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Italy Travel – Information, Tips & Advice

Updated on November 21, 2011
Vacation Packing Guide For Worldwide Travel (Non-Boring Travel Guides)
Vacation Packing Guide For Worldwide Travel (Non-Boring Travel Guides)
You don't want to ruin your Italian vacation by packing wrong. Check out my Vacation Packing List book and learn how to pack for any trip.
 

Italy's Tourist Tradition

Italy is a long timefavorite of tourists, 2000 years ago during the Roman Empire there were plenty of tourists, and the Pope in Rome ensured a steady stream of pilgrims for the last 1000 years..It was however the advent of the Grand Tour in the 1660's which seriously put tourism on the map in what would become Italy. Today's travelers still flock to the same sights which were highlights of the Grand Tour: Florence, Venice, Pisa and Bologna for Renaissance Art, Rome for the classical ruins and as far south as Naples to visit the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The Grand Tourists were rich nobility and to this day Italy is still not a budget destination, it doesn't have to be with the incessant flow of tourists! However with a bit of forethought you can still plan independent travel which is cost effective.

In addition to the classic tradition of Renaissance art and architecture and Roman antiquities Italy offers fantastic opportunities for those interested in food, wine, music (opera anyone), or walking trails in the hills of Tuscany or Umbria. Anyone who is interested in style and design doesn't have to be told that Milan is a world-class centre of both. Remember when you visit the Vatican in Rome - you are actually visiting another country, the Vatican is an independent state, The Holy See with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) the head of state. Its OK though you won't see any border formalities.

Gondolas, Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Gondolas, Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
A lot of tourists visit in the summer months!
A lot of tourists visit in the summer months!
St Pauls, Rome
St Pauls, Rome

Pre-departure Travel Tips for Italy

  • Italy is very busy during the peak tourist season of June to September; plan to go either Spring April-May or Fall (Autumn) September- November, you'll find prices lower, queues shorter and the weather still reasonable.
  • As for any overseas travel have a medical/dental/optical check-up to avoid nasty surprises on the road. Take out travel insurance for the trip.
  • Check that your passport is valid for at least the length of your trip abroad. Citizens of most western countries including: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand will be given a permission t o stay 3 months on arrival, assuming they are visiting as tourists and not studying or traveling for business purposes.
  • Pack light - ideally a carry on bag should be sufficient. If you can't carry your own bags on and off trains and up and down stairs (not all hotels have elevators), you will have problems as porters are not common particularly on trains. Anyway you will need some space for the shopping won't you?
  • Learn about the history and culture of Europe before you go. Rick Steves puts out a wonderful book called Europe101 "Written for smart people who slept through their history and art history classes" very readable and very useful. Of course not all of European culture is in Italy but an awful lot of the art and sculpture of such people as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. The Romans left ruins littered all over the place too! A bit of background information will help prevent museum overload, and the "oh god another splendid example of renaissance ecclesiastical architecture" when confronted with the 5th gorgeous church of the day!

Italy Travel: Florence, Lucca,, Pisa, Siena, Tuscany

Best deals on Flights to Italy

  • Most flights arrive in Rome or Milan and therefore these are the most heavily discounted routes by the airlines Flying outside the main holiday times should mean that you can get a budget long-haul flight. Consider to flying long-haul into London, England or Paris, France, which are often cheaper than an Italian destination, and then using a local European budget airline such as such as Ryan Air or easyJet However be aware that if you do this and then your first flight is delayed you will have to buy another ticket on the budget carrier. Also double check which airports are you departing/arriving from - large European cities may have many airports and the cheaper carriers tend to use the more remote airports. Its quite easy to spend more on the airport transfer from town than the flight itself! So be realistic and consider if the total cost will be cheaper overall.
  • Italy's currency is the Euro which is also the legal tender for the 13 countries in the Eurozone so if your trip includes for example France or Germany you don't have to worry about using up all your currency before departing Italy. The notable countries outside the zone are Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Venice Carnival - Carnevale Venezia

On Arrival in Italy Tips

  • Italy's time zone is GMT/UTC +1.0, +2.0 from late March to late October. so flying from almost anywhere in the world you will probably be jet lagged. Try to get onto Italy's time zone as soon as you leave home, try to eat and sleep on Italian time. Its easier if your flight arrives late in the day as you will probably want to sleep anyway. If you arrive early in the day try to stay awake and get out in the daylight - it helps the body's internal clock to reset. Have a short nap if you must but try to stay awake until about 8pm before crashing.
  • Make sure that you have the equivalent of $200 in Euros before leaving the airport. Taxis don't take US$! You can either purchase Euros at home or on arrival at any major airport or train station.
  • If arriving at Rome's Fiumcino airport you can take the Leonardo Express train to Rome's Termini Station , every ½ hour from 6am - 11pm for €11
  • Book a hotel for the first night. Use an international consolidator such as Hotel Club who offer good deals. Or even consider a luxury hotel in Venice - city of lovers. Even on a low budget give yourself a nice hotel for the first night, 2 nights if arriving late, it allows you to ease into Europe.. Chill out - don't try to sight see and shop on your first day - relax wander around - try to get your head around Italy. The sights and smells and sounds of a new country can be overwhelming as well as amazing so give yourself some time and space.

Lunch in Italy is always appealing
Lunch in Italy is always appealing

When in Italy Travel Advice

  • Don't get hung up on not speaking Italian - after all you do - check out this menu board: how much do you already understand? Pointing, acting, making a fool of yourself - it all helps with your communication skills. Remember if you walk into a hotel, the clerk will probably be expecting you to ask for a room so a little sign language and getting the price written down shouldn't be hard. Spanish speakers will be surprised at how close the languages are and will have few problems.
  • While we are on the subject of menus check out the "menu of the day", a set menu, usually at lunch, usually a very good fixed price deal of soup, main and desert, featuring local specialities and a good price. If you can adapt consider making lunch your main meal of the day - it will always save you money. BTW set menus often include in the price a drink: wine, water or coke... it would be unusual in Italy to have a meal without a glass of wine.
  • The popularity of certain museums and art galleries has led to the introduction of booking systems. in most cases you can book online or by phone (be prepared for it to be difficult to get through) or through your hotel. Check here for details on museum bookings
  • Florence: Academia (Michelangelo's David) and the Uffizi Gallery (Renaissance paintings)
  • Milan: Michelangelo's Last Supper
  • If you are not familiar with the metric system of weights and measures then it may be worthwhile getting a feeling for how far 100 meters, 500 meters and 1 kilometer are and what 250g of chocolate or a liter of wine looks like. If you intend to drive be familiar with the speed limits in kilometers - your hire car will show kilometers on the speedometer.
  • Italians, like many Europeans use a comma where English speakers use a point in prices and numbers and vice versa. One thousand is written as 1.000, one half as 0,5. The beautiful Venetian mask below has a price tag of €37

Venetian Mask, used during Carnavle
Venetian Mask, used during Carnavle

Travel within Italy Tips

  • Train travel. If you decided to buy a Eurail pass, you must purchase it prior to arrival in Europe. However do your figures carefully, the Eurail pass available to those over 25 years (under 25's can buy the cheaper rail passes for 2nd class travel), is a first class pass only, unless you are covering a great deal of Europe in a short time you may well be better off buying point-to-point tickets as you go. Check the More Information box for links to sites with detailed train information.
  • Ferries connect Italy with France, Slovenia, Croatia Greece, Turkey, Tunisia and Malta. Within Italy ferries run to the islands of Sicily and and Sardinia.
  • Buses are often cheaper than the train and do go places where the train doesn't, but for the visitor with imperfect Italian, the trains are easier and more convenient.
  • Italy is a pretty safe country, the worst you may encounter is petty theft and pickpocketing. That said losing your cards and passport can ruin a holiday so do not carry valuables in a bag casually slung over one-shoulder, the favored target of thieves using motorbikes to grab the bag. You particularly vulnerable in large train stations, tourist sites, particularly in Rome and Naples. Keep valuables secured in your hotel or under your cloths. Carry bags and cameras across your body, small backpacks on your front not your back, as you will see the locals doing.

Summary

Italy has an overwhelming amount to offer the tourist. Booking a tour will mean all the planning and decision making will be done for you. However if you want to strike out independently then a few hours spent researching Italy and the great sights it has to offer will be paid back over and over with a much more rewarding independent trip. Buon viaggio!

About the Author

Thanks for reading - this is Lis from Lis's Travel Tips an eBook series that I decided to write after being less than impressed by travel tips available in "real" published books.

I have travel writing all over the web - but I decided to start publishing some of it in a different format - hence my new eBook available at Amazon (see below) and elsewhere. Check out my Vacation Packing Tips website

Vacation Packing Guide For Worldwide Travel (Non-Boring Travel Guides)
Vacation Packing Guide For Worldwide Travel (Non-Boring Travel Guides)
Traveling to Italy you need to travel light and smart - this book will show you how
 
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