may have a strange taste, due to extended droughts. If in doubt use bottled water. Elsewhere tap water is perfectly drinkable and very well maintained. Or else, a “NON POTABILE” warning is posted.
There are plenty of public Wi-Fi hotspots in Italy that are free of charge to use.
Mobile (3G or HSDPA) internet connectivity is available from all major Italian carriers.
Both the fixed and mobile phone systems are available throughout Italy.
Explore Italy which has something for everyone.
Unesco World Heritage List
- Rock Drawings in Valcamonica
- Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci
- Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura
- Historic Centre of Florence
- Piazza del Duomo, Pisa
- Venice and its Lagoon
- Historic Centre of San Gimignano
- The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera
- City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto
- Crespi d’Adda
- Ferrara, City of the Renaissance, and its Po Delta
- Historic Centre of Naples
- Historic Centre of Siena
- Castel del Monte
- Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna
- Historic Centre of the City of Pienza
- The Trulli of Alberobello
- 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex
- Archaeological Area of Agrigento
- Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata
- Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico), Padua
- Cathedral, Torre Civica and Piazza Grande, Modena
- Costiera Amalfitana
- Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and the Islands (Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto)
- Residences of the Royal House of Savoy
- Su Nuraxi di Barumini
- Villa Romana del Casale
- Archaeological Area and the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia
- Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park with the Archeological Sites of Paestum and Velia, and the Certosa di Padula
- Historic Centre of Urbino
- Villa Adriana (Tivoli)
- Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco and Other Franciscan Sites
- City of Verona
- Villa d’Este, Tivoli
- Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto (South-Eastern Sicily)
- Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy
- Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia
- Val d’Orcia
- Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica
- Genoa: Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli
- Mantua and Sabbioneta
- Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes
- Longobards in Italy. Places of the Power (568-774 A.D.)
- Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps
- Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany
- Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato
- Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale
- Venetian Works of Defence between the 16th and 17th Centuries: Stato da Terra – Western Stato da Mar
- Ivrea, industrial city of the 20th century
- Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene