Italy, the best of both worlds © PhotoLab XL
Italy Travel Guide
Italy, the historical centre of the Roman Empire, boasts more cultural sights and attractions than you could ever hope to see in a single visit. In fact, Italy lays claim to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world (47 in total), and many of these awe-inspiring attractions - often rather casually located amid the hustle and bustle of modern city-life - are essential to an understanding of contemporary western civilisation. From the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to the intricate Gothic architecture of Cathedral Square, to the almost obscene wealth of artwork housed in the galleries of Tuscany, a holiday in Italy is nothing short of a compulsory experience.
Of course, Italy's culture does not only belong in the past - the country remains on the cutting-edge of haute couture, and watching the famously stylish locals clip along cobblestoned streets in six-inch stiletto heels is almost a tourist attraction in itself. Shopaholics will feel as though they've found paradise, browsing the boutique stores of Milan's Fashion Quadrilatero; while gastronomes should prepare themselves for a holiday punctuated by unforgettable meals. The world-famous Italian cuisine is, naturally, even more delicious when prepared in its homeland - and visitors to Italy can look forward to trying interesting regional variations of their favourite pizza and pasta dishes.
Whether you opt for a holiday in Venice, where the songs of gondoliers are carried on the evening breeze; or you choose to relax on the staggering Amalfi coastline; or you find yourself in Verona, sipping an espresso in a crowded piazza while the sun sinks behind a skyline of Gothic spires; one thing's for sure, your holiday in Italy will be an experience you won't soon forget.
Best time to visit Italy
Most people visit Italy in summer, between June and August; however, the best times to visit Italy are in spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October), when the weather is cool and dry, the skies are generally clear, and - since there are fewer tourists around - accommodation is usually cheaper. The sea is warm enough for swimming between June and September. Most Italians take their vacation in August, and many shops and restaurants are closed during this period. The ski season runs from December to April, and the best time to go hiking in the Alps is between June and September. Read more on Italy's Climate and Weather.
What to see in Italy
- Stand in the shadow of Milan's awe-inspiring Duomo (Cathedral), the world's most grandiose example of Gothic architecture.
- Join the hordes exploring the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii, and come face-to-face with the 'frozen people' from the catastrophic eruption 2,000 years ago.
What to do in Italy
- Stand with your back to the Trevi Fountain, and flick a coin over your shoulder into its famous waters - legend has it that this will guarantee you a return visit to Rome one day!
- Tour the museums of Vatican City, and marvel at the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
- Take a ride on one of Venice's gondolas, and let your gondolier serenade you while you float through the waterways of the legendary city.
- Drive through the gorgeous Chianti Region, sampling some of the country's finest wines and olive oils as you go.
Getting to Italy
There are cheap direct and indirect flights to Italy available from the UK and the US. The most popular entry-points into Italy are Rome (Leonardo da Vinci Airport), Milan (Malpensa Airport) and Venice (Marco Polo Airport). Get more information on Italy Airports.
Italian Neighbours by Tim Parks, The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, and Italian Hours by Henry James.
Andrea Bocelli, Lucio Battisti, Zucchero, and Laura Pausini.
Cinema Paradiso (1988), La Dolce Vita (1960), Il Postino (1994), and Roman Holiday (1953).
Sample some of the Chianti Region's world-famous wines.
Try regional variations of your favourite pasta dishes (such as cuttlefish-ink-based pasta sauces in Venice) - and of course, it is mandatory to eat pizza in Naples.
What to buy
For a special trinket or a gift for a loved one back home, buy some authentic Murano glassware - you'll be purchasing something that comes from an artistic tradition dating back to the 7th Century. Olive oil, leather products and limoncello (traditional lemon-flavoured liqueur) are also popular things to buy in Italy.
What to pack
Remember that clothing is very expensive in Italy, so you should arrive well prepared. Pack comfortable walking shoes for daytime excursions as well as stylish shoes for evenings out.
What's on in Italy
The Venice Film Festival is one of the oldest and most respected film festivals in the world, and draws hundreds of A-list celebrities. Milan Fashion Week is one of the top fashion events on the yearly calendar. For a festive Christmas season, head to Milan for the Oh Bej! celebrations, where you can eat roasted chestnuts and shop around the antique markets. More information on Italy Events.
Did you know?
- When McDonald's opened in Rome (in 1986), food purists outside the restaurant gave away free spaghetti to remind people of their proud culinary heritage.
- Italy has more volcanoes than any other European nation.
- Both ice cream cones and spectacles were invented in Italy.
A final word
A country uniquely blessed with sights, attractions, great food and wine, and a lovely climate; Italy is not only the historical 'centre of the western world', but one of its most enthralling modern-day tourist destinations.