It is easy to understand why Italy is one of the world’s most celebrated tourist destinations. This is a country that truly does have it all: exquisite landscapes, an abundance of art and architectural treasures, world renowned museums and a national obsession with decadent food and fine wine. Not to mention the country’s sun-kissed olive groves, glacial lakes, fiery volcanoes and snow capped peaks. Dive the clear green waters of the Mediterranean, browse the market stalls in Naples or experience the diverse wildlife inhabiting the country’s national parks. And if you find the vast range of choices overwhelming, take some advice from the locals: sit back, relax and take a moment to indulge in the “bella vita” (the good life). As they say: when in Rome!
Banking and Currency
Italy uses the European monetary unit, the euro (€).
Euro bills come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500; coins are worth 1 cent of a euro, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 euro, and 2 euros. Local merchants may refuse to accept €200 and €500 bills due to the prevalence of counterfeit bills.
Traveller's cheques, cheques and foreign money can be changed at banks, railway stations and airports and very often at major hotels (albeit usually at a less advantageous exchange rate). It is expensive to change foreign currency in Italy, exchange bureau fees are high. Banks will only exchange currency for their own customers.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.
Bank opening hours are regulated by law, they open at 08h30 and close at 13h30 for lunch. They open again in the afternoon at 15h00 and close at 16h00 from Monday to Friday. There are banks that open on Saturdays.
ATMs in Italy are known as Bancomat, and can be found anywhere in large cities as well as in small towns. Using a credit card, or even better, a debit card or your local bank (ATM) card is very easy. One must first locate either the Cirrus, Plus, VPay, or BankMate symbol (on the Bancomat and on your card), to ensure the card is usable at that particular unit. If you are unsure about the compatibility or the banking systems, contact your credit card company or local bank.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Alitalia (AZ) (www.alitalia.com) is the main domestic carrier. Other local budget operators are Meridiana (www.meridiana.it), Air One (www.flyairone.it), Windjet (www.volawindjet.it) and AirAlps (www.airalps.at). For the best deals on flights to Italy, travel out of season. Otherwise book ahead at peak times such as Easter week, the summer holiday period of July and August, and Christmas.
Italy has many regional airports offering good coverage of the whole peninsula. While flying may be the best option when travelling the length and breadth of the country, shorter routes are better served by the high-speed train network.
Italy has well developed public and private transportation options. The Italian rail network is extensive, especially in the north, generally eclipsing the need for an alternative such as bus or air (both of which, however, exist to some extent). While a number of private railroads exist and provide mostly commuter-type services, the national railway, Ferrovie dello Stato, also provides a sophisticated high-speed rail service that joins the major cities of Italy from Naples through northern cities such as Milan and Turin
Self-drive car hire services are available in most cities, airports and resorts. Many international and Italian firms operate this service. Booking online, in advance, generally yields the best prices. The minimum driving age is 18. Speed limits are 50kph (31mph) in urban areas, 90kph (55mph) on ordinary roads, 110kph (68mph) on dual carriageways and 130kph (80mph) on motorways. Dipped headlights are compulsory outside built-up areas during the day. All vehicles must carry a red warning triangle. Seat belts are compulsory. Note: Fines for driving offences are on-the-spot and particularly heavy.
All EU member states’ driving licenses are recognised in Italy. In practice, many car hire agencies also accept many non-EU licences such as thos from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. Drivers from other countries will need an International Driving Permit. Visitors must carry their log-book, which must be in their name as owner, or have the owner's written permission to drive the vehicle. A driving licence or a motorcycle driving licence is required for motorcycles over 49cc.
There is a very efficient inter-city bus service. The buses are modern, comfortable, fast and well equipped. They also provide a very economical way of traveling around the country.
There are a lot of islands off the coast of Italy, including the major ones of Sardinia and Sicily, so naturally there are a lot of ferries traveling backwards and forwards.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Standards of hygiene, in relation to food health and safety in Italy,are generally high in hotels, restaurants, pubs and nightspots. Restaurants are subject to food safety control legislation, which is implemented by local government. Regulations include certification and regular inspections by health inspectors to ensure hygienic standards are maintained.
It is safe to eat fresh fruit, vegetables and salads, and to put ice in your drinks. Italy's fish, meat and chicken are of excellent quality, so there is no need to limit yourself when enjoying the local cuisine.
There are two cardinal rules of Italian cuisine - eat locally and eat seasonally. Imported foods are changing this picture, but faithful Italian cooks would never eat asparagus, tomatoes or artichokes out of season. Food is part of the rhythm of life, and so Italians eagerly await the arrival of seasonal ingredients from mushrooms in the fall to wild strawberries in the spring.
Tap water throughout Italy is safe to drink and to cook with when taken from taps in urban areas. Not all tap water in rural areas is safe for consumption, so take precautions if necessary.
Climate and Weather
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.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Summers can be steamy, but shorts are still regarded as resort wear by most Italians. Cotton slacks or capri pants for women are a stylish alternative. The appeal of jeans is universal, and a quality pair matched with a sports shirt or blouse is acceptable casual wear in Italy. Pack a sweater or light jacket for travel in spring or early fall. Winters, even in the south, can be chilly, and a wool jacket or coat is a wise choice. Italians tend to regard down jackets and vests as ski resort wear. A small raincoat or travel umbrella is a smart accessory to have year-round.
Women should dress modestly in Italy, churches and some museums often require it. Signs outside many churches detail clothing that is not permitted: usually shorts, bare arms, low-cut dresses and short skirts for women; and shorts, bare arms and tank tops for men.
Electricity and Plug Standards
For the most part, electrical sockets (outlets) in Italy (Repubblica Italiana) are their own standard, the "Type L" Italian CEI 23-16/VII. Also reported to be in use is the "Type C" European CEE 7/16 Europlug. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for both types.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Italy (Repubblica Italiana) usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance is not compatible with 220-240 electrical output, a voltage converter will be necessary.