The official currency of Italy is the Euro, although there was a period until recently when the Italian Lira was also accepted. Credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted at shops, restaurants, and attractions. However, it’s still recommended to exchange for some Euros at a bank or airport to use in smaller stores and towns outside the major cities. ATMs are common across the nation.
The official language is Italian and 93% of the population speaks Italian as their native language. Due to the many regional differences across the country, approximately 50% of the population speaks a regional dialect. Some people speak English in the larger cities, but you shouldn’t assume locals will understand you.
Best Time To Go
The best time to visit Italy is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October). Due to the popularity of Italy during the summer months (July to August), travellers may want to consider travelling in the off seasons (November to March), when there are fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Winter travel is popular in the Italian Alps and the Dolomites in the north of the country. There are festivals in parts of the country in different seasons, so it is best to research your region and learn about what is happening during the year in the parts you want to visit.
Italy’s climate varies greatly depending on the region. The central and southern parts of Italy enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with mild, hot and sunny summers and rainy winters. It can be humid during the summer. However, the coastline’s ocean breeze makes it more comfortable for travelling. Northern Italy is home to the Alps and the winters are colder and harsher than in the south and central areas of the country. The north is home to more than 400 different ski areas, which means that travellers can go skiing, snowboarding, and trekking.
Italy is one of the world’s most popular countries. It is filled with ancient and modern history around every corner in almost every city, diverse scenery, including the island of Sicily, art history, and, of course, spectacular food and wine. Even seasoned travellers will find new things to discover on repeat visits. For a first time traveller, the three big cities, Rome, Florence and Venice, are the main gateways to the rest of the country and make for an ideal first trip.
Getting There From North America
Italy is home to various international and regional airports. Rome (Fiumicino) Airport is the largest airport in the country accepting roughly 38 million passengers annually, followed by Milan with 19 million, and Venice with just under nine million. There are smaller airports in many other regions that are well connected to these main airports.
Recommended flight route from the United States
There are a lot of different options for flying to Italy from the United States. There are non-stop flights to Rome from several US cities like Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. From other cities, you need at least one connection. The largest carriers are Alitalia, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, KLM, Lufthansa, and United.
Recommended flight route from Canada
There are several airports in Canada that have non-stop flights to different cities in Italy. You can fly from major Canadian airports like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, and Calgary and depending on the airline connect through a major city in Europe. The largest airlines would be Air Canada, Alitalia, Lufthansa, and British Airways.
Essential Sights of Italy
Rome is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a fascinating history going back over 2,500 years. It is a city steeped in religious and political power, with buildings and monuments around every corner bearing witness to its historical significance. The Vatican, an independent city-state surrounded by Rome, is the centre of the Roman Catholic Church. There are nearly endless options for a first visit to Rome, including touring the Colosseum, seeing the Pantheon, climbing the Spanish Steps, and throwing pennies in the Trevi Fountain.
Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and has made significant contributions to art, architecture, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, and politics. In the centre of the city is the historic Duomo with its larger-than-life dome roof, a true landmark of architectural brilliance, surrounded by at least a half dozen art museums and galleries, all filled with magnificent paintings and sculptures. The most famous sculpture is Michelangelo’s “David” at the Galleria dell’Accademia.
Venice is another historically important city. Originally built on 100 small islands on the Adriatic Sea, it was once the centre of a maritime republic during the Middle Ages and the greatest seaport on the Adriatic. Travellers can spend hours exploring the winding medieval streets while never being too far from its main attractions like the Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Square, and Doge’s Palace. The entire city turns on the Rialto Bridge, one of the city’s most beautiful bridges and a centrepiece along the canals.
The Amalfi Coast is located in southern Italy, along the Amalfi peninsula, bordering the Mediterranean sea just south of Naples. There are several towns that make up this spectacular region and each one is uniquely beautiful, from Amalfi to Positano, Ravello, Sorrento, and Praiano. A highlight of the region is the island of Capri, home of the Blue Grotto sea cave. This region is also home to Sorrento and Amalfi lemons that are responsible for the Limoncello Liqueur, as well as olive oil production.
Other Italian Highlights Off the Beaten Path
Located in Tuscany, Lucca is a hidden gem known as the “City of 100 Churches.” It’s surrounded by a 4km medieval wall, making it a walled city. It’s a great city for walking and conveniently located only an hour away from Florence.
Montorosso is one of the Cinque Terre (Five Villages) and the most visited and largest of the towns. The spectacular hillside village is divided into two sections by a tunnel, the old and the new, and is popular for its beaches, crystal clear waters, lemon trees, vineyards, and olives. The local pesto and anchovies are famous throughout Italy.
Siracuse, also referred to as Syracusa, is an ancient city on the island of Sicily. Filled with ancient Greek and Roman monuments and sites, it is also a vibrant seaside city with more than 100km of coastline. Ortygia is the small island connected to the mainland and the historical centre of the city.
The Tuscan city of Siena is smaller and less crowded than Florence, but filled with plenty of medieval buildings, historical monuments, shops, and restaurants. It’s an ideal walking city. Travellers can spend the day admiring the Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta and the Piazza del Duomo with plenty of time to shop for local goods and enjoy some excellent cuisine.
Top Activities and Experiences in Italy
Hiking Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre (Five Villages) is a UNESCO Heritage Site located along the Italian coastline. If you are an active traveller, hiking through these villages is a once in a lifetime experience. There are over 120km of hiking trails along the Cinque Terre coastline, with 48 different trails—most of them free. Along the hike, travellers wind through the narrow footpaths anticipating the next colourful town off in the distance.
Ride a Gondola on the Grand Canal
One of the most iconic symbols of Venice is the traditional gondola. Experience a different perspective and understanding of this car-free island by hiring a gondola to take you along the Grand Canal. There are about 500 gondoliers working in Venice and each of them has spent over 400 hours training to learn the skills needed to pilot these unique boats through the narrow canals of this historic city.
Take a Cooking Class
There’s no better way to appreciate Italy’s celebrated cuisine than with a cooking class while visiting the country. You can experience all the flavours that Italy has to offer by first discovering local markets where you can buy fresh produce and then learning how to prepare traditional dishes such as ribollita, panzanella, and tiramisu under the guidance of local chefs.
Vineyard Experience in Tuscany
Tuscany is known for its beautiful countryside with rolling hills, antique farmhouses, and sprawling vineyards. In fact, it’s one of the world’s most famous wine regions, so it’s perfect for a vineyard tour. Tours are numerous and range from half day to full day to villages like Montalcino, Montepulciano, and San Gimignano. You get to sample some of the best red and white wines in the world, as well as local cheeses, meats, breads, and locally-produced olive oils.
Essential Italian Foods to Try
The unique style and culture of pizza in Italy is as diverse as the country’s many regions. Pizza Napoletana from Naples is often credited as the original, but Rome and other cities have their own regional variations on this favourite dish of baked dough topped with cheese, tomato sauce, and various meats or vegetables. Napoletana pizza is even protected by a Traditional Specialty Guaranteed certificate, which states that each pizza has been made in a specific way.
There are more than 250 different bread types in Italy, the most popular being focaccia, which is a flat, fluffy oven-baked bread that’s topped with savoury toppings such as rosemary, tomatoes, olives, and sea salt. There are also sweet options with sugar and butter instead of olive oil and salt.
Carbonara roughly translates as “in the manner of coal miners” and refers to a popular pasta dish made with raw eggs, black pepper, pancetta, and parmesan cheese. The Roman variety is the most famous. It’s one of the simplest and most satisfying pasta dishes around.
Gelato is essentially Italian ice cream that is churned slowly and has less air, giving a richer texture and flavour. It is found everywhere across the country and you can have it in a cup (coppa) or cone (cono). The most popular flavours are stracciatella, biscotti, strawberry, limone, and pistachio. Don’t worry: you can always pick more than one flavour.
The history of Lasagna dates back centuries and has seen many different variations before developing into the traditional “Lasagna alla bolognese,” which consists of layers of thin pasta dough each covered in ragu sauce and bechamel, topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano and then baked.
Tips for Sustainable Travel
Most of Italy's major city centres are small and compact, which makes exploring on foot the best way to get the most authentic experience possible. When it is not possible to walk, buses and trams are easily accessible. As we know, Italy has a wonderful food culture and finding locally owned and operated restaurants that serve locally grown products is important to the local economy. Supporting local artisans, shop owners, and family run hotels is also a great way to help move forward sustainability in Italy.
Where to Go Next
Italy is a country that opens the door to travel to many other areas of Europe, with easy access by train to several regions. You can connect directly to France, Switzerland, and Austria. Germany and France are both easily accessed by rail, car, and coach tour options, which combine Italy with other countries in Europe.
Most Popular Itineraries for Italy
There are many different ways to get a full experience of Italy and the surrounding region. The most popular three cities for first-time visitors are Rome, Florence ,and Venice, which you can experience on Classic Italian Highlights. It is possible to do them in reverse as well in Classic Cities of Italy. For those travellers that want to discover Sicily, The Splendours of Sicily is an immersive trip around this beautiful island. Coast to Coast Through Italy is a great way to experience the country west to east, from Amalfi right over to Apulia.