Country guides Europe
Italy Travel Guide
Italy, the historical centre of the Roman Empire, boasts more cultural sights and attractions than travellers could ever hope to see in a single visit. In fact, Italy lays claim to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites (54 in total) than any other country in the world. 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 and 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 spectacular.
Of course, Italy's culture does not only belong in the past, as the country remains on the cutting-edge of haute couture. 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 cuisine is naturally even more delicious when prepared in its homeland, with visitors to Italy able to look forward to interesting regional variations of their favourite pizza and pasta dishes.
Whether enjoying a holiday in Venice, where the songs of gondoliers are carried on the evening breeze, relaxing on the staggering Amalfi coastline, or exploring Verona, sipping an espresso in a crowded piazza while the sun sinks behind a skyline of Gothic spires, Italy will be an experience visitors 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 accommodation is usually cheaper as there are fewer tourists around. 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.
What to see in Italy
-Visit the Colosseum, the ancient site of Roman pageantry and gladiatorial combat in Rome.
-Stand in the shadow of Milan's awe-inspiring Duomo (Cathedral), the world's most grandiose example of Gothic architecture.
-Explore 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.
-Visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and be blown away by one of the finest collections of art on the planet.
What to do in Italy
-Flick a coin into the famous waters of the Trevi Fountain. Legend has it that whoever does is guaranteed a return visit to Rome one day!
-Tour the museums of Vatican City and marvel at the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
-Ride a gondola through Venice's famous waterways.
-Drive through the gorgeous Chianti Region, sampling some of the country's finest wines and olive oils.
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).
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 pasta dishes (such as cuttlefish-ink-based pasta sauces in Venice) and the mandatory Naples pizza.
What to buy
For a special trinket or a gift for a loved one back home, buy some authentic Murano glassware, which 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
Clothing is very expensive in Italy so 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, drawing 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, and enjoy the tradition of eating roasted chestnuts and shopping around the antique markets.
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
Italy is a country uniquely blessed with sights, attractions, great food and wine, and a lovely climate. It's not only the historical 'centre of the western world' but one of its most enthralling modern-day tourist destinations.