Travel guide for Italy
Italy has always been one of the most popular vacation destinations for millions of people every year. And with good reasons! The sunny weather, beautiful landscapes, friendly locals, and amazing food speak for themselves.
Countless historical buildings such as the Colosseum in Rome and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as well as works of art by immortal artists such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci are waiting for you!
Regardless of where you are, be it south, north, or center, every Italian region has its own unique characteristics and essence. So join Sprachcaffe in the land of pizza, pasta, and gelato, and have una vacanza indimenticabile!
Italy is a peninsula largely surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Switzerland to the north, France to the northwest and Austria, Slovenia and Croatia to the northeast. Italy can be quickly identified on the European map, as its shape resembles that of a boot when viewed from above. Italy also includes some Mediterranean islands, of which Sicily and Sardinia are the most famous.
There is only one time zone in Italy. Central European Time (CET) is used as standard time, while Central European Summer Time (CEST) is observed when Daylight Savings Time (DST) is in effect.
Climate and travel seasons
Because of its warm summers, Italy is a popular destination for tourists.
Especially in the south and on the islands there is a warm, Mediterranean climate almost all year round. Autumn comes late, winters are mild and daytime temperatures are between 10 and 15 °C. Summer is very hot, often reaching temperatures of over 40 degrees. As a result, droughts can occur in the south during the summer months. Central Italy has milder winters and dry summers due to the influence of the Mediterranean Sea.
In northern Italy the influence of the Mediterranean Sea is limited. You might even see some frost and snow in the Po Valley region, an area known for its dense fog between November and January. Summers tend to be long, hot, and humid like in the rest of the country.
Italy is also the European country with the highest number of active volcanoes, the most famous ones being the Etna, 3323 meters high, and Stromboli, 926 meters high.
Citizens of EU member countries only need a valid passport or ID card to enter Italy.
Citizens of other nationalities may need a visa to stay in Italy. For further information and visa requirements, please contact the Italian Embassy. We recommend an early application, as the processing time can be long.
Depending on the purpose of your travel to Italy, there are different types of visas which will apply to your situation. Whether you are planning to visit, study or work or even to settle there permanently, you will have to apply for a different Schengen visa, accordingly.
Italy is part of the Euro Zone, therefore operating with the Euro. and operates using the euro. The previous currency was the Lira, used from 1861 to 2002.
The Italian Euro coins are strongly inspired by art. For example, the 1 Euro coin shows the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, and the 10 cent coin shows the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. On the 2 Euro coin there is a portrait of the writer Dante Alighieri by artist Raffaello.
Italy has one of the best healthcare systems in the world so if the unexpected does happen you’re in good hands. There are manyexperienced medici or dottori (doctors) in Italy, the only obstacle being finding one who speaks English. A good place to start is calling your embassy or checking on their website, where you should be able to find a list of English-speaking doctors and specialists. General practitioners can also be found by looking under Medici Generici in the yellow pages.
For both over-the-counter and prescription medication you should visit your nearest farmacia (pharmacy), easily recognized by a large green cross sign.
Be sure to ask your health insurance company if and what costs will be covered in case of emergency. In case of doubt, it is advisable to take out an international health insurance policy that allows you to make use of more extensive services, such as a possible return transport, free of charge.
So that you are perfectly prepared, we have compiled a luggage checklist for you.
Italy is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, with the large majority of Italians describing themselves as Roman Catholics. Only about one-third of Italian Catholics, however, attend Mass regularly. The Catholic Church's position on abortion and divorce has had a major impact on marriage and family life. Italy is also the home of the Vatican, an independent country within Rome.
For centuries, the Vatican has been the head-quarters of the Catholic Church and the official residence of the Pope. Throughout history, almost every Pope has been Italian. The Polish-born John Paul II is a notable exception.
There are about 150,000 Protestants living in Italy. Most of them belong to a sect known as Waldensians. Italy is also home to about 35,000 Jews and a small number of members of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Italy has a very different governmental structure than most Western countries. The biggest difference is in the role of the President, who in Italy is merely a public figure with little power. He ensures that laws follow the Constitution, appoints the Prime Minister, and has the capacity to dismiss Congress if he believes there is a lack of political unity.
Italy is a Parliamentary Republic. Power is divided among the Executive, Legislative, and Juridical powers. The Executive power is in the hands of the Counsel of the Ministers, presided over by the President of the Counsel (the Prime Minister). The Legislative Power is executed by the Parliament (Congress), which is divided in Senate and Chamber. The two wings of the Parliament are basically identical, and perform virtually the same functions. The Judiciary Power is handled by the Magistrates, whose only duty is to implement the laws. Judges are not voted in, but are selected through public selection, based on exams and internal commissions. The current president of Italy is Sergio Mattarella, and the current prime Minister is Mario Draghi.
Local language and communication
In addition to Italian, the official language of the state, German and Ladin are also spoken in South Tyrol, as well as French in the Aosta Valley.
In principle, there are many dialects in Italy, many of which are actively spoken. Here a general distinction is made between northern Italian dialects, such as Lombard and Venetian; Tuscan dialects; central Italian (Roman dialect) and southern Italian dialects (e.g. Sicilian). Spoken Italian, which is taught in schools, has evolved from the Tuscan dialect, which is why many say that Tuscany in particular is a good place to learn Italian.
Most major cities all have reputable transport systems, including bus and underground-train networks. In cities such as Venice, the main public transport option is the vaporetto (small passenger ferries/boats). Common metropolitane (metros) exist in Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin, with smaller metros in Genoa and Catania.
Cities and towns of any size have an efficient urbano (urban) and extraurbano (suburban) bus system. However, transportation services are generally limited on Sundays and holidays. You must purchase bus and metro tickets before boarding and validate them once on board. Passengers with non-validated tickets may be subject to a fine, typically between €50 and €110. You can buy tickets from a tabaccaio (tobacconist's shop), newsstands, ticket booths or dispensing machines at bus and metro stations. Tickets usually cost around €1 to €2. Many cities offer good-value 24-hour or daily tourist tickets. You can always catch a taxi outside most train and bus stations.
The history of Italy is one of the most fascinating and important of the world.
Italy's first inhabitants were the Etruscans, who settled in the peninsula from the 8th to the 12th century BC. Traces of the first colonies of Etruscan and Greek culture were found on the southern coast.
Around 500 BC the first Roman Republic was founded. The resulting Roman Empire then spread through Spain and Britain to North Africa and the Middle East. Ancient Rome was characterized, among other things, by its dense road network that connected the growing cities, thanks to which the exchange of goods, between today's Europe, Turkey and North Africa was made possible. Incidentally, the saying "All roads lead to Rome" also dates from this period, because the center of the Roman Empire continued to be the city of Rome.
It was not until 313 that Emperor Constantine the Great moved the capital of the empire to Constantinople, today's Istanbul. Around the year 500 AD, the Goths and the Lombards invaded the Roman Empire, and as a result, the country fragmented into a series of dominions. By the 12th century, Italy was occupied by invading peoples and rivalries arose between cities in northern Italy.
During the Renaissance in the 15-16th centuries, Italy experienced a new period of prosperity, with the Kingdom of Naples and the city-states of Milan, Florence and Venice experiencing a cultural as well as economic boom. Even today the Italian artists of the Renaissance, including Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Tiziano are world famous. The rich Florentine noble family de Medici supported numerous artists of the era. Numerous architectural buildings, such as the Giardino di Boboli, can be traced back to the Medici family. The restoration of the Basilica di San Lorenzo was also initiated by them. The merchant family also had a considerable art collection, which still forms the core of the Uffizi Gallery, the famous art museum of the city of Florence.
Italy was ruled by Spain, Austria and France in the following centuries. In the 19th century, after the Congress of Vienna, the Italian national movement began, also known in Italian as the Risorgimento ("Resurgence"). After the Italian Wars of Independence, the unification of Italy happened in 1861. Key figures during the Italian Wars of Independence were Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian guerrilla fighter most famous for the Spedizione dei Mille (Expedition of the Thousand). On May 5, 1860, he sailed south with a thousand of his "Red Shirts" to conquer Sicily and Naples for the Kingdom of Italy. Other key figures included freedom fighter Giuseppe Mazzini and Count Camillio Benso of Cavour, who constructed large parts of the Italian constitution and acted as the first prime minister of the new kingdom. On March 17, 1861, Vittorio Emanuele II was proclaimed King of Italy in Turin. Previously, he had been ruler of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont.
In the early 1920s, dictator Benito Mussolini came to power and controlled unions and the media. At the same time, some civil rights were abolished. After political and military failures, he was ultimately shot by partisans in 1945.
Italy's importance in the history of world culture cannot be exaggerated and its contributions to culture are as important as any civilization's such as Persian, Chinese and Greek. In the visual arts field, Italy’s legacy dates back to the sculpture and architecture of ancient Rome. The Renaissance, beginning in 15th century Florence, was a movement in art, literature, and philosophy which combined new realism with classical antiquity, especially seen in paintings. It saw the creation of such works as The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo's painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In music, Italy is known for its glorious opera tradition, from the early works of Monteverdi, the "father of opera," to the great nineteenth-century achievements of Rossini and Verdi. Italy is also known for the music of the composer Vivaldi.
- Carnevale: the Florence Carnival highlights diverse world cultures. Typically takes place in February
- Scoppio del Carro: (Easter) The chariot bang in Florence happens every year on Easter Sunday: a chariot with fireworks is pulled through the city by two white oxen and then ignited in front of the cathedral. This ritual dates back to the time of the Crusaders and has become a real magnet for visitors.
- Maggio Musicale Fiorentino: (April - May) Do you like operas and concerts? Then the annual opera festival in Florence is a must for you! Since 1933, contemporary and forgotten operas have been presented on this occasion. Maggio Musicale is the first music festival in Italy and takes place in various opera houses and theaters.
- International Handicraft Exhibition: (April – May) Every year the Florence International Crafts Fair welcomes artisans and artisanal enterprises of all domains and dimensions, to present to visitors the variety, wealth and quality of a the handicraft.
- Florence Dance Festival: takes place every summer (from June until the end of July) at the Teatro Romano in Fiesole. Come take part in a mixed program of music, poetry and cinema.
In addition to the standard holidays on the Christian calendar, legal holidays in Italy are New Year's Day, Liberation Day on April 25th, and Labor Day on May 1st.
The following holidays are also celebrated:
- Befana (January 6): witch from Italian folklore who brings gifts to children, she represents the counterpart to St. Nicholas
- Festa della Liberazione (Liberation Day, April 25): liberation from Nazi Germany and arrest of Benito Mussolini
- Labor Day (Festa del Lavoro): celebrated on May 1st
- Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day): is celebrated on June 2. The day was established as a holiday in commemoration of the Italian referendum of June 2, 1946. In the referendum, the majority of Italians voted for the republic form of government.
- Ferragosto (Assumption of the Virgin Mary): many Italians plan their vacations around this day, as August 15 is considered the hottest day of the Italian summer and thus marks the "turning point of summer."
It's no secret that Italians are proud of their food. In Italy, people don't just eat, they celebrate every meal.
In Italy, there is the ristorante, the osteria and the trattoria. As a rule, the ristorante is more upscale, while the latter are targeted to the locals.
Dinner in Italy is usually eaten rather late, around 8 p.m. To shorten the waiting time between lunch and dinner, people usually have an aperitivo with friends in a bar. This means that you order a glass of Prosecco or an Aperol Spritz and eat a few appetizers, which are served free of charge with the drink.
A full meal in Italy consists of an appetizer (antipasto), the first course (primo), which is usually pasta or soup, the second course (secondo), a meat or fish dish and a final dessert. After the meal there is still room for a coffee and/or a digestivo (e.g. limoncello). Usually there is bread and water with each meal, which are included in the "cover price" (coperto).
The dishes vary according to region. For example, Tuscan cuisine includes crostini (toasted bread with liver pate, for example) and ribollita, a soup with vegetables and bread, and the traditional dish fagiolini alla fiorentina (green beans with olive oil). Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is famous for its bistecca alla fiorentina, a piece of beef of at least 500 grams roasted on a charcoal fire. In Venice, baccalà (salted cod) is a specialty.
In the south of Italy, olives are an integral part of antipasti. Pasta dishes with legumes, such as chickpeas and various types of beans, are especially common in the south.
On the coast, fresh fish is a popular main dish. Larger fish such as swordfish (pesce spada) and tuna (tonno) are deliciously prepared in various ways on the grill or in the pan.
Common tourist mistakes
Latte is the Italian word for milk, so if you order a latte, especially outside tourist areas, you may end up with a glass of milk. Keep in mind that it is not common to receive your coffee or ice cream after paying. In some cafés and ice cream parlors, it is customary to pay first and then go to the counter with your receipt (scontrino) and order your croissant or panino.
Churches are interesting to visit and many hold important works of art, however, signs posted asking visitors not to enter wearing shorts or with bare shoulders are often present and must be respected.
Many foreigners expect to be able to use their credit cards but most small stores in Italy only accept cash.
If you are calling Italy from abroad, you must also dial the "0" of the respective area code. Example: 0039-055 call number.
As in all large cities, you should also be careful with your handbag in major Italian cities such as Florence or Rome. Pickpockets are often found at tourist attractions or on public transportation.
Tips and advice
The ZTL, zona traffic limitation or limited traffic zone, is off limits to drivers who don't have a permit (which tourists aren't eligible for). Most cities and towns have a ZTL, which may also be called a Pedestrian Zone.
Tickets for regional trains, or any ticket that doesn't have a specific time and assigned seat, needs to be validated. During high season, people may stand in line for an hour or two just to buy tickets to get into museums.
While your big wheeled suitcase may be great in places with smooth walkways and hotels with elevators, in Italy you won't always find these things. Historic buildings may be remodelled to make beautiful accommodations but they often are not allowed to install an elevator.
Since you already pay the coperto in the restaurant, it is unusual to add a tip. However, if you want to do so because you liked the service, you can do so, but you should note that in Italy it is not customary to include the tip in the bill. If you would like to leave a tip, first have the refund paid in full and then leave the tip on the table when you leave. You can also leave a small tip for your cab driver, guide or porter.
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