What you need to know before traveling to Italy

As you plan your next international vacation, you may want to consider visiting the nation that gave rise to modern civilization as we know it. Located in southern Europe, Italy was the seat of power for the Roman Empire over the course of 500 years of human history. Today, those who visit Italy come to enjoy the nation’s culture, food, and wine, while taking a glimpse back in time at various ruins from the days of the Roman Empire.

  • Key facts
    Italy encompasses a boot-shaped peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea, giving the nation thousands of miles of coastline. The country is surrounded by the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas to its west, the Mediterranean and Ionian Seas to its south, and the Adriatic Sea to its east. Along its northern land borders, Italy shares a connection with the nations of France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia.

    As a result of those connections, the first fact you should know before you travel to Italy pertains to language. Italian is the official language of the nation, but there are numerous caveats to keep in mind during your visit to Italy. First off, there are several distinct dialects of Italian that are spoken in different regions. Second, inhabitants in distant corners of the country do speak foreign languages fluently. Residents of northeast Italy speak French, while those living in northeast Italy speak German.

    Next, you’ll need to know a little bit about the various regions of the country before you visit Italy. Mainland Italy is often divided into four regions, with two islands just off its western coast offering their own unique attractions. The regions break up as follows:

    Northwest Italy: This region is home to the Italian Riviera and offers beautiful landscapes such as Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. The nation’s industrial capital is Turin, while Milan is a fashion and business hub. This is also the best place to access the Italian Alps for outdoor activities.

    Northeast Italy: The beautiful canals of Venice can be found in northeast Italy, along with some of the nation’s first-class ski resorts. There are also the historical cities of Parma and Verona to visit as well.

    Central Italy: Anchored by the many ruins and historical sites of Rome, central Italy holds a treasure trove of attractions and destinations. Roman wonders such as the Coliseum are located here. The city of Florence is widely considered to be the cradle of the Renaissance.

    Southern Italy: This is the least visited region of Italy, but that just means its gems remain unspoiled. The Amalfi coast and Capri are perfect locations for honeymooners and couples seeking romance. Calabria has some of the nation’s most pristine beaches. Naples offers a bustling escape, while the ruins of Pompeii await history buffs.

    Sicily: The island of Sicily is located just off the southern tip of Italy and is famous for Italian cuisine, breathtaking seascapes, and archaeology.

    Sardinia: Situated 250 km off the west coast of Italy, this island offer beautiful scenery, majestic monuments, calm seas, and wonderful beach resorts.
  • Weather & when to go
    When you travel to Italy, the last thing you want to do is arrive during the dreary months of the year and find yourself trapped in your hotel or resort. Generally speaking, the climate in Rome, Florence, and the Tuscan region is mild throughout the year. There are subtle differences in climate throughout the peninsula that impact the weather during the year.

    The primary season for Italy tourism runs from spring through early fall. With that said, summer is often the least popular during that stretch because temperatures make it too hot to enjoy the outdoor wonders of Italy, and the museums and other indoor attractions are packed with visitors looking to dodge the heat.

    Coastal stretches of Italy often experience warm temperatures during the summer months (June, July, and August), as do the inland valleys such as Tuscany. Making matters worse in many of these areas, the summer months are often dry. Spring (April/May) and fall (October/November) offer the best chance to enjoy both warm days and cool nights. Rain is possible during these stretches, but the temperatures make it easier to enjoy Italy’s outdoor attractions.

    So when is the best time to visit Italy? If weather doesn’t bother you, October is the perfect option. Rain is common in cities from Rome and Florence to Naples, but sunny days abound and fewer tourists are around.
  • Getting around
    If you plan to travel to Italy from North America or the far reaches of Europe, you’ll need to know the best places to enter the country. The nation has numerous international airports, but the main facilities are found in Rome, Pisa, Milan, Naples, Venice, Turin, and Genoa. For those traveling within the European continent, there are multiple options.

    Trains offer great values for those visiting Italy. There are train routes that run between regions and cities within Italy, as well as those which cross into the country from neighboring nations. You have numerous options when you visit Italy. Regionale or interregionale trains stop at all stations along their routes, while Intercity and Eurostar Italia trains only stop in major cities. It is not essential to make reservations in advance, but it is a good idea to plan ahead to ensure your travel plans don’t hit unexpected snags.

    Once you are in Italy, you can rent motorcycles, cars, or make use of public transportation to get around your destination. For those renting a motorcycle or car, you need to be aware of two driving requirements. First off, you must be at least 25 to rent a vehicle in Italy. Second, EU member state driver’s licenses are recognized by Italian authorities. If you are visiting from somewhere else, you’ll need to obtain an International Driving Permit.

    Rome, Milan, and Naples boast underground train systems to aid in travel within those respective cities. Buses operate both within and between cities to help tourists travel throughout Italy during their visit. If you want to visit Sicily or Sardinia, then ferries and hydrofoil boats offer the most affordable and flexible forms of transportation.
  • Know before you go
    Here are a few important facts you should know before you visit Italy:

    Official currency: Euro (€)

    Time zone: +1 hour from Universal Time, Co-ordinated

    Official language: Italian, minority German, French, Slovenian, and Portuguese communities

    Tourist scams: Rome, Milan, and Naples have issues with scams targeting tourists. Beware of scams such as the "drug money" scam. Plainclothes officers demand to see your money and passport, but in reality are thieves who steal your money and passport.

    Racism: Like many countries, Italy does have issues with racism. It wasn’t until the past two decades that a significant non-white population emerged. Violent crimes are rare, but be aware that racism is possible in the form of poor service or rude attitudes from local populations.
  • Travel tips & recommendations
    As you make preparations to visit Italy, keep the following travel tips in mind before departing for your vacation:

    Exchange currency: US dollars and other foreign currencies are not widely accepted at face value.

    Make proper transportation arrangements: Don't assume you will be able to rent a car or motorcycle. Book a vehicle in advance.

    Use public transportation: Italy's public transportation systems are extremely efficient. You may find it easier to travel within and between cities using the nation's public transportation systems.

    • Dial 112: this is a pan-European emergency number and is free to call

    • Dial 113: this puts you in contact with Italian police

    • Dial 115: fire and rescue

    • Dial 1515: Italian park rangers

    • Dial 803-116: If your rental car breaks down, this number can help you get assistance

    Be Respectful: Italians are accustomed to tourists and generally courteous. Keep in mind that Italian society is more formal than Northern European or English-speaking nations. Be mindful of this, and remain polite and civil.

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