Welcome to Italy
Explore Our Best Destinations Italy
Home to many of the world’s greatest works of art, architecture and gastronomy, Italy elates, inspires and moves like no other. Epicenter of the Roman Empire and birthplace of the Renaissance, this European virtuoso groans under the weight of its cultural cachet: it’s here that you’ll stand in the presence of Michelangelo’s David and Sistine Chapel frescoes, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera and da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
In fact, Italy has more Unesco World Heritage cultural sites than any other country on Earth. Should you walk in the footsteps of ancient Romans in Pompeii, revel in Ravenna’s glittering Byzantine treasures or get breathless over Giotto’s revolutionary frescoes in Padua? It’s a cultural conundrum as thrilling as it is overwhelming. In few places do art and life intermingle so effortlessly.
This may be the land of Dante, Titian and Verdi, but it’s also the home of Prada, Massimo Bottura and Renzo Piano. Beauty, style and flair furnish every aspect of daily life, from those immaculately knotted ties and seamless espressos to the flirtatious smiles of striking strangers.
It might look like a boot, but food-obsessed Italy feels more like a decadently stuffed Christmas stocking. From delicate tagliatelle al ragù to velvety cannoli, every bite can feel like a revelation. The secret: superlative ingredients and finely tuned know-how. And while Italy’s culinary soul might prefer simplicity, it’s equally ingenious and sophisticated. Expect some of the world’s top fine-dining destinations, from San Pellegrino ‘World’s Best 50’ hot spots to Michelin-starred musts. Italy’s fortes extend beyond its galleries, wardrobes and dining rooms.
The country is one of nature’s masterpieces, with extraordinary natural diversity matched by few. From the north’s icy Alps and glacial lakes to the south’s fiery craters and turquoise grottoes, this is a place for doing as well as seeing.
Capital of Italy: Rome
Official language: Italian
The currency: Euro (€)
Population: 60.8 million (2015 census)
The country is a Presidential Parliamentary Democracy
President of the Republic: Mr. Sergio Mattarella
Prime Minister: Mr. Paolo Gentiloni
Calling code: The international calling code is +39
The climate in Italy
The climate varies considerably from the north to the south of Italy.
In the north of the country – the area between the Alps and the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines – the climate is harsh, with very cold winters and very hot, particularly humid summers. In central Italy the climate is milder, with a smaller difference in temperature between summer and winter and a shorter and less intense cold season than in the north; summers are longer, but the sultriness of the northern cities is mitigated by the sea. In southern Italy and the islands winters are never particularly harsh, and spring and autumn temperatures are similar to those reached in the summer in other areas of Italy.
Temperatures vary widely in Italy, in the north, centre or south of the country. The table below illustrates the monthly average minimum and maximum temperatures for three cities, one for each climate area.
Time Zone & Local Holidays
Time Italy: GMT +2
National Holidays & Celebrations
Major festivals in Italy and public holidays (so you’ll know when things will be closed)
Maybe it’s a solemn procession in honor of the the town’s patron saint, or a reenactment of a historical event.
It could be a poetry festival, a music festival, or a communal feast in the streets to celebrate some local culinary specialty.
Mayhaps Carnevale has rolled around, or there’s a meeting of the Madonnas from neighboring villages.
It could be that time of year the town runs a traditional bareback horse race, the day they the uncork the new wine, the local bishop blesses Fiats or flocks of sheep.
It might be a madcap race up the mountain carrying giant floats, the annual display of the cathedral’s holy relic, or a chess game on the piazza played with real people.
And sometimes it’s simply the second Tuesday in May once again and on that day everyone puts on traditional costumes and dances traditional dances while the fountains flow with wine.
If you happen across town on a festival day – any festival day – ditch your plans and your itinerary and join in the fun.
(And yes, the examples above are all from real festivals – some famous, some obscure – I have stumbled across at some point in Italy.)
Location of Italy
Italy is a country in south-western Europe, comprised largely of a boot shaped peninsular which extends out into the Mediterranean, as well as a region on the core landmass of the continent. Italy is bordered by Switzerland and Austria to the north, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea to the east, France and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, and the Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean to the south. The country of Italy also includes the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Italian holidays when everything closes
Most Italian’s Christmas holidays last from December 24 though January 6.Most offices and shops in Italy are closed on these public holidays:
- January 1 (New Year’s Day)
- January 6 (Epiphany)
- Easter Sunday (called Pasqua)
- Easter Monday (called Pasquetta)
- April 25 (Liberation Day)
- May 1 (Labor Day)
- August 15 (Assumption of the Virgin—much of Italy takes its summer vacation Aug 15–30)
- November 1 (All Saints’ Day)
- December 8 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)
- December 25 (Christmas Day)
- December 26 (Santo Stefano—more places are closed on this day than on Christmas)
Most of town shuts down on the feast day for its patron saints (though there’s also usually an excellent procession and public festival happening). Here are the dates (and saints) for major cities:
- Rome, June 29 (San Pietro e Paolo/Sts. Peter and Paul)
- Venice, April 25 (San Marco/St. Mark)
- Florence, Genoa, and Turin, June 24 (San Giovanni Battista/St. John the Baptist)
- Milan, December 7 (St. Ambrose/Sant’Ambrogio)
- Palermo, July 15 (St. Rosalia/Santa Rosalia)
- Naples, September 19 (St. Gennaro/San Gennaro)
- Bari, December 6 (San Nicola/St. Nicholas—Santa Claus!)
- Bologna, October 4 (San Petronio/St. Petronio)
- Trieste, November 3 (San Giusto/St. Just)
- Cagliari, October 30 (San Saturnino/St. Saturnino)
How to exchange your dollars for Euros at the best rates (and lowest fees) possible
Exchange offices and booths abound-like this one in Venice-but you’ll get a far better deal going to a ban k Exchange offices and booths abound-like this one in Venice-but you’ll get a far better deal going to a bank. Before you change your first dollar for Euros, know this: You will get a far, far better exchange rate (roughly 9%) paying by credit card than you ever will using an ATM to get cash (let’s not even talk about the crummy rates you get exchanging traveler’s checks or using a commercial exchange office rather than a bank).
A study in June, 2011, showed that the exchange rate you get by using a credit card was, on average, 8.9% better than that charged by U.S. banks to get cash out of an ATM (coupled, in some case, with fees).
That’s like tearing up a $10 bill for every $111 withdrawn from a foreign ATM.
The actual bank-by-bank numbers ranged from 4% worse than credit cards (at Northern Bank) to 14.25 worse (way to top the charts, U.S. Bank!) The only thing worse than a bank was using the exchange service Travelex (where you take a 14.7% hit)
Still, not everywhere accepts credit card (and some places will give you a cash discount), so you do need to have some local cash on hand. Here’s how to get it.
How to change money in Italy
Always exchange money at a bank (or, if you’re a cardholder, an American Express office), and always use your ATM card to withdrawal Euros from your home bank account. This is how you will get the best rates and pay the lowest fees or commissions.
If you’re in a pinch and need to exchange dollars or traveler’s checks from your emergency stash, again: do it at a bank, and read the information below to ensure you get the best deal.
Italy consists of a 1,000km (620 miles) long peninsula extending out into the central Mediterranean, together with a number of islands to the South and West. It is dominated by mountains, with the Apennines (which run north-south through the peninsula) connecting the Alps in the North to Etna and the Peloritani mountains in Sicily in the South.
At 301,200 km2 (116,000 miles2), Italy is one of the larger countries in Europe, and one of the most diverse in terms of geography, flora and fauna
Italy is a boot-shaped peninsula that juts out of southern Europe into the Adriatic Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and other waters. Its location has played an important role in its history.
The sea surrounds Italy, and mountains crisscross the interior, dividing it into regions. The Alps cut across the top of the country and are streaked with long, thin glacial lakes. From the Western end of the Alps, the Apennines Mountains stretch south down the entire peninsula.
West of the Apennines are wooded hills that are home to many of Italy’s historic cities, including Rome. In the south are hot, dry coastlands and fertile plains where olives, almonds, and figs are grown.
Central Italy includes the regions of Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Lazio. It is dominated by the hills and mountains of the Apennines, from which a few major rivers flow. There are few natural plains of any size in this region, but those that do exist are famously fertile. They have been supplemented over the years by a process of land reclamation that has turned the coastal swamps and marshes into highly productive agricultural land, and provided space for the expansion of cities and towns.
Southern Italy includes the regions of Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, Basilicata and Campania, and is rich in sites of great natural beauty, but poor in industrial potential. It is largely dependent on tourism and agriculture, and millions of people are drawn each year to its long sandy beaches and world-famous archaeological sites. It is a seismically active region that is regularly affected by earthquakes, and is home to the only active volcano in mainland Europe: Vesuvius.
The Islands: Sicily, Sardinia and the Aeolian Islands
Characterised for much of the 20th century as the football at the toe of Italy’s boot, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean (25,708 km2 = 9,925.9 miles2), and one of the most diverse in terms of geography, flora and fauna. Separated from Italy by a strait just 3.1km wide (1.9 miles) at its narrowest point, and only 140km (87 miles) from the African shore, Sicily dominates the sea-lanes of the Mediterranean from east to west and north to south.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean (23,800 km2 = 9189 miles2), and is blessed with abundant mineral deposits (e.g. gold, coal, zinc and granite) and superb agricultural land. It is geographically the most isolated region in Italy, but its excellent airports and ferry connections mean that you never feel too far away from the rest of Europe.
The Aeolian Islands to the north of Sicily are volcanic in origin, and are a popular tourist destination for Italians. With their sea vistas, active volcanoes, prehistoric villages, great seafood and superb walking, they make a wonderfully varied setting for a holiday.
The history of Italy can be characterized as two periods of unity separated by a millennia and a half of division. In the sixth to third centuries BCE the Italian city of Rome conquered Peninsular Italy; over the next few centuries this empire spread to dominate the Mediterranean and Western Europe. This Roman Empire would go on to define much of Europe’s history, leaving a mark in culture, politics and society that outlasted the military and political.
After the Italian part of the Roman Empire declined and “fell” in the fifth century (an event no one at the time realised was so significant), Italy was the target of several invasions, and the previously united region broke apart into several smaller bodies, including the Papal States, governed by the Catholic Pope. A number of powerful and trading orientated city states emerged, including Florence, Venice and Genoa; these incubated the Renaissance. Italy, and its smaller states, also went through stages of foreign domination. These smaller states were the incubating grounds of the Renaissance, which changed Europe massively once more, and owed a lot to the competing states trying to outspend each other on glory.
Unification and independence movements for Italy developed ever stronger voices in the nineteenth century after Napoleon created a short lived Kingdom of Italy. A war between Austria and France in 1859 allowed several small states to merge with Piedmont; a tipping point had been reached and a Kingdom of Italy was formed in 1861, growing by 1870 – when the Papal States joined – to cover almost all of what we now call Italy.
The kingdom was subverted when Mussolini took power as a fascist dictator, and although he was initially skeptical of Hitler, Mussolini took Italy into World War 2 rather than risk losing out. It caused his downfall. Modern Italy is now a democratic republic, and has been since the modern constitution came into effect in 1948.
This followed a referendum in 1946 which voted to abolish the previous monarchy by twelve million votes to ten.
The Italian Peninsula or Apennine Peninsula is one of the three peninsulas of Southern Europe (the other two being the Iberian Peninsula and Balkan Peninsula), spanning 1,000 km from the Po Valley in the north to the central Mediterranean Sea in the south. The peninsula is bordered by the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west, the Ionian Sea on the south, and the Adriatic Sea on the east. The interior part of the Apennine Peninsula consists of the Apennine Mountains, from which it takes its name, the northern part is largely plains and the coasts are lined with cliffs.
Excavations throughout Italy reveal a modern human presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period, some 200,000 years ago. In the 8th and 7th centuries BCE Greek colonies were established all along the coast of Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula. Subsequently, Romans referred to this area as Magna Graecia, as it was so densely inhabited by Greeks.
Ancient Rome was at first a small agricultural community founded circa the 8th century BCE that grew over the course of the centuries into a colossal empire encompassing the whole Mediterranean Sea, in which Ancient Greek and Roman cultures merged into one civilization. This civilization was so influential that parts of it survive in modern law, administration, philosophy and arts, forming the ground that Western civilization is based upon. In its twelve-century existence, it transformed itself from monarchy to republic and finally to autocracy. In steady decline since the 2nd century CE, the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 CE: the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the East. The western part under the pressure of Goths finally dissolved, leaving the Italian peninsula divided into small independent kingdoms and feuding city states for the next 14 centuries, and leaving the eastern part sole heir to the Roman legacy.