Difference between revisions of "Italy"
Revision as of 10:25, 22 August 2010
Italy (Italian: Italia)  is a large country in Southern Europe. Together with Greece, it is acknowledged as the birthplace of Western culture. Not surprisingly, it is also home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. High art and monuments are to be found everywhere around the country. It is also famous worldwide for its delicious cuisine, its trendy fashions, luxury sports cars and motorcycles, diverse regional cultures and dialects, as well as for its many beautiful coasts, alpine lakes and mountains (the Alps and Apennines). No wonder it is often nicknamed the Bel paese (beautiful country).
Italy is largely a peninsula situated on the Mediterranean Sea, bordering France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia in the north. The country, which is boot-shaped, 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 official language spoken by the majority of the population, but as you travel throughout the country, you will find there are several distinct Italian dialects corresponding to the region you are in. Italy has a very diverse landscape, but can be primarily described as mountainous including the Alps and the Apennines mountain ranges that run through the vast majority of 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 around 60 million. The capital is Rome.
There have certainly been humans on the Italian peninsula for at least 200,000 years. Prior to the Romans, the Etruscan Civilization lasted from prehistory to the founding of Rome. The Etruscans flourished in the centre and north of what is now Italy, particularly in areas now represented by northern Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. Rome was dominated by the Etruscans until the Romans sacked the nearby Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BC. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Greek colonies were established in Sicily and the southern part of the Italy and the Etruscan culture rapidly became influenced by that of Greece. This is well illustrated at some excellent Etruscan museums; Etruscan burial sites are also well worth visiting.
Ancient Rome was at first a small village founded around the 8th century BC. In time, it grew into an empire covering the whole Mediterranean and as far north as Scotland. Its steady decline began in the 2nd century AD, and the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 AD: the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the East. The western part, under attack from the Goths, finally collapsed, leaving the Italian peninsula divided. After this, Rome passed into the so-called Dark Ages. The city itself was sacked by Saracens in 846.
In the 6th century AD, a Germanic tribe, the Lombards, arrived from the north; hence the present-day northern region of Lombardy. The balance of power between them and other invaders such as the Byzantines, Arabs, and Muslim Saracens, with the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy meant that it was not possible to unify Italy, although later arrivals such as the Carolingians and the Hohenstaufens managed to impose some control. In the south, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a result of unification of the Kingdom of Sicily with the Kingdom of Naples in 1442, had its capital in Naples. In the north, Italy was a collection of small independent city states and kingdoms and would remain so until the 19th century. People looked to strong men who could bring order to the cities and this is how dynasties such as the Medici in Florence developed. In turn, these families became patrons of the arts, allowing Italy to become the birthplace of the Renaissance, with the emergence of men of genius such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
From 1494 onwards, Italy suffered a series of invasions from the French and the Spanish. The north became dominated by the Austrians.
The Kingdom of Italy lasted from 1861 to 1946. Giuseppe Garibaldi led a drive for unification in southern Italy, while the north wanted to establish a united Italian state under its rule. The northern kingdom successfully challenged the Austrians and established Turin as capital of the newly formed state. In 1866, Victor Emmanuel II managed to annex Venice. In 1870, shortly after France abandoned it, Italy's capital was moved to Rome.
In October 1922, a small National Fascist Party led by Benito Mussolini attempted a coup with its "March on Rome", which resulted in the King forming an alliance with Mussolini. A pact with Germany was concluded by Mussolini in 1936, and a second in 1938. During the Second World War, Italy was invaded by the Allies in June 1943, leading to the collapse of the fascist regime and the arrest, flight, eventual re-capture and death of Mussolini. In September 1943, Italy surrendered. However, fighting continued on its territory for the rest of the war, with the allies fighting those Italian fascists who did not surrender, as well as German forces.
In 1946, King Umberto II, was forced to abdicate and Italy became a republic. In the 1950s, Italy became a member of NATO and allied itself with the United States. The Marshall Plan helped revive the Italian economy which, until the 1960s, enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth. In 1957, Italy became a founding member of the European Economic Community. In the 1950s and early-1960s, Italy experienced a period of rapid economic growth and industrial production, called "il boom", which saw the country's rise from a poor and weak nation, to a powerful one. During this period, also, cities such as Rome returned to being popular tourist destinations, expressed in both American and Italian films such as "Roman Holiday" or "La Dolce Vita".
However, despite a productive and successful period which lasted until the mid-early 1960s, from the late 60s till the late 1980s, the country experienced an economic crisis. There was a constant fear, both inside and outside Italy (particularly in the USA), that the Communist Party, which regularly polled over 20% of the vote, would one day form a government and all sorts of dirty tricks were concocted to prevent this. From 1992 to the present day, Italy has faced massive government debt and extensive corruption. Scandals have involved all major parties, but especially the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, which were both dissolved. The 1994 elections put media magnate Silvio Berlusconi into the Prime Minister's seat; He has twice been defeated, but he emerged triumphant again in the 2008 election.
Despite Unification having lasted for close to 150 years, there remain significant divisions in Italy. The northern part of the country is richer and more industrialized than the south and many northerners object to being effectively asked to subsidise southerners. The Northern League political party pushes for greater autonomy for the north and for reduced fund transfers to the south. On one thing the people of the north and the south can agree: none of them likes paying for the enormous bureaucracy that is based in 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 often with snow, 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.
There are hundreds of Italian cities, here are nine of its most famous:
Italy is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
Italy has a national airline, Alitalia , as well as several smaller carriers, such as Meridiana  or Air One . In January 2009 Air One and Alitalia merged, although for the time being at least they keep their separate identities. As a result of this merger, Germany's Lufthansa started an Italian subsidiary  that tries to become a main rival for Alitalia with a hub in Milan.
Italy is one of the main battle grounds for European low cost airlines several routes to/from and within Italy are offered. The larger airports are, of course, served by the major European airlines.
Intercontinental airlines mainly arrive in Milan and Rome. Although a major tourist destination, Rome is relatively poorly serviced by long-distance flights compared to London, Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid or even Milan.
Most of mid-range international flights arrive to the following Italian cities:
Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. All borders are open (without passport/customs checks), but cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks. Switzerland is now part of the Schengen zone, and ended systematic identity checks for travellers on land borders from December 2008.
With Eurolines . There are regular buses between Ljubljana, Slovenian coastal towns and Istria (Croatia) and Trieste (Italy). These services are cheap and from Trieste onward connections with the rest of Italy are plentiful. There are also a bus that goes from Malmö, Sweden via Denmark, Germany and Switzerland and then goes through the country and then back to Sweden.
See also Ferries in the Mediterranean
There is a year-round service between Trieste and Albania and summer services between Trieste and Piran (Slovenia) and Porec and Rovinj in Croatian Istria. The service between Trieste and Rovinj takes less than 2 hours which is quicker than the bus service.
The Italian rail system has different train types: TBiz, EurostarItalia, Eurostar Italia AV (for Alta velocita or high speed with the ESAV logo), Eurostar City Italia, IntercityPlus, Intercity, Espresso, Interregionale and Regionale which is often also used for suburban trains, Eurostar Italia and TBiz being the classiest. Generally speaking, for a given distance each tier costs from 40% to 100% more than 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 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 stop 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 22.00 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. See also below at Trenitalia Ticketless. 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). 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 .
Trenitalia's Ticketless option is only available for single direct trips when booked online. You can book a combined trip comprising more than one train, but then the only option is Self Service, meaning you must pick up the printed ticket from a machine.
A workaround is to book each train segment separately and choose the Ticketless option for each - the total cost is the same.
The Self Service option requires you do perform steps:
Step 3 is not required for legally getting on the train, but without a receipt you will not be able to claim expenses from your employer or from any tax authority.
Keep in mind that sometimes: the machines are out of order; the queue at the counter is very long and slow moving.
Italy has a well-developed system of highways in the northern side of the country while in the south it's a bit worse for quality and extent. 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) that you can buy at tobacconist, Autogrill, or gas stations.
Many Italians use 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,(although lot less than in the past) be aware that there are a number of automatic and almost invisible systems to punish speeding and hazardous driving, also Italian Highway Patrol (Polizia Stradale) has several unmarked cars equipped with speed radars and camera systems. If you don't know the road very well you should probably keep to a reasonable speed.
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:
Italian laws allow a 5% (minumum 5 km/h) tolerance on local speed limit. Fines are generally very expensive.
All vehicles must use headlights on main roads (those beginning with SS) and on all autostrade. Motorbikes must drive with headlights on, on all roads.
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 drunk driving is still rather common.
After several deadly accidents involving drunk drivers the checks are becoming more and more frequent and as of January 2009 the Government was planning to reduce the limit to 0.20g/L or even to 0.0g/L.
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: highway (Autostrade) directions are written on a green background while the white stands for local roads and blue for other roads).
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 oblige 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 €1.25 per liter for fuel.
Many tourists report  that they got fined (about €100) for entering a ZTL  (zona a traffico limitato; Limited Traffic Zone) unknowingly. ZTLs  are restricted areas in many Italian cities where vehicles are not permitted except for limited reasons between certain hours. The entrance to a ZTL is marked by signs and cameras, which go easily unnoticed by tourists driving a car. They are traps for tourists renting a car that end up receiving one or more tickets up to a year later and finding out that the fine was doubled just because of the paper work needed to send the papers abroad. Also the renting companies may charge from 15 to 50 euros to give the driver details to the police. So beware a fine might add up to 200 euros easily.
Be aware that if traveling between Trieste and Slovenia that a 'vignette' pass is required to drive on Slovenia's highways and costs 15 € for a one week pass.
Buy town bus tickets from corner stores and other shops before boarding. 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, if a fraud is suspected) you can be asked to present to the Police for a formal report. Usually ticket inspectors aren't very sympathetic, especially in northern Italy. In almost every city there's a different pricing scheme, so check in advance ticket formulas and availability.
For tourists it 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 and visit a number of museums and giving you discounts in shops, hotels and restaurants.
Check for both these possibilities at local Tourist Offices or on the 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.
Please also see: Italian phrasebook
Not surprisingly, Italian is the language spoken natively by most Italians.
You'll want a good phrasebook if you're going anywhere remote, although this may be less help in the smaller towns and villages, as many areas still speak local languages that you won't find in any phrasebooks. Most younger Italians can speak Italian even in small towns and remote areas, however, and in most parts of the country (including Rome for example), Italian is in fact the native language of the majority. Unlike in France (especially in Paris), Italians will be happy to hear you trying to speak Italian (or even better, the majority language in rural areas where it's not Italian), and will try to understand you even if you are making many mistakes. If you want your errors to be corrected to help you better learn the language, don't forget to ask before starting a conversation. Italians will rarely correct you otherwise as they consider it very impolite. They also appreciate your efforts to speak their language and won't make too much fuss about your mistakes.
English is widely spoken on the well-travelled path, especially in touristic areas where it is widely spoken by sellers and tourist operators. In the cities you can often speak English with younger people, aged between 14 and 35: almost everyone has had to take English in school since the 1980s. At least the most basic phrases usually stick, and normally there's at least one person in a group with a decent command of English. On the other hand, senior citizens rarely know English, but they'll try to help you anyway with gestures or similar words. If you are going to speak in English it is polite to ask, whether the person you speaks English before starting a conversation. Speaking English (and, more than English, speaking French) while taking for granted it will be understood can be considered very arrogant and impolite.
In far northern Italy, German, Austro-Bavarian (in Trentino-Alto Adige) and Swiss German (in Lombardy) are more widely understood than you might think, the latter two even being the native language to a considerable population in their respective regions, and in fact German is an official language of Trentino-Alto Adige with the significant majority being Austro-Bavarian-speakers (outside Bolzano, the region's capital), since the region was historically part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I.
The Romance languages, Spanish, French and Portuguese, are not widely spoken but as they are similar to Italian Italians will recognize many words thus making yourself understood. There is a small French-speaking minority in the Valle d'Aosta region.
In the northern part of Italy there are small pockets of other Romance languages like Ladin, a Rhaeto-Romance language related to Switzerland's Romansh. Friulano, another Rhaeto-Romance language, is still spoken by a small minority in the border province near Slovenia. There are several small pockets of Greek-speaking communities in the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia and there are an estimated 100,000 Albanian speakers in Puglia, Calabria and Sicily—some of which have migrated in Middle Ages and thus speak rather medieval Arberesh language. Italian and Slovene are official languages in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Slovene is commonly spoken in areas surrounding Trieste with many of the small villages being entirely Slovene-speaking.
There is so much to see in Italy that it is difficult to know where to begin. Virtually every small city has an interesting church or two, plus a couple of other things to see.
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.
One of the great things about Italy is that its long thin shape means that when you get fed up with sightseeing you are but a relatively short distance from a beach. But when you get there you might be rather confused, especially if you come from a country where beach access is free to all.
In theory that is the case in Italy but as with a lot of things in this country the practice may be somewhat different to the law. Many stretches of beach, particularly those close to urban areas, are let out to private concessions. In the season they cover almost all the beach with rows and rows of sunbeds (lettini) and umbrellas (ombrelloni). In theory you should be able to pass through these establishments to get to the sea, and should be able to walk along the sea in front of them, but you may be prevented from doing so. In places like Capri or the Amalfi coast you might be charged up to 10 euros even just to step on the beach or to swim in some caves! More affordable are the beaches in Calabria, most are free, you will only need to pay for the eventual equipment you want to rent.
While renting lettini for the day is not particularly expensive the establishments can fill up very quickly. There are some free beaches everywhere and these may be your best bet. They are easily identifiable by the absence of regimented rows of lettini. They can get very crowded: on a Saturday or Sunday in the summer you won’t find an empty stretch of beach anywhere. Close to urban areas you will never be far from a fish restaurant on the beach or, at the very least, a bar. On the beach, topless women are more or less accepted everywhere but nudity is limited to certain beaches. These are unlikely to be announced as such, so you will have to be guided by what others are doing.
Visit the vineyards
Italy is famous for its wine. And its vineyards tend to be in the middle of some beautiful scenery. Taking an organized tour is probably your best bet. Day trips can usually be organized through your hotel if you are staying in a major wine area such as Chianti or through the local tourism office. There are several companies offering longer tours that include meals and accommodation. A simple web search for “Italian vineyard tours” or “wine tour Italy” will find them. Note that these longer tours tend to emphasise good food, great wine and a high standard of accommodation and are thus expensive. If you rent a car and want to organize your own trips, a helpful website is that of the Movimento Turismo del Vino.  The Italian page has a link to itinerari which is not available in English. Even if you don’t read Italian you can still find addresses and opening hours of some interesting wine producers. Note that “su prenotazione” means By Appointment Only.
Several companies offer cycling tours of the Italian countryside. They provide cycles, a guide, and transportation for your suitcase, and for you if it all gets a bit too tiring. Tours vary to accommodate different interests. Normally you change city and hotel every day. If you like cycling this is an excellent way of seeing Italy off-the-beaten-track. Search Google, etc. for "Cycle Tours Italy" for companies.
Sailing is one of the best ways to see the Italian islands such as Sardinia and Sicily. Most charter companies offer many options from bareboat to crewed and cabin charter, with all types of the boats.
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 at least €150-200 a day. Hiring a car may double expenses, so one should visit with sufficient funds.
All the bills include the service charges, so tipping is not necessary, although it is widely customary in restaurants and in hotels. Round up the bill to the nearest Euro 5 or limit the tip to 5% and everyone will be happy. Tipping taxi drivers is not necessary, but a hotel porter may expect a little something. And unless otherwise stated, prices are inclusive of IVA sales tax (same as VAT), which is 20% for most goods, and 10% in restaurants and hotels. On some products, 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.
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 and restaurants.
Remember that in Italy (even during the winter months) it remains very common for shops, offices and banks to close for up to 3 hours during the afternoon (often between 12.30 and 15.30). Banks, especially, have short hours with most only being open for about 5 hours a day.
What to buy
Italy is a great place for all forms of shopping. Most cities, villages and towns, are crammed to the brim with many different forms of shops, from glitzy boutiques and huge shopping malls, to tiny art galleries, small food stores, antique dealers and general newsagents.
How to buy
In a small-medium sized shop, it's standard to greet the staff as you enter, not when you approach the counter to pay. A friendly 'Buongiorno' or 'Buonasera' warms the atmosphere. When paying, the staff usually expect you to put coins down on the surface or dish provided, rather than placing money directly into their hands (old money-handling etiquette to avoid messy coin droppings), and they will do the same when giving you your change (il resto). The advent of the euro has caused problems for the Italians. Most lira transactions were in banknotes, and people are still adjusting to the fact that coins are now of significant denominations and in general use. Don't be surprised to find the whole issue of change rather perplexing for cashiers, who may try to insist you give them complex combinations of coins and notes rather than simply changing your notes.
Italian food inside of Italy is different than Italian in America or western Europe. It is truly one of the most diverse in the world, and in any region, or even city and village you go, there are different specialities. For instance, Northern Italian cuisine is based on hearty, potato and rice-rich meals, Central Italian cuisine is mainly on pastas, roasts and meat, and Southern Italian cuisine on vegetables, pizza, pasta and seafood. However, Italian cuisine, contrary to popular belief, is not just based on pasta and tomato sauce - that's only a snippet of the nation's food, as, in some parts of Northern Italy, pasta isn't even used at all, and rice, potatoes, lentils, soups and similar meals are very common in some parts of the country. 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 be 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 with rarely, if ever, lettuce. Visitors often dislike the ubiquitous mayonnaise that Italians use for sandwiches. 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 is usually available with a myriad of sauces rather than simply tomato and alfredo. Also, Italian pasta is often served with much less sauce than in America. This is, in part, because pasta in a restaurant is usually regarded as the first course of a three- or four-course meal, not a meal in itself.
Structure of a traditional meal: Usually Italian meals for working days are: small breakfast, one-dish lunch, one-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, especially around 10:00 and at the end of a meal. At the weekends and in restaurants (for other occasions), they typically consist of: antipasto (marinated vegetables, seafood, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat course) often with a side-dish known as contorno, and dolce (dessert).
Like the language and culture, food in Italy differs 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: This 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. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink; ordering one after lunch or dinner is considered highly strange and considered a typical "tourist thing". A small espresso coffee is considered much more appropriate for digestion.
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 Italians have one hour reserved for eating and another for napping. All shops close down and resume after the two hour break period. To compensate businesses stay open later. Good luck trying to find a place open during the so-called "pausa pranzo" (lunch break). This may not apply to the city center of the biggest cities or to shopping centers.
Dinner (i.e. the evening meal) is generally taken late. In the summer, if you are in a restaurant before 8pm you are likely to be eating on your own, and it is quite normal to see families with young children still dining after 10pm. This is partly from a practical consideration: when eating outdoors before nightfall there are more problems with insect interference.
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 magicians. 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, such as that Italian food is only pizza and spaghetti. They also have a distaste for "bastardized" versions 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's most famous dishes like pizza or spaghetti belong to southern regions, and eating in different areas can be an interesting opportunity to taste some less well known local specialty. Even for something as simple as pizza there are significant regional variations. That of Naples has a thick crust while that of Rome is thin.
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 17:00) 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 it 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:
Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In most cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. Look for a sign Pizza a taglio. When ordering, simply point to the display or tell the attendant the type of pizza you would like (e.g. pizza margherita, pizza con patate (french fries), pizza al prosciutto (ham), etc.) and how much ("Vorrei (due fette - two slices) or (due etti - two-tenths of a kilogram) per favore"). They will slice it, warm it in the oven, fold it in half, and wrap it in paper. Other food shops also sell pizza by the slice. Italians consider this a sort of second class pizza, chosen only when you cannot eat a "real" pizza in a specialized restaurant (Pizzeria). 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 in many parts of the country pizzas have a thinner base of bread and less cheese than those found outside Italy. The most authentic, original pizzas is found in Naples - often containing quite a few ingredients.
The traditional, round pizza is found in many restaurants and specialized pizza restaurants (pizzerie). It is rare to find a restaurant that serves pizza at lunchtime, however.
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, which are always open on Saturdays and usually during other days, except Sunday, as well. You will find all types of cheese and meat on display.
Restaurants and bars
Italian bars in the center of major cities charge more (typically double) if you drink and eat seated at a table rather than standing at the bar or taking your order to go. The further away you are from the main streets the less this rule is applied. When calling into a bar for a coffee or other drink you first go to the cash register and pay for what you want. You then give the receipt to the barman, together with a token tip (5 or 10 cents for a coffee or two).
Restaurants always used to charge a small coperto (cover charge). Some years ago attempts were made to outlaw the practice, with limited success. The rule now seems to be that if you have bread a coperto can be charged but if you specifically say that you don't want bread then no coperto can be levied.
Some restaurants now levy a service charge, but this is far from common. In others a large tip is not expected. The customary 15% of the United States may cause an Italian waiter to drop dead with a heart attack. Round up to the nearest Euro 5 where the check is less than Euros 100 or limit the tip to 5% and everyone will be happy.
The traditional meal can include (in order) antipasto (starter of cold seafood, gratinated vegetables or ham and salami), primo (first dish - pasta or rice dishes), secondo (second dish - meat or fish dishes), served together with contorno (mostly vegetables), cheeses/fruit, dessert, coffee, and spirits. Upmarket restaurants usually refuse to make changes to proposed dishes (exceptions warmly granted for babies or people on special diets). Mid-range restaurants are usually more accommodating. For example, a simple pasta with tomato sauce may not be on the menu but a restaurant will nearly always be willing to cook one for kids who turn their noses up at everything else on the menu.
If you are in a large group (say four or more) then it is appreciated if you don't all order a totally different pasta. While the sauces are pre-cooked the pasta is cooked fresh and it is difficult for the restaurant if one person wants spaghetti, another fettuccine, a third rigatoni, a fourth penne and a fifth farfalle (butterfly shaped pasta). If you attempt such an order you will invariably be told that you will have a long wait!
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 or pizza and your friend has a steak you will get your pasta dish, and probably when you've finished eating the steak will arrive. If you want primo and secondo dishes to be brought at the same time you have to ask.
Restaurants which propose diet food, very few, usually write it clearly in menus and even outside; others usually don't have any dietetic resources.
A Gastronomia is a kind of self-service restaurant (normally you tell the staff what you want rather than serving yourself) that also offers take-aways. This can give a good opportunity to sample traditional Italian dishes at fairly low cost. Note that these are not buffet restaurants. You pay according to what you order.
Bars, like restaurants, are non-smoking.
Italians enjoy going out during the evenings, so it's common to have a drink in a bar before 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 a 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 peninsular parts of Italy can be cloudy with a slight off taste. Most Italians prefer bottled water, which is served in restaurants. Make sure you let the waiter/waitress know you want regular water (acqua rubinetto) or else you could get water with either natural gas or with added carbonation (frizzante).
Rome, in particular, has exceptional pride in the quality of its water. This goes right back to the building of aqueducts channeling pure mountain water to all the citizens of Rome during Roman times. Don't waste plastic bottles. 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 exported all over the world, and names like Barolo, Brunello and Chianti are known everywhere. In Italy wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure either 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.
Unlike in the UK, for example, the price mark-ups charged by restaurants for wines on their wine list are not usually excessive, giving you a chance to experiment. In the big cities, there are also many wine bars, where you can taste different wines by the glass, at the same time as eating some delicious snacks. Unlike in many other countries it is unusual for restaurants to serve wine by the glass.
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 could even be the restaurant's own product. It tends to be a safe choice in decent restaurants in cities as well. Vino della casa may come bottled but in lower-priced restaurants it is still just as likely to be available in a carafe of one quarter, one half or one litre. As a general rule, if the restaurant seems honest and not too geared for tourists, the house wine is usually not too bad. That said, some house wines can be dreadful and give you a nasty head the next morning. If it doesn't taste too good it probably won't do you much good, so send it back and order from the wine list.
Italians are justly proud of their wines and foreign wines are rarely served, but many foreign grapes like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are increasingly being used.
Although wine is a traditional everyday product, beer is drunk as well, particularly when going out for a pizza with friends. In the last two decades there has also been an explosion of Irish Pubs in the big cities.
Beer does not belong to the Italian tradition in the way that wine does: even if pubs serving beer are common they usually, but not always, offer little choice. However, if you are looking for good beers you won't have a major problem, you will just have to look around a little bit more.
Major Italian beers include Peroni and Moretti and these are usually the ones offered by cafes. If you are serious about beer drinking, there are some, but not many, bars that specialise in serving a wide range of bottled beers (see city articles for more details), as well as the Irish pubs and similar. There is an increasing number of 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 .
In the Trieste region it is fare more common to drink Slovenian beers and the most popular brands are 'Union' and 'Zlatorag'. Surprisingly it is often cheaper to buy Slovenian beer in Italy (Trieste) than in Slovenia itself.
Limoncello and grappa and other similar drinks are usually served after a meal as an aid to digestion. If you are a good customer restaurants will offer a drink to you free of charge, and may even leave the bottle on your table for you to help yourself. Beware that these are very strong drinks.
Bars in Italy offer an enormous number of possible permutations for a way of having a cup of coffee. What you won’t get, however, is 100 different types of bean; nor will you find “gourmet” coffees. If you like that kind of stuff, better take your own. A bar will make coffee from a commercial blend of beans supplied by just one roaster. There are many companies who supply roast beans and the brand used is usually prominently displayed both inside and outside of the bar.
You can take you coffee as follows:
So far so good. But here the permutations begin. For the same price as a normal coffee, you can ask for a dash of milk to be added to any of the above. This is called macchiato. Hence, caffè lungo macchiato or caffè americano macchiato. But that dash of milk can be either hot (caldo) or cold (freddo). So you can ask, without the barman batting an eye, for a caffè lungo macchiato freddo or a caffè Americano macchiato caldo. Any one of these options can also be had decaffeinated. Ask for caffè decaffeinato. The most popular brand is HAG and it is quite usual to ask for caffè HAG even if the bar does not use that particular brand.
If you are really in need of a pick-me-up you can ask for a double dose of coffee, or a doppio. You have to specify this when you pay at the cash register and it costs twice as much as a normal coffee. All the above permutations still apply, although a caffè doppio ristretto may be a bit strange.
Additionally, if you need a shot of alcohol, you can ask for a caffè corretto. This usually involves adding grappa, brandy or sambuca; "corrected" being the Italian expression corresponding to "spiked". Normally it is only a plain coffee that is corrected but there is no reason why you should not correct any of the above combinations.
Then there are coffee drinks with milk, as follows:
Finally, in the summer you can have caffè freddo, which is basically plain coffee with ice, "caffè freddo shakerato" (shaked ice coffee) or cappuccino freddo, which is a cold milky coffee without the froth.
This list is by no means exhaustive. With a vivid imagination and a desire to experiment you should be able to find many more permutations. Enjoy!
In major cities and touristic areas you can find a good variety of accommodations, from world-class brand hotels to family-managed bed & breakfasts and room rentals, but hostels are really few. Camping is a good way to save money and camping sites are usually well managed, but especially during summer, managers tend not to accept last-minute groups of young people (given the high chance of problems that such groups of Italian guys tend to cause), so you'd better book in advance. Farmstays are an increasingly popular way to experience Italy, particularly in rural areas of Tuscany, Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo, Sardinia and Apulia. They provide a great combination of good and healthy food, wonderful sights and not-so-expensive prices. If you prefer self-catering accommodations, it's quite simple to find them on the wonderful Amalfi Coast or the less commercial and more genuine Calabria coast.
Hotel star ratings can only be taken as a broad indication of what you will get for your money. There are many marvellous 2-star hotels that you will want to return to every year and many 5-star hotels that you will never want to set foot in again. The star rating, as in all countries, is based on a bureaucratic assessment of the facilities provided and does not necessarily relate to comfort. Often the only difference between a 3-star and 4-star hotel is that the latter offers all meals while the former only offers breakfast.
If you're using American appliances that were designed for standard US household 110V, 60Hz current, make sure you get a voltage adaptor, not just a plug adaptor. The higher voltage will damage or destroy your appliance, and could injure or kill you as well.
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. 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.
Work in Italy is not easy to find. The unemployment rate is high compared to other major European countries. Many young adults, especially females, are without a job. Starting salaries in shops, offices, etc range from EURO 800 to EURO 1,400 a month. There's a huge underground black market though, where you'll find many people working. This doesn't mean working in some kind of obscure crime syndicate: most "black" workers can be found in small business such as bars, pubs and small shops, or as construction workers. Although this kind of job is illegal (but legal consequences are most on the employer) they're probably the easier thing to find if you're looking for a temporary job.
If you're thinking about establishing a small business be sure to get in contact with local Chamber of Commerce and an accountant and they will help you to sort out the mess of Italian laws.
For emergencies, call 113 (Polizia di Stato - State Police), 112 (Carabinieri - Gendarmerie), 117 (Guardia di Finanza - Financial police force), 115 (Fire Department), 118 (Medical Rescue), 1515 (State Forestry Department), 1530 (Coast Guard), 1528 (Traffic reports).
Italy is a safe country to travel in like most developed countries. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence by the Italian Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.
Petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors. The rate of violent crimes in Italy is considered "moderate" and while some violent crimes are committed against travelers, this is normally not a problem. Instances of rape and robbery are increasing slightly. You should exercise the usual caution when going out at night alone, although it remains reasonably safe even for single women to walk alone at night.
You should be sure to ask for prices before making transactions with most vendors. Taking pictures with jovial, high-spirited costumed mascots will be followed up with a demand for payment. Some other examples are when an ice cream is purchased from a mobile seller or if you have a shoe shine. Prices should be agreed beforehand, since there are reports of extreme price gouging.
Beware of being tricked on prices even in restaurants, bars and hotels. If they see you are a tourist, it's somewhat common to give you a higher bill than you're supposed to pay, and you must complain to get the right price or even getting your change back!
After leaving a restaurant, you might occasionally be asked to show your bill and your documents by Guardia di Finanza agents (police specialized in tax matters, sometimes in uniform, sometimes in civilian clothes). However, while they have the authority to ask for a receipt this happens very rarely. Always ask for their badge and if you are uncertain, immediately try to call #113 (similar to America's 911 - English spoken) and ask for policemen in uniform to help you, as it could be a trick to pickpocket you. This type of tax agent activity is completely legitimate (they want to know if the owner has recorded your payment and therefore paid tax) but pickpocketers find it a good excuse to approach their victims. Call 113 or enter the first shop or other public place to escape.
There are many bars in Italy that cater to tourists and foreigners with "home country" themes, calling themselves such things as "American bars" or "Irish pubs". In addition to travelers, these bars attract a large number of Italians who, among other reasons, go there specifically to meet travelers and other foreigners. While the motivation for the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there can be one or two petty criminals who loiter in and out of these establishments hoping to take advantage of travelers who are disoriented or drunk. Traveling to these places in groups is a simple solution to this problem. Alternatively, if you are alone, avoid getting drunk!
There are so-called collectors of the 'signs against drugs' which operate in some Italian cities. You can recognize them by a table(usually green) standing on the pavement. They approach you(possibly offering you a pen) saying they want you to sign some kind of petition against drugs ('un segno contro droga'). When you sign, you quickly see they also want money since you have to state how much money will you donate. Once you've signed the 'petition', it is much harder to refuse pressures to donate at least some ten euros.
When entering with a car into a city, avoid restricted areas (ZTL ) or you could be fined about €100.
As in other countries, there are gangs known for tampering with ATMs by placing "skimmers" in front of the card slot and get a clone of your card. Check carefully the machine and, if unsure, use a different one.
Prostitution in Italy is not illegal though authorities are taking a firmer stance against it than before. Brothels are illegal and pimping is a serious offense, considered by the law similar to slavery. In some areas, it is an offence even to stop your car in front of a prostitute although the rows of prostitutes at the side of many roads, particularly in the suburbs, suggest that the law is not enforced. Due to the ambivalent situation regarding prostitution, a lot of prostitutes fall victim to human trafficking.
Italian hospitals are public and offer completely free high-standard treatments for EU travellers, although, as anywhere, you may have a long wait to be served. Emergency assistance is granted even to non-EU travelers. For non-emergency assistance, non-EU citizens are required to pay out-of-pocket, there is no convention with health insurances (although some insurance companies might later reimburse these expenses).
Water in southern Italy might come from desalination and sometimes may have a strange taste. If in doubt use bottled water. Elsewhere tap water is perfectly drinkable but public fountain water is better. Some cities use in fountains "industrial" water, which is not tested for safety; in these cases, a "NON POTABILE" warning is posted.
Italy has a reputation for being warm and welcoming and Italians are uncommonly friendly and laid back, as well as very used to interacting with foreigners. If you are polite and civil you should have no problems, but don't expect that the average Italian speaks or even understands English (except for young people).
Meet and greet
Italians greet friends with two light kisses on the cheek. To avoid ending up kissing on the lips note that you first move to the right (i.e. kiss the other person on their left cheek) and then to the left. Even if you're merely acquaintances, this form of greeting is usual, both on arrival and departure. When groups are splitting up, expect big delays as everyone kisses everyone else. On first introduction a handshake is usual, although not necessarily the firm businesslike shake other nationalities may be used to. In general, when joining or leaving a group, you will shake hands individually with (or kiss, depending on the level of familiarity) each member of the group. In the South, it is considered bad luck for four people to shake hands (two and two) at the same time, forming a cross. You will see Italians, especially older ones, pull back from a handshake and wait to shake your hand until the other handshake is finished, to avoid this.
If your cultural reserve makes you feel uncomfortable with this, don't worry too much. The British in particular have a reputation for being reserved, so you can always play up to this expectation, and Italians will understand you don't mean to be rude. Handshakes are also accepted greetings, and some Italians will kiss compatriots and offer their hand to the awkward Brit.
To make friends, it's a good idea to pay some compliments. Most Italians still live in their town of origin and feel far more strongly about their local area than they do about Italy in general. Tell them how beautiful their town/lake/village/church is - and possibly add how much you prefer it to Rome/Milan/other Italian towns. Residents can be fonts of knowledge regarding their local monuments and history, and a few questions will often produce interesting stories.
Whole essays can be written about the Italians' relationships with clothes. Three of the most important observations:
Advice for women
Sexual harassment is not regarded in the same way in Italy as in English-speaking countries. The general atmosphere is pretty unreconstructed, and women should be prepared for attention. However, the tone of this 'attention' is generally less aggressive than you may be used to. Men will call out compliments such as 'bella' (beautiful) or, if you are lucky, 'bellissima' (incredibly beautiful) instead of muttering crude suggestions. And, culturally, these comments are not seen as insults; if you respond angrily everyone will be very surprised. Whereas women of other nationalities may be used to telling strangers (in no uncertain terms) to shut up and go away, in Italy the norm is to ignore the attention. In any case, responding in English or in imperfect Italian will only encourage more attention. It's best to do as the Italian women do, and sail past with your head held high. If you avoid eye contact and don't respond, you are extremely unlikely to be pursued or hassled further.
Italians are usually not strong nationalists. It should be easy to talk to people about history and politics without provoking arguments. People will listen to your opinion in a polite way as long as you express yourself politely. Fascism is out of the mainstream of Italian politics, and forbidden by the law. Despite this, avoid such topic. Some older people who lived under Benito Mussolini (the Fascist dictator who was killed by the Resistance) could easily get upset if you should say something against him. There are also some young people who support fascist views and usually such people are not "cultural" and they do not like to talk about it, so simply avoid the topic. On Aprile, 25th, in Italy is the "Liberation Day", national celebration of the freedom from Nazi-Fascism rule. It can be a good way to see how italians celebrate this and joining the culture and the spirit of this country and its people.
North and South
You will notice the difference in the mindset of the people if you spend time both in the South and in the North of the country. The North, above all in big towns like Milan, is very connected to the Central Europe mentality. People can appear colder and they could appear obsessed with their jobs. The South is more connected to the Mediterranean area. People are in general more friendly but at the same time more hot-tempered, and with less of a European attitude.
It is useful to note that Lunch, Dinner and Closing-Time for shops in the South are very different from the North. In the South families may not eat dinner until after 22.00, in part because the breadwinner works until then.
LGBT rights in Italy
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Italy may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in Italy, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples.
Italian opinions have changed and people are now more supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights, but tend to be more repressive than other European nations. Tolerance of others is part of the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, which, at the same time, preaches against homosexuality. Nevertheless, there is a significant liberal tradition, particularly in the North. Conservative Italian politicians such as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have expressed opposition to increasing gay rights. A Eurobarometer survey published on December 2006 showed that 31% of Italians surveyed support same-sex marriage and 24% recognise same-sex couple's right to adopt (EU-wide average 44% and 33%). A recent 2007 poll found 45% support, 47% opposition and 8% unsure on the question of support for a civil partnership law for gays.
By law all public-access internet points must keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer's ID: expect to be refused access if you don't provide identification. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record IDs if the connection is provided in the guest's room, although if the connection is offered in the main public hall then IDs are required.
Publicly available wireless access is forbidden unless the provider has a special government license. This has caused only major phone companies to be able to afford that, so wireless access is generally expensive.
Both the fixed and mobile phone systems are available throughout Italy. Telephone numbers of the fixed system used to have separate prefixes (area codes) and a local number. In the 1990s the numbers were unified and nowadays, when calling Italian phones you should always dial the full number. For example you start numbers for Rome with 06 even if you are calling from Rome. All land line numbers start with 0. Mobile numbers start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services. If you don't know somebody's phone number you can dial a variety of recently-established phone services, the most used being 1240, 892424, 892892, but most of them have high fees.
To call abroad from Italy you have to dial
To call Italy from abroad you have to dial
Always carry with you a note about the address and the number of your embassy.
If you are in an emergency and do not know who to call dial 112 or 113 (out of major towns, better to call 113 for English-speaking operators).
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations and airports. However, the number of payphones has consistently been reduced after the introduction of mobile phones. Some payphones work with coins only, some with phone cards only and some with both coins and phone cards. Only a limited number of phones (just a few in main airports) directly accept credit cards.
Italians use mobile phones extensively, some might say excessively. The main networks are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia, formerly state controlled), Vodafone, Wind, and 3 (only UMTS cellphones). Note that cellphones from North America will not work in Italy unless they are Tri-band. Nearly all of the country has GSM coverage, and as of 2007 most of it had UMTS coverage. Inside buildings you will find signal strength reduces significantly, first UMTS being lost and then GSM. If you arrive from abroad and intend making a lot of calls, buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card (termed prepagato for "prepaid" and ricaricabile for "rechargeable") and put it in your current mobile (if compatible and if your mobile set is not locked). You need to provide a valid form of identification, such as a passport or other official identity, to be able to purchase the SIM card. Unless you already have one, you will also be required to obtain a Codice Fiscale (a tax number) - the vendor may generate one for you from your form of identification. Subscription-based mobile telephony accounts are subject to a government tax, to which prepaid SIM cards are not subject. Sometimes hotels have mobile phones for customer to borrow or rent.
Call costs vary greatly depending on when, where, from and where to. Each provider offers an array of complex tariffs and it is near impossible to make reliable cost estimates. The cost of calls differs considerably if you call a fixed-line phone or a mobile phone. Usually there is a difference in cost even for incoming calls from abroad. If you can choose, calling the other party's land line could be even 40% cheaper than mobile. Many companies are shifting their customer service numbers to fixed-rate number (prefix 199). These numbers are at the local rate, no matter where are you calling from.
According to national regulations, hotels cannot apply a surcharge on calls made from the hotel (as the switchboard service should be already included as a service paid in the room cost), but to be sure check it before you use.
Calls between landlines are charged at either the local rate or the national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not free.