Italy is located in Southern Europe and comprises the boot-shaped Italian Peninsula and a number of islands including the two largest, Sicily and Sardinia. It lies between latitudes 35° and 47° N, and longitudes 6° and 19° E. The country’s total area is 301,230 km², of which 294,020 km² is land and 7,210 km² is water. Including the islands, Italy has a coastline and border of 7,600 km on the Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian seas (740 km), and borders shared with France (488 km), Austria (430 km), Slovenia (232 km) and Switzerland (740 km). San Marino (39 km) and Vatican City (3.2 km), both enclaves, account for the remainder.
The Apennine Mountains form the peninsula’s backbone and the Alps form most of its northern boundary, where Italy’s highest point is located on Mont Blanc (4,810 m/15,782 ft).[note 1] The Po, Italy’s longest river (652 km/405 mi), flows from the Alps on the western border with France and crosses the Padan plain on its way to the Adriatic Sea. The five largest lakes are, in order of diminishing size: Garda (367.94 km2 or 142 sq mi), Maggiore (212.51 km2 or 82 sq mi, shared with Switzerland), Como (145.9 km2 or 56 sq mi), Trasimeno (124.29 km2 or 48 sq mi) and Bolsena (113.55 km2 or 44 sq mi).
The country is situated at the meeting point of the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate, leading to considerable seismic and volcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, four of which are active: Etna (the traditional site of Vulcan’s smithy), Stromboli, Vulcano and Vesuvius. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and is most famous for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum. Several islands and hills have been created by volcanic activity, and there is still a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei north-west of Naples.
Although the country comprises the Italian peninsula and most of the southern Alpine basin, some of Italy’s territory extends beyond the Alpine basin and some islands are located outside the Eurasian continental shelf. These territories are the comuni of: Livigno, Sexten, Innichen, Toblach (in part), Chiusaforte, Tarvisio, Graun im Vinschgau (in part), which are all part of the Danube’s drainage basin, while the Val di Lei constitutes part of the Rhine’s basin and the islands of Lampedusa and Lampione are on the African continental shelf.
Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when the regional states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor EMMANUEL II. An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito MUSSOLINI established a Fascist dictatorship. His alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy’s defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed. Italy is a charter member of NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC). It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. Persistent problems include sluggish economic growth, high youth and female unemployment, organized crime, corruption, and economic disparities between southern Italy and the more prosperous north.
Italian (includes small clusters of German-, French-, and Slovene-Italians in the north and Albanian-Italians and Greek-Italians in the south).
Italy has a cultural code of etiquette, which mainly governs traditions and social behaviour, and is important in the terms of reputation and consideration. Italian etiquette is mainly based on European etiquette, yet has some slight variations. With such regional differences, Italy does not have set customs, and something that could be considered rude in one region may be, in fact, polite in another. However, by generalisation, Italians are well known to strongly emphasize the importance of family and friends, closeness to their particular church or religion, and attention to dressing-up and being smart – the so-called “bella figura”, or the good impression.
Italian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d’Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area)
Local time is GMT/ITC +1 hour
Italy uses 220V, 50Hz. Italy has its own electrical plug design. The standard “European” two-prong plugs will fit, but grounded (three-prong) plugs from other countries will not.
In most of the inland northern and central regions, the climate ranges from humid subtropical to humid continental and oceanic. In particular, the climate of the Po valley geographical region is mostly continental, with harsh winters and hot summers. The coastal areas of Liguria, Tuscany and most of the South generally fit the Mediterranean climate stereotype. Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior’s higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer.
Clothes to Wear:
Lightweight clothes during summer months, including protection from the midday sun. Light sweaters are needed for evenings. Waterproofs are advised for autumn. Winter months can be quite cold, especially in the northern mainland, so normal winter wear will be required.
Entry & Exit Requirements:
Italy is a party to the Schengen Agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact sheet.
For all other purposes, you need a visa, which you must get from an Italian Embassy or Consulate before entering Italy. For further information concerning visas and entry requirements for Italy, you may contact the Embassy of Italy at 3000 Whitehaven Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, or via telephone at (202) 612-4400; or Italian Consulates General in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, accessible through the Italian Embassy website.
Embassy in Italy
via Vittorio Veneto 121 – 00187 Roma
website: italy.usembassy.gov Telephone (switchboard): (+39) 06.46741
Embassy of Canada to Italy
Via Zara 30, 00198 Rome
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Banks & Currency:
In Italy, as in most of Western Europe, the official currency is the Euro (€). The Euro is divided into 100 cents (centimes, centesimi), with two decimals after the comma. So, a price will often be displayed as €10,00 (ten euros); or €2,14 (two euro and 14 cents), etc.
Be particularly careful when using these commercial Cambio/Change operations as the exchange rate is not clearly posted for smaller transactions. Particularly at Tourist spots like the North side, the foot at the The Ponte Vecchohio. The Change storefront there will charge 19.9% unless a price is negotitated before hand.
Both the fixed and mobile phone systems are available throughout Italy. Telephone numbers of the fixed system used to have separate prefixes (area codes) and a local number. All land line numbers start with 0. Mobile numbers start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services.
By law all public-access internet points must keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer’s ID: expect to be refused access if you don’t provide identification. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record IDs if the connection is provided in the guest’s room, although if the connection is offered in the main public hall then IDs are required. Publicly available wireless access without user identification is illegal, so open Wi-Fi hotspots (like the ones you might expect to find in a mall or café) all have some form of (generally one-time) registration.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food & Drink:
Italian food inside of Italy is different than what they call “Italian food” in America. It is truly one of the most diverse in the world, and in any region, or even city and village you go, there are different specialties. For instance, it could be only misleading to say that Northern Italian cuisine is based on hearty, potato and rice-rich meals, Central Italian cuisine is mainly on pastas, roasts and meat, and Southern Italian cuisine on vegetables, pizza, pasta and seafood: there are so many cross-influences that you’d only get confused trying to categorize. And in any case, Italian cuisine, contrary to popular belief, is not just based on pasta and tomato sauce – that’s only a tiny snippet of the nation’s food, as in some parts of Northern Italy, pasta isn’t even used at all, and rice, potatoes, lentils, soups and similar meals are very common in some parts of the country. Italian food is based upon so many ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes that may seem strange to Americans and other visitors.
Almost every city and region has its own specialities, a brief list of which may include:
- Risotto– Arborio rice that has been sautéed and cooked in a shallow pan with stock. The result is a very creamy and hearty dish. Meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and cheeses are almost always added depending on the recipe and the locale. Many restaurants, families, towns, and regions will have a signature risotto or at least style of risotto, in addition or in place of a signature pasta dish (risotto alla Milanese is a famous Italian classic). Risotto is a typical dish in Lombardy and Piedmont.
- Arancini– Balls of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, and cheese that are deep fried. They are a southern Italian specialty, though are now quite common all over.
- Polenta– Yellow corn meal (yellow grits) that has been cooked with stock. It is normally served either creamy, or allowed to set up and then cut into shapes and fried or roasted. It is a very common dish in northern mountains restaurants, usually eaten with deer or boar meat.
- GelatoThis is the Italian word for ice cream. The non-fruit flavors are usually made only with milk. Gelato made with water and without dairy ingredients is also known as sorbetto. It’s fresh as a sorbet, but tastier. There are many flavors, including coffee, chocolate, fruit, and tiramisù. When buying at a gelateria, you have the choice of having it served in a wafer cone or a tub; in northen Italy you’ll pay for every single flavour “ball”, and the panna (the milk cream) counts as a flavour; in Rome you can buy a small wafer cone (around 1,80€) a medium one (2,50 €) or a large one (3,00€) without limit of flavours, and the panna is free.
- TiramisùItalian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, and ladyfingers (sometimes rum) with cocoa powder on the top. The name means “pick-me-up”.
Italians enjoy going out during the evenings, so it’s common to have a drink in a bar before dinner. It is called Aperitivo. Within the last couple years, started by Milan, a lot of bars have started offering fixed-price cocktails at aperitivo hours (18 – 21) with a free, and often a very good, buffet meal. It’s now widely considered stylish to have this kind of aperitivo (called Happy Hour) instead of a structured meal before going out to dance or whatever.
Italian bars in the center of major cities charge more (typically double whatever the final bill is) if you drink or eat seated at a table outside rather than standing at the bar or taking your order to go. This is because bars are charged a very high tax to place tables and chair outside, so since most people do not use tables anyway, they had decided long ago to only charge those who do. The further away you are from the center streets, the less this rule is applied. When calling into a bar for a coffee or other drink you first go to the cash register and pay for what you want. You then give the receipt to the barman, who will serve you.
Italy is a great place for all forms of shopping. Most cities, villages and towns, are crammed to the brim with many different forms of shops, from glitzy boutiques and huge shopping malls, to tiny art galleries, small food stores, antique dealers and general newsagents.
- Foodis definitely one of the best souvenirs you can get in Italy. There are thousands of different shapes of pasta (not only spaghetti or maccaroni). Then, every italian region has its typical food like cheese, wine, ham, salami, oil, winegare, etc. Don’t forget to buy Nutella.
- Italian fashionis renowned worldwide. Many of the world’s most famous international brands have their headquarters or were founded in Italy.Milan is Italy’s fashion and design capital. In the city one can find virtually every major brand in the world, not only Italian, but also French, English, American, Swedish and Spanish. Your main place for the creme de la creme shopping is the Via Montenapoleone, but the Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, Via Sant’ Andrea and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele are equally luxurious, if not slightly less prominent, high-class shopping streets. The Corso Buenos Aires is the place to go for mass-scale or outlet shopping. And, the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in the centre and Via Dante boast some designer boutiques, too. Virtually every street in central Milan does boast at least some clothing stores of some kind. However, Rome and Florence, are too, serious fashion centres, and boast being the birthplace of some of the oldest fashion and jewelry houses in Italy. When in Rome, the chic and beautiful Via dei Condotti, leading to the Spanish Steps, will be your primary point of shopping reference, with boutiques but subsidary streets such as Via dei Babuino, Via Borgognona, Via Frattina, Via del Corso and the Piazza di Spagna. In Florence, Via de’ Tornabuoni is the main high-fashion shopping street, and there you’ll find loads of designer brands. However, in both cities, you’ll be able to find a plethora of chic boutiques, designer or not, scattered around the centre.
- Jewelry and accessoryshops can be found in abundance in Italy. There are loads of jewelry and accessory stores which hail from Italy. Vicenza and Valenza are considered the country’s jewelry capitals, which are also famous for their silverware and goldware shops. All over Italy, notably Vicenza, Milan, Valenza, Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice, but also several other cities, you can find hundreds of different jewelry or silverware boutiques. Apart from the famous ones, there are some great quirky and funky jewelry stores scattered around the country.
- Design and furnitureis something Italy is proudly and justifiably famous for. Excellent quality furniture stores can be found all over, but the real place to buy the best deals is Milan. Milan contains amongst the top design rooms and emporia in the world. For the newest design inventions, attend the Fiera di Milano in Rho, where the latest appliances are exhibited. Many Italian cities have great antique furniture stores. So, you can choose between cutting-edge, avant-garde furniture, or old world antiques to buy in this country, which are, by average, of good quality.
- Glasswareis something which Venice makes uniquely but which is spread around the whole of the country. In Venice is famously the capital of Murano (not the island), or glassware made in different colours. Here, you can get stunning goblets, crystal chandeliers, candlesticks and decorations made in stunning, multi-coloured blown glass, which can be designed in modern, funky arrangements, or the classical old style.
- Bookscan be found in bookshops in every small, medium sized or big city. The main book and publishing companies/stores in Italy include Mondadori, Hoepli or Rizzoli. Most big bookstores are found in Milan, Turin and nearby Monza, which are the capitals of Italy’s publishing trade (Turin was made World Book Capital in 2006), however cities such as Rome and more boast loads of book shops. 99% of the books sold are in italian.
- Artshops can be found all over in Italy, notably the most artistic cities of Florence, Rome and Venice. In Florence, the best place to go for buying art is the Oltrarno, where there are numerous ateliers selling replicas of famous paintings or similar things. Usually, depending in what city you’re in, you get replicas of notable works of art found there, but also, you can find rare art shops, sculpture shops, or funky, modern/old stores in several cities.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
As in most of Europe tipping isn’t expected in Italy. However, if you receive exceptional service, which meets or exceeds your standards, tipping would be appropriate. People in the service industry may refuse your tip at first, but they are just being polite. If you want to leave a tip, insist.
Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers. Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases, drones are already forbidden, and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone, please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.