Italy Travel Guide: Everything to see and do in Italy!

Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Florence, is a must see place in Italy

A historical and cultural centre of Europe, Italy is known as one of the birthplaces of Western civilisation, along with Greece.

With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that this rich, diverse country has something to appeal to travellers of all ages and interests. Just some of the highlights include fabulous food and wine, Renaissance art and architecture, opera, fashion, and, of course, historical monuments and archaeological sites.

Italy is also home to some impressive world records:

  • The world’s largest pizza measured in at 1.5km long (2015)
  • The world’s biggest cup of cappuccino was 4,250 litres (2013)
  • The world’s largest tiramisu weighed in at 3,015kg (2015)

Practical travel tips

When's the best time to travel?
When isn’t it a good time to travel in Italy? With plenty to see and do in built-up Italian cities, there’s no reason the weather should hold you back from all this country has to offer. The best time comes down to a matter of personal preference – for milder weather and fewer tourists, choose spring.

What’s the best way to get around?
Most big cities have good metro networks, while buses and trains travel between cities. However, schedules may be different on Sundays and holidays, so check these in advance.

Useful vocabulary
Ciao: Hello
Buonasera: Good evening
Mi scusi: Excuse me
Grazie: Thank you
Quanto costa: How much does this cost?
Buona giornata:Have a nice day

Italy’s top travel experiences

Love history? Take a look at the Roman Forum. Love food? Then you can't miss pizza in Naples. Prefer natural wonders? Then consider sailing in the Mediterranean, visiting the alps or biking through the fields of Tuscany.

Here are just some ideas for your trip to Italy.

Top 5 cities to visit

  1. Rome: The capital has a history dating back nearly 3,000 years and is filled with sites that tell the history of this ancient city.
  2. Milan: Milan is the lively home of high fashion in Italy, and features exclusive shopping boutiques and dining venues.
  3. Florence: Florence is home to the Renaissance, and is brimming with world-famous art and architecture.
  4. Venice: The floating city is a unique experience – a maze of canals and alleyways, where every wrong turn unveils a new café, boutique, or crumbling building.
  5. Naples: Attention all pizza lovers – Naples is the official birthplace of the world’s favourite food! Like Rome, is also one of Western civilisation’s most ancient cities, and offers easy access to the ruins of Pompeii.

The ruins of Pompeii

If you’re a history buff, be sure to schedule a trip to Pompeii on your holiday. A tour of the historic site will give you an overview of how the Romans lived 2,000 years ago, before Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

When the volcano erupted, it covered the city of Pompeii in molten ash, effectively preserving it. Over the past 300 years, archaeologists have been excavating the site, uncovering bodies and buildings that remained intact.

Easily accessible from Rome or Naples, there are guided tours aplenty as well as audio guides.

Explore the Alps

The highest and most extensive mountain range in Europe, the Alps stretch about 1,200 kilometres across eight countries, one of which is Italy. If you love winter sports, this makes northern Italy the ideal destination for skiing, snowboarding and glacier walks, not to mention the option of choosing between a quaint chalet or five-star resort. If you prefer warmer weather, the Alps also provide plenty of rock climbing and hiking opportunities in the warmer months. And in all weather you can enjoy the medieval churches and castles dotting the peaks.

Sail through the Mediterranean

With its iconic shape, like a boot kicking into the Mediterranean, it can be easy to forget that Italy has a range of islands to explore. So why not charter a sailboat to see Elba and Sardinia, or Capri and Ischia, or Sicily and its surrounds?

For experienced sailors, basic rental boats are available, or you can hire a craft with a full crew. When you arrive at your destination, you can either stay on board or book into a luxurious beach resorts, all the while enjoying architecture that dates back to the 14th century.

Italy by bike

With its mild climate and bicycle trails, Italy is the perfect cycling destination. In Tuscany in particular, there are a range of bicycle trails leading through Florence and Pisa, where you will see fields of wildflowers and streets of terracotta houses, not to mention plenty of wineries and museums where you can stop for a culture break.

If you enjoy solitary rides, you can look up a range of self-guided trails online. Otherwise, there are plenty of day tours you can join if you feel like company.

The way to an Italian’s heart…

Italy is famous for its food, and in any city enticing aroma of lunch or dinner being prepared will pull you like a magnet. Just some of the foods that have made Italian cuisine famous include:

  • Risotto: Arborio rice sautéed in butter and cooked to creamy perfection in broth and wine, often enhanced with mushrooms or seafood.
  • Arancini: If you thought risotto sounded good, imagine taking a handful of the previous dish, moulding it into a ball or cone shape, rolling it in bread crumbs then deep-frying it into a crispy delicacy. Yum!
  • Tiramisu: The ultimate dessert, featuring coffee, Marsala wine, cream or mascarpone and grated chocolate. What could be better?
  • Gelato: The perfect refreshment for a hot day, this frozen dessert comes in traditional flavours like pistachio, lemon and hazelnut, with some vendors experimenting with combinations like ricotta and caramelised figs, liquorice and even rice!

Wine tastings and vineyards

Wine has an ancient history in Italy, with viticulture introduced to southern Italy by the Mycenaean Greeks, and becoming established after Greek colonisation around 800 BC. Since then, wine has remained an integral part of the culture, with several regions throughout the country that produce distinct varieties and tastes.

If wine is your thing, consider a tour through the wineries of Veneto, Tuscany or Piedmont (for red wine lovers), or the Fruili region (for white wine lovers).

Go to a local soccer game

Soccer is Italy’s most popular sport, with more than 4 million people playing it every year, and the Italian national football team is considered to be one of the best in the world, having won the FIFA World Cup four times. If you go to a match, you’ll see that the fans are often as lively as the players themselves, so it’s quite an experience!

Football season runs from August to May, and you can buy tickets online or at club outlets.

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Staying safe in Italy

Italy is a secure country for travellers. However, there are still risks, including petty theft, dangerous traffic, and scams that target tourists, which may occur in larger cities.

As always, the best way to prepare is to protect yourself by having the proper travel insurance for your needs.

In addition, here are some helpful tips on how you can stay safe on your travels.

How to protect yourself

  • Be wary of ‘gifts’ and favours: Don’t interact with overly friendly strangers or accept any gifts. A common scam is to offer a tourist with an item (such as a ring or a flower), only to later demand payment for it. Another common scenario is when one person will ‘accidentally’ spill a drink or smear ice cream on your clothing, and a second person will rush courteously to your aid only to steal from you when your defences are down.
  • Pay attention in crowded areas: Stay aware in crowded areas to protect yourself against pickpockets and bag snatchers, especially in peak tourist season (from June to August), and high-traffic areas like major metropolitan train stations.
  • Ask first: If someone claiming to be a plainclothes cop asks to see your passport or search your bag for illegal possessions, ask for their ID. Chances are this ‘policeman’ isn’t one after all, and they will make a run for it.
  • Withdraw money safely: Only withdraw money from mainstream vendors in bustling shopping areas. Better yet, only use ATMs in banks – this will help prevent your card being skimmed.
  • Hide your valuables: Some thieves will break into parked rental cars to rob valuables, like electronic gadgets or shopping bags. So never leave anything on the seats or in view.
  • Take out travel insurance: If you’re planning on driving, make sure you get cover for rental car accidents. Even if an accident is not your fault, you may be responsible for repairs.

Medical care

If you run into medical trouble, the good news is that Australia has a reciprocal healthcare plan with Italy, so you can receive medical attention from a public hospital if necessary. However, your treatment will only address the primary medical issue, which means you might find yourself paying privately for emergency transport and/or additional care. Depending on your insurance policy, this may be covered by your travel insurance, so be sure to read the fine print before you head off.

If you seek treatment from a private hospital, you will probably need to provide payment upfront.

Unpredictable and unavoidable events

Italy is prone to some natural disasters, so it’s best to be prepared. The most common one is earthquakes, with many regions lying on fault lines, meaning it is common to feel small tremors throughout the year. In the case of a major earthquake, this could close public transport and infrastructure in the afflicted region.

Italy is also home to Mt. Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, which most recently erupted in March 2017. When it erupts, the resulting ash clouds close airports until visibility improves.

Other natural disasters that may occur in Italy include heavy storms that can cause flooding and landslides, and tropical-like cyclones that may blast the coastline.

 

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