Not surprisingly, Italian is the language spoken by the vast majority of Italians. The northern part of the Trentino-Alto Adige region (South Tyrol) is predominantly German speaking with Ladin, a Rhaeto-Romance language related to Switzerland's Romansh, also spoken by a minority. There is a small French-speaking minority in the Valle d'Aosta region and Slovene is spoken by a minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area. There are several small pockets of Greek-speaking communities in the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia.
Local dialects are widely spoken as second language, often its accent is also maintained while speaking Italian. There is a big variety of dialects, often viewed as a result of centuries of division (Italy was not fully unified until 1871) with small difference of accent even in adiacent towns.
English is spoken fairly commonly on the well-travelled path, expecially in touristic areas where is widely spoken by sellers and tourist operators. German, French, Japanese and Spanish are often spoken in these areas as well, but a few less.
In the cities you can often speak English with younger people, aged between 14 and 35: almost everyone had to take English in school since the 80's, though the result depends on the person. At least the most basic phrases usually stuck, and normally there's at least one per group who with a decent level of English. On the other hand, senior citizens rarely know English, but they'll try to help you anyway with gestures or similar words. Spanish is spoken by a considerable number of people but not widely, anyway it's very similar to Italian language and they can be understood if the speakers communicate slowly between them. German and French is known by some persons but could be hard for you to find them.
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. Other Roman languages, especially Spanish or Romanian, are quite useful, and chances are, you will find that most Italians are more knowing and willing to speak them over English.
Italy is part of the 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 €40.00 a day if a person self caters, stays in hostel, avoids drinking and doesn't visit too many museums. However, staying in a comfortable hotel, eating out regularly and visiting lots of museums and galleries, may cost a person at least €100-150 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 through countryside or rural regions you probably 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 a VAT refund on purchases of goods that will be exported out of the European Union. Shops offering this scheme have a Tax Free sticker outside. Be sure to ask for your tax-free voucher before leaving the store. These goods have to be unused when you pass the customs checkpoint upon leaving the EU.
Italian fashion is renowned worldwide. Many of the world's most famous international brands have their headquarters in Italy. The two key areas for high-class shopping are Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone (and surroundings), in Milan and via Condotti in Rome, but you'll find flagship stores in almost every major city.
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 different 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. The term panini may be somewhat confusing to travellers from Northern Europe where it has erroneously come to mean a flat heated sandwich on a grill, in Italy the term is equivalent to "bread rolls" (plural) which can be simple rolls or sometimes with basic filling. However instead of a sandwich why not try piadinas which are a flat folded bread with filling which are served warm.
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.
Structure of a traditional meal: Usually Italian meals are: small breakfast, one-dish lunch, one-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, especially around 10AM and at the end of a meal.
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.
Like the language and culture, food in Italy is extremely 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 a 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 on where you are.
A note about breakfast in Italy: Breakfast in Italy is very light, often just a coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and fruit jam. Unless you know for certain otherwise, you should not expect a large breakfast in Italy. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink; ordering one after lunch or dinner is considered highly strange and considered a typical "tourist thing".
Another enjoyable Italian breakfast item is cornetto (pl. cornetti): a croissant or light pastry often filled with cream or nutella.
Lunch is seen as the most important part of the day, so much that they have one hour reserved for eating and another for napping. All shops close down and resume after the two hour break period. To get around this businesses stay open later. And, good luck trying to find a place open during the so-called "pausa pranzo" (siesta time). This may not apply to the city center of the biggest cities or to shopping centers.
In Italy cuisine is considered a kind of art. Great chefs as Gualtiero Marchesi or Gianfranco Vissani are seen as half way between TV stars and magician. Italians are extremely proud of their culinary tradition and generally love food, and talking about it. However they are not so fond of common preconceptions, like that Italian food is only pizza and spaghetti. They'll also distaste "bastardized" version of their dishes that are popular elsewhere, and many Italians have a hard time believing that the average foreigner can get even a basic pasta dish "right".
You should consider that Italy most famous dishes like pizza or spaghetti belong to southern regions cousine, and eating in different areas can be an interesting opportunity to taste some less well known local specialty.
When dining out with Italians 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. People will be most happy when you ask for local specialties and will gladly advise you.
For a cheap meal you may like to track down an aperitivo bar (somewhat similar to the concept of tapas) which in the early evening (about 5pm) serve a series of plates of nibbles, cheese, olives, meat, bruschetta and much more, all this food is typically free to anyone who purchases a drink but is intended to be a premeal snack.
The tradition of Aperitivo is particulary felt in Milan. There you can often make a dinner out of it.
Almost every city and region has its own specialities, a brief list of which may include:
- Risotto - Aroborio rice that has been sautéed 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). It's a typical dish in Lombardy and Piedmont.
- 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. It is a very common dish in northern mountains restaurants, usually eaten with deer of boar meat.
- Gelato This is the Italian version of ice cream. The non-fruit flavors are usually made only with milk. Gelato made with water and without dairy ingredients is also known as sorbetto. It's fresh as a sorbet, but tastier. There are many flavors, including coffee, chocolate, fruit, and tiramisù.
- Tiramisù Italian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, and ladyfingers (sometimes rum) with cocoa powder on the top. The name means "pick-me-up."
Cheese and sausages
In Italy you can find nearly 200 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, and 300 types of sausages.
If you want a real kick, then try to find one of the huge open markets, usually on Saturdays, to see all the types of cheeses and meats in action.
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 contorno (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.
Sequence of dishes: When eating with a friend or a partner, 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.
Smoking: Italian restaurants are completely non-smoking or have a non-smoking area which is well separated from the smoking area; even if 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 not available, it's normal to step out the restaurant door to smoke, you will find many people doing so and this is often a good moment to meet new people too.
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).
Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In many large cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. When ordering, simply tell the attendant the type of pizza you would like (e.g. pizza margherita, pizza con patata (potato), pizza al prosciutto (ham), etc.) and how much ("Vorrei due fette - two slices - per favore"). They will slice it, warm it in the oven, fold it in half, and wrap it in paper. Other shops also sell by the slice, similar to American pizza shops. Getting your meal on the run can save money--many sandwich shops charge an additional fee if you want to sit to eat your meal. Remember that italian pizzas have a thinner base of bread and less cheese than the foreign sold ones.
Bars, like restaurants, are non-smoking.
Italians enjoy going out during the evenings, so it's normal to have a drink in a bar as pre-dinner. It is called Aperitivo. Within the last couple years, started by Milan, a lot of bars have started offering fixed-price cocktails at aperitivo hours (18 - 21) with free, and often a very 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 out to dance or whatever.
While safe to drink, the tap water in some paeninsular parts of Italy can be cloudy with a slight off taste. Most Italians prefer bottled water, which is served almost exclusively in restaurants. Make sure you let the waiter/waitress know you want regular water or else you could get frizzante (or fizzy club soda water) water. The exception to this is Rome where they have exceptional pride in their quality of water. This goes right back to the building of aqueducts channeling pure mountain water to all the citizens of Rome during Roman times. You can refill your drinking containers and bottles at any of the constant running taps and fountains dotted around the city, safe in the knowledge that you are getting excellent quality cool spring water - try it!
Italian wine is the most exported all over the world, and names like Barolo, Brunello and Chianti are known everywhere. In Italy the wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure you respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff. Doing your homework ensures that you will get better service, better wine and in the end may even pay less.
DOC, DOCG, IGT?
The Denominazione di origine controllata certificate restricts above all the grape blend allowed for the wine, and in itself it is not yet a guarantee of quality. The same applies to the stricter Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita. These two denominations are indications of a traditional wine typical of the region and often a good partner for local food. But some of the best Italian wines are labeled with the less strict Indicazione geografica tipica designation, often a sign of a more modern, "international" wine.
Before reaching Italy, have a quick overview on most important regional types (of the region you are planning to go to). For example Barolo or in general nebbiolo in Piedmont, and Chianti or in general sangiovese in Tuscany. Italian cuisine varies greatly from region to region (sometimes also from town to town), and wine reflects this variety. So, for example, avoid asking for a bottle of Chianti if you're not in central Tuscany. Italians have long traditions in matching wines with dishes and often every dish has an appropriate wine. 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 strong white wines to serve with meat (a Sicilian or Tuscan chardonnay), as well as delicate red wines for fish (perhaps an Alto Adige pinot noir).
The vino della casa (house wine) can be an excellent drinking opportunity in small villages far from towns (especially in Tuscany), where it could be what the patron would really personally drink or even produce. It tends to be a safe choice in decent restaurants in cities as well. As a general rule, if the restaurant seems honest and not too geared for tourists, the house wine is usually not too bad.
Italians are justly proud of their wines and foreign wines are rarely served, but many foreign grapes like cabernet sauvignon are finding use.
Although wine is a traditional everyday product, beer is drunk as well, particularly when going out for a pizza with friends.
Beer does not belong to the Italian tradition as wine does: even if pubs serving beer are very common they tend to have both little choice and quality. If you are looking for good beers you won't find any problem, you just have to look around a little bit more. First of all, Italian beer market is dominated by international brands and their local belongings, which is fairly comfortable if you are a casual drinker, like most Italians are. Major Italian beers include Peroni, Moretti and Raffo. Instead, if you are serious about beer drinking, you'll probably be better to find one of the many micro-breweries around the country. They often are run by local beer enthusiasts turned brewers, running small breweries with a pub attached. Their association is called Unionbirrai .
- Limoncello. A liquor 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-south (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, brew 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.
- Don't forget the northern regions spirit Grappa. You'll either like it or you won't. It's made by fermenting grape skins, so you could imagine how it might taste. If you're going to drink it, then make sure you get a bottle having been distilled multiple times.
Italy (Italian: Italia) is a large country in Southern Europe. It is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites - art and monuments are everywhere around the country. It is also famous worldwide for its cuisine, its fashion, the luxury sports cars and motorcycles, as well as for its beautiful coasts, lakes and mountains (the Alps and Appennines).
Two independent mini-states lie within Italy: San Marino and Vatican City. While technically not part of the European Union, both of these states are also part of the Schengen Region and the European Monetary Union.
Italy is situated in Mediterranean Europe, bordering France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. The country, which is a boot-shaped peninsula, is surrounded by the Ligurian Sea, the Sardinian Sea, and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, the Sicilian and Ionian Sea in the South, and Adriatic Sea in the East. Italian is the major language spoken by the majority of the population, but as you travel throughout the country, you will find there are several distinct dialects corresponding to the region you are in. Italy has a very diverse landscape, but can be primarily described as mountainous including the Alpes and the Apennies mountain ranges that run through it. Italy has two major islands as part of its country: Sardinia, which is an island off the west coast of Italy, and Sicily, which is at the southern tip (the "toe") of the boot. Italy has a population of 59,619,290, and the capital city of Italy is Rome.
The climate of Italy is that of typical Mediterranean countries. Italy has hot, dry summers, with July being the hottest month of the year. In the north, they experience cold winters, as compared to mild ones in the south. Some regions in the south of Italy can experience no rainfall for the whole summer season. The long mountain ranges in Italy impact the weather significantly, as you can experience very different weather going from town to town.
Non-guidebooks about Italy or by Italian writers.
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone - a biography of Michelangelo that also paints a lovely portrait of Tuscany and Rome
Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King - a compelling story of one of the greatest structural engineering achievements of the Renaissance. The story of the building of the immense dome on top of the basilica in Florence, Italy.
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes - An account of a woman who buys and restores a holiday home in Cortona, Italy. Full of local flavor and a true taste of Tuscany.
The Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence - It describes a brief excursion undertaken by Lawrence and Frieda, his wife aka Queen Bee, from Taormina in Sicily to the interior of Sardinia. They visited Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono, and Nuoro. Despite the brevity of his visit, Lawrence distills an essence of the island and its people that is still recognisable today.
Italian neighbours and A season with Verona by Tim Parks - Two portraits of nowdays life in Italy as seen by an English writer who decided to live just outside Verona.
Winter Stars by Beatrice Lao - poems born between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian by the oriental poetess, 988979991X
The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo - stories about China by the Venetian traveller
North - The North of Italy is the country's most populated and developed portion. Cities like Turin, Milan, Bologna, Verona and Venice share the region's visitors with beautiful landscapes like the Lake Como area, impressive mountains such as the Dolomites and the Italian Alps and first-class ski resorts like Cortina d'Ampezzo and others.
Northwest - Piedmont (Piemonte), Liguria (home of the Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre), Lombardy (Lombardia), Valle d'Aosta
Northeast - Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto
Central Italy breathes history and art. Rome boasts the remaining wonders of the Roman Empire and some of the world's best known landmarks such as the Colosseum. Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, is Tuscany's top attraction, whereas nearby cities like Siena, Pisa and Lucca have much to offer to those looking for the country's rich history and cultural heritage.
Lazio (the region around Rome), Abruzzo, Marche, Tuscany (Toscana), and Umbria, Italy's green heart.
Southern Italy - Bustling Naples, the dramatic ruins of Pompeii, the romantic Amalfi Coast, laidback Apulia and stunning beaches of Calabria, as well as up-and-coming agritourism help making Italy's less visited region a great place to explore.
Apulia (Puglia), Basilicata, Campania and Molise
Italian islands - Sardinia (Sardegna) and Sicily (Sicilia), the large island located to the south of the Italian peninsula (the "ball" to Italy's "boot") also Capri, Ischia, Elba, Procida, Aeolian Islands, Aegadian Islands, Tremiti and Pantelleria
There are hundreds of Italian cities, here are nine of its most famous:
- Rome (Roma) - the capital, both of Italy and of the ancient Roman Empire; center of the Roman Catholic Church (the Vatican).
- Bologna - Home of the first university. This city is filled with history, culture, and technology. Bologna is well known for its food. One of the world's great university cities.
- L'Aquila is the capetown of Abruzzi, at 100km from Rome, on the mountain.
There are 99 places and 99 churc, one spanish castle, and there is the famous Basilica di Colle Maggio. The best city in the center of Italy about the nature.
- Florence (Firenze): City of "rebirth". This city is known for its architecture and art and for the impact it has had throughout the world. Florence is also home to Michelangelo's famous statue of David. Home to many other well-known museums of art.
- Genoa (Genova) - Very wealthy and diverse city. Its port brings in tourism and trade, along with art and architecture. Genoa is a historical city, birthplace of Columbus and jeans.
- Milan (Milano) - Known as the fashion capital of the world.
- Naples (Napoli) - Important port city in Italy. Naples is filled with life, and sun. Here you will find the best pizza in Italy. Naples is also home to the famous volcano Vesuvius.
- Pisa - Pisa is home to the unmistakable image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Very touristy city. Streets are filled with vendors who will try to sell you anything.
- Turin (Torino) - Home of the FIAT. Turin is a well known industrial city, based on the automobile and aerospace industry. Home of the 2006 Winter Olympics.
- Venice (Venezia) - Venice is known for its history, art, and world famous canals. One of the most beautiful cities in Italy; it is home to Island of Murano, which is famous for its hand-blown glass. St. Mark's Square is where most of the tourists are and can get very crowded in the summertime.
- Calabria and its pearl Praja a Mare - the italian best kept secret, with the stunning Dino Island, the Blu Grotto, and the Arcomagno bays
- Capri and Ischia - the famed islands in the Bay of Naples
- Cinque Terre - five tiny, scenic, towns strung along the steep vineyard-laced coast of Liguria
- Elba - the largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago, and the third largest island in Italy after Sicily and Sardinia
- Rimini and the Romagna Riviera, Italy's most famous and visited beach tourism locations.
- Vatican City - the independent city-state and seat of the Pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church
- Lago di Garda - A beautiful lake in Northern Italy
- Italian Alps, including The Dolomites - Some of the most beautiful mountains there are
Italy is a member of the Schengen agreement, so all visa laws that apply to other member states apply to Italy. Keep in mind that, like other Schengen member states, the 90-day counter begins once you enter the Schengen area and is not reset by travel outside it.
Italy has 500 national airline, Alitalia, as well as several smaller carriers, such as Meridiana or Air One. There are 406 budget routes flown from and within Italy by low cost airlines.
Most of mid-range international flights arrive to the following Italian cities:
- Milan - with 2 airports: Malpensa (MXP) and Linate (LIN); in addition, Bergamo (BGY - Orio al Serio) is sometimes referred to as "Milan Bergamo"
- Rome - with two airports: Fiumicino (FCO - Leonardo Da Vinci) and Ciampino (CIA)
- Bologna (BLQ – Guglielmo Marconi)
- Naples (NAP - Capodichino)
- Pisa (PSA - Galileo Galilei)
- Venice (VCE – Marco Polo)
- Turin (TRN – Sandro Pertini)
- Catania (CTA - Vincenzo Bellini)
From France via Nice, Lyon, and Paris
From Croatia via Zagreb
From Austria via Vienna, Innsbruck and Villach
From Geneva, Zurich and other Swiss cities
From Germany via Munich
From Czech Republic via Prague
From Hungary via Budapest
From Slovenia via Ljubljana
From Spain via Barcelona
Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. French and Austrian borders are open, but cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks. Switzerland is not part of the Schengen zone, and full border checks apply - although they have been known to let coaches straight through.
There are several ferries departing from Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most of them arrive to Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi.
Some regular ferry services connect the island of Corsica in France to Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia, Naples and North of Sardinia. Barcelona is connected to Civitavecchia.
Some regular ferry services connect Sicily and Naples to some North African harbours.
There is a hydrofoil service running from Pozzallo on the south-easter coast of Sicily to Malta.
Sicily, Sardinia, Capri, Ischia, Elba, Procida, Aeolian Islands, Tremiti, Ustica, Pantelleria, Aegadi Islands, Pelagie Islands Dino Island
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 in Florence, one of the greatest museums in the world, must see. Given the great number of visitors, ticket reserving is a good idea to avoid hours-long queues.
- Egyptian Museum in Turin, holds the second-largest egyptian collection in the world, behind the Egypt's Cairo Museum collection.
- The Aquarium in Genoa, one of the largest and most 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 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 in Rome, hold the world's largest collection about ancient Rome and a marvellous reproduction (scale 1:250) of the entire Rome area in 325 A.D., the age of Constantine the Great.
- National Cinema Museumin Turin, located inside the wonderful Mole Antonelliana, historical building and symbol of the city.
- Automobile Museum in Turin, one of the largest in the world, with a 170 car collection covering the entire automobile history.
The Italian rail system has different train types: TBiz, EurostarItalia, Eurostar City Italia, IntercityPlus, Intercity, Espresso, Interregionale and Regionale, Eurostar Italia and TBiz 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 TBiz and Eurostar Italia services are far newer than those used by the other types, but are not necessarily more comfortable; however many of them provide power sockets which may be useful if you plan on working on the train. On the other hand the cars used by Intercity trains might be 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 train types is reliability. Intercity services are generally very reliable, but if you need to catch a flight, for example, it might be better to pay extra for the Eurostar Italia. Interregionale and Regionale are less reliable, and stops in many more stations along the way. The other big difference between TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity with Interregionale, Regionale and Espresso services is that on the best ones seating reservation is compulsory, where every passenger has a seat allocated to him/her. This means that the train will never (theoretically) be packed with an impossible number of people, but it also means you will need to purchase tickets in advance. Actually, many passengers with tickets for other trains that take a wrong one will have to pay the cheap fine for not having a seat reservation. As a result, on major routes or peak hours, expect to find your seat taken, in this case usually a brief discussion is enough to get your seat. During commuter hours, on major north-south routes during the holidays, or before and after large political demonstrations, trains on the lower train types can become extremely full, to the point where it gets very uncomfortable, in which case you could find yourself sitting on a tiny fold out flap in the hallway, where you'll have to move for everyone passing by.
The pricier train types are usually faster, but there is not a consistent speed difference between trains. The main difference being the number of stops made along the same routes. On some routes, the Eurostar will cut the travel time in half, but on others all trains go more or less at the same speed, and taking the Eurostar Italia might be a waste of money. Just check the Trenitalia website or the printed schedule, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to see how long the trip will take.
On long routes, such as Milan - Rome or Milan - Reggio Calabria, Trenitalia operates special night trains Treni Notte. They depart around 10pm and arrive in the morning. Depending on the train, you may be able to choose between normal seats, couchette and sleeper cabins of different categories. Seats are cheapest, but even sleeper cabins are not prohibitively expensive and are a very relaxing way to travel long distances. Also keep in mind some trains do not provide air conditioning so bring your own water bottle during the hot summer months.
On the train schedules displayed at each station, every train is listed in different colours (i.e. blue, red, green). The arrival times are listed in parentheses next to the names of each destination. One thing to watch out for is that 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.
You can also buy tickets online on the Trenitalia website; you will receive a code (codice di prenotatione (PNR)) that is used to pick up the ticket from a ticket machine in the station ("Self Service"). For some (but not all) trains you can also choose a ticketless option, where you print out the ticket yourself. You can also choose an option to have a "proper" receipt printed on the train, should you need one. By default the site will only show the "best" (usually more expensive) connections - you may select to "show all connections" to see if there are slower but cheaper connections available.
Eurostar trains can fill up, so if you're on a tight schedule you should buy those tickets in advance. In general, you should buy the tickets before boarding the train. The Italian Rail recently (end of 2007) started a campaign against fare evasion, and introduced heftier fines (starting at 50 Euros). If you're really running late and you have no ticket, it's probably best to directly talk with the conductor ('il controllore or il capotreno) outside the train when boarding.
Remember that you must validate the ticket before boarding, by stamping it in one of the yellow boxes (marked Convalida). Travelling with an unstamped ticket is technically the same as travelling without ticket. 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 any Italian train.
There are special deals offered too...some of them are reserved to foreign tourist and others are available to locals. Some deals are passes that allow travel during a chosen period, while other special offers are normal tickets sold at decent prices with some restrictions. Before you choose to buy a pass, check first if it is cheaper than buying a normal ticket (or better, a discounted normal ticket, if available).
If you are travelling a lot, and you're not Italian, you can get a TRENITALIA PASS: you buy a number of days of travel to be used within 2 months, however you still have to pay a supplement on the compulsory reservation services, i.e. TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity which will between EUR 5.00 and EUR 25.00 depending on the train type. Details are on the Trenitalia website , and also on RailChoice website at .
Italy has a well-developed system of highways in the northern side of the country while in the southern it's a bit worse for quality and extension. Every highway is identified by an A followed by a number on a green backdrop. Most of the highways (autostrade) are toll roads. Some have toll stations giving you access to a section (particularly the tangenziali of Naples, Rome, and Milan, for example), but generally, most have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket, for if you do, you will be charged for the longest distance (example: if you are on A1 Milano-Napoli at the Milano toll station you'll be charged for the entire 700km distance). All the blue lanes (marked "Viacard") of toll stations accept major credit cards as well as pre-paid card (Viacard) you can buy at tobacconist, Autogrill, or gas stations.
Many Italians uses an electronic pay-toll device, and there are reserved lanes marked in Yellow with the sign "Telepass" or a simply "T". Driving through those lanes (controlled by camera system) without the device will result in a fine and a payment of the toll for the longest distance. Due to agreement with other countries, if you're foreigner, you'll pay also extra cost for locating you in your country.
Even if speeding is very common on autostrade, be aware that there are a number of automatic and almost invisible system to punish speeding and hazardous driving, also italian Highway Patrol (Polizia Stradale) has several unmarked cars equipped with speed radar and camera system. If you don't know the road very well you should probably keep a reasonable speed.
Since 2006, several sections of the italian Highways are equipped with an automatic system called SICVE or TUTOR that check the average speed of the veichles over a long distance (5/10 km), and the coverage is continuosly improved (at the moment, signs are posted at the beginning of the section covered - full list of sections covered is here http://www.autostrade.it/assistenza-al-traffico/autovelox-controllo-velocita.html?initPosAra=3_4).
A good clue of a nearby check system is when cars around you suddenly reduce speed. If you see a lot of cars keeping themselves just under the limit and nobody overtaking, you'd better do the same. Driving outside an autostrada, when cars coming in the opposite direction are flashing lights to you, you're probably driving towards a speed check.
Note that common use of flashlights may be different from your country. Flashing lights may be meant either as a warning to give way or as an invitation to go first, depending on the situation: so, please, be extremely careful in order to avoid any problem.
Speed limits are:
- 130 km/h on highways (autostrade);
- 110 km/h on freeways (superstrade);
- 90 km/h on single-lane roads;
- 50 km/h inside cities.
Italian laws allow a 5% (minumum 5 km/h) tolerance on local speed limit. Fines are generally very expensive.
Motorbikes should drive always with the headlights on, for other vehicles that applies only outside cities.
Drunk driving is a controversial issue. The tolerated limit is 0.50g/L in blood; being above this limit punishable by a heavy fine, licence revocation and jail time, but you'll find that people of every age are not significantly worried about drunk driving. All passengers are required to wear their seat belt and children under 10 must use the back seat. Unless clearly posted on the road you are using, you are supposed to yield to any vehicle coming from your right from another public thoroughfare. Signposts used in Italy are patterned according to EU recommendations and use mostly pictograms (not text) but there are minor differences (example: highways directions are written on green background while the white stands for local roads and blue for the remaining).
Avoid using the blue roads for long distances. While autostrade may be expensive, they significantly decrease the time it takes to travel from one place to another, as blue roads often obligates you to drive through several cities and villages.
As can be expected, fuel is considerably more expensive than in North America and Japan, but on par with most of the rest of western Europe. Expect to pay about €1.45 per liter for fuel.
Many tourists report they got fined (about 100€) for entering a ZTL unknowingly. ZTLs (Transportation Limited Zones) are restricted areas in many Italian cities. The entrance to ZTLs is marked by signs and cameras, which can easily go unnoticed by tourists driving a car.
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 city 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 travel as much as you want in a single (or more) day. Every major city also has some type of City Card, a fixed-fee card allowing you to travel on local public transportation, visit a number of museums and giving you discounts on shops, hotels and restaurants.
Check for both these possibilities at local Tourist's Office or on city's website (which is often of the form www.comune.cityname.it as for example www.comune.roma.it).
Hitchhiking in Italy is related with the hippies and "on the road" kind of culture. Therefore, it is considered out-dated and useless. You will rarely find Italians hitchhiking unless there's a serious problem with the bus or other means of transportation. 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. Off the Autostrada things are also a bit difficult: 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.
Approaching Italy by sea can be a great experience and is a good alternative to traditional onshore “tours”. A yacht charter to Italy is a fulfilling way to experience the country. Although the yacht charter industry is smaller than one would expect for this incredibly popular tourist destination, there are many reasons to choose a yacht over a more conventional onshore approach. The Italian coast, like the French coast, attracts luxury yacht charters of the highest standards. “Touring” Italy from a private yacht is surprisingly convenient and comfortable. Italy’s dramatic coastline is best appreciated from the sea and the Italians know it! You may take a swim whenever you like, and many of the most famous sights are within easy reach of the seashore. Cruising on a private yacht also offers you a certain relief from the crowds and traffic that are traditionally unavoidable in Italy’s most popular destinations. There are major distinct nautical regions in Italy: Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily. Each has its own flavor and focus. Be sure to plan your itinerary carefully as each region is rewarding in its own particular way.
For English-speakers looking to study in Italy, there are a few options. In Rome, Duquesne University, John Cabot, Loyola University Chicago and Temple University maintain campuses. Right outside of Rome the University of Dallas maintains its own campus in Marino. Penn State University has a program that sends architecture students. St. John's University has a graduate program in Rome for International Relations and MBA.
It depends on how you want to learn. Are you interested in studying in a huge touristy city like Florence or Rome? Or, are you interested in learning from a small town on the Italian Riviera. The smaller cities have better opportunity to learn Italian because there's not a lot of English going around. No matter where you decide, Italy is one of the best spots geographically to travel while you're not studying.
Think about learning what the Italians are best at: food, wine, Italian language, architecture, motors (cars and bikes) and interior design.