Italy travel guide

Italy travel guide

2 minute summary

Italy inspires awestruck sayings more than perhaps any country in Europe: 'All roads lead to Rome'; 'See Naples and die' (referring to its intoxicating impact not the driving). In his 1972 book Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino wrote that 'every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice'.
Piedmont gave birth to the Slow Food movement, sprinkling new ethics into global consumption and conception. Italian artistry is revered: the glory of Leonardo among a host of Old Masters; iconic architecture, from ancient Roman grandeur to the sublime elegance of Palladio; an array of chic, contemporary fashion and design.
But alongside glorious towns, peerless history and irresistible food, Italy has truly bellissima nature too: wild and beautiful mountains; deep valleys, vast lakes and smoking volcanoes; paths tracing gorgeous coasts or vineyard-dotted hills. Italy draws passionate responses – and our Italy travel guide is happy to share.

What we rate & what we don't

Our best & worst of Italy vacations


Inland Sardinia Proper Italian meals Farm stays Underwater wonders

Inland Sardinia

Ancient Romans christened inland Sardinia’s wild mountains and valleys ‘Barbaria’ (barbarian) and left it unconquered. Now Barbagia, it remains untamed, the flanks of the Gennargentu massif carpeted with herb-scented scrub roamed by wild horses. Admire powerful murals in former bandit town Orgosolo, then hike from Is Muralleddas to Texil through woods of oak, chestnut, cherry and cork.

Proper Italian meals

Forget soggy pasta doused in gloopy tomato sauce. A true Italian meal skips delectably through distinctive antipasti appetisers, a small risotto or pasta course (cooked al dente and lightly coated with something interesting), then fish and/or meat courses, ending with sweet stuff and cheeses. Pizza should be thin-crust, herby, not too cheesy, and piping hot from a wood-fired oven.

Farm stays

Tuscany and Umbria have long led the way for Italian farm stay breaks (agriturismi) but recent years have seen a surge in places around the country like Cantabria and Sardinia to enjoy close-to-the-earth bucolic bliss. Options include rustic old houses with tiny groves, gritty muck-in farms or grand country estates with pools alongside the produce!

Underwater wonders

The Ligurian Sea has one of the Mediterranean's highest concentrations of whales and dolphins in the Pelagos Marine Sanctuary stretching from the mainland to Sardinia. The latter offers a host of memorable dive sites in the sublime Gulf of Oresei: submerged fossil beaches, mysterious ocean caverns and WW2 wrecks, as well as vibrant reefs and colourful swimming things.


Amalfi Coast Tuscany Umbria & Le Marche Coffee

Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi coast presents a sophisticated face to the Gulf of Salerno, beaches and marinas interspersing chic towns like Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi, with glamorous hotels dotting steep coastal hills. Unspoilt west coast hikes on the island of Capri plus the vibrant mainland port of Salerno contrast the glamour. And ferries beat the hairpin coast roads for getting around.


Popularity can sometimes make Tuscany's hills, vineyards and jewel-like towns crowded – but no less gorgeous for that. Florence remains a stunning backdrop for Old Master treasures, alongside Gothic Siena and Renaissance Lucca. The high towers of San Gimignano are an iconic Italian skyline. As for that wonky tower in Pisa, they're still pursuing the builder!

Umbria & Le Marche

Discover an Italian secret right next door to Tuscany. Vineyards and groves flourish in the lee of the snow-capped Apennines or behind cliff-backed Adriatic coves in neighbouring Le Marche. Medieval towns like Assisi, Macerata and Gubbio vie with Renaissance Urbino, gourmet Orvieto and vibrant Perugia. Hikers will love the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini and the stunning coastal Parco del Conero.


There's more to coffee in Italy than just espresso and cappuccino (named after brown cowls worn by Capuchin monks). Ristretto is super-strong short espresso and lungo a gentler long one. Macchiato is espresso 'stained' with milk. For stronger cappuccino ask for it scuro. Marochino is cappuccino with cocoa. Caffe corretto is espresso spiked with grappa – a real pick-me-up!


Cruise ships in Venice Dolphin shows Costa Smeralda Charming Italian men

Cruise ships in Venice

The deep channel dredging done to allow cruise ships to sail up Venice's Grand Canal has scarred the fragile eco-system of the lagoon: disturbing marine life plus natural sediment deposition and vital water movements. And all so passengers too lazy to spend a few minutes in a tender can click pics without having to even leave their giant floating hotel.

Dolphin shows

Italy has five dolphinaria - Rimini, Oltremare, Acquario di Genova, Fasanolandia and Zoomarine – where dolphins are made to perform 'circus' tricks in cramped captive conditions that violate both national and international laws. Only two of the dolphinaria even have a license – the others are technically illegal. Morally, they offend too. Please don't go.

Costa Smeralda

Sardinia's Costa Smeralda is great to preen on a beach drinking cocktails and gawping at mega-yachts. Which seems a huge waste of a distinctive island rich with prehistory, lovely medieval towns, unique food and fantastic character. Even the beaches are better elsewhere on Sardinia: Nora with its Roman amphitheatre; La Pelosa; Baia Chia's towering dunes; the entire Orosei coast.

Charming Italian men

Many Italian men claim they 'worship' women. But this worship too often extends just to women dressed in as little as possible, while being expected to fawn over men like their mammas may once have done. Just watch Italian TV or check weirdly revered politicians like Berlusconi to see the everyday sexism women still face in Italy.

Food, shopping & people

Travel like a local on your Italy vacation

Eating & drinking in Italy

Drinking cappuccino after midday is a breach of Italian coffee etiquette!

Aperitivi are early evening bar nibbles (free or cheap) – particularly popular in Milan, Rome, Turin, Naples and Venice (called cichetti there). They're a great way to eat - and meet locals - for the price of a drink.

Italy now boasts a growing number of lip-smacking artisan grappas - Poli, Nardini, Capovilla and Tosolini lead the way.

People of Italian origin account for 40% of the population of Argentina – and 5% in the US and Australia

People & language

Italian is spoken with passion, adorned by engaging facial expressions and gestures. It's a language full of grace too, a concept that extends to people via the prized concept of la bella figura – the desire to 'cut a good figure' in how you look and carry yourself.

Impress the locals with dashes of style, and avoid slobbishness that might prompt mutterings of 'Che brutta!' ('how hideous!')

Ciao (hello/goodbye) is best used with people you know, not strangers.

If unsure, stick with the simple basic greeting Buongiorno (good day).

Gifts & shopping

Italian wine and food. For wine, look for DOCG and DOC designation as a sign of a good local appellation, while DOP is a similar sign of a genuine quality Italian food product.

Olive wood is used for beautiful carved items - and it's sustainable too!

First compiled 50 years ago, The Silver Spoon is a classic book gathering over 2000 traditional Italian region recipes.

Religious paraphernalia can make beautiful presents, even for non-religious friends – rosaries perhaps, or prayer cards devoted to a particular saint.

Fast facts

The first banks appeared in 12th century Italy – and a 15th century Siena firm remains the world's oldest surviving bank

How much does it cost?

Meal in budget restaurant: £12

Cappuccino: £1

1.5l bottle of water: 35p

Train fare from Naples to Pompeii: £2

Ferry from Palermo (Sicily) to Lipari
(Aeolian islands): £30

A brief history of Italy

Italy has suffered badly in recent years from economic woes that have seen unemployment rocket and austerity bite hard – making tourism an even more important lifeline. Many people bemoan rampant nepotism that denies opportunities to anyone without ‘connections’, while politics seems crazy to outsiders – notably long-time heavyweight (and several times Prime Minister) Silvio Berlusconi’s years mired in scandals and ongoing efforts to resist punishment after finally being convicted in 2013 of tax fraud. It seems fitting that a protest party set up by a comedian (Beppe Grillo) took a quarter of the votes in the 2013 election. But for many Italians austerity and social instability are sad detractions from the warmth of the people, and the beauty of their natural and cultural treasures. Read more ▼
Photo credits: [Top box: Polina F] [Inland Sardinia: Fiore Silvestro Barbato] [Proper Italian meals: The Marmot] [Farm stays : Toprural] [Underwater wonders: Fulvio Spada] [Amalfi Coast: lovinkat] [Tuscany: heipei] [Umbria & Le Marche : Sgobbone] [Coffee: risastla] [Cruise ships in Venice: Martin Cooper] [Dolphin shows: Roberto Venturini] [Costa Smeralda: fry_theonly] [Charming Italian men: Lee Coursey] [: ] [Grappa: Norman Miller] [people and language: Peter Alfred Hess] [gifts: Monica Arellano-Ongpin] [ferry: jotaro yoshida]
Family vacation in Italy

Family vacation in Italy

Visit Naples Capri Pompeii & Sorrento

From US $1831 8 days ex flights
Amalfi coast easy walking holiday, Italy

Amalfi coast easy walking vacation, Italy

Easy walks from Amalfi: 4* sea-facing hotel; top restaurants

From £1635 8 Days ex flights
Sicily history tour, Italy

Sicily history tour, Italy

One of the most fascinating islands in Europe

From US $1545 9 Days ex flights
Pisa to Florence biking vacation, Italy

Pisa to Florence biking vacation, Italy

The highlights of beautiful Tuscany by bike

From US $1070 8 Days ex flights
Amalfi Coast walking vacation, Italy

Amalfi Coast walking vacation, Italy

Walk in lemon groves and hillside villages

From US $1165 8 Days ex flights
Umbria cooking vacation, Italy

Umbria cooking vacation, Italy

Learn traditional italian cooking in a beautiful farmhouse

From 1190 7 Days ex flights
Vacation in Umbria

Vacation in Umbria

Explore the charms of laid-back Umbria

From US $1560 8 Days ex flights
Umbria self guided walking holiday, the North Valley

Umbria self guided walking vacation, the North Valley

Along Saint Francis trails through the Green Heart of Italy

From 800 7 Days ex flights
Tuscany tours, walking and wine tasting in Italy

Tuscany tours, walking and wine tasting in Italy

Walking and wine tasting in Tuscany

From US $1235 8 Days ex flights
Cross country skiing vacation in the Dolomites, Italy

Cross country skiing vacation in the Dolomites, Italy

A famously beautiful range of jagged peaks

From US $1285 8 Days ex flights
Amalfi Coast small group vacation, Italy

Amalfi Coast small group vacation, Italy

Discover the Amalfi coasts villages, trails & local customs

From US $1699 8 Days ex flights
Dolomites walking vacation in Italy

Dolomites walking vacation in Italy

Sandwiched between the spectacular peaks of the Dolomites

From US $1545 8 Days ex flights
Mont Blanc Circuit hiking vacation

Mont Blanc Circuit hiking vacation

Probably the most dramatic walk in Europe

From US $1985 15 Days ex flights
Mont Blanc Circuit trek, with hotel accommodation

Mont Blanc Circuit trek, with hotel accommodation

Classic Tour, using small inns and guesthouses

From US $3255 15 Days ex flights
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