Italy Travel Guide

Basilica at Vatican, Rome by Travel Jaunts

 

 

A boot-shaped country in southern Europe, situated on Mediterranean sea, bordering France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. It’s a 153 years old country and the capital Rome is almost 3000 years old. Italy has been home to many European cultures including Etruscans and the Romans.

It is also the birthplace of Renaissance movement, that began in Tuscany area and later spread to all parts of Europe. Rome, the capital of Italy is the center of Western civilization and Vatican city (in Rome) is the center of Catholic Church.

Italy has a long history as Rome was founded in 753 BC .  After the fall of Roman empire, Italy was divided into seaparate kingdoms and states. Only in 1861, Italy became a nation including the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

There are 50 UNESCO heritage sites in Italy, the most any country has in the world. The smallest country in the world, Vatican city (home of the Pope and the iconic art & architecture) is in Rome (the capital of Italy).

Art, Culture, Sports, Fashion, Cuisine, charming countryside and beautiful coastline, Italy has it all. Names like Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, Galileo Galilei, Alessandro Volta, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci all belong here.

Destinations/Attractions

Italy is divided into 20 regions, however, to make it easy we would concentrate on northern, Central and Southern Italy as far as popular tourist cities are concerned.

North Italy – Venice, Milan, Verona, Bologna, Genoa, Lake Como

Central Italy– Rome, Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terra, Siena etc. Central Italy is primarily famous for opulent Tuscany region, Chianti wines.

Southern Italy– Naples, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi. Southern Italy is primarily popular for the Campania region (coastal Italy)

Rome

Colosseum, Rome Italy

Venice

Mytraveljaunts

Pisa

Pisa

Florence

Florence , Italy

Milan

Milan

Cinque Terre

Cinque terre town Italy by Travel Jaunts

Siena

Siena by Travel Jaunts

Lake Como

Lake Como

Amalfi Coast

Positano on Amalfi coast

Basics- Quick facts

Capital – Rome

Population –  60.6  million plus approx.  .79% of world’s population

Language – The most widely spoken language by 97% of the population is Italian, a descendant of Tuscan.  Besides many European languages are also spoken by Italian residents. English, French, Spanish, and German are popular after Italian.

Learn a few basic words in Italian though for all practical purpose, if you know English, you can survive easily.

Currency– Euro

Food & Culture

Home of the great Roman empire and center of Renaissance, Italy has always been quite rich when it comes to Arts, Architecture, Music, and food.

Religion

Primarily Chirstians, 90% of them are Roman Catholics. Vatican being the center of  RomanCatholics, where the Pope resides, this is obvious.

Architecture & Art

Italy has given birth to many Architectural styles namely Roman, Classical, Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassical. Famous architectural places include Colosseum and leaning tower of Pisa. The concept of Basilica also originated in Italy.

Besides, Italy is home to many famous artworks and Art Museums. Art can also be seen in churches and public buildings. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican painted by Michael Angelo is one such example.

Customs and Traditions

Like many Asian cultures, family holds the important value in Italian culture. Italians have frequent family gatherings and children are reared to stay close to the family.  Their celebrations too revolve around the family and they celebrate most Christian holidays.

Pasquetta, on the Monday after Easter, typically involves family picnics to mark the beginning of springtime.

November 1 commemorates  Saint Day,  when Italians typically decorate the graves of deceased relatives with flowers.

Epiphany is celebrated on January 6, in which much like Christmas. Belfaa, an old lady who flies on her broomstick, delivers presents and goodies to good children, as per the legend.

Clothing

Western clothing. As a tourist, you can wear anything you like,  except that in religious places one should cover their hands (no sleeveless) and wear at least knee length dress (no shorts or minis).

Besides, Italy is known for fashion. Armani, Versace, Gucci, Benetton and Prada, all these world-renowned fashion houses come from Italy. So you must indulge.

Food

Italian cuisine has influenced the food culture all around the world .Wine, cheese, and pasta are the important part of Italian meals. Food is not just for nourishment here, Italians consider it life. The following are the popular dishes you will find while in Italy

Pizza – One of the best Italian gifts to the kid’s world especially. The pizza was invented in Naples in 1860, but I would say, the evolution and innovation that it has gone through in different parts of the world is amazing. My son is a hardcore pizza fan.

Pasta – Varieties of pasta under veg as well non-veg selections primarily in white sauce or red sauce. Example Spagetti, Macroni, Penne, Fusilli . These pastas made of wheat are served with red sauce or white sauce or simply in olive oil with cheese.

Lasagna- layered pasta cheese with tomato sauce, Mozzarella cheese and minced meat or vegetables  fillings.

Panini – Bread with fillings of vegetabe or meat with cheese and tomato

Pesto – Thick green sauce with olives, herbs and olive oil, pine kernels and cheese.

And most importantly their cheese varieties. Do buy their freshly made Mozzarella cheese. Quality is like homemade Indian paneer, loved it. I used to buy that for cooking but we would finish eating it as soon as it came home.

Gellato – Icecream was invented in Italy

How to go?

Most cities of Italy namely Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence, and Naples have International Airports. The ideal way would be to travel to Rome and use trains to travel between cities unless your itinerary starts from any other place than Rome. For example for Amalfi coast tourism, Naples airport would be ideal to start with. Bus & train networks and domestic airlines between the cities are good enough for within Italy travel. We found train travel to be the fastest and most convenient even though the bus travel turns out to be cheaper comparatively.

Best time to go

Italy is good in any season. In off season, you will have low prices, local festivals and lot of space to see museums and popular sights at your convenience while in high season you will find lot of activity around big cities and beaches.  Having said that peak season in north of Italy is from May to Oct , while in South it is May-June and Sept- Oct.  July and August would be busiest and overcrowded in all of Italy.

Ideal time would be April- June or Late September to October or even early November. The temperatures would be good and the places would not be as crowded. It is really not fun to stand in long queues.

Approximate Costs

Stay – Primarily depends on the type of boarding accommodation you choose. Families and couples in could get a decent place within $100. Good ones will come in the range of $120 to $140. We mostly chose to stay in Apartments and paid roughly 100 dollars per night in September.

Food – On an average $30 to $50 per meal per couple or a nuclear family in a less expensive mid-range restaurant.

Local Transport – Use trains or buses depending on time at hand and comfort.  Italy Raileurope pass is not cost effective unless you plan to travel a few more Schengen countries. You can buy train tickets on https://www.italiarail.com/ or on https://in.trenitalia.it-inter.com/. Remember regional train ticket prices don’t change but inter-regional fares do so book in advance whenever you are traveling between different regions.  Rome to Florence, Florence to Pisa, most fare range around  $19 per person. Select familia offer before buying the ticket online or offline.

 Sightseeing – Many sights are free of cost. Look for days when museums are free. In Siena, we did buy the pass but in Vatican, we chose to take the night ticket. Cost varies between $16 to $25 per person for most sights.

Visa requirements

You need a Schengen visa to travel to Italy and if Italy is your first destination in your itinerary or you plan to stay in Italy for the maximum no of days, you need to apply for Schengen from Italian embassy. The primary requirement for any visa is a valid passport so make sure that your passport is valid and in good condition.

You can apply for the visa directly through VFS. Please read through the terms and conditions carefully on VFS site.

First, you would need to take an appointment from the VFS for the visa interview and document submission. Secondly, download the application form from the VFS site and keep all documents ready for the interview day. It may take 15 days to a month or more for the visa to arrive. Visa fee for adults is approx. $70 and for children it is $40

Top things to do

One of the most enchanting cities of Europe, Italy has beautiful sights, pristine coastline, world-famous cuisine and unparalleled art. 

  • Explore VaticanVatican museums, Sistine Chapel & Basilica Headquarters of the Catholic church and the treasure trove of iconic art & architecture. Take at least audio guided tour to Vatican museums to spend your time effectively with truly important artworks. Vatican museums at night also is a great bet Check for the days when it is open at night.
  • Visit Rome- Colosseum & Roman Forum – Colosseum and Roman forum will take you back in those days in history when one of the greatest minds in history and the builder of Roman Empire, Caesar walked the same place
  • Florence – Get high on Renaissance art at Uffizi gallery– One of the top 10 art galleries in the world, Uffizi hosts such a great collection of Italian Renaissance Art that you will find nowhere else. Who’s who of Art world is here and this is the place for Art buffs
  • Milan – Spend some time looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece ‘The last supper’.
  • Venice – Take a night ride on Gondola. If that sounds expensive try the vaporetto (public water bus) instead to glide through the grand canal.
  • Siena – Explore the countryside with wine tour in Chianti region– If you can drive nothing like it, or else take one of the wine tours and in the evenings, have a scrumptious dinner at one of the roadside restaurants in Siena.
  • Hiking in Cinque Terre-There are 5 adjoining Italian coastal villages in Cinque Terre region. You may choose any one of the trails and spend half a day hiking. Ideal would be to stay for a day or two in one of the villages
  • Drive along the Amalfi coast- Now this is a challenging part given the twists and turns on the road but it is truly romantic to drive to Amalfi and spend some days in one of the seaside hotels/bungalows in Positano or Amalfi. For those who don’t want to drive, there are busses available.
  • Pompeii – Explore the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii is easily reachable by train from Sorrento or Naples.
  • Visit Capri Island – It’s a must see from Sorrento. Take the full round trip around the island and visit blue grotto and Anacapri.
  • Indulge in all sorts of pizzas, kinds of pasta and gelatos while in Italy. Their homemade cheese is out of the world and the gelatos are made from milk and not cream which makes them not only attractive to look at but to eat too.

Itinerary Suggestion for family and couple travel

Very much like India, Italy also is one country best experienced through its heritage, its art & architecture and its food. Italy travel itinerary could be based on the regions or the interests unless you have enough time on hand to do justice to both.

Regions – There are twenty regions but primarily North, Central, and South.
 
You can either start from North and go down till South or vice versa. Ideally at least 3 weeks are required to cover major sights of Italy, however, we are giving here 10-15 days of Itinerary

12 days itinerary for a family with kids

  • Fly to Rome, spend at least 3 days here, 1.5 days dedicated to Vatican. Places to see in Rome-  Colosseum, Roman Forum, Spanish steps, Patheon, Fontana di Trevi, and Piazza Navona. In Vatican- Vatican museums and Basilica.
  • Travel to Florence early morning. Stay for 4 days in Florence. Make half a day trip to Pisa and a full day trip to Siena. Places to see in Florence -Duomo, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza della Signoria ,Uffizi gallery, Pont Vecchio, Academia only for sculpture of David. Pisa can be done within half a day.  Siena is in Chianti region so would recommend a wine tour as well.
  •  Travel to Cinque Terre from Florence, Stay for at least 1 night here exploring the coastal Italy and the 5 beautiful villages. Stay in La Spezia, it will be cheaper comparatively and you will also get direct trains to Milan from La Spezia. If you have time then please stay in Vernazza ( one of the beautiful villages of Cinque Terre)
  • Travel to Milan from Cinque Terre, Spend 2 days here. Places to see in Milan – Duomo of Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie, La Scala Opera House, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II . Add a day trip to Lake Como from Milan
  • Travel to Venice from Milan, spend a day or two here and then fly back to your destination. Places to see in Venice – The Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco and Basilica San Marco.
 Pls, note: The itinerary doesn’t include the days to travel to Italy and back from your destination.

  18 days Italy travel itinerary for a couple

Here also you can start either from Milan in north or Naples in the south. In case the flights to these destinations are expensive then you may fly to Rome and take a train to your destination.  Though travel gets a little hectic but it is very much possible to reach your destination in south or north of Italy, the same day as you land in Rome.

  • Reach Sorrento from Naples. You can make Sorrento as the base for Amalfi coast tour. Spend 3 days here. Places to see around Sorrento– Pompeii, Capri Island Positano, Ravello, Amalfi. Stay in a nice seaside location.
  • Travel to Rome from Sorrento. Take circumvesuviana train from Sorrento to Naples and then from Naples take a direct train to Rome.  Dedicate 3 days to Rome and Vatican here. Places to see in Rome-  Colosseum, Roman Forum, Spanish steps, Patheon, Fontana di Trevi, and Piazza Navona. In Vatican- Vatican museums and Basilica.
  • Travel to Siena– Spend 2 days here. Stay in a romantic countryside location and go for a wine tour in the Chianti region here.
  • Travel to Florence early morning. from Siena. Stay for 2 days in Florence. Places to see in Florence -Duomo, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza della Signoria ,Uffizi gallery, Pont Vecchio, Academia only for sculpture of David.
  • From Florence travel to Cinque Terre via Pisa – 3 days . Pisa can be done within a half day. Reach Cinque Terre by evening and stay for atleast next two days here. Spend a day in hiking the trails.
  • Travel to Milan from Cinque Terre (La Spezia station), Spend 2 days here. Places to see in Milan – Duomo of Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie, La Scala Opera House, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II . Add a day trip to Lake Como from Milan.
  • Travel to Venice from Milan, spend a day or two here and then fly back to your destination. Places to see in Venice – The Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco and Basilica San Marco.

Travel Tips

General tips

  • Greet people with shaking hands and say buongiorno (good day) or buona sera (good evening).
  • In religious places, dress modestly;make sure you wear atleast knee length dress and no sleeveless, please. Choose comfortable walking shoes for Italy as you would need to walk a lot.
  • Restaurants have a cover charge. Please check that and in case service charge is not included , tipping is welcome.

Sightseeing

  • First Sunday of the month, all state museums including Uffizi gallery in Florence are free for everyone, every Friday Vatican Museums in Rome are open till late night and Munich’s Octoberfest starts in September. We considered all of these when planning our itinerary. Please check for all this before deciding on the itinerary.
  • During off season travel, you don’t need to book skip the line tours in advance. You can buy tickets either at the counters directly once you reach or online by visiting the museum/gallery site itself rather than a third party vendor.

Stay

  • Stay in apartment so that you don’t have to eat all the three meals outside. And when you select an apartment, proximity to sights is obviously desired however atleast make sure that the metro station and supermarket/ department stores for daily needs are nearby. If metro is not there in the city, stay near city centre or at walkable distance from major sights. It does save time especially in Florence and Sienna.
  • Would suggest staying in Cinque terra and not doing a day trip from Florence since some places are not meant for touch and go tourism but to absorb the beauty, experience life in a different way, see the sun go down, spend romantic evenings and to just slow down.

Train Travel

  • Buy water and food before boarding the intercity European trains, chances are you may not get anything to drink and eat. Trains may not necessarily have a pantry car/restaurant in the train. If they do, everything gets finished too soon. And while am writing this in a train from Munich to Bologna, as a matter of luck, my son is hungry for his fav chicken fingers and panini but the oven in the train restaurant is not working. In many regional trains including Meridian trains, you don’t even get water.
  • You need to book train tickets (intercity travel) in advance to travel within Italy to save costs however this doesn’t apply for regional trains. Fares remain the same in regional trains. You can do the tickets at the station using the ticket machines or buy it from local tobacco shop (tabacchi). Ticket booking office have certain work hours so better get used to of machines. For traveling within a city too by bus or metro either use machines or tobacco shop to purchase tickets. Validation of all tickets is a must. For train travel, you validate before entering the platform and for bus travel, validation is on the bus itself.
  • For train travel, If your ticket doesn’t have a specified time and date (most advance online tickets have), you need to validate the ticket at the station. Look for green ticket validation boxes. They are available at the platforms too. There is fine , if you don’t .
  • By any chance if you don’t have enough time to buy tickets for travel on regional trains, you have the option to purchase ticket on the train but price is higher usually 5 euros more.
  • Carry passport during train travel, it is checked at times along with the ticket.
  • No point reaching the train station 2 hrs early. Its mostly 30 min before the departure time that the platform number is decided and displayed at the stations.
  • The arrival and departure of trains and busses is exactly on time in Europe unlike many Asian nations
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