If you are wondering where to travel to next, Follow Our Footprints through Italy and you will see it is well worth a visit. Be sure to read through our Italy overview and explore our many blogs on various cities and trip itineraries.
Italy is, in our opinion, the best place on earth to find spectacular, historic, enchanting, human-scaled, and romantic towns, cities and neighborhoods. No nation makes better wine or food than Italians (wine and food that are both very high in quality yet very affordable). And the splendor and awesome nature of Italian churches (even in small towns) are so stunning you will often be overwhelmed. No other country can compete with the beauty and history of Italy.
Italians are fun-loving and quite happy, expressive people – particularly during holidays and festivals. Italians love socializing and partying. You will often see large numbers of Italians chatting with friends and neighbors on vibrant cobblestone streets with a glass of wine or beer in their hand.
For lovers of beaches and oceans, there are many fantastic beaches in Italy — beaches that are caressed by crystal clear water. For lovers of art and sculpture, Italy is unsurpassed – particularly when it comes to Renaissance art. For those who partake, Italy also has world-class skiing in the Italian Alps, and in many regions offers breathtaking hiking opportunities.
Italy has an astonishing 55 UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world.
Italy has become our favorite destination in Europe. After a great many travel experiences in Italy, we’ve put together this handy, incredibly useful travel guide, highlighting the best of what you can see and do in Italy.
If you have never been to Italy, we recommend spending at least 2-3 days in Rome to view the many ancient historic sites and the grandeur of the most famous cathedrals and other monumental buildings.
Rome is located near the west coast of Italy, and is known for its stunning architecture, with the Colosseum, Pantheon, the Vatican, and Trevi Fountain as the main attractions. It was the center of the Roman Empire that ruled the European Continent for several ages. And, you’ll find the smallest country in the world in Rome; Vatican City. Vatican City, by itself, is worth the visit to Rome. Rome is perhaps the most famous city in Italy and maybe in the world. Rome was built in 753 BC and was the capital of the Roman Empire when that Empire controlled Europe. Today, Rome is one of the most visited cities in Italy and the world. Combining world history, fantastic architecture, and a luxurious lifestyle with a great climate, Rome is an unforgettable place to visit. The historic center of Rome is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sicily, an island at the southwest corner of Italy, is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and just west of the “toe” of Italy’s “boot.” Sicily has a rich, fascinating history, as exemplified by the Valley of the Temples, the well-preserved ruins of 7 monumental, Doric-style Greek temples, and in the Byzantine mosaics at the Cappella Palatina, a former royal chapel in Palermo. On Sicily’s eastern edge is Mount Etna, the tallest volcano in Europe at 10,900 feet, and one of the most active volcanoes in the entire world. Sicily is home to four of Italy’s best cities: Palermo, Syracuse, Modica, and Taormina.
Tuscany is a region in central Italy. Its capital, Florence, is home to some of the world’s most important and well-known Renaissance art and architecture, including Michelangelo’s “David” statue, Botticelli’s works in the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo basilica. Its diverse natural landscape encompasses the impressive Apennine Mountains, the island of Elba’s beaches on the Tyrrhenian Sea and breathtakingly picturesque olive groves, hill towns, and vineyards. Tuscany produces several of the world’s best, most celebrated wines. It is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Seven Tuscan localities have been designated World Heritage Sites: the historic center of Florence; the Cathedral Square of Pisa; the historical center of San Gimignano; the historical center of Siena ; the historical center of Pienza; the Val d’Orcia, and the Medici Villas and Gardens. Tuscany has over 120 protected nature reserves.
The Amalfi Coast is impossibly gorgeous. It explains why so many celebrities have once lived here, and why 5 million tourists visit each year. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site covering 34 miles of stunning geology. Tall coastal, vegetated cliffs punctuated by pastel-colored villages jut vertically upward in all directions. Below are the vibrant turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. You don’t need to be a professional photographer to effortlessly shoot postcard-perfect photos in any direction you point your camera. There are 13 seaside towns connected by the SS163 highway. This stretch of road is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world. The trio towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello, are small, quaint, and close enough to see in an unforgettable day trip via bus. The region is a paradise for beach lovers and foodies.
Puglia is one of Italy’s most beautiful yet largely undiscovered gems. The region runs down the east coast of the country from the Gargano Peninsula and runs south into the “heel of the boot.” The region remains less crowded with tourists than other special regions in Italy, and contains a number of fabulous cities and towns such as Bari, Polignano a Mare, Ostuni, Lecce, Trani, Otranto, and Alberobello. Puglia contains a number of “Trulli” homes – homes that are unbearably cute and impressively historic, primarily surrounding Alberobello. The many beaches — particularly at Polignano a Mare — are splendid. And the Primitivo wine (genetic twin of our well-known Zinfandel) that this region specializes in is one of the very best big, bold, dry red wines made in Italy.
Northern Italy has a diverse geography due to its two coastal regions, and the mountainous region of the Alps and Apennines. Parts of the region have spectacular mountain landscapes, while other areas near the Adriatic Sea are flat. The region is full of historic towns and cities. Skiing is excellent in the Italian Alps, and there are a number of cute mountainside towns. Venice, one of our “Best of the Best” cities in Italy, is found in Northern Italy. The magnificent large cities of Milan (Milano) and Turin (Torino) are also found in Northern Italy, as is the spectacular Lake Como.
We like to travel to European cities such as Italy during the “shoulder seasons” (the off-peak months such as late fall or spring, when travel and lodging prices are lower and crowds are smaller). Our favorite time of year is late November and early December, as tourist season is at a low ebb, weather in Italy is often sufficiently pleasant at that time, and best of all, we LOVE the festive, romantic ambiance one finds in Italy in December. It is a magical time of year.
With its hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, Italy experiences a Mediterranean climate. Winters in Italy are cool and humid in the north and the mountainous zone. Sometimes cold air from northern Europe can spread south into Italy, sometimes bringing snow to most mountains, while the coasts are kept warm by the high sea temperatures. The summer can be quite hot in Italy, mainly in the south of the peninsula, with high temperatures of usually 82-91°F (28-33°C), but sometimes even 104°F (40°C). Thunderstorms are quite common — especially in the northern areas. The Mediterranean climate in Italy often has local variations. Surrounded by warm seas and with mountains close by, the coast always has a breeze; mountain areas are usually cooler with clear sunny skies, but sometimes local showers or thunderstorms in the afternoon. Hot air rising from the sea can cause heavy thunderstorms, especially in early fall, but these often bring the only summer rain — a rain that rapidly evaporates. In spring and fall, the Sirocco, a warm wind from Africa, raises the temperature of the peninsula.
Typically, the weather is similar to other parts of Europe and it can be broken down into tourist seasons:
Best Lightweight Carry On Luggage for Italy Travel
Central European Standard Time (CET)
Italy is in the Central European Standard Time (CET) which means Italy is 6 hours ahead of the state of New York (Eastern Standard Time – EST). When it is 12:00 noon in New York, it is 6:00 pm in Italy.
230V, 50Hz AC electricity
We recommend you pack a universal electrical outlet adaptor so you can use your electronic gadgets wherever you are in Europe.
A standard passport obtained in the US is all you will need for travel to and within Italy. Lodging proprietors occasionally ask to photocopy your passport when you arrive at their place, so try to always have your passport in an easy-to-find, secure location.
Italy is one of the 26 European countries in the European Schengen Area, which allows visitors from many countries to visit for 90 days without a visa for tourist visits. Just make sure your passport is valid for 6 months past your time of entry! The countries that are included in this visa exemption are the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and many countries in Central and South America. You can check requirements here.
Italy is a safe place in general. We have never felt unsafe there in all of our travels throughout Italy. Driving a car in Italy can be unnerving, as Italians tend to drive very fast and very aggressively. This is one of the reasons we strongly recommend you travel as car-free as possible – and we provide a lot of guidance on how you can do that. Occasionally, we use travel insurance, but you need to be careful about what that insurance covers and does not cover. For general travel, we recommend researching and purchasing through travelinsurance.com as they will show insurance options for multiple travel insurance carriers. For adventure travel, check out World Nomads as they have the best adventure travel coverage, covering activities like snorkeling, hiking, etc. For personal safety, carry a cross-body neck wallet or waist pack (in front) to keep your valuables in. You should also avoid keeping things like your wallet and phone in your back pocket. Always travel with digital images or photocopies of your passport and bank cards. Read our 15 Travel Tips for more information.
English is spoken by nearly all Italians, particularly in recent decades and in larger cities. Pretty much all travel service workers speak English rather well. We have never had significant difficulties communicating with Italians, even though our Italian is very limited. Know that even if you are not fluent in Italian, Italians appreciate and enjoy when you at least make an effort to speak a little bit of Italian. In this website, you will find a handy guide showing Italian translations for the most common phrases and questions you will need in Italy. If you do encounter people who do not speak any English, it is usually just a matter of engaging in a friendly form of charades or sign language to communicate. You can also download the Google Translate app to your phone. It is available for iPhone and Android.
Traveling in a foreign country can be stressful, especially when road signs are in a foreign language. We strongly recommend that your travels in Italy are as car-free as possible. Doing so is much less stressful, can be much more affordable, puts you in a happier mood, provides you with a more comfortable and civilized experience, allows you to “live like a local,” allows you to more easily take in the sights on a street, and puts you in closer contact with residents.
Fortunately, Italy does very well in providing convenient, pleasant, easy-to-use non-car travel options. We find that train travel to towns and cities is almost always available and very low in cost. The trains tend to be relatively clean, and are a civilized, pleasant place to eat and drink and relax. In the rare instances where train travel is not available, a bus is always an option. Buses tend to be clean, low-cost, frequent, and easy to use (Bus tickets are typically purchased at the Tabacchi (tobacco shops) – just find one of the many tabacchi’s in the town you are in!).
When you are in an Italian town or city and would like to see the sights, the historic center of the community is always compact enough to walk, and sufficiently low-speed to safely and happily ride a rented bicycle.
We recommend the RomeToRio app to view bus and train schedules ahead of time. Be sure to load that app to your cell phone before your trip to Italy. Links to the app are on their homepage and they are available of iPhone and Android. Visit our Booking Resource Travel Page to compare rail and bus tickets.
While you can travel far more expensively or far less expensively than we do, we generally find that we spend approximately $1000 for a week of travel in European nations such as Italy. That includes everything: round-trip airfare from the US, lodging, food and drink, entrance fees, etc.
Budgeting can be difficult but we are disciplined when planning. We do not spend more than $50 per person (pp) on lodging, $550 pp for R/T air, and $50 pp for long-distance trains.
We stay in studio or 1 bedroom apartments when we travel. Depending on your length of stay, seek lodging that has laundry facilities. There are plenty of apartment options available that have in-unit washing machines, which come in handy for longer trips. Apartment prices vary per season and by proximity to the city center. For any type of accommodation, expect to pay about 30% – 50% more in peak season.
- Studio/1BR Apartment: $50 – $150 per night
- Hotel: $65 – $200 per night
- B&B: $80 – $200 per night
- Pizzeria/Salumeria: $6 – $15 pp
- Osteria/Trattoria: $15 – $25 pp
- Trattoria: $15 – $30 pp
- Restaurante: $20 -$ 50 pp
- Local City Transit: $2
- Buses: $6 – $12
- Trains: $35 – $75 (rapid) or $6 – $35 (standard)
- Bike Rental: $14 per day
What to pack when traveling to Italy
Best Things To Do
Italy is a country that has a little bit of everything for everyone. Whether you enjoy the cafe scene, hiking, bicycling, cooking, food and wine, you will find it here. Here are a few of the best places to see and things to do in Italy.
Join in on La Passeggiata
Nearly all Italian cities and towns maintain the delightful, charming tradition of the community evening stroll – La Passeggiata. This event is a “must-do” in Italy. It is a gentle and slow stroll through the main streets of the city or town, usually on a walking (car-free) street in the centro storico (the Old Town) near major piazzas or along the lungomare (promenade) if the community is near the sea.
Enotecas (Italian wine bars)
Italian cities and towns show off the Italian love of wine when one notices the great many enotecas found in the community. The proprietors of these places – particularly during the off-season – tend to be eager to show off to you their best wines and platters of food. The enoteca can be a delightful way to sample some of the best wines and foods of a region, and to engage in conversations with the proprietors and customers.
Outdoor Food Markets
Our “Attractions” maps of each town or city we recommend provide locations of the very best outdoor food markets, and nearly all Italian communities host such markets. These markets are reliably fun and festive, and offer an authentic experience of sampling the regional foods and speaking to the local producers of those foods.
Italy, of course, is full of gorgeous, photogenic wineries making world-class wines. A guided tour of an Italian winery is a wonderful way to learn about this special, age-old craft. Platters of delicious local foods often accompany the wine tastings. You can book tours through GetYourGuide.com or Viator.com.
Guided Tour of Geology, Neighborhoods, Sights
Many of the geological features, museums, medieval neighborhoods, and tourist attractions are so famous and so rich in history that we have sometimes found it is worthwhile to hire a guide to provide us with a lot of knowledge we would not otherwise know. The guide is also often helpful in giving you useful tips about Italy in general. You can book tours through GetYourGuide.com or Viator.com.
For winter travelers, Northern Italy is bordered by the Italian Alps so naturally, there is an abundance of world-class skiing.
What To Eat in Italy
Street food (“Cibo di strada” in Italian)
A warm vegetable salad most well-known in Sicily, with eggplant (aubergine) being perhaps the most notable ingredient. Another trademark for this dish is the sweet and sour sauce. It usually contains onions, celery, capers, and other odds and ends people have in their kitchens. There is no standard recipe for caponata, as every house and restaurant has its own version. When eating it in Sicily, therefore, you will find it with olives, raisins, pine nuts, and sometimes octopus.
Black Truffle Pasta
Orecchiette con Cima di Rapa
Sauteed turnip tops with orecchiette pasta or cavatelli, most commonly eaten in the Puglia region.
Fave e Cicorie Selvatiche
Fiorentina (or Florentine) Steak
“Pecorino” is the name of all cheeses made from sheep’s milk from either Tuscany or Sardinia. Pecorino Romano is a hard, salty cheese that is perfect for grating. The making of Pecorino Romano uses only traditional methods and thus benefits from protected designation of origin (P.D.O.).
While ice cream has 14 to 17 percent milkfat, gelato contains just 3 to 8 percent. That’s because ice cream uses lots of heavy cream, while gelato uses milk. Gelato also uses far fewer egg yolks than ice cream—in some cases none at all. Gelato typically contains 70 percent less air than traditional ice cream, giving it density and richness. Today there are around 37,000 gelaterie throughout Italy, but some of the best are said to be found in Rome (I Caruso), Florence (La Carraia), and Bologna (La Sorbetteria Castiglione).
Italian pastries that originated on the island of Sicily and are today a staple of Sicilian cuisine. Cannoli consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta. They range in size from “cannulicchi,” no bigger than a finger, to the fist-sized proportions typically found south of Palermo, Sicily, in Piana degli Albanesi. On the mainland, they are commonly known as cannoli siciliani (Sicilian cannoli). The best cannoli is found in Sicily in our opinion. Cannolis should not be filled unti just before eaten.