Italy's attractions are well known and impressive in both quality and quantity. But if you're looking for more than a superficial understanding of this rich and varied country, the sites below provide detailed information about its cities, landscapes, and culture. You'll also learn how to get there, where to stay, and what your fellow travelers were inspired to share about their Italian journeys.
Most people don't need to be told why Italy is worth visiting. However, the following sites provide a useful overview for anyone wanting a taste of la dolce vita, including the country's most beautiful cities and regions, and of course, the cuisine.
- August is the month when Italians go on vacation, and (for understandable reasons) most of them stay within their national borders. Hotels fill up and many shops and restaurants close. Plan your trip for another month if you can.
- Venice is high up on many a traveler's to-do list. However, central Venice gets very crowded in the summer. Because its architecture, galleries, and romantic ambiance aren't dependent on the seasons for their appeal, consider visiting at another time of year. (Some canals get a little pungent in the summer heat, which is another reason to go in the off-season.)
- In pricey restaurants, you ought to leave the kind of tip that's customary in America: around 15-20 percent of the check. But the staff in less costly establishments won't expect a gratuity.
- The Rome City Break Feature in our Netcetera section covers the attractions of Italy's capital, providing the resources you need to make the most of the Eternal City.
For an overview ...
The New York Times
dedicates a section of its Web site to Italy, which is also linked to pages from the Frommer's travel guide. Articles from the newspaper focus on particular regions, and there are also more general guides to the country.
Travel + Leisure
magazine offers a database of knowledgeable, often witty, articles on Italy. There are also guides to Tuscany and Florence, Milan, and the Amalfi Coast.
The Washington Post
carries articles on various aspects of vacationing in Italy. Some are most likely to appeal to the armchair traveler, such as the piece on renting a cottage on the steep cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. But other pieces are of more general interest, such as a guide to budget dining in Rome.
is reputedly the world's largest publisher of travel guides. Its pages on Italy are unpretentious, easy to navigate, and cover most regions (with the exception of Puglia and Sardinia). With more than 700 writers across the planet, the recommendations supplied here should be reliable. You'll also find maps and weather reports for your chosen destination.
For guides to sightseeing and activities ...
City Guides generally place a greater emphasis on nightlife than history and culture, reflecting the interests of its hip, young readership. There are guides linked to here for all of the major Italian cities, and the sightseeing information and event calendar are useful.
provides glimpses of the country that are likely to leave you slavering for the real thing. Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Siena, Naples, and Sicily are profiled with 360-degree, all-angles interactive photography that allows you to scan the most famous and beautiful locations. Plus, there are free audio guides that you can download to an mp3 player, such as an iPod. The Venice section is particularly impressive.
Dream of Italy
is a carefully crafted subscription newsletter that offers expert advice for travelers to Italy, covering destinations, hotels, restaurants and events you won't find in a typical guidebook. Free articles are available on the site.
For information on specific regions and cities ...
National Geographic Traveler
provides a "trip planner" for Florence, a concise, one-page guide to the city covering restaurants, cafés, and accommodation as well as the most popular tourist attractions.
The Uffizi Gallery
in Florence is home to Carravaggio's Bacchus and Botticelli's Venus, two of the most famous works of the Italian Renaissance. Even if you can't identify these pieces by name, you won't fail to recognize them from a photo ... or up close.
Travel + Leisure
readers voted Florence the world's best city in a 2007 poll. The magazine naturally includes a guide to Tuscany and its capital that covers the whole gamut of high-end establishments, from the luxurious to the merely very comfortable.
The Los Angeles Times
publishes a long story, dating from February 2007, about a journalist's exploration of the Puglia region in southern Italy--the heel of the peninsula's boot. Puglia has been relatively unexplored by tourists, and is increasingly feted as a holiday destination. There are also links to the area's B&Bs and an advice page for Americans going to Puglia.
reports that the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples, "can claim to be Europe's most magnificent stretch of coast." Amalfi is a winding length of cliff face on which villages perch at vertiginous angles. It's normally considered a resort for Europe's richest, but The Guardian offers tips on how to enjoy the region's movie-set scenery without busting the bank.
has a particularly impressive section on Venice. Take a virtual tour using interactive photos and a downloadable audio guide. If you thought the floating museum that is Venice had no appeal for you, this may make you think again.
For an introduction to Italy's culinary culture ...
sent a restaurant critic over the length of Italy on a tour of regional cuisine. The resultant article covers everything from the heavy polenta-and-steak dishes of the north to the simpler, lighter pasta dishes and rich olive oils of the south. A number of restaurant recommendations are included.
Osterie & Locande D'Italia
is a "guide to traditional places to eat and stay in Italy" (in English, the title is "Restaurants and Inns of Italy"). Compiled by Italy's Slow Food Movement, this book is an insider's take on Italian dining, written by chefs and culinary experts. At almost $30, it's not cheap, but contains profiles of more than 2,000 establishments that satisfied picky native authors.
Here you'll find links to sites providing practical information on the more mundane aspects of traveling in Italy, like money and visas, and to sites focusing on the Italian language. You'll also learn about Italy's history, and ways to embrace Italy's present with festivals and events.
- Visitors to Italy who have a valid U.S. passport are entitled to stay in the country for up to 90 consecutive days without applying for a visa.
- Even if you're not much of a linguist, it's still worth trying to grasp a bit of the native tongue. Italian has fewer irregular verbs than French, the spelling is almost phonetic, and the pronunciation is relatively easy for an English speaker.
- Italians are generally very hospitable and encouraging even to the most tongue-tied student of the Italian language. After all, no other nationality speaks Italian, so natives tend to be pleased when a foreigner makes the effort to acquire a little of the homegrown lingo. Making things a bit easier is that many Italians, especially in large cities, speak at least some English.
- The currency in Italy, as it is in most other European countries, is the euro. Use a free online currency converter like the one at OANDA.com [http://www.oanda.com] to find current conversion rates.
For general practical advice ...
The U.S. Department of State
provides Consular Information Sheets for Italy, San Marino, and the Holy See. Essential information regarding entry and exit requirements, safety and security, crime, and embassy registration is provided. Look in the left-hand sidebar to link to the State department's International Travel Page
for additional advice and practical details.
provides a multimedia insight into aspects of Italian life not likely to be thoroughly covered in much depth in other travel guides. You will find pointers and observations covering subjects such as festivals, safety tips for women, and renting an apartment.
To use a pay or cell phone while in Italy ...
hosts a short, handy video on how to use an Italian pay phone, which is more confusing than you might imagine. These phones accept coins, Italian phone cards (which are available from corner stores and cafés), and credit cards.
makes the observation that Italians are compulsive in their use of cell phones. This site provides a mobile how-to guide, so you can chat to your heart's content when you're abroad and not feel left out.
To help you learn Italian ...
offers a free mixed-level interactive course in the Italian language.
is a long-established publisher of guides for the budget to mid-price traveler, and now sells audio phrasebooks to download in mp3 format. You can put these recordings onto an iPod or similar device. The Lonely Planet's Real Talk Italian is $5.50.
has a free online dictionary that could be very useful if you have ready access to the Internet while you're traveling.
featured a piece by travel writer and editor David Farley
. He offers some comfort to the linguistically challenged visitor to Italy with a humorous account of his struggles to learn Italian after moving to Calcata, a village just north of Rome
. Believe it or not, he was there researching the disappearance of the town relic, the Holy Foreskin.
For insight into Italian politics, culture, and history ...
brings you an interactive profile of Italy covering the contemporary situation of this nation of 57 million.
does a pretty good job of condensing 3,000 years into a third as many words. Familiarity with a few names and terms--Etruscans, Romulus and Remus, Garibaldi, for example--will enhance your enjoyment if you're planning to explore Italy's incomparable cultural heritage.
The Corriere Della Sera
translates into English as "The Evening Messenger" and is Italy's newspaper of record. Its small English-language section is available online, and will provide grist for the conversational mill when chatting to the Italians that you meet.
carries the tag line "travel dispatches from a shrinking planet," and provides links to travel guides and news stories. At time of writing, the Italy page included a report on visiting Cinque Terre on Italy's West Coast, and one on a U.S. embassy warning to American tourists that a Neapolitan dispute about garbage collection has created a health hazard.
For information on events and festivals ...
hosts this personal account of experiencing Il Palio di Siena, a horse race and festival that occurs every July 2 and August 16 in the Medieval Tuscan town of Siena. During this festival, the 17 quarters of the city compete in a no-holds-barred race over the cobbles of Siena's central square. After reading about one person's experience, click the link at the bottom of the page for events leading up to the festival.
La Notte Bianca
provides information on its official site about the all-night citywide festival that has been held in Rome every year since 2003. Museums and galleries stay open through the early hours, there are guided tours of churches, concerts, plays put on in the streets, free salsa lessons, and innumerable other events. On the site, get a schedule of events, and create a route by selecting your favorites.
The International Herald Tribune
reports on the Carnival of Ivrea, which revolves around a series of battles fought between local volunteers armed with millions of oranges. Occurring in the early spring before Lent, the festival turns the streets of Ivrea, a northern Italian town, into one enormous smoothie as the locals put themselves through a medieval-style blender.
The Venice Biennale
occurs, as the name suggests, once every two years (in odd years). Originally a festival of international art, it has diversified over time to involve every artistic medium imaginable--film, dance, and music, as well as contemporary art--and is now a highbrow version of the Cannes Film Festival. On the site, research the festival events, locate venues, purchase tickets, or check the archives.
compiles a list of upcoming events from around Italy in this comprehensive student travel guide.
If you're coming from the United States, you'll probably fly to Italy, although if you're already in Europe, the option of train travel should not be overlooked. The following sites will help you explore options, compare prices, and book tickets.
- The findingDulcinea Travel Web Guide offers information on how to book international flights and make sure you're getting the best deal.
- Direct flights from the United States land in Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci Fiumicino Airport (FCO), Milan's Malpensa Airport (MXP), or Venice's Marco Polo Airport (VCE).
- As a benchmark when working out your itinerary, consider that a flight from New York to Rome lasts about nine hours, and Italy is six hours ahead of East Coast time.
For booking airfare ...
runs a search using a number of different travel sites to find the cheapest airfare available, so you no longer have to traipse around the Internet looking for a bargain.
is a discount airline servicing many destinations in Europe. If you plan on visiting multiple destinations overseas, RyanAir is an inexpensive way to get from one to the next.
For booking a train ticket ...
is a service that allows you to buy rail tickets between European destinations and to check timetables on the continent before you travel.
As slowly as possible is one answer. You'll have more time to enjoy the view when you travel by train, and rail travel in Italy is generally a comfortable and reliable option for journeys between major cities. Driving gives you less time to look out the window, but is also an option.
- Rail travel can be quite pleasant in Italy, especially on the Eurostar routes. (The Intercity and Regionale trains, which service smaller stations, aren't quite so plush.) Also, since fares are relatively inexpensive, a first-class ticket is often well worth the extra money.
- Don't forget to validate your ticket before boarding a train. That means stamping the ticket in a little yellow machine at the station. If you fail to do so, the ticket's not activated, and you may incur a fine when you're on the train.
- The following words will be useful not only when you're actually in Italy, but also if you're booking tickets online beforehand: "giorno" means day; "mese" means month; "arrivo" is arrival; "partenza" is departure; and "fermata" is stop as in train station or bus stop. For more tips on learning the language, visit the "What should I know before I go to Italy?" section of this guide.
- Alitalia forbids use of digital equipment of any kind (even portable CD players) on some of the airline's older planes; after you book your flight but before you pack, check with the airline to find out what the rules are for the particular aircraft you'll be taking so you can plan your in-flight entertainment accordingly.
For rail travel ...
has an English-language guide to rail travel across the Italian peninsula. There's an interactive timetable and a booking facility, both of which are very useful if you can overcome the fact that these two parts of the site are in Italian.
For car rentals ...
has car rentals available for many Italian cities, as well as chauffer services for those who want to travel in style.
provides several pages with advice on driving in Italy. You may be eager to read this, since the recklessness of the Italian driver is proverbial in Europe. If you're determined to explore Italy by road, then this site is a useful place to visit.
For flights ...
is an Italian airline servicing many locations in Italy and beyond. This page has a clear map of the airline's destinations in Italy, as well as a search tool allowing you to find and book your flight.
Italy's architecture and countryside are perhaps its two greatest assets. Depending on which of these piques your interest, you can choose to stay in a hostel, hotel, or vacation on a farmhouse ("agriturismo"). Use the sites below to uncover your options and settle your arrangements.
- One option you might not have considered is agriturismo, a type of farmhouse vacationing. The Italian government began sponsoring agriturismo in 1985 as a way to preserve rural traditions and economies. Agriturismo can open the door to the serene pleasures of the Italian landscape and the best of local produce, with the added bonus that your money helps to maintain the environment. See the links below for more information.
- If you're planning on backpacking, know that hotels and hostels in Italy are often fully booked. When you can, make arrangements in advance.
For hotels and hostels ...
operate throughout Europe and provide hostels and campsites that tend to offer a wide range of amenities (such as a laundry, Internet café, and pool, depending on location). The rates are low, and the accommodation varies from corrugated huts, which may be shared by campers, to air-conditioned mobile homes.
compiles a list of the top hotels in Italy based on the opinions of its many thousands of users. The site provides a way to confirm or qualify the hotel reviews you find elsewhere.
Travel + Leisure
recommends and reviews dozens of hotels throughout Italy. The least expensive double room in a Milanese hotel in Travel + Leisure's low-price bracket was €165 (currently around $225) a night in October, but if you're looking for Old World grandeur or modern boutique luxury, this is the place to go.
For information about agriturismo ...
carries a directory of farms, with maps, sales blurbs from the various establishments, prices, and a booking facility. There's not much more to the site than that, and prospective holidaymakers would do well to look for recommendations elsewhere, such as TripAdvisor, before making a reservation.
The Washington Post
recently ran an article by two writers who went to Sicily to get a taste of the increasingly popular phenomenon of agriturismo.
The International Herald Tribune
also reports on the rise of agriturismo. There are now 14,000 agriturismi (the plural noun for the farmhouse-inns) scattered throughout the mainland and islands of Italy.
Reading the accounts of other travelers' explorations is a great way to add an extra dimension to your trip. Peruse the stories of professional travel writers and fellow travelers below for revelatory pictures of adventures in Italy.
- Many of the travel Web sites we've mentioned throughout this guide have forums or message boards. Use these forums to post questions for other members to answer, or browse existing threads on topics that interest you.
- Blogs can be another excellent source of advice and opinions from ordinary travelers. Even if a blog isn't updated regularly, it can still be worth a visit because you can read archived posts. To find blogs about traveling to Italy, use a blog search engine like Technorati[www.technorati.com] or BlogPulse[www.blogpulse.com].
- Read the findingDulcinea Blogs Web Guide for more tips and Web sites to help you find blogs and even start your own.
For travel accounts ...
CRW Bicycle Stories
hosts the account of two cyclists who in 1998 weaved a route across Umbria and Tuscany, taking in Venice, Assisi, Florence, Rome, and a number of "surprisingly pleasant" towns and villages in between. These travelers aren't writers, but their enthusiasm might inspire readers to find other adventurous ways to explore Italy.
compiles Italy travel blogs. Scroll through the list on this page to see what strikes your fancy, or use the search tool in the upper toolbar to find a particular area or region.
For books ...
La Bella Figura
is a humorous guide to Italian culture from Beppe Severgnini, who took a 10-day trip to thirty places across Italy.
recounts the experiences of British author Tim Parks in his 10 years in the northern Italian city Verona (where Romeo and Juliet is set). Reviewers have described this as a fast and witty memoir with more intellectual clout than Under the Tuscan Sun
, which covers similar ground.
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