|Area||total: 301,230 sq km |
note: includes Sardinia and Sicily
water: 7,210 sq km
land: 294,020 sq km
|Population||57,715,625 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Italian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking with Ladin spoken by a minority), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d'Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area)|
|Religion||predominately Roman Catholic with mature Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim immigrant community|
|Time Zone||UTC +1|
Italy is a large country in Southern Europe, probably one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe after France and Spain.
- Apulia (Puglia)
- Liguria - home of the Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre
- Lombardy (Lombardia)
- Piedmont (Piemonte)
- Sardinia (Sardegna)
- Sicily (Sicilia) - the large island located to the south of the Italian peninsula (the "ball" to Italy's "boot")
- Tuscany (Toscana)
- Trentino-Alto Adige
- Valle d'Aosta
- Rome - (Roma): the capital, both of Italy and of the ancient Roman empire; centre of the Roman Catholic Church (the Vatican)
- Milan - (Milano) - shares with Paris the title of fashion capital of the world
- Florence - (Firenze): History, art, architecture. Uffizi's gallery, David of Michelangelo Buonarroti
- Venice - (Venezia): History, art. Saint Mark's Piazza. The city is built on a lagoon, filled with canals, with no roads for cars. Very poetic and romantic
- Naples - (Napoli) (including Herculaneum and Pompeii)
- Genoa - a vibrant and historical port city, birth place of Columbus
- Bologna - (Bologna): A major trade fair city.
- Palermo - capital of Sicily
- Siena - a mediaeval town in southern Tuscany
- Verona - a restored Roman coliseum is the stage for modern opera productions
- Turin - (Torino): The first capital of modern Italy. Host of the 2006 Winter Olympics
- Milan of the South," gate to the East
- Bozen - (Bolzano): The capital of the most german-speaking region and home of the Iceman
- Pisa - location of the famous Leaning Tower
- Volterra - small Tuscan town with Eutruscian artifacts and the best olives ever tasted.
- Monza - Hosts the Formula 1 Grand Prix.
- Capri - the famed island in the Bay of Naples
- Cinque Terre - five tiny, scenic, towns strung along the steep vineyard-laced coast of Liguria
- Vatican City - the independent city-state and seat of the Pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church
- Milan - the primary air transport hub for Italy
There are 406 budget routes flown from and within Italy by low cost airlines. A good comprehensive resource for no frills flights is the website Lowcostitaly France via Nice, Lyon, and Paris
There are severale ferries departing from Greece, Albania and Croatia
Sicily Capri Ischia Procida Aeolian Sardinia
Every major city has a number of local museums, but some of them have national and international relevance. These are some of the most important permanent collections.
- Uffizi Museum  (http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/) in Florence, one of the greatest museum in the world, must see. Given the great number of visitors, ticket reserving is a good idea to avoid hours-long queues.
- Egyptian Museum  (http://www.museoegizio.org/) in Turin, holds the second-largest egyptian collection in the world, behind the Egypt's Cairo Museum collection.
- The Acquarium  (http://www.acquario.ge.it/) in Genoa, one of the largest and more beautiful in the world, is located in the Porto Antico (ancient port) in an area completely renewed by architect Renzo Piano in 1992.
- Science and Technology Museum  (http://www.museoscienza.org/) in Milan, one of the largest in Europe, holds collections about boats, airplanes, trains, cars, motorcycles, radio and energy. Recently has also acquired the Toti submarine, which is open to visitors.
- Roman Civilization Museum  (http://www2.comune.roma.it/museociviltaromana/) in Rome, hold the world's largest collection about ancient Rome and a marvellous reproduction (scale 1:1000) of the entire Rome area in 500 b.c.
- National Cinema Museum  (http://www.museonazionaledelcinema.org/) in Turin, located inside the wonderful Mole Antonelliana, historical building symbol of the city.
- Automobile Museum  (http://www.museoauto.it/) in Turin, one of the largest in the world, with a 170 car collection covering the entire automobile history.
The Italian rail system has four levels: Eurostar, Intercity, Interregionale and Regionale, Eurostar being the classiest. Generally speaking, for a given distance each tier costs twice as much as the one below it. The train cars used by the Eurostar service are far newer than those used by the other three, but are not necessarily more comfortable. In fact, the cars used by Intercity trains are split up into distinct, six-seater compartments, which is really nice when you're travelling in groups. A new level has been introduced recently. It is called Intercity-plus and it is just a way to have passengers pay more than the intercity fares. Recently, many of Interegionale trains have been classified as Intercity.
The main practical difference between tiers is reliability. Intercity trains are generally very reliable, but if you need to catch a flight, for example, it might be better to pay extra for the Eurostar. Interregionale and Regionale are less reliable. The other big difference between Eurostar and the other two tiers is that Eurostar seating is all by reservation, while seating on the others is not. On the Eurostar, every passenger is assigned a seat. This means that the train will never be packed with an impossible number of people, but it also means you will need to purchase tickets in advance. During commuter hours, on major north-south routes during the holidays, or before and after large political demonstrations, trains on the two lower tiers can become very, very full, to the point where it gets very uncomfortable.
The pricier tier is usually faster, but there isn't a consistent speed difference between tiers. On some routes, the Eurostar will cut the travel time in half, but on others routes all three trains go the same speed, and taking the Eurostar is simply a waste of money. Just check the FS website (http://trenitalia.com/) or the printed schedule, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to see how long the trip will take.
On the train schedules, the Eurostar is listed in blue, Intercity in red while Interregionale and Regionale are green. The arrival times are listed in parentheses next to the names of each destination. One thing to watch out for: certain trains only operate seasonally, or for certain time periods (for example, during holidays).
The lines to buy tickets can be very long, and slow, so get to the station early. There are touch-screen ticket machines which are very useful, efficient, and multilingual, but there are never that many, and the lines for those can be very long too. Eurostar trains can fill up, so if you're on a tight schedule you should buy those tickets in advance. If you are running late and don't have time to buy a ticket, you can just jump on the train, but you will have to pay extra when the conductor (il controllore) comes around (a flat fee, somewhere around 5-10 euro) and they don't take credit cards. Technically, if you don't have a ticket you are supposed to find the conductor yourself and buy one (otherwise you have to pay another fee - approx. 20 euro), but for foreigners it's enough to just stammer something about being late and they will almost never hassle you about this.
Also, the way the system works is that unless you validate the ticket by inserting it into one of the yellow boxes on the platform (it says Convalida on the box), you could keep using it for months. The yellow box just stamps a date on the ticket, so the conductor knows you weren't planning on using that ticket again. Technically, a ticket that isn't validated is just like not having a ticket: you have to buy another. It is quite important not to forget to validate your ticket as the conductors are generally not tolerant in this particular matter.
The cheapest way to travel in a region is to buy a zone ticket card. A chart displayed near the validating machine tells you how many zones you must pay between stations. To buy a zone card for the next region you would have to get off the train at the last station and because the stops are so short you would have to board the next train (usually in about 1 hour).
As of January 10, 2005 a smoking ban in public places went into effect in Italy. You will be subject to fines for smoking on an Italian train.
Buy bus tickets before boarding from corner stores and other shops. The payment system for most mass transit in Italy (trains, city buses, subway) is based on voluntary payment combined with sporadic enforcement. Specifically, you buy a ticket which can be used at any time (for that level of service, anyway) and when you use it you validate the ticket by sticking it into a machine that stamps a date on it. Once in a while (with varying frequency depending on the mode of transportation) someone will ask you for your ticket and if you don't have one you get a fine, and theoretically (sometimes happens) you can be asked to present to the Police for a formal report. Usually line enforcers aren't very condescending, especially in northern Italy. In almost every cities there's a different pricing scheme, so check in advance ticket formulas and availability.
For tourist may be very convenient to buy daily (or multi-day) tickets that allow you to do how may travel you want in a single (or more) day. Every major cities also has some type of City Card, a fixed-fee card allowing you to travel on local public transportation, visiting a number of museum and giving you discounts on shops, hotels and restaurant.
Check for both this possibilities at local Tourist's Office or on city's website (which is often www.comune.cityname.it).
Italians are generally very friendly and open people, but they're less likely to pick up hitchhikers than anyone else in the world. It is easier to hitchhike out of the Bronx than it is to hitchhike in Italy. Hitchhiking in the summer in touristy areas works okay because you'll get rides from Northern European tourists, and it works okay in very rural areas as long as there is consistent traffic (because you're still playing the odds) but hitchhiking near large cities or along busy routes is extremely frustrating. Hitchhiking is not recommended for women travelling alone. Hitchhiking along expressways and highways is forbidden.
Not surprising, Italian is the language spoken by the vast majority of Italians. English is spoken fairly commonly on the well-travelled path, but you'll want a good phrasebook for anything remote although even this may not help for the smaller towns and villages as many areas still speak dialects that you won't find in any phrasebooks.
See also: Italian phrasebook
Italy is part of the so-called Eurozone, so the common currency of the European Union, the Euro (€), is legal tender in Italy.
Italy is quite an expensive country. It has many luxury hotels and posh restaurants. It may cost EUR40.00 a day if a person self caters, stays in hostel, avoid drinking and don't visit too many museums but staying in a comfortable hotels, eating out regularly and visiting lots of museums and galleries, may cost a person at least EUR100-150 a day. Hiring a car may double expenses, so one should visit with enough budget.
All the bills include the service charges, so tipping is not necessary. Tipping the taxi drivers is also not necessary, but a hotel porter may expect a little something.
If you plan to travel though countryside or rural regions probably you should not rely on your credit cards: in many small towns they're accepted only by a small number of shops (particularly restaurants).
Unless it says otherwise the price includes IVA (same as VAT) of 20%. On some product, such as books, IVA is 4%. If you're a non-EU resident, you are entitled to the refund of IVA on purchases of goods to be exported out of the European Union. Shops offering this service has a Tax Free sticker on the outside, ask for this service before shopping. The goods you purchase have to be unused when you pass the custom leaving EU.
Italian food inside of Italy is different than Italian in America or western Europe. Italian food is based upon a few simple ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes that may seem strange to Americans and other visitors. For instance, a sandwich stand might sell 4 different types of ham sandwiches that in each case contain ham, mayonnaise, and cheese. The only thing that may differ between the sandwiches is the type of ham or cheese used in them. Rustichella and panzerotti are two examples of sandwiches well-liked by Italians and tourists alike. Also, Italian sandwiches are quite different from the traditional Italian-American �hero,� �submarine,� or �hoagie� sandwich. Rather than large sandwiches with a piling of meat, vegetables, and cheese, sandwiches in Italy are often quite small, very flat (made even more so when they are quickly heated and pressed on a panini grill), and contain a few simple ingredients, rarely, if ever lettuce. Also, a traditional Italian meal is separated into several sections: antipasto (marinated vegetables, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat course), dolce (dessert). Salads often come with the secondo. Americans will notice that Italian pasta often has a myriad of sauces rather than simply tomato and alfredo. Also, Italian pasta is often served with much less sauce than in America.
Like the language and culture, food in Italy is also very different region by region. Pasta and olive oil are considered the characteristics of southern Italian food, while northern food focuses on rice and butter (although today there are many many exceptions). Local ingredients are also very important. In warm Naples, citrus and other fresh fruit play a prominent role in both food and liquor, while in Venice fish is obviously an important traditional ingredient. As guideline, in the south cuisine is focused on pasta and dessert, while at north meat is king, but this rule can be very different depending where you are.
A note about breakfast in Italy: breakfast in America is often seen as a large meal (eggs, bacon, juice, toast, coffee, fruit, etc). In Italy, this is not the case. Breakfast for Italians might be coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and cold cuts or cheese. Unless you know for certain otherwise, you should not expect a large breakfast in Italy.
Usually Italian meals are: small breakfast, one-dish lunch, one-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, expecially around 10AM and at the end of a meal.
Please remember that in Italy cuisine is a kind of art (great chefs as Gualtiero Marchesi or Gianfranco Vissani are considered half way between tv stars and magician) and Italians generally don't like any foreigner who asks always for spaghetti or pizza, so please, read the menu and remember that almost every restaurant has a typical dish and some towns have centuries-old traditions that you are invited to learn.
- Risotto - Rice that has been saut�ed and cooked in a shallow pan with stock. The result is a very creamy, and hearty dish. Meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and cheeses are almost always added depending on the recipe and the locale. Many restaurants, families, towns, and regions will have a signature risotto or at least style of ristotto, in addition or in place of a signature pasta dish (risotto alla Milanese is famous Italian classic).
- Arancini - Balls of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, and cheese that are deep fried. They are a southern Italian specialty, though are now quite common all over.
- Polenta - Yellow corn meal (yellow grits) that has been cooked with stock. It is normally served either creamy, or allowed to set up and then cut into shapes and fried or roasted.
- Gelato This is the italian version for ice cream, but usually made only with milk. It's fresh as a sorbet, but tastier. There are many flavours: coffee, chocolate, fruit, tiramis�... To try absolutely.
- Tiramis� Italian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, cookies and cocoa powder on the top. The name means "pull me up".
Italian restaurants and bars charge more (typically double) if you eat seated at a table rather than standing at the bar or taking your order to go. There is usually small, very small print on the menus to tell you this. Some menus may also indicate a coperto (cover charge) or servizio (service charge).
Traditional meal includes (in order) antipasto (starter), primo (first dish - pasta or rice dishes), secondo (second dish - meat or fish dishes), served together with contorni (mostly vegetables), cheeses/fruit, dessert, coffee, spirits. Italians usually have all of them served and restaurants expect customers to follow this scheme; elegant or ancient restaurants usually refuse to make changes to proposed dishes (exceptions warmly granted for babies or unhealthy people) or to serve them in a different order, and they absolutely don't serve cappuccino between primo and secondo.
Agree whether you want primo (pasta or rice dishes) or secondo (meat dishes - if you want vegetables too look under contorni and order them as sides). When pizza is ordered, it is served as a primo (even if formally it is not considered as such), together with other primi. If you order a pasta/pizza and your friend has a steak you will get your pasta dish, and probably when you've finished eating the steak will arrive. It's slightly frowned upon to ask them to bring primo and secondo dishes at the same time (or "funny" changes like having a secondo before a primo). They may well say yes...and then not do it. Bad luck if you're doing the Atkins diet...
Restaurants which propose diet food, very few, usually write it clearly in menus and even outside; others usually don't have any dietetic resources, as Italians on a diet don't go to the restaurant.
Italian restaurants are completely non-smoking or have a non-smoking area which is well separated from the smoking area; so says a law, but you will discover that Italians have a friendly approach to laws and rules... This particular law is respected almost everywhere, though. Better anyway to precisely ask for an effective smoking or non-smoking area.
When pets are allowed (not a frequent case), never order ordinary dishes for them; in particular, never ever order meat for your pet, this would seriously upset waiters and other customers. In case of need, you might ask if the chef can kindly propose something (he usually can).
Better to leave tips in cash (not on your credit card).
Out of the restaurant, you might eventually be asked to show your bill and your documents by Guardia di Finanza agents (a police specialised in tax subjects - never in uniform); whatever they show you, immediately try to call #113 (similar to America's 911 - english spoken) and ask for policemen in uniform to help you, it could be a trick to pickpocket you. This kind of controls is effectively frequent (they want to know if the owner regularly recorded your money) and completely legitimate, but pickpocketers find it a good excuse to approach their victims. Call 113 or enter the first shop.
Bars are, like restaurants, non-smoking.
Italians enjoy staying out of home during evening and night so it's normal to have a soft drink in a bar as pre-dinner. It is called Aperitivo. During last years, at first in Milan, a lot of bars have started offer fixed-price cocktails at aperitivo hours (18 - 21) with free, and often really good, buffet meal. It's now widely considered stylish to have this kind of aperitivo (called Happy Hour) instead of a structured meal before going to dance or whatever.
Wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure you respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff (this is why the first question is what you are going to drink). If you are a true connoisseur, don't allow your waiter to discover it; if you don't know how to distinguish wines other than by their color, don't allow your waiter discover it either.
Before reaching Italy, have a quick overview on most important regional types (of the region you are planning to go to) and when on site ask the waiter for one of them (not too young, not too old), he/she will suggest you 4/5 wines (always choose the second or the third one). Pay attention to the fact that as Italian Cuisine can be very different region by region (sometimes also town by town), so it can be with wine. So, for example, avoid asking for a bottle of Chianti if you're not in central Tuscany, because every dish has often a wine exactly matching. The popular "color rule" (red wines with meat dishes, white wines with fish) can be happily broken when proposed by a sommelier or when you really know what you are doing: Italy has many very strong white wines to serve with meat, as well as very delicate red wines for fish.
The "vino della casa" (home-made wine) can be a good drinking opportunity in small villages far from towns (especially in Tuscany), where it likely could be what the patron would really personally drink and/or produce. Otherwise, it usually is a mixture of low-quality poor wines: low price, low flavour, possible day-after-headaches. Good wine can be very costly, but bad wine is still expensive.
Foreign wines are rarely served (just check the house wine list), but many grapes have French names (like Cabernet-Sauvignon).
- Limoncello. A licquor made of alcohol, lemon peels, and sugar. Limoncello can be considered a "moon shine" type of product as every Italian family, especially in the middle (near Napoli) and southern part of the country, has their own recipe for limoncello. Because lemon trees adapt so well to the Mediterreanean climate, and they produce a large amount of fruit continually throughout their long fruit-bearing season, it is not unusual to find many villa's yards filled with lemon trees bending under the weight of their crop. You can make a lot of lemonade, or better yet, distill your own limoncello. It is mainly considered a dessert liquor, served after a heavy meal (similar to amaretto), and used for different celebrations. The taste can be compared to a very strong and slightly thick lemonade flavor with an alcohol tinge to it. Best served room temperature or chilled in the freezer. It is better sipped than treated as a shooter.
- Electricity. Italy uses 220V, 50HZ. The plugs are special for Italy. The grounding hole does not work with other systems. The two other other holes are too narrow to be used with some plugs. A adaptor to Schuko cost �0.80 in supermarkets in Italy.
- Internet Access. Recently Italian government has passed a law requiring all public-access internet point to keep records of websites viewed by customers and even customer's ID. Accessing to email service has been also forbidden. However, if you bring your own laptop you should be able to check it, but not avoiding ID recording. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record ID. Publicly available Wireless access is forbidden unless provider has a special government licence and this has caused only major phone-like companies to be able to afford that, so wireless access is generally expensive. By the way in major cities citizen-owned access points are generally not protected or encrypted, so pay attention not to do wardriving.
Like most developed countries, Italy is a very safe country to travel. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi by the Italian Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.
Petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors. The rate of violent crimes in Italy is considered a "moderate," and while a portion of violent crimes are committed against travelers, it is normally not a problem. However, instances of rape and robbery as a result of drugging are increasing. Travelers should be careful when going out at night alone.
The driving skills of Italians is well known to be poor. Drivers do not like stopping for pedestrians. I think the correct word to call Italian drivers is beserk!
An additional note: There are many bars in Italy that cater to tourists and foreigners with "home country" themes, calling themselves such things as "American bars" or "Irish pubs." In addition to travelers, these bars attract a large number of Italians who, among other reasons, go there specifically to meet travelers and foreigners. And while the motivation for the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there can be one or two petty criminals who loiter in and out of these establishments hoping to take advantage of travelers who are disoriented or drunk. Traveling to these places in groups is a simple solution to this problem.
For emergencies, call 113 (Polizia), 112 (Carabinieri), or 118 (Medical Rescue)
The US Center for Disease Control recommends two vaccines for people traveling to western Europe: Hepatitis A (even though Americans are not at an increased risk) and Hepatitis B.
Italy has a small incidence rate of "Mad Cow" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)) disease--about 14 cases per million head of cattle. Since 2001, when Italy had its high of 48 cases of reported BSE, the reports have dropped to 38 (2002), and 29 (2003). Travelers concerned with this should visit the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) website for information on how to limit their exposure.
The telephone system is well diffused in all parts of Italy. Both the wire and mobile systems are widespread.
Telephone numbers used to have separate prefixes (area codes) and a local number. In the 1990's the numbers were unified and nowadays, when calling Italian phones you should always dial the full number. For historical reasons you can still nowday hear of prefix and local number. The number of land lines start with 0. The number of mobile lines start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services. If you don't know somebody's phone number you can dial a variety of recently-estabilished phone services, the most used are 1240, 892424, 892892, but nearly every 12** combination has a different service. Note that most of them have high fees.
To call abroad from Italy you have to dial
00 + country code + local part where the syntax of the local part depends on the country called.
To call Italy from abroad you have to dial
international prefix + 39 + local part
Note that you should not skip the starting zero of the local part if you are calling an Italian land line.
The Italian calling code is 39. To phone another country, dial 00 followed by the calling code and subscriber number.
In case of emergency call the appropriate number in the list below. Such calls are usually free and calls to 112, 113, 115, 118 can be made from payphones for free without the need of inserting coins. 112 (standard emergeny number in GSM specification) can be dialed in any case for free from any mobile phone (even if your credit is empty or if you are in an area covered by a different operator)
- 112 Carabinieri emergency number - general emergency
- 113 Police emergency number - general emergency
- 114 Blue Phone emergency number - children-related emergency (expecially various forms of violence)
- 115 Fire Brigade emergency number
- 117 Guardia di Finanza (for commercial and tax issues)
- 118 Health emergency number (use this if you need an ambulance)
Note: this list is not complete (please help us to expand it) Always bring a note about the address and the number of your embassy.
If you are in an emergency and do not know who to call dial 112 or 113 (out of major towns, better to call 113 for english-speaking operators).
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations and airports. The number of payphones has consistentely reduced after the introduction of mobile phones. Some payphones work with coins only, some with phone cards only and some with both coins and phone cards. Only a limited number of phones (just a few in main airports) directly accept credit cards.
Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia), Vodafone (previously Omnitel), Wind, and 3. Note that cell phones from North America will not work in Italy, unless they are Tri-band. Most of the country is covered by GSM signal, while only a part nowdays (2005) is covered by UMTS signal. A convenient way, if you are coming from abroad and you are going to make a consistent number of calls, is to buy a pay as you go SIM card and put it in your current mobile (if compatible and if your mobile set is not locked). Please note that you may incurr in subscrition fares and recharge fares. Please note that, as a measure to contrast crime and terrorism, you are required to give a valid form of identification to be able to use the SIM card. Subscription-based mobile phones are subject to a governative tax, to which pay as you go contracts are not subject. Sometimes hotels have mobile phone for customer to lend.
Costs for calls can vary significantly depending on when, where from and where to. The cost of calls differs considerably if you call a wired phone or a mobile phone. Usually there is a difference in cost even for incoming calls from abroad. If can choose, calling the other party's land line could be cheaper than mobile. Beware of premium rate calls, which can be very expensive.
According to national regulations, hotels cannot apply a surcharge on calls made from the hotel (as the switchboard service should be already included as a service paid in the room cost), but to be sure check it before you use.
Calls between landlines are charged at either the local rate or the national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the area code is optional and the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not free.