A country of superlatives, Italy is justly one of the world’s most visited countries. The people are warm like the weather, the food is superb, the wine famous and the scenery stunning. But what sets it truly apart is that it is steeped in history. As the birthplace of The Roman Empire and the Renaissance, Italy teems with ancient monuments, historic architecture and renowned art. It is home to more World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in the world, by some margin.
Amalfi CoastAmalfi Coast
Stretching 50km along rugged coastline, gorgeous Amalfi offers clifftop towns like Sorrento and Ravello, spectacular views and colourful villages tumbling down to the sea. The refined island of Capri, playground of the yachting set, is a fantastic day trip.
The pink-grey jagged Dolomites provide a spectacular backdrop to skiing in winter or walking when the snow melts. Hiking heaven in a region with strong Austrian influences; there are numerous outdoor options for the energetic.
Florence & PisaFlorence & Pisa
Boasting a host of Renaissance master-pieces, Florence is heaven for art lovers. Step inside the Duomo and admire The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi gallery. An hour east, climb the iconic tower at Pisa, tilting dramatically since 1372.
Lakes & MilanLakes & Milan
Lord Byron and DH Lawrence waxed lyrical with reason, for the Italian Lakes are stunning. Explore enormous Lake Garda, tiny Lake Iseo or upscale Lake Como with its grand shore-line mansions. Then hop across to Milan for shopping and culture galore.
Naples & PompeiiNaples & Pompeii
Naples is an assault on the senses: hot, loud and raw. Gorge on Italy’s best pizza and climb to the summit of active volcano Vesuvius. The staggering preserved cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried under ash in 79 AD, are within easy reach.
Rome & LazioRome & Lazio
Founded in 753 BC, Rome’s ancient monuments are quite incredible: the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon and Vatican City are just the start. It’s also of course a vibrant, bustling city. Surrounding Lazio offers a relaxing alternative.
This large Italian island offers some of Europe’s finest beaches and the up-scale resorts of the Costa Smeralda. But much more besides; the mountainous interior is ideal for hiking and is studded with mysterious beehive-shaped Bronze age ruins.
Sicily does crumbling grandeur even better than the mainland. Awash with historic sites, the capital Palermo has poverty and riches side by side. Don’t miss the Byzantine mosaics, the Valley of the Temples or Mount Etna.
This culture-steeped region offers historic towns, rolling hillsides covered in vineyards and olive groves, plus some of Italy’s finest cuisine and wine. Medieval Siena and the UNESCO listed walled village of San Gimignano are just two of its many gems.
Explore the world’s most beautiful city on foot and along its network of canals. Busy though it is, wander away from St Mark’s Square or the Rialto Bridge and find yourself in deserted lanes. Visit the islands and watch Murano glass being hand-blown.
Planning your trip
It is easy and cheap to get to Italy from the UK, with dozens of direct flights flying all over the country from London and many other domestic hubs. It’s also possible to travel overland by rail, including the luxurious Venice-Simplon Orient Express. Within Italy, flights and high-speed rail link major cities. Car hire is an excellent way to get the most out of rural stays, but congested main roads and the lack of parking in the key towns, especially those along the Amalfi Coast mean private transfers are a more relaxing option for some itineraries. Ferries and hydrofoils connect Sardinia and Sicily with the mainland, and scheduled or private boats are a great way of getting around coastal areas and nearby islands.
Quick country facts
• Recommended Airlines: BA, Easyjet and Alitalia for direct flights
• Flight time: 2.5 hours – 3 hours direct, depending on destination
• Time Zone: GMT +1
• Visa Requirements: EU nationals don’t require a visa for up to 90 days. US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand passport holders can also visit visa free for between 30-90 days depending on the country. Some other nationalities do require a visa, including South African nationals.
Accommodation and costs
There is a vast choice of accommodation styles and prices in Italy, from glitzy five-star city hotels to country house retreats and rural farm stays (known as Agriturismo), which specialise in superb cooking using locally-grown produce and cookery classes. Boutique and historic properties abound, and you may find yourself staying in a converted monastery or a five hundred-year-old palace, furnished with antiques. Villa rental is also a popular option particularly in Tuscany and Umbria, with options to suit any group size. The cost of five star properties especially in very up-market regions of Sardinia and the Amalfi Coast can be a little eye-watering, especially in peak season, but there is a host of charming and quirky accommodation which won’t break the bank too. With the low cost of getting there, a plethora of free and inexpensive museums and attractions and plenty of options to eat cheap, delicious local food from street carts, trattorias and alimentary (delis), Italy can still be excellent value. Private transfers can reduce hassle but compared to outside of Europe, they are fairly costly. Car hire usually works out to be a cheaper option if you are brave enough to try it, although prices are quite a bit more than you may expect if you’ve previously hired cars in Spain and Portugal. Trains and buses are an inexpensive way of getting around and work well if you aren’t carrying too much luggage. Our expert consultants know how best to allocate your budget to make the most out of every visit, whether you want to live the high life or keep things simple and simply soak up the atmosphere.
How long to stay
Italy is so easy to reach that weekend city breaks are wonderful fun, although the longer you have, the more you will get out of this diverse and endlessly fascinating country. In 7 days you could attempt two major cities such as Rome and Florence, perhaps adding Pisa or Venice. Alternatively, you could combine Naples, Pompeii and Ravello, or explore two or three sections of the Amalfi Coast. It’s lovely also to combine city and rural stays; for example, a city stay in Florence to explore piazzas, historic sites and art galleries, then three or four days relaxing at a country house hotel in the rolling Tuscan countryside, sampling local wines and popping in to see picturesque hill towns such as San Gimignano or Cortona. In two weeks, depending on the pace you prefer, multiple major cities can be tackled, but to avoid cultural overload we recommend keeping the pace relaxed and considering adding time at the Lakes or a coastal or island resort at the end to unwind. To see nearly everything, you would need several months, but the joy of Italy is that it’s possible to dip in and out with whatever time you have available, even if that’s just for a weekend.
Weather and when to go
The best time to visit the country is April to June and mid-September to mid-October, with comfortable temperatures and fewer crowds than in the peak summer months, although hotel prices can still be high. During the European summer holidays prices and crowds at coastal cities and islands reach their peak, whilst simultaneously many urban Italians take the month off (from mid-August), and some family-run hotels, restaurants and shops close and even top restaurants in cities like Milan may go on hiatus. Oppressive heat can render cultural sightseeing exhausting unless taken in small chunks. Venice is especially susceptible to over-crowing in peak season, as well as smelly canals and mosquitoes in high summer. We recommend May or early June for this city if possible. For hot beach weather (for example if considering Sardinia), although it boasts a ‘six month summer’ you may not feel like swimming earlier than June or later than September. There’s plenty of sunshine and pleasant temperatures for exploring as early as April and as late as October though. Winter in Italy sees shorter daylight hours and poor weather at times, but lower visitor numbers. If visiting purely for culture, several Italian cities can be visited at any time of year, especially Rome, where it rarely drops below 10C even in winter. Spa and beach destinations often ‘close’ for winter, but cities are of course all-year round attractions, albeit with curtailed opening hours. Venice has its famous Carnivale in February – quite a spectacle. Northern Italy experiences harsher winters and Milan, Turin and Venice can all be subject to a biting wind which renders outdoor sightseeing less enjoyable from October to April. Rain is most likely to affect your visit anywhere in Italy in October and November.
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