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Quick Facts
Currencyeuro (EUR)
Areatotal: 301,230 sq km
note: includes Sardinia and Sicily
water: 7,210 sq km
land: 294,020 sq km
Population57,715,625 (July 2002 est.)
LanguageItalian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d'Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area)
Religionpredominately Roman Catholic with mature Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim immigrant community
Calling Code39
Time ZoneUTC +1

Italy is large country in Southern Europe, probably one of the most popular tourist destination in Europe after France and Spain.





  • Rome - (Roma): the capital, both of Italy and of the ancient Roman empire; centre of the Roman Catholic Church (the Vatican)
  • Bari - the "Milan of the South," gate to the East
  • Bologna - (Bologna): A major trade fair city.
  • Florence - (Firenze): History, art, architecture. Uffizi's gallery, David of Michelangelo Buonarroti
  • Genoa - a vibrant and historical port city, birth place of Columbus
  • Milan - (Milano) - shares with Paris the title of fashion capital of the world
  • Naples - (Napoli) (including Herculaneum and Pompeii)
  • Padua (Padova)
  • Palermo - capital of Sicily
  • Pisa - location of the famous Leaning Tower
  • Rimini
  • Siena - a mediaeval town in southern Tuscany
  • Trento
  • Turin - (Torino): The first capital of modern Italy. Host of the 2006 Winter Olympics
  • Venice - (Venezia): History, art. Saint Mark's Piazza. The city is built on a lagoon, filled with canals, with no roads for cars. Very poetic and romantic
  • Verona - a restored Roman coliseum is the stage for modern opera productions
  • Vinci - home of the great Leonardo Da Vinci where there is a museum dedicated in his honor

Other destinations

  • Capri - the famed island in the Bay of Naples
  • Cinque Terre - five tiny, scenic, towns strung along the steep vineyard-laced coast of Liguria
  • Vatican City - the independent city-state and seat of the Pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church


Get in

By plane

Italy has its own national airline, Alitalia [1], as well as several smaller carriers, such as Meridiana [2]

Major Airports are located in the following Italian cities:

There are 406 budget routes flown from and within Italy by low cost airlines. A good comprehensive resource for no frills flights is the website Lowcostitaly [3]

By train

By boat

Get around

By train

The Italian rail system has three levels: Eurostar, Intercity, and Regular (Linee Urbane), Eurostar being the classiest. Generally speaking, for a given distance each tier costs twice as much as the one below it. The train cars used by the Eurostar service are far newer than those used by the other two, but are not necessarily more comfortable. In fact, the cars used by Intercity trains are split up into distinct, six-seater compartments, which is really nice when you're travelling in groups.

The main practical difference between tiers is reliability. Intercity trains are generally very reliable, but if you need to catch a flight, for example, it might be better to pay extra for the Eurostar. The Linee Urbane are less reliable. The other big difference between Eurostar and the other two tiers is that Eurostar seating is all by reservation, while seating on the others is not. On the Eurostar, every passenger is assigned a seat. This means that the train will never be packed with an impossible number of people, but it also means you will need to purchase tickets in advance. During commuter hours, on major north-south routes during the holidays, or before and after large political demonstrations, trains on the two lower tiers can become very, very full, to the point where it gets very uncomfortable.

The pricier tier is usually faster, but there isn't a consistent speed difference between tiers. On some routes, the Eurostar will cut the travel time in half, but on others routes all three trains go the same speed, and taking the Eurostar is simply a waste of money. Just check the FS website or the printed schedule, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to see how long the trip will take.

On the train schedules, the Eurostar is listed in blue, Intercity in red, and Regular in green. The arrival times are listed in parentheses next to the names of each destination. One thing to watch out for: 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. Eurostar trains can fill up, so if you're on a tight schedule you should buy those tickets in advance. If you are running late and don't have time to buy a ticket, you can just jump on the train, but you will have to pay extra when the conductor (il controllore) comes around (a flat fee, somewhere around 5-10 euro) and they don't take credit cards. Technically, if you don't have a ticket you are supposed to find the conductor yourself and buy one (otherwise you have to pay another fee - approx. 20 euro), but for foreigners it's enough to just stammer something about being late and they will almost never hassle you about this.

Also, the way the system works is that unless you validate the ticket by inserting it into one of the yellow boxes on the platform, you could keep using it for months. The yellow box just stamps a date on the ticket, so the conductor knows you weren't planning on using that ticket again. Technically, a ticket that isn't validated is just like not having a ticket: you have to buy another.

By bus

Buy bus tickets before boarding from corner stores and other shops. The payment system for most mass transit in Italy (trains, city buses, subway) is based on voluntary payment combined with sporadic enforcement. Specifically, you buy a ticket which can be used at any time (for that level of service, anyway) and when you use it you validate the ticket by sticking it into a machine that stamps a date on it. Once in a while (with varying frequency depending on the mode of transportation) someone will ask you for your ticket and if you don't have one you get a fine, and theoretically (sometimes happens) you can be asked to present to the Police for a formal report. Usually line enforcers aren't very condescending, especially in northern Italy.

By thumb

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. 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.


Not surprising, Italian is the language spoken by the vast majority of Italians. English is spoken fairly commonly on the well-travelled path, but you'll want a good phrasebook for anything remote.

See also: Italian phrasebook


Italy is part of the so-called Eurozone, so the common currency of the European Union, the Euro (€), is legal tender in Italy.



Italian food inside of Italy is different than Italian in America or western Europe. Italian food is based upon a few simple ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes that may seem strange to Americans and other visitors. For instance, a sandwich stand might sell 4 different types of ham sandwiches that in each case contain ham, mayonnaise, and cheese. The only thing that may differ between the sandwiches is the type of ham or cheese used in them. Rustichella and panzerotti are two examples of sandwiches well-liked by Italians and tourists alike. Also, Italian sandwiches are quite different from the traditional Italian-American “hero,” “submarine,” or “hoagie” sandwich. Rather than large sandwiches with a piling of meat, vegetables, and cheese, sandwiches in Italy are often quite small, very flat (made even more so when they are quickly heated and pressed on a panini grill), and contain a few simple ingredients, rarely, if ever lettuce. Also, a traditional Italian meal is separated into several sections: antipasto (marinated vegetables, etc), primi (pasta or rice dish), secondi (meat course), dolci (sweets). Salads often come with the secondi. Americans will notice that Italian pasta often has a myriad of sauces rather than simply tomato and alfredo. Also, Italian pasta is often served with mush less sauce than in America.

Like the language and culture, food is also a very regional in Italy. 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.

A few Italian specialties: Risotto: Risotto is rice that has been sautéed and cooked in a shallow pan with stock. The result is a very creamy, and hearty dish. Meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and cheeses are almost always added depending on the recipe and the locale. Many restaurants, families, towns, and regions will have a signature risotto or at least style of ristotto, in addition or in place of a signature pasta dish (risotto alla Milanese is famous Italian classic).

Arancini: These are balls of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, and cheese that are deep fried. They are a southern Italian specialty, though are now quite common all over.

Polenta: Polenta is yellow corn meal (yellow grits) that has been cooked with stock. It is normally served either creamy, or allowed to set up and then cut into shapes and fried or roasted.

A note about breakfast in Italy: breakfast in America is often seen as a large meal (eggs, bacon, juice, toast, coffee, fruit, etc). In Italy, this is not the case. Breakfast for Italians might be coffee with a pastry or a piece of bread and cold cuts or cheese. Unless you know for certain otherwise, you should not expect a large breakfast in Italy.


Italian restaurants and bars charge more (typically double) if you eat seated at a table rather than standing at the bar or taking your order to go. There is usually small, very small print on the menus to tell you this. Some menus may also indicate a coperto (cover charge) or servizio (service charge).

Agree whether you want primi (pasta or rice dishes) or secondi (meat dishes - if you want vegetables too look under contorni and order them as sides). If you order a pasta/pizza and your friend has a steak you will get your pasta dish, and probably when you've finished eating the steak will arrive. It's slightly frowned upon to ask them to bring primi and secondi dishes at the same time. They may well say yes...and then not do it. Bad luck if you're doing the Atkins diet...





Italy is quite expensive country. It has many luxury hotels and posh restaurants. It may cost EUR40.00 a day if a person self caters, stays in hostel, avoid drinking and don't visit too many museums but staying in a comfortable hotels, eating out regularly and visiting lots of museums and galleries, may cost a person at least EUR100-150 a day. Hiring a car may double expenses, so one should visit with enough budget.

All the bills include the service charges, so tipping is not necessary. Tipping the taxi drivers is also not necessary, but a hotel porter may expect a little something.


Stay safe

Like most developed countries, Italy is a very safe country to travel. 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 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 a "moderate," and while a portion of violent crimes are committed against travelers, it is normally not a problem. However, instances of rape and robbery as a result of drugging are increasing. Travelers should be careful when going out at night alone.

An additional note: 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 foreigners. And 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.

The US Center for Disease Control recommends two vaccines for people traveling to western Europe: Hepatitis A (even though Americans are not at an increased risk) and Hepatitis B.

Italy has a small incidence rate of "Mad Cow" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)) disease--about 14 cases per million head of cattle. Since 2001, when Italy had its high of 48 cases of reported BSE, the reports have dropped to 38 (2002), and 29 (2003). Travelers concerned with this should visit the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) website for information on how to limit their exposure.

For emergencies, call 113 (Polizia), 112 (Carabinieri), or 118 (Medical Rescue)

Stay healthy


External links

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