Birthplace of the Roman Empire, home of the Catholic church and spiritual home of the pizza, Italy is understandably one of the most popular places to visit in the world. With the industrialised and cultured north considered a centre of high fashion, high living and high prices, and the rustic south packed with its own share of heritage and charm, Italy has something to offer everyone.
However, such qualities don't come cheap. Depending on when you go and where you stay, Italy can be an expensive proposition, so make sure you budget well before travelling and expect to spend no less than £30 a day. Indeed, if you want to stay in a high class hotel and really take advantage of Italy you probably want to budget at least £75 a day.
- Currency: Euro (€) 1 euro = 100 cents
- Time Zone: GMT + 1
- Language: Italian
- Telephone Services: Country code +39 (N.B. Don't drop the zero for city codes but do drop the zero for Italian mobiles), International access code 00
- Emergency Numbers: 112 for all services
Italy has a hot, Mediterranean climate. The weather becomes hotter further south, and winter can be relatively dry and warm in these southern regions. Mountain regions are colder and endure heavy snowfall during the winter months.
Things to see and do
Perhaps the most unique attraction in Italy is the ancient Roman town of Pompeii. Situated just 10 minutes from Naples, this town used to be a wealthy Roman country retreat. In 79AD, however, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the village in volcanic ash. Fortunately for tourists today, Pompeii has since been excavated and restored, with a range of ancient villas as well as a temple and the old forum on show. From nearby Ercolano or from Naples it is possible to take the bus to Mount Vesuvius itself and visit both of these spectacular sights in one day.
A major city in its own right and the capital of Italy, Rome is unsurprisingly also one of the country's major attractions. Split in two by the River Tiber, with the world's smallest country - the Vatican City - overlooking the historic centre of the city, Rome's incredible history and culture is attested to by the many phenomenal edifices.
The most famous of these structures is, of course, the Colosseum, but be sure to look beyond the old arena and check out other amazing sights like the Forum, the Castel Sant'Angelo and the Pantheon. You should also make the trip across the river to the Vatican City at least once, as the tiny state boasts the immense Vatican Museums (home to the Raphael Rooms and incorporating the monumental Sistine Chapel), and the world-renowned Basilica di San Pietro (containing Michelangelo's fabulous Pieta). If that's not enough, Rome also boasts an impressive number of bars, restaurants and clubs, particularly around the area of Trastevere on the west bank of the Tiber, and the student district of San Lorenzo, near Termini station.
Another famous Italian attraction is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Constructed in 1174, the reason for the tower's unique prefix is the swampy ground on which the tower was built, which gradually caused subsidence and meant one side of the tower was 5 metres lower than the other. As well as its aesthetic appeal, the tower is also historically significant, having been used by Galileo to demonstrate his theory of motion whilst he held the Chair of Mathematics at Pisa University.
Of course, these sights represent but a snapshot of what you can expect to see should you visit Italy. Whether you confine yourselves to the beautiful sights and museums of major cities like Florence, Rome and Milan, or venture out into the fine countryside of Tuscany and Umbria, you will always find plenty to keep yourself occupied.
The Italian train system, while cheap and quite extensive, is unfortunately incredibly slow and somewhat poorly managed. Trenitalia runs the network and imposes a bizarre set of supplements which are chargeable on seemingly random trains. These supplements are paid on top of the ticket price and are usually printed in red on timetables, although there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to which trains charge supplements and which don't. Despite this, Italy is one of the few countries where ticket prices are actually cheap enough that you might want to consider buying single tickets, so don't fret too much about the price.
Where you have the option, you should always pay the surcharge to make a reservation on Italian trains. Some services are extremely busy and those without a reservation may need to stand for the duration of the journey. Reservations can be made up to three hours before departure, with some particularly modern services allowing reservations up till 30 minutes before departure.
There are local train passes available, but these do not represent good value for money unless you are certain you will be using the trains very frequently. Passes offer between 4 and 10 days of travel within 2 months. Using this pass means that you won't have to pay any supplements except on Eurostar and Italia trains. You can order the pass online at Railkey.
Much like the trains, the bus system in Italy is of questionable quality, being largely fragmented into lots of competing private services. That said, however, it is usually cheaper and faster than the rail network. The most extensive operator, STAM, operates buses calling at most major Italian cities, including Naples, Rome, Venice and Florence.
There are tens of thousands of hotels spread throughout Italy to suit whatever budget you have in mind. Naturally, what you can expect from your money will differ from place to place but, in general, the most economical options will offer board only. Conversely, the most luxurious hotels will require advance booking and offer premium location and the option to eat in should you wish.
Italy's Youth Hostel Association runs around 54 hostels, with listings and opening dates available from the Rome Tourist Office and offices in other major cities. During the summer, you will almost certainly have to book at least 2 weeks in advance as these hostels fill up very quickly indeed. In addition, most larger towns have independent student hostels which are generally of reasonable quality. However, be wary as these have not been registered with any official body and you would be well advised to check out the rooms before you hand over any money.
The health service in Italy is good, and possession of an EHIC card and comprehensive travel insurance will guarantee you treatment without it being a financial burden to you.
The drinking water is considered safe and there are no recommended vaccinations required for visiting Italy.