Food, wine, coffee, uber-stylish cities and pastoral countryside. There’s a reason Italy is one of the world’s most-visited tourism destinations. Although internet access sucks, there’s plenty of beautiful sights and tastes to experience.
Italy travel resources
Italy is bordered by the Mediterranean sea to the west and south with Malta sitting below Sicily. France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia border Italia in the north with Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece over the Adriatic Sea to the east.
Mountains create the northern border around San Remo, with the tunnel under Mt Blanc an adventurous drive for the claustrophobic. Heading south, the mountains give way to rolling farmland, white sand coastline and picturesque villages, towns and the cultural highlight of Italy: its cities.
Wine and food make up an important part of any visit to Italy, with local, seasonal specialities a must. Hiking or biking through Italy’s farmland is nicely supplemented with the odd drop of wine. There’s good climbing available too, but mixing that with vino is not recommended.
The cultural traveller will be in paradise, with an endless supply Hellenic and Roman art, architecture and cultural goodies. Religious and art-lovers alike will obviously want to stop in at Vatican City, but there’s many more religious sites both pagan and Catholic to explore.
City focus: Rome
Modern Rome is huge and sprawling on both sides of the Tiber, but first-time tourists and short-term visitors will want to base themselves in “old Rome”.
The city has spread over time and is now immense, but you’ll probably want to see the sights in Piazza de Spagna, Via Veneto, Quirinal, Esquiline, Lateran, Caracalla, Aventine, Palatine, Forum, Capitol, Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, and Piazza della Rotonda, and then Vatican, Januculum and Trastavere on the west of the Tiber.
You won’t need your passport to cross into the world’s smallest country, Vatican City, but you will need modest clothing – just like you will in most of the Mediterranean’s cathedrals, churches and mosques. Expect a long security queue then a bag search before you can enter to gaze at priceless artistic treasures and soak in the atmosphere amidst other shuffling tourists.Read more about Rome
Getting to and from Italy
Road borders are quite easy to get through: Italy is part of the Schengen open-border agreement with most of its neighbours, but Switzerland isn’t, so you may find border controls there (but mainly checking for tax payment).
Arriving by ferry is likewise quite simple, with ferries arriving from the Mediterranean and the Adriatic.
Getting around Italy
Intercity coach travel throughout Italy is relatively fast and very convenient, as many bus stations are located near the centre of the city.
Eurolines and other local bus services operate throughout the country, check their websites for pricing and timetable details — though it might be just as easy to go to the bus station and ask!
Car and camper rental
If you think you can handle driving in the mad Mediterranean traffic, then car hire is no problem at all. Confirm with your car-hire company if you want to cross any international borders and take all the usual precautions when it comes to pre-rental checks.
Cycling and hiking
Cycling and hiking Italy is absolutely stunning.
While I wouldn’t want to be dodging traffic in Rome or Napoli the coast, farmland and mountains provide excellent touring grounds. Sicily would have to a favourite, with everything within easy reach.
Italy is one of the Mediterranean’s main cruise stops, so expect large cruise ships in harbour cities. Hiring your own boat can be great fun, especially in the warmer waters of the south.
Ferries run from the mainland to Sicily. If your train is travelling there, expect the whole train to roll onto the ferry itself.
Train travel in Italy is quite cheap, but slow and sometimes unreliable, especially in the south.
Sleeper trains from Sicily to Rome, or the north to Rome or Napoli can be a good way to fit more into your visit.
Top 10 things to do in Italy
- All roads lead to Rome. Rome is famous for good reason – it’s got a charm all of its own, as well as the legacy of buildings left behind from its time as the centre of power for the immense Roman Empire.
- Eat. Just eat, wherever you are. Try to eat local specialties such as pizza in Naples and spaghetti bolognaise in Bologna – and don’t feel guilty about it. Wash it all down with a glass of local wine – or, more likely, a carafe.
- Experience Venice. There really is nothing like the city stolen from the sea. Explore the canals by foot and by boat, and buy exquisite glassware from shops on bridges and hidden down narrow alleys.
- Learn Italian. Italian is a beautiful language that’s the official language of only one country, learn it for its own sake. And so you can order coffee like a native.
- Roam Florence. The home of Michelangelo’s David is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s the place to go if you have even a passing interest in art.
- Head to St Francis’ old stomping-ground, Assisi. The basilica where the saint is buried was an important pilgrimage site in the middle ages, and is now on the UNESCO list.
- Drink Nero D’Avola in Sicily after climbing Mt Etna. Sicily’s towering volcano is more of a landmark, but the wine is worth a trip to Sicily on its own merit.
- Relax in the Cinque Terra. This group of five towns is a lovely place to turn down the pace and enjoy the sun.
- Walk on the roof of Milan’s duomo. Milan’s cathedral is impressive, and you should go inside as well, but walking on the roof is something you can’t do everywhere. The views are amazing and you’re free to roam almost anywhere on the roof, which is understandably sizable. Some people have picnics up there.
- Head to the hills. Italy’s mountainous north hides many tiny villages in its skirts. Ancient churches, mediaeval castles – get away from everything in picturesque surroundings.