How to Plan a Trip to Italy
Italy is a land of high fashion, fine art, exquisite architecture, luxury sports cars, outstanding cuisine--and an insatiable taste for "la dolce vita". It's also home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites in the world, making it an ideal place for your next holiday. The country boasts a varied landscape of mountain ranges, alpine lakes, and coastal towns, so it's no wonder travelers often refer to it as the "bel paese" (beautiful country). With so many places to visit in Italy, tourists often have a difficult time planning their itinerary. The smaller villages each feature their own distinct character and blend of architecture, art, and cuisine. The quaint countryside boasts countless archeological sites dating back to Roman times and beyond. On the other side of things, Italy's cities and seaside resorts are cosmopolitan powerhouses offering museums, galleries, restaurants, shops, open-air markets, and pedestrian-friendly historical areas.
Places to Visit in Italy
Regions of ItalyTuscany
: The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Tuscany boasts many unforgettable landscapes and offers a lengthy list of attractions that includes world-class museums, art galleries, and ancient sites.Sicily
: One of the most popular Italy vacation destinations, Sicily represents the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, luring pleasure-seekers with its ruggedly attractive landscapes and astoundingly diverse cuisine.Campania
: Home of pizza and spaghetti, Campania features a mild climate and a picturesque coastline marked with secluded bays, tranquil coves, and dramatic cliffs offering sweeping views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.Veneto
: An independent republic until the end of the 18th century, Veneto remains the beating heart of Italy tourism, drawing nearly 70 million annual visitors with its World Heritage-listed Palladian villas, seaside resorts, vineyards, lakes, beaches, baths, parks, and mountain ranges.Lazio
: Located in the middle of Italy's boot-shaped peninsula, Lazio encompasses a lush and hilly northern section and a rugged southern area, tailor-made for adventurous hikers and cyclists looking for outdoor things to do in Italy.Lombardy
: One of Italy's largest regions, Lombardy stretches from the Alps all the way to the fertile lowlands of the Po Valley, which makes it an ideal holiday destination suitable for any season.Emilia-Romagna
: Long one of Europe's wealthiest areas, Emilia-Romagna is a paradise for foodies, known for its outstanding wines and a long list of culinary delights, which notably include gold-colored egg pastas like tortellini and tagliatelle.Puglia
: The heel of the Italian "boot," Puglia is a predominantly agricultural part of the country, though its warm and sunny coastal areas make it an increasingly popular place to visit in Italy.Sardinia
: Offering near-perfect summer weather, Sardinia draws visitors with its Mediterranean charm and atmosphere, as well as countless opportunities to swim, boat, windsurf, hike, rock climb, and camp in pristine areas largely unblemished by mass tourism.
Top Cities in Italy
- Rome: Famed capital of the ancient Roman Empire, modern Rome continues to serve as one of the world's centers of power, finance, art, and culture, boasting not only a World Heritage-listed city center, but also numerous other attractions like palaces, churches, statues, piazzas, parks, and sculptural fountains.
- Florence: The center of cultural sightseeing in Italy, Florence contains a compact and pedestrian-friendly town center, packed with some of Europe's finest examples of Renaissance architecture.
- Venice: Italy's city of romance, Venice spreads over a group of islands made famous by a network of canals, bridges, monuments, piazzas, and narrow pedestrian lanes.
- Naples: One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Naples boasts the largest historical town center in the world and offers easy access to dozens of culturally significant attractions, including several world-famous ancient ruins.
- Siena: Consistently ranked among the most-visited tourist attractions in Italy, Siena preserves much of its medieval character, exemplified by its graceful piazzas and palaces.
- Milan: The busy and elegant Milan serves as Italy's haven for shoppers, sports lovers, opera fans, nightlife enthusiasts, and fashion aficionados.
- Bologna: Famous for its cuisine, Bologna is the seat of the oldest university in the world, as well as a modern urban center filled with trendy shops, galleries, and bars.
- Genoa: Historically a rich and powerful trade center, Genoa now serves as a major destination for holidays in Italy, offering excellent cuisine, exquisite architecture, and modern museums.
- Pisa: Known worldwide for its iconic leaning tower, Pisa sits in the heart of Tuscany and features an architectural fusion of Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches, and Renaissance piazzas.
- Turin: Situated on the Po River just an hour's drive from the French border, Turin draws tourists with its aristocratic atmosphere, sophisticated shops, leafy parks, and grand boulevards.
Things to Do in Italy
Popular Italy tourist attractionsColosseum
: The largest amphitheater in the world, Colosseum represents one of the greatest achievements of Roman architecture and engineering, originally capable of accommodating up to 50,000 spectators of animal fights and gladiatorial combats.Pantheon
: Built nearly two millennia ago, Pantheon represents the only building from the Greco-Roman world that has remained largely intact, initially designed as a temple dedicated to all of Rome's ancient gods but used as a Catholic church since the 7th century.Trevi Fountain
: Easily recognizable from countless popular films, the elegant Trevi Fountain is a major stop on most Italy tours, representing the largest Baroque fountain in all of Rome.Canal Grande
: A busy water-traffic corridor, Grand Canal winds through Venice's central districts and offers views of more than 170 landmark buildings, most erected between the 13th and 18th centuries.Duomo di Milano
: One of the largest cathedrals in the world, Duomo di Milano ranks among the top attractions in Italy, famed for its white marble, hundreds of spires, thousands of exterior statues, and buttressed facade.Galleria dell'Accademia
: A masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, Michelangelo's Statue of David remains one of the world's best-known artworks, created in the early 16th century as one of a series of statues meant to stand on the roofline of Florence's main cathedral.St. Peter's Basilica
: A renowned example of Renaissance architecture, St. Peter's Basilica is one of the largest church structures in the world, built over a period of more than a century and designed by prominent architects like Michelangelo and Bernini.Uffizi Gallery
: Few art buffs call their Italy vacation complete before visiting the famed Uffizi Gallery, packed with works by masters like Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael, and da Vinci.St. Mark's Square
: Venice's main public space, St. Mark's Square has served as the city's social and political center for centuries, inspiring Napoleon to call it "the drawing room of Europe."Piazza Navona
: The vibrant Piazza Navona remains one of the most popular places to visit in Italy, offering visitors access to Baroque architecture, al fresco restaurants, ornate fountains, and boisterous street performances.
Planning an Italy Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Italy with Kids
Indisputably one of Europe's most family-friendly tourist destinations, Italy boasts plenty of attractions suitable for younger visitors. If your kids get tired of exploring big-city sights like Colosseum
or Borghese Gallery
, look for attractions located in smaller towns and spread across the nation's picturesque countryside. Lago di Garda
remains one of the best destinations for family vacations in Italy, offering sandy beaches and clear water ideal for swimming and boating. A place of myth and mystery, Parco dei Mostri
astonishes visitors of all ages with its larger-than-life sculptures, representing scenes that range from a winged woman riding a turtle to huge dragons attacked by lions. Parco Nazionale Del Circeo
offers families a chance to add some fresh air to their Italy itinerary by exploring lush forests and pristine coastal areas, home to animals like badgers, foxes, and lizards. Acquario di Genova
is one of the largest aquariums in Europe, housing 70 tanks with more than 600 different species of sea creatures, including dolphins, seals, and sharks. Include a bit of history on your tour of Italy with a visit to the ancient Palatine Hill
, where the entire family can step back in time at this complex of atmospheric Roman ruins.
Things to Do in Italy with Kids
Regardless of what part of the country you choose for your Italy vacation, you'll find plenty of family-oriented things to do and places to see with your kids. You can explore Venice
's canals by gondola, walk the cliffs and beaches of the Amalfi Coast
, or learn about major historical events by sightseeing Rome
's vibrant piazzas. To get away from big tourist crowds, head for the ancient villages of Tuscany
, surrounded by a quiet countryside made for day trips on foot or by bicycle.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Italy
The main issue for most families planning their Italy trip is how to incorporate museums and other cultural sites with attractions offering a more kid-friendly selection of activities. Try to create an itinerary that blends cultural attractions with regular gelato stops, which will allow both you and your kids a chance to relax and try some of the world's finest ice cream. For the sake of convenience, base your Italy tour in one of the larger cities or popular resorts, most of which offer quick access to international airports and major roads. Plan a few long day trips out of town, or make advance reservations for comfortable lodgings in small towns and villages, which you can use as a base for exploring the countryside.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Italy
Cuisine of Italy
Famous for its cuisine, Italy has long influenced the eating and drinking habits of people around the world. Treat your taste buds to pizza and spaghetti in Campania
, the birthplace of these quintessential Italian dishes. Emilia-Romagna
offers award-winning wines, which go extremely well with regional tortellini and tagliatelle pasta dishes. You might be surprised to find that, despite their popularity around the globe, pasta and tomato sauce form only one part of the Italian cuisine. In Naples
fresh fruit and vegetables play a huge role in each daily meal, while in Venice
fish remains one of the most important traditional ingredients. Visit cosmopolitan Milan
to try distinctive aperitifs served alongside plates filled with cheeses, olives, and freshly baked bruschetta. And wherever your Italy vacation takes you, be sure to get a proper dose of gelato, tiramisu, and espresso coffee.
Shopping in Italy
As some of Europe's major tourist destinations, Italy's big cities offer plenty of trendy boutiques and shopping malls to fill up the itinerary of any shopaholic. Many people visit Milan
exclusively for its glitzy shops selling clothing by some of the world's biggest names in fashion. Add the Giorgio Armani Outlet Srl
to your Italy itinerary to buy bags, jewelry, shoes, and accessories, or head to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
to explore numerous stores catering to shoppers of all budgets. Look for exquisite Murano glassware in Venice
, outstanding art replicas in Florence
, and silverware in Vicenza
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Italy
History of Italy
One of the most prosperous and democratic nations in the world, Italy boasts a long history filled with dramatic events and grand characters. The country's first civilization was Etruscan, which flourished in today's Lazio, Umbria, and Tuscany. Etruscan kings dominated Rome until the founding of the Roman Republic, which sacked Etruscan cities and assimilated the Etruscan people. To learn about the country's early history, add places like Capitoline Museums
and Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia
to your Italy itinerary.
Romans also conquered and assimilated Celtic tribes, which long flourished in the northern section of Italy. The expanding Roman Republic gradually evolved into a massive empire, which ruled the Mediterranean and stretched all the way to Scotland, Mesopotamia, and Arabia. The empire's decline began in the 2nd century CE, and the vast territory under Roman rule eventually split into two distinct parts. The western section collapsed in 476 CE, after several devastating attacks by various Germanic tribes. With the Italian peninsula divided among a number of barbarian chiefs, the former empire plunged into the infamous Dark Ages. To learn about this and other periods in early Italian history, include National Archaeological Museum of Naples
in your tour of Italy.
Centuries of lengthy and bloody wars followed, during which sections of Italy came under Byzantine, Lombard, Frankish, and Norman control. By the 12th century, northern Italy was a collection of small but independent city-states. Rich families in these flourishing centers patronized the arts, creating the perfect conditions for the birth of the Renaissance. Witness the brilliance of this remarkable period in history by visiting the galleries of the famed Vatican Museums
By the 14th century, Italy boasted some of the world's richest cities. Often at war with each other, these thriving pockets of culture and power came under foreign domination and provided the setting for a series of wars that slowly devastated the Italian economy.
The 19th century brought the Risorgimento, a notion of a unified Italian nation. The Kingdom of Italy finally emerged in 1861, and Rome became the newly formed state's capital in 1870. Pay homage to Italy's struggle towards modern nationhood at landmarks like Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II
, honoring the first king of unified Italy.
In the 20th century Italy went through two world wars, which devastated much of Europe and eventually led to the collapse of the Italian monarchy. The country became a republic in 1946 and entered a period of prosperity and success on an international level. Today's Italy remains one of the world's leading social, political, economic, and cultural powers, as well as a major European tourist destination. Experience the country's rich heritage by including places like the famed Sistine Chapel
and Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
in your Italy trip.
Customs of Italy
Despite its reputation for the indulgent "dolce vita," many visitors find Italy a surprisingly formal country. Italians are used to interacting with tourists, but they do expect foreign visitors to follow a few simple points of basic etiquette. Make friends by learning at least some Italian phrases, and don't forget to bring a small gift and compliment your host when attending parties or other social gatherings. Shake hands with people you meet for the very first time, and kiss both cheeks to greet friends and acquaintances. To prevent awkward moments, avoid any discussion of regional politics or criticism of the Italian government. Dress casually while street sightseeing in Italy, but remember to cover your shoulders and avoid wearing shorts when visiting museums and religious sites.
Holidays & Festivals in Italy
You can find plenty of regional festivals to add to your Italy itinerary, from religious to gastronomical celebrations. Most Italians take their summer vacation in August, so expect many shops and businesses to be closed during that month. In addition to familiar holidays like New Year's Day and Christmas, Italy also celebrates Liberation Day (April 25), Labor Day (May 1), and Republic Day (June 2). Many tourists choose to plan their holiday in Italy for Easter Holy Week, which includes numerous street processions and church masses, the biggest of which takes place at St. Peter's Basilica
Italy Travel Tips
Climate of Italy
Italy features a number of distinct geographic areas, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that its climate varies from region to region, and often from town to town. Most of the country enjoys hot and dry summers, with July being arguably the hottest month of the year. Winters tend to bring cold temperatures and plenty of precipitation to the northern regions, while the southern areas remain mild and relatively dry, which makes them a good choice for an Italy vacation any time of the year. Visit the coastal areas for pleasant temperatures and lots of sunshine, or head to the Alps to experience cool summers and very snowy winters.
Transportation in Italy
Italy features a sophisticated network of train, ferry, air, and public bus transportation that allows tourists to easily reach most popular attractions and destinations without incurring huge travel costs. Having your own car opens up a world of possibilities, allowing you to quickly travel between big cities and explore remote rural areas. Keep in mind that most Italian cities feature compact and pedestrian-friendly town centers, enabling tourists to enjoy sightseeing in Italy without the stress of driving and parking in busy urban areas. To discover the countryside and Italy's smaller towns, consider renting a scooter or bicycle, which will permit you to tour Italy at your own pace.
Language of Italy
Italian is the official language of Italy, though many of the country's smaller communities speak German, French, and Slovene as their native tongue. Don't be surprised to hear many different Italian dialects on your Italy trip, as many of the country's regions proudly cling to their distinct way of speaking. If you don't speak fluent Italian, consider taking a phrase book on your trip, or--if you're staying a while--think about attending an intensive language course, offered by many of the country's private schools and universities.
Tipping in Italy
Keep in mind that though tipping is by no means required at Italian restaurants, all waiters appreciate gratuity in the form of cash. Few taxi drivers expect a tip as they usually round up the meter charge, but most hotel porters and bartenders count on small change.