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Italy dips down out of Europe and into the Mediterranean like a lady's leg firmly planted in a sleek stiletto, so it's hardly surprising that Italians are known for their impeccable style and fashionable dress sense. Italy once had an empire that stretched across the globe. Today, it is home to the most spectacular churches, frescoes, sculptures, and Renaissance paintings in all of Europe.
More than 3,000 years of history are spread across landscapes ranging from quiet, pastoral hillside olive farms and seaside fishing villages, to the Armani-wearing, scooter-driving, espresso-drinking buzz of the big cities. Italy is also home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country on earth, with an incredible 54 sites of global historical significance dotted around the country.
Italy's cities reveal awe-inspiring architecture from the curved arches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to the crumbling magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome. Home of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Botticelli, its artworks are a visual feast.
Nestled into the outskirts of Rome is the independent Vatican City, seat of the Pope and home to the famous St Peter's Basilica and Sistine Chapel. The influence of the Holy Catholic Church on the people of Italy is still evident today, with holy festivals, carnivals, and parades in almost every city, town and village.
From the twisting canals of Venice, to the beaches of the Riviera, and the rocky crags of the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines, Italy offers unique experiences to every kind of tourist.
Littered with more than 3,000 years of history, Italy is a sightseer's paradise. Spend some time in Rome taking in famous sites like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon. With artworks on display from the likes of Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Botticelli, it's a visual buffet for all visitors.
Head north to explore the canals of Venice by gondola, or indulge in the wonderful shopping in the fashion capital of Milan. A little further south is the magical city of Florence, teeming with culture and Italian flair. Continue south past Rome to Naples and explore the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed by Mount Vesuvius, which can be seen standing sentinel over the city. Italy takes a lifetime to explore properly because there is so much on offer for visitors. From the gondola-lined canals of Venice to the white sandy beaches of San Remo, to the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines, Italy has everything from beach holidays to luxury mountain ski resorts and a whole lot more in between.
The most popular time of year to visit Italy is during the summer months when most of the country can be enjoyed like a fine Italian wine - slowly. A trip to the rolling hills of Tuscany is in order to sample some fine wine and olive oil, as well as plenty of old style Italian cuisine, while taking in the scenery of cypress trees, lush vines and olive groves. The more adventurous travellers can head to the Italian Alps and visit the resorts of Courmayer and Brevil Cervinia for some world-class skiing.
Separated from central Rome by the Tiber River, Trastevere is a picturesque medieval neighbourhood characterised by a quirky Bohemian atmosphere. Its narrow cobblestone streets are lined with overhanging flower boxes and washing lines and are home to numerous cafes, boutiques, pubs and restaurants. The area has long attracted artists, famous people and expats, and is a charming place to explore, having escaped the grand developments of central Rome. Trastevere looks like most foreigners expect an Italian village to look, which is partly why tourists find it so enchanting; the photographic opportunities are endless! There are some glorious old churches in the area, perhaps the most lovely of which is the Basilica of Santa Maria, which has wonderful mosaics and draws many visitors into the area for the first time. The best way to explore is just to wander aimlessly and see where your feet take you. It is quite different at night time, when it seems more elegant, and it is worth visiting more than once. As a result of the areas popularity and bohemian atmosphere beggars and scam artists can be a problem and travellers should be wary of unwanted attention.
Palermo's largest art museum, devoted to medieval works, is housed within the Gothic-styled Palazzo Abbatellis (built in 1488). The collection is fascinating and includes several particularly interesting works. The Bust of Eleanor of Aragon by Francesco Laurana, for example, dates from 1471 and is considered to be the epitome of Renaissance Sicilian sculpture; while the beautiful masterpiece painting Our Lady of the Annunciation is considered Antonello da Messina's greatest work. Also renowned is the chilling Triumph of Death fresco by an unknown 15th-century artist that covers an entire wall. The art is wonderful but so is the building, and you get a good sense of the layout of the palace as you wander from room to room. Unfortunately, there are no audio guides and scant information at the gallery so it is best to bring your own research with you to appreciate what you are seeing. There is a library and a bookshop at the palace, and guided tours are usually available, but they tend to be in Italian only. No photography is allowed.
Capitoline Hill was the original capital of Ancient Rome and continues to serve as the seat of the city's government. It is the smallest, but also the most famous, of the Seven Hills of Rome, and once housed the Senate. The main feature of the area is Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio, a testimony to the superiority of Renaissance town planning. The piazza is bordered by three palaces: the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the twin structures of the Palazzo dei Senatori and Palazzo Nuovo, which house the Musei Capitolini, containing the largest collection of Classical statues in the world. Among the notable statues found here are the Dying Gaul and the Satyr, the Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus, and the Spinario. Paths cut along the side of the hill from the Campidoglio allow visitors to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the ancient sites of the Forum and Colosseum. Exploring this historic area is a must for anybody interested in ancient Rome and the sense of age and power is thrilling. Although the buildings are not all old the hill gives an amazing sense of what it must have been like during the peak of the Roman Empire. The steps to the top can be a bit daunting but the climb is well worth the effort, and there is access for disabled visitors.
The site of Ancient Rome's commercial, political and religious centre rests in the valley between the Capitoline and Palatine hills. The Forum's main thoroughfare, Via Sacra, slices through the old market square and former civic centre. To make sense of the ruins and relics of the old Republic, it is helpful to consult a map of the area. Some of the best-preserved and most notable monuments include the impressive Arch of Septimus Severus - a construction designed to celebrate Roman victory over the Parthinians - and the former atrium of the House of the Vestal Virgins, and the Temple of Vesta. Also of note are the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, and the Arch of Titus, built to celebrate Titus' destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. To the right of the arch are stairs snaking up the Palatine Hill, through a series of terraces to the Farnese gardens. The scented avenue, festooned with roses and orange trees, gives way to a magnificent vista over the Forum. Negotiating your way through the ruins is thrilling but can be confusing and this attraction is best tackled with a guide or at least a good map. There are some really wonderful guides available and they enrich the experience with information and context.
Known to be one of the most impressive buildings of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum was the largest structure of its era. Emperor Vespasian, founder of the Flavian Dynasty, started construction of the Colosseum in 72 AD and it was completed in 80 AD. This enduring symbol of ancient Rome, which used to be called the Flavian Amphitheater, tenaciously clings to its foundations as the site of former gladiatorial conquests and brutal public entertainment. Its architecture boasts an impressive array of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns and an underground network of cells, corridors, ramps and elevators that were used to transport animals from their cages to the arena. It could once hold a crowd of 55,000 spectators and had 80 entrances. Emperors staged days of free public entertainment in this vast building, and not all the games were brutal and blood-thirsty - they often began with comedic acts and exotic animal displays, but did invariably include gladiatorial fights to the death. The magnificence of the original structure has been eroded through the years by pillaging and earthquakes so that only a skeletal framework remains; however, the sense of history the Colosseum is still able to evoke is truly awe-inspiring and it remains one of Rome's knock-out attractions, featuring on the bucket lists of many a traveller.
The stately Pantheon is one of the world's most inspiring architectural designs; almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Built as a temple to the Roman gods by Hadrian in 120 AD, its perfectly proportioned floating dome rests seductively on sturdy marble columns. The only light source is the central oculus, which was used by the Romans to measure time (with the aid of a sundial) and the dates of equinoxes and solstices. The sunlight pouring through the oculus and illuminating the floor in the otherwise dark church is quite a sight. The south transept houses the Carafa Chapel and the tomb of Fra Angelico rests under the left side of the altar. The Pantheon is still an active place of worship and Christian services are conducted regularly. Visitors should show respect and keep their voices down; this is not difficult as the interior inspires awe and humility which is perhaps why the atmosphere is almost always peaceful and quiet despite the crowds of people that visit. Photography is allowed and there are audio guides available for hire. One of the most iconic buildings in the world and certainly among Rome's most famous attractions, the Pantheon is a must-see which seldom leaves visitors unaffected.
The graceful Spanish Steps, built in 1725, elegantly curve their way from the Piazza di Spagna to the Church of Santa Trinit dei Monti, a pastel-tinted neoclassical building. The shopper's paradise of Via Condotti leads back from the Spanish steps to Via del Corso, and during spring the steps are decorated with pink azaleas. At the foot of the steps lies Bernini's boat-shaped Barcaccia Fountain, and to the right is the unassuming Keats-Shelley Memorial House. For lovers of the Romantic poets the steps have become a sort of pilgrimage site as a result of the Memorial House. The steps and piazza can get really crowded but the bustle is actually part of the attraction in this case: the Spanish Steps are perfect for settling down to some people-watching and soaking up the atmosphere of the city. The steps are iconic and if you do walking tours of Rome you are almost guaranteed a stop here. Lots of artists and musicians perform in the area which gives it a festive feel, but beware of tourist scams, like men approaching pretty women to give them flowers and then demanding payment. If you want to take photographs it's best to arrive early in the morning before the crowds do.
The tiny Piazza di Trevi has been immortalised through this fountain, built for Pope Clement XII. Arguably the most famous and most beautiful fountain in all of Rome, and the largest Baroque fountain in the city, the statues adorning this watery display represent Abundance, Agrippa, Salubrity, the Virgin and Neptune guided by two Tritons. The fountain marks the terminal point of an ancient aqueduct that supplied Rome for more than four hundred years. The story of the discovery of the spring of fresh water channelled into this aqueduct is represented on the fountain's facade. Tossing a coin into the fountain (over your shoulder, with your back turned to the water) is supposed to guarantee a return trip to Rome. This well-known myth has ensured that thousands of euros are thrown into the fountain every day by tourists desperate for a chance to return; the money is used for charitable projects so visitors are at least supporting a good cause, although often unknowingly. There are regular attempts to steal money out of the fountain as well! The Trevi Fountain has been immortalised in many films and has become a top attraction in Rome. The best time to visit is at night when it is stunningly lit up.
The Basilica lies above the reputed site of St. Peter's tomb. It has an overwhelming interior, containing notable sculptures including Michelangelo's Pieta, which is protected by bullet-proof glass since the damaging attack on it in 1972. In the central aisle stands Arnolfo da Cambio's bronze statue of St Peter, its foot worn down by the constant flow of pilgrims' kisses. Proudly resting above the papal altar is Bernini's Throne of St Peter. The Vatican Grottoes, containing papal tombs, can be reached by steps from the statue of St Longinus. The Necropolis is located one level below the grottoes. This is the legendary site of St Peter's tomb and advance permission has to be obtained to view it. Tours of the Necropolis, called the Scavi Tour, take about 90 minutes and are fascinating but must be booked well in advance. Children under 11 are not permitted on the tour. A strict dress code is in place for St Peter's Basilica and no shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts are allowed (for men and women). There are frequent religious services at the Basilica which may disrupt visiting times. St Peter's Basilica is one of the most famous religious attractions in the world and even from a secular perspective is breathtakingly impressive, with enough art and history on offer to impress even the most experienced of travellers.
The Vatican City is a remarkable entity in that it is an independent state administered by the Roman Catholic Church, and one of the world's richest countries. The population of this enclave doubles during the working week as residents from Rome cross into the Vatican City to work within its boundaries. Scandal and intrigue has somewhat tarnished the papacy's image over the years, but this does not detract from the magnificence of the art collections housed within its buildings, or the passion the city inspires in the many pilgrims who flock to its holy sites. Pope Francis has brought the Vatican back into the limelight in many positive ways. The must-see attractions when on holiday in the Vatican City include St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel.
The Sistine Chapel, one of Italy's most popular attractions, is known for the famous ceiling, painted by Michelangelo, which looms above the frescoes on the side walls, painted by an illustrious team of artists that included Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Roselli, Pinturicchio, Signorelli and della Gatta. The altar wall is covered by Michelangelo's Last Judgement, revealing the figure of Christ hovering above centre and flanked by Mary and other saintly figures. The chapel is justified in its fame and leaves travellers breathless; it is a profoundly special place to visit.
The Vatican Museums provide access to one of the world's greatest collections of art. The galleries stretch over four miles (6km), and include the magnificent Raphael Rooms, the Etruscan Museum, and the Pio-Clementino Museum, which boasts the world's largest collection of Classical statues.
The Uffizi is one of the world's greatest art galleries, with a collection of Renaissance paintings that includes the works of Giotto, Masaccio, Paolo Ucello, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio. The collection is housed on the top floor of a building designed as the offices (uffizi) of the Medici, commissioned by Duke Cosimo I. From 1581, Cosimo's heirs used the upper storey to display the Medici art treasures. Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures line the inner corridors of the gallery and a series of rooms jut off from here, showcasing the chronological development of Florentine art from Gothic to High Renaissance and beyond. The scale and magnitude of the collection may need to be enjoyed over two visits. Rooms 1-15 (Florentine Renaissance) could be explored more thoroughly on the first trip and on the next visit one could concentrate on rooms 16 to 45 (from High Renaissance to later Italian and European paintings). The Uffizi is a must-see attraction in Florence if you have any interest in and appreciation for art, and many would argue that if you only visit one gallery in Italy this should be it. The queues can get frustratingly long so it is best to arrive as early as possible.
Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo or Cathedral of Florence, is set in the heart of the city and perches above the metropolis like an emperor before his subjects. Its most distinctive feature is the enormous dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built between 1420 and 1436. Visitors can climb between the two shells of the cupola for an unrivalled panorama of the city.
The original Gothic exterior was destroyed in 1587 so that it could be replaced by the styling of the High Renaissance. However, this vision died prematurely with its patron, the Grand Duke Francesco de Medici, and the funding to build the neo-Gothic façade that we see today was not found until the 19th Century. The Campanile (bell tower) was built according to Giotto's designs in 1334, and is an elegant prop to Brunelleschi's stout Cathedral. The tower is decorated with two garlands of bas-reliefs, strung around its pink, white and green marble façade. Above, sculptures of the Prophets and Sybils, carved by Donatello, look down upon the city below.
The Campanile can also be climbed for the magnificent views over the square and the adjacent cathedral. The neighbouring Baptistry, with its famous doors designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, is one of Florence's oldest buildings and was originally a pagan temple. The gilded brass doors, dubbed the 'Gates of Paradise', were commissioned in 1401 to mark Florence's deliverance from the plague. The original panels are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (the Duomo Works Museum), which exists largely to safeguard the sculptures removed from the doors and niches around the Piazza del Duomo. The museum also contains the machines used in the construction of the cathedral's dome, and has displays devoted to the problematic construction of the cathedral's façade. A room containing Ghiberti's baptistry doors provides an opportunity to closely examine the stiacciato relief technique used.
Other noteworthy artefacts found in the museum include Michelangelo's Pieta, the carved figures of Donatello's Prophets as well as his Magdalene sculpture. In the anteroom are Andrea Pisano's panels from the first few levels of the bell tower.
This Gothic Palazzo shelters a treasured national collection of Renaissance sculpture. Before its renovation to become Italy's first national museum, the building, constructed in 1255, functioned as a town hall, private residence and prison. It is one of the oldest buildings in Florence and has been the setting for some important episodes of civic history over the centuries, including sieges, fires and executions; the most famous being that of Baroncelli, who was executed for his involvement in a plot against the Medici, an execution witnessed by Leonardo da Vinci. An extensive collection of decorative art is on display, in addition to the magnificent sculptures of Michelangelo, Donatello, Giambologna and Cellini. The Palazzo's inner courtyard is ornamented with numerous coats of arms and the grand stairwell leading to the second-story loggia overflows with bronze birds created for the Medici's gardens. Other notable displays include an Islamic collection, an assortment of ivories (the largest collection in the world) and 16th-century majolica porcelain from Urbino, Faenza and Florence. The Bargello is one of the most famous and popular museums in Florence and seldom fails to impress and awe visitors.
Santa Croce, a magnificent Gothic church built in 1294, contains the tombs of many celebrated Florentines, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Ghiberti and Machiavelli. The Gothic interior is graced by the radiant frescoes of Giotto and his pupil Taddeo Gaddi, and integrated into the cloister next to the church is Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel (Cappella de' Pazzi). The tomb of famous composer Rossini is also a great favourite with visitors. When Lord Byron first laid eyes on the church he declared himself 'drunk with beauty'; a feeling shared by many visitors today. There is such a wealth of historic art and so many notable people buried at the church that tours are a great way to experience Santa Croce, but as it is a place of worship and they try to keep noise to a minimum headsets are compulsory for guided tour groups and must be requested at the Ticket Office by the tour leader. There are also detailed audio guides in English and other languages if you want to explore alone, but you will have to leave some form of identification at the desk when you collect one. The large square in front of the church is a great meeting place and there are some lovely restaurants and cafes about for refreshments.
The Ponte Vecchio's status as the oldest bridge in Florence saved it from destruction during the Nazi retreat from Italy in 1944. They defied orders to blow up the stately bridge straddling the Arno River and bombed the ancient buildings on either side of it instead. The Arno Flood of 1966 also tested the bridge's resilience, and swept parts of it away in its powerful current. The most affected sections were the iconic overhanging shops belonging to the gold and silversmiths. In 1593 the original tenants - butchers, tanners and blacksmiths - were evicted from the workshops because of the noise and stench they created, to make way for more refined merchants and craftsmen. To one side of the bridge is the majestic bust of the most famous Florentine goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini. Perched above the shops is a secret passageway, the Vasari Corridor, providing an elevated link to the Palazzo Pitti via the Uffizi. It was the private walkway of the Medicis who could move between the various residences without having to rub shoulders with the riff raff. The Ponte Vecchio is charming at night, when it is lit up and the bright shops beckon in visitors. It is an icon of Florence and an enduringly popular attraction.
Originally owned by the wealthy banker Luca Pitti, the Palazzo later became the property of the Medici family and was the one-time residence of the Italian king. It is a grand structure that now boasts no less than seven museums. Among these are the Medici treasures that are showcased in the Museo degli Argenti, the Museum of Costumes and the Porcelain Museum. The Galleria d'Arte Moderna provides a fascinating display of works from the Macchiaioli school - early 19th-century proto-impressionist paintings - as well as a collection of Neoclassical and Romantic art. The collections in the Palazzo Pitti can keep visitors captivated for hours.
Extending behind the palace are the elaborately landscaped and beautifully maintained Giardino Boboli (Boboli Gardens), one of the oldest gardens in Italy and well-known for its fountains and grottoes. The most celebrated aspect of the gardens is the Grotta del Buontalenti, located close to the entrance. In the deepest recess of the cave is the sculpture Venus Emerging from her Bath, attended by curious imps. Another notable structure is the enormous amphitheatre designed on a scale to serve the Medici's tastes.
Attracted by the mineral wealth found in the regions of Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria, the Etruscans made their way to Italy around 900 BC. Traces of Etruscan civilisation can be found in their burial sites and in the artefacts found in their tombs. They were preoccupied with the afterlife and dedicated much effort to building burial sites carved into rock, or constructed from stone slab and reached by purpose-built rock-cut roads.
For an exploration of Etruscan artefacts start at Grosseto. The Museo Civico Archeologico in Grosseto contains a selection of Etruscan artefacts that were found in tombs nearby. Head north from here to Roselle, the most important excavated Etruscan and Roman remains in Tuscany. From here, follow the road leading east for 34 miles (54km) to the Etruscan village of Saturnia to explore its rock-cut tombs and then on to Sovanato to see the famous Ildebranda Tomb.
The town of Pitigliano is peppered with Etruscan tombs and tunnels. The town itself is a spectacular vista of houses jutting out over soft limestone cliffs and caves bordering the River Lente. The cliffs contain numerous caves that have been used to store local wines and olive oils and the town itself is a labyrinth of medieval streets that have carried the passage of many a traveller. From this quaint town, head west to the extensive necropolis on the outskirts of Marsiliana. Complete the trip with a stop at Talamone and Maremma, for a visit to the Etruscan temple, Roman villa and baths.
In addition to these more famous examples, the region is scattered with evidence of the Etruscans - look out for signposts as you explore!
A circular route from Siena through the Chianti hills provides visitors to Tuscany with a wonderfully scenic and sensory travel experience. The route covers the villages of the Chianti Classico wine region, garnished with ancient castles and rambling farmhouses. The vineyards and wooded hills of the Chianti are best explored along its winding back roads or from within its sleepy hamlets. By car, visitors should keep a lookout for signs marked 'vendita diretta' ('direct sales'). The first stop is at Castello di Brolio, a magnificent vineyard owned by the Ricasoli family since 1167. The SS484 will take you south of Brolio and north past the hamlets of San Gusme, Campi and Linari before rejoining the road for a diversion to the Meleto castle. Another worthwhile stop is at Badia a Coltibuono, for its restaurant and Romanesque church. The winding road west to Radda, in Chianti, is especially picturesque. A further nine miles (15km) from here is the hamlet of Volapia, a delightful place which makes you feel as though you've travelled back in time; as does a visit to sleepy Castellina. Within the ramparts of this walled village is the Bottega del Vino Galla Nero, at Via della Rocca 13, showcasing the region's delectable wines and olive oils. There are many potential detours and attractions in the region and although it is a good idea to pick a few desired stops in advance it is a joy to just get lost in the area.
Montepulciano is Tuscany's highest hilltop town, built along a narrow limestone ridge at 1,950ft (605m) above sea level. Although not quite as well known as some of the other historic hill villages in Tuscany, Montepulciano is fast being 'discovered' by tourists seeking out the best of the region, and it benefits from not being thronged by visitors, retaining its mystery and authenticity. Sheltered within the town's fortified walls are charming streets packed with Renaissance-style palaces and churches. Within the incredibly intact historic centre no major building work has been done since 1580, making it one of the best-preserved historic centres in Italy. Montepulciano's most celebrated achievement is its Vino Nobile wines. Also of interest is the Madonna di San Biagio, a delightful pilgrimage church on the outskirts of the town. For a dip into Etruscan reliefs and funerary urns collected by Pietro Bucelli, visit his Palazzo on Via di Gracciano del Corso 73. For splendid views, take a stroll to the Palazzo Communale and climb the tower. The village also boasts some lovely Tuscan restaurants and is wonderfully picturesque, with a backdrop of vineyards, corn, sunflowers and distant forested hills. It would be difficult to be bored or unimpressed in this special village.
This fascinating, world-class museum houses the Farnese collection of antiquities from Lazio and Campania and the incredible treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Notable among these collections are the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull, the largest known ancient sculpture. On the mezzanine level is the Alexander Mosaic and at the furthest end of the mezzanine floor is the Secret Room (Gabinetto Segreto). The intriguing collection contained here showcases erotic material found in the brothels, baths, houses and taverns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The top section of the museum houses the Campanian wall paintings, well-preserved creations attesting to a mysterious past world. These are supported by a range of artefacts, in the form of glass, silver, ceramics, rope and even foodstuffs surviving from the Campanian cities of yesteryear. The remarkable collection is housed in a 17th-century building interesting in itself. Visitors should check ahead whether all the exhibits in the museum will be open to avoid disappointment as the most popular exhibits are subject to close at any time for restoration and maintenance work. Although a popular attraction in its own right, the museum is also a worthwhile stop if you plan to visit Pompeii as so many of its treasures are stored here.
The Chapel of San Gennaro is accessed from the south aisle of the Cathedral of Naples. This 13th-century Gothic building is dedicated to the patron saint of the city. Tradition tells the story of how two phials of San Gennaro's congealed blood liquefied in the bishop's hand after his martyred body was transported to the church. Legend has it that disaster will strike if the blood fails to liquefy on specific festival days - the first Saturday in May, on September 19 and December 16. The liquefaction ceremony, known as the Miracle of the Blood, takes place during a special Mass in full view of the congregation. The first chapel on the right upon entry into the cathedral is dedicated to San Gennaro (also known as Saint Januarius) and holds the famous phials of blood and a silver reliquary containing his skull. Beneath the Duomo are the excavations of well-preserved Greek and Roman roads that stretch beneath the modern city. Special tours of the excavations can be arranged. Generations of wealthy Neopolitains funded the cathedral and it is a treasure trove of local history and religious iconography.
Visitors should be aware that there have been some incidents of pickpocketing outside of the cathedral. Entry to the cathedral is free, but there is a charge to visit the archaeological site.
This museum occupies a restored 18th-century palace perched on the city's hills, and its artworks are arranged by collections and not chronology. The Farnese and Bourbon rulers amassed impressive collections of Renaissance paintings and Flemish masterpieces that can be viewed along with other great works. Notable among these are Masaccio's Crucifixion, Filipino Lippi's Annunciation and Saints, Raphael's Leo X, Bellini's Transfiguration, Michelangelo's Three Soldiers and Breughel's The Allegory of the Blind.
The palace is an attraction in its own right and the royal apartments are beautifully decorated and preserved with their 18th-century furnishings. Capodimonte is a pleasant neighbourhood in Naples, and the park surrounding the gallery is great for a peaceful stroll after ogling the art and finery of the museum. Various rooms and sections of the museum are closed to the public periodically for maintenance but the collection is so vast that this usually hardly matters; however, to avoid disappointment, check ahead how much of the museum is open, or ask at the entrance before buying your ticket. Although the collection is fascinating, the audio guide is not amazing and perhaps not worth the additional cost.
Venice's main waterway splits the city in half, with sestieri in equal parts to the west and east of it. It is the hub around which much activity in Venice is concentrated and is encircled with the elegant facades of the palazzi, which testify to the city's past opulence. Many of the picture-perfect scenes that make Venice famous can be discovered along the Grand Canal.
The best way to explore the architectural splendour of these Renaissance buildings is on board a vaporetta. Pedestrian access across the canal is only provided along three bridges situated at the station, Rialto and Academia. Gondolas cross the canal at regular intervals and provide a romantic interlude to the sightseeing itinerary. Although a gondola ride along the Grand Canal is glorious, it is often better to explore the smaller waterways by gondola, as the Grand Canal can become crowded and stressful in peak season.
Grand Canal palaces and buildings to look out for include the Ca da Mosto, with its rounded arches in low relief; the 'House of Gold' (Ca d'Ora), a beautiful Gothic building constructed between 1424 and 1430; and Palazzo Corner-Spinelli and Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, which combine classical and Byzantine elements designed by Mauro Codussi. Architect Jacopo Sansovino was inspired by Codussi's style and infused this in his creation of the Palazzo Corner (Ca Granda). Another notable Palazzo is the Grimani di San Luca, designed by Michele Sanmicheli.
St Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) has always been the nucleus of Venice. The city's first citadel and church were erected on its stony foundations: the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica di San Marco, respectively. The Basilica di San Marco is a unique juxtaposition of Byzantine, western European and Islamic architectural styles. The Basilica's most precious relic is the Pala d'Or, a Venetian-Byzantine gold relief adorned with precious gems. Travellers and pigeons flock to the Piazza with equal zeal. It is the tourists, however, who pay dearly to eat or drink at the elegant cafes that spill onto the pavements. The pigeons are an attraction in themselves for children, and if you are travelling to Venice with kids they will relish the chance to feed the birds in this romantic place. Designer shops line the streets that radiate from the square. There are worthwhile places of interest to explore beyond the square that include the Museo Correr, the Archaeological Museum and the Museo del Risorgimento, which are housed within the Procuratie Nuova. Attached to the Procuratie Vecchie is the triumphal Torre dell'Orologio. The adjoining archway guides one through to the Mercerie, Venice's main commercial street, that stretches to the famous Rialto Bridge.
One of Venice's most iconic landmarks, the Rialto Bridge has long been the commercial core of Venice and is often described as the heart of the city. It is the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal, and is one of only four that do. The structure standing today is over 400 years old, but it isn't the original bridge: the original wooden bridge collapsed under the strain of crowds gathered here to admire a wedding procession long ago, legend has it; it was replaced by the (sturdier) single stone arch design of Antonio da Ponte, built in 1588. Whether you're sailing under it, or walking over it, the Rialto Bridge is a must-see in Venice. Today the Rialto area still resembles the bustling fruit and vegetable market of former times, but is additionally swamped with tourists and accompanying souvenir shops and gift kiosks, and it is possible to find almost anything in the markets these days. It gets very crowded but is definitely worth a visit and will delight those who enjoy bustling markets with surprises round every corner. If you are visiting Rialto to take pictures of the bridge or explore the area for the first time it is best to go early in the morning when the throngs of visitors won't disturb you. There are lots of lovely restaurants and cafes in the area as well.
This great Gothic Franciscan church was constructed in the 14th century, and is primarily known as the burial place of Titian and the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova. Titian's tomb in the south aisle watches over the large marble pyramid created for Canova. The interior of the church is adorned with the works of a number of famous artists. These include Donatello's St John the Baptist, Giovanni Bellini's triptych of the Madonna and Saints, Titian's famous Assumption of the Virgin and his Madonna of Case Pesaro. There is an audio guide available for a small additional cost, and for those interested in the art and architecture this is a great addition to a visit. Look out for lovely little details, like the individually designed choir stalls.
Venice is packed with impressive churches and it can be rather hard to select which are worth seeing - the Basilica dei Frari (St Mary of the Friars) is well worth the effort for art lovers and anybody interested in Gothic architecture. The church receives rave reviews from tourists and is consistently one of the top rated attractions in Venice according to visitor reviews. Despite this, the church is seldom crowded and it is usually possible to soak up the special atmosphere and incredible art work in peace and silence.
A 'scuola' in Venice was a mixture of guild and religious fraternity, where members paid annual fees to support fellow members and to decorate the school's premises. The School of St Roch is known for the canvasses of Jacopo Tintoretto that adorn its interior. Tintoretto was commissioned to decorate the School in 1564, and dedicated 23 years to this task. The paintings are arranged in chronological order that can be followed by beginning on the second floor in the Sala dell'Albergo. Notable among his works are the scenes from the Life of the Virgin and the Crucifixion. San Rocco, as the school is known, is one of the top ranked attractions in Venice on tourist review sites and a visit is guaranteed to impress. Although much of the amazing art inside is not labelled or accompanied by much information there is a good audio guide included in the admission price which tells you all you need to know. Many of the rooms are full of mirrors to help visitors see the intricate detail of the art which covers the ceilings and walls without craning their necks. The interior is ornate and quite overwhelming in its artistry and you would be hard put to find somebody who doesn't rave about the experience of exploring San Rocco.
This famous gallery was established in 1807 to house the artwork removed from Venetian churches and public buildings on Napoleon's orders. It is housed in three old religious buildings: the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carità, built in 1344; the Church of the Carità; and the Convento della Carità, a monastery begun in 1561 but never quite completed. The Gallerie dell'Accademia houses one of Europe's finest art collections. Its display follows the progression of Venetian art from the 14th to 18th centuries. Notable works in the gallery include Paolo Veneziano's Coronation of Mary, Carpaccio's Crucifixion and Apotheosis, Giovanni Bellini's Madonna with Child between Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene, Giorgione's Tempest, Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a Young Gentleman in His Studio, Paolo Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi, and Tintoretto's Theft of St Mark's Body and Crucifixion.
Unfortunately, art lovers may find that the gallery has insufficient information on all its treasures, and most of what there is is in Italian; it is a good idea to hire a tour guide, especially as the amount of art can be overwhelming and it is useful to have someone to point out the highlights. The collection also marks many historical events for Venice and a local guide can explain the subject matter and significance of the work.
The Peggy Guggenheim collection is housed in the former Palazzo of the wealthy American heiress, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, situated on the Grand Canal, and has become one of the most illustrious collections of modern art in Italy. It spans the artistic movements of Cubism, European Abstraction and Surrealism, with notable works by Brancusi, Marino Marini, Kandinsky, Picasso, Magritte, Rothko, Max Ernst, Dali, Jackson Pollock and many more. The impressive permanent collection is further enriched by temporary exhibitions of high quality. Guggenheim built up her collection between 1938 and 1947, and bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in 1948, where she lived until her death in 1979. This exciting, prestigious and often bizarre collection is a great departure from the overwhelming amount of Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance art and architecture in Venice, and exploring the museum is a fun and atypical sort of way to spend a few hours in the city. There are wonderful views of the Grand Canal from the terrace and there is a good little gift shop and popular cafe at the palazzo. The small outdoor area showcases a number of sculptures and has some pleasant spots to rest and take in the surroundings.
The looming Duomo, one of the world's largest Gothic cathedrals, presides over the Milanese Piazza that bears its name. Its construction began in 1386 and continued sporadically until Napoleon ordered its completion in 1809. Its lengthy creation bestowed on it 3,400 statues, 135 spires and 96 gargoyles. It is best visited in full sunshine when the interior is illuminated by the colourful mosaic of its stained glass windows. The church is a five-aisled cruciform seating 40,000 worshippers. The 16th-century marble tomb of Giacomo de Medici lies in the southern transept, and lying buried at its heart is St Charles Borromeo, the cathedral's most important benefactor. Every year in May and September a nail from the cross of Christ is displayed to worshippers, retrieved from its resting-place by the bishop who is hoisted to the nivola to reach it. Across the piazza, in the Palazzo Reale, is the Museo del Duomo that displays the treasures from the cathedral. It also houses the Museo d'Arte Contomporanea, showcasing a collection of Italian Futurist art. The cathedral is the centre of Milan, both literally and figuratively, and the square is a wonderful meeting place and landmark - the city's roads radiate out from the square and it makes a glorious starting point for explorations of Milan.
There are admission charges for certain parts of the cathedral.
This world-famous opera house rests on the site of the Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, its namesake. For opera fanatics seeing a performance at La Scala is the experience of a lifetime. Check the official website below to see what is showing during your visit. Ticket prices vary depending on seating and show but should be booked far in advance.
The La Scala Museum is also well worth a visit and provides a wealth of mementos from the opera house dedicated to the nation's beloved composers and performers. These include Rossini, Puccini and Toscanini. Two halls are devoted to Verdi alone, and contain memorabilia such as the spinet on which he learned to play, hand-written scores and the baton given to him after the momentous reception of his best-loved work, Aida. There are also exhibitions featuring some of the elaborate costumes worn in the theatre over the years, and mementoes from the plays and performances. The museum is a delight for those familiar with the composers and their operas, but probably a bit dull for the uninitiated; however, if there aren't rehearsals on visitors are permitted to go into one of the boxes and see the theatre and this is thrilling for all lovers of the arts.
The church and convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular attractions in Milan. Located next to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the former monastery's refectory, is Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting The Last Supper (Cenacolo Vinciano) and although the church is an attraction in its own right it is this iconic painting that draws so many admirers. The fresco depicts the moment of Christ's revelation of the betrayal. Judas hovers to the right of the painting, with his hand placed protectively on the bag of silver. Scaffolding covers the bottom of the painting (an ongoing restoration project), leaving the rest in full view. Controversy has erupted over the removal of layers of corrective over-painting completed in the 18th and 19th-centuries. The painting has endured more than hot debate, however, as it managed to escape the bombing during WWII that destroyed the roof of the refectory. There are other notable art works and frescoes at Santa Maria delle Grazie and the architecture is amazing - make sure you explore the church as well as see The Last Supper. You have to book in advance to see the painting and can do so online.
The gargantuan Sforzesco Castle, built in the 15th Century, is one of Milan's foremost monuments. It was restored after being bombed in 1943. The vast interior, which is broken here and there by smaller courtyards, contains three museums, the most notable of which is the Museum of Historic Art (Museo d'Arte Antica del Castello Sforzesco). Within its collection of sculptures is the famous Pieta Rondanini, Michelangelo's final work. The picture gallery features paintings by Mantegna, Bellini, da Vinci and Fra Filippo Lippi. The two other museums within the Castle's ramparts are the Museum of Applied Arts and the Archaeological Museum and there are lots of unusual little exhibitions showcasing musical instruments, Egyptian art and other unexpected things. There is also a quaint little furniture museum. The castle is vast and to explore it properly you will need a few hours. It is conveniently located in the centre of Milan and the relatively cheap admission cost and amount of material to see encourages repeat visits. The castle grounds are big and lovely for a stroll; visitors can enter them free of charge so it is a good place to come for some fresh air. Castles never cease to captivate the imagination and this ancient fortress is rather unexpected in Milan, making it an exciting attraction.
This remarkable museum is a popular tourist attraction and a fitting tribute to one of the world's greatest minds. Within the Leonardo Gallery of the museum is a collection of da Vinci's ingenious designs, detailing everything from plans for war machines to architectural visions. Applied physics is the focus of another room, in keeping with the museum's tribute to the history of science, and there are departments for energy, communication and transport as well. The museum is very well-organised and maintained, with a lot of interactive exhibits and scientific experiments to actively participate in. Activities are scheduled daily in the interactive science labs and the admission cost covers all these activities. Children will be enthralled and should learn a lot in this exciting and stimulating environment, experimenting with food, electricity and much more in carefully supervised activities. Adults will also enjoy the museum, particularly the section on da Vinci which is intriguing. There is a bar and a canteen at the museum, as well as a shop for souvenirs. If you are at all interested in science, or Leonardo da Vinci, or if you are travelling to Milan with kids, be sure to include a stop at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology in your Milanese travel itinerary.
One of Palermo's most unique attractions is the engaging Museo Internazionale delle Marionette, a museum dedicated to the art of puppetry, an age-old Sicilian form of entertainment. The Opera dei Pupi of southern Italy is famous and Palermo, Catania and Naples all have distinct marionette traditions which are fascinating to witness. Free shows are often put on in summer, but the museum collection itself, the greatest of its kind in the world, is entertainment enough. The museum was opened in 1975 to preserve local traditions and the collection consists of more than 3,500 puppets. Adjoining the museum is the library of Guiseppe Leggio, which houses about 3,000 books on puppetry and folk traditions; there is also a video library documenting theatrical folk performances and puppet shows from different cultures. Most of the antique puppets on display evoke Norman Sicily, representing chivalrous heroes and Saracen pirates, knights, ladies and troubadours. The collection includes puppets from all over the world, including the Far East and even some English 'Punch and Judy' dolls. The museum will delight children and interest adults and is a great attraction for those travelling to Palermo with kids. Try to catch a show to see the puppets come to life!
The town of Amalfi sits elegantly against a backdrop of steep cliffs and thickets of lemon trees. Terraced buildings climb down to the shoreline, their pastel hues enhancing the fairytale allure of this Italian seaside retreat.
A centre of rich historical significance, Amalfi was once one of the great maritime republics which thrived off trade and rivalries with Pisa, Genoa, and Venice. The Piazza del Duomo (the Cathedral Square) is the main hub, and is dotted with cafes, gorgeous boutiques, and romantic restaurants. A promenade allows visitors to gaze over the picturesque marina and beyond to the memorable emerald waters.
The main beach is the Marina Grande, a sheltered beach at the foot of the town. It's a shingle beach, as is common along the Amalfi Coast. Those seeking sand must head out to the villages of Minori and Maiori.
While for many visitors a trip to Amalfi is all about soaking up the sun with a drink in hand, there are also some attractions for those looking for a more cultural experience. The 9th-century Amalfi Cathedral is a breathtaking example of Arab-Norman Romanesque architecture. The town is also home to a couple of museums, including the fascinating Museo della Carta and the Arsenal of the Maritime Republic.
Cagliari is Sardinia's capital, a favourite with holidaymakers, and the biggest city in the region, with a busy industrial port. Despite its size the old centre is charmingly compact, contained within the city walls and Pisan fortifications. The main attractions are the National Archaeological Museum, which contains prehistoric tombs and other significant artefacts from the Punic and Roman periods, the impressive cathedral, and a smattering of Roman ruins. The suburb of Poetto has a four mile (6km) stretch of sandy beach with some small bars nearby. The famous nuraghe of Su Nuraxi near Barumini are within easy reach of the town.
Sardinia's history and culture is conveniently packaged in the Citadel of Museums complex in the centre of Cagliari. Here the National Archaeological Museum, the National Picture Gallery, the Cardu Siamese Museum and a collection of anatomical waxes by Florentine sculptor Clemente Susini are situated, all administered by the University. The Archaeological Museum houses artefacts from all the ancient cultures of the island, including ceramics from Phoenician tombs, Punic jewellery and Nuragic bronzes. The Picture Gallery contains a collection of contemporary art and sculpture, while the Siamese museum exhibits fascinating items from the East. The unique Collection of Waxes consists of 23 models of parts of the human body, created by Clemente Susini from waxes, resin, tallow, pitch and balsam.
The mysterious Nuragic people, who arrived in Sardinia around 1500 BC, festooned the island with about 30,000 circular fortified structures. Today about 7,000 of these remain standing to be marvelled at by tourists. The complex of Nuraghe in Barumini has been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List and is the finest and most complete example of this prehistoric architecture. The Barumini site can be reached from Oristano or Cagliari on route 131, turning off onto route 197. Other well-preserved Nuraghe can be seen at Sant Antine. At Nora, on the very southern tip of the island, are the remains of an extensive Nuragic village including an amphitheatre, forum, baths, temple and Kasbah. Other good Nuragic sites are near Villanovaforru, Alghero and Abbasanta. The purpose of the beehive-like buildings remains unknown but archaeologists assume they were used as religious temples and meeting halls as well as military strongholds. Exploring the ancient sites indulges ones inner Indiana Jones and feels like a great adventure. For anybody interested in archaeology, or the ancient history of the region, visiting Nuraghe is a must. You can only explore Nuraghe on an official tour, but these usually depart every 30 minutes; bigger groups are advised to pre-book.
Sardinia has an unforgettable coastline, but the interior of the island is equally as beautiful. A fun way to explore it is aboard the Trenino Verde (Little Green Train), a vintage steam locomotive that puffs its way through forests, over bridges and through tunnels into some of the island's most scenic mountain areas. The narrow-gauge train tracks were laid in 1888 to serve the more isolated areas of Sardinia, and the picturesque restored train and locomotive is just as old. The train runs on scheduled routes, connecting Nuoro and Bosa, Sassari and Alghero, Sassari and Palau, and Cagliari and Arbatax. Most popular is the Cagliari to Arbatax route, which departs each morning in summer at about 6:45am. The train is small and tickets are limited so it is best to book in advance. The train sometimes stops at scenic spots so that passengers can stretch their legs and take photographs. It is best to face forwards - the direction that the train is moving in - to catch the best views. Food is not served on the train but it is possible to buy snacks and refreshments during stops, especially on the longer routes. If you are travelling in Sardinia with kids this is a fantastic activity for the whole family.
A popular sightseeing expedition from Alghero is a boat ride to Neptune's Grotto, an impressive deep marine cave at the bottom of the sheer cliffs of Capo Caccia. The boat ride takes about 45 minutes, and goes past the pretty Bay of Porto Conte. At the cave visitors can take a 45-minute tour entering through the long snaking passage that delves into the rock, to view dramatically-lit stalagmites and stalactites. The contrast of the sun sparkling bright on the sea and the orange cliffs with the mysterious dark depths of the cave is magical and sailing in through the gap in the cliffs is the best way to explore it; however, the grotto can also be reached by bus from the main terminal in Alghero, or by car, which on arrival necessitates climbing down 650 steps to the cave entrance. The cave entrance, from the sea, is only about a metre above the water level, so it can only be accessed when the sea is calm. Boat trips into the cave run regularly in summer and are very popular, but they are less frequent during the rest of the year. The cave takes its name from the Roman god of the sea, Neptune, and was discovered by local fishermen in the 18th-century. There are many underwater caves in the area, which makes it popular with scuba divers.
The famous Italian revolutionary, general and politician Giuseppe Garibaldi lived the last third of his life on the woody, undeveloped island of Caprera, a short ferry-ride from Palau on Sardinia. Garibaldi was a central figure in the Italian Revolution as he commanded and fought in many military campaigns that eventually led to the formation of a unified Italy. He famously led 1,000 Red Shirts on his campaign to conquer Sicily and Naples from Caprera in 1861. He is considered one of the 'father's of the fatherland' by Italians, and is also famous for his military campaigns in South America.
The trip to view Garibaldi's house and museum is very popular in season, with visitors queuing to catch one of the regular ferries to Caprera. Garibaldi came to live in Caprera in 1855 after a 20-year exile from Italy. The elegant homestead has been preserved as he left it and visitors can learn a lot about his lifestyle from exploring the farm; on Caprera he lived a simple, peaceful life tending his gardens and orchards. Tours of the property end with his tomb in the garden. There is a relic room filled with some of his personal belongings and historical artefacts. For many Italians and foreign visitors Garibaldi's house and grave are a sort of pilgrimage site, a place to pay homage to a national hero.
Of all the many architecturally beautiful and fascinating places of worship in Palermo, the most renowned is the 12th-century cathedral in the suburb of Monreale, high on the mountain slope, about five miles (8km) from the city centre. This dazzling cathedral is a mixture of Arab, Byzantine and Norman artistic styles, a blend of medieval Christian and Muslim architecture. The magnificent mosaics that cover 68,243 square feet (6,340 sq m) of the cathedral's dome and all of the walls on the interior are unsurpassed and people travel from far and wide to study and admire them. The adjacent Benedictine abbey features a cloister with 228 carved stone columns, many inlaid with mosaics depicting scenes from Sicily's Norman history. For a small fee you can buy a schematic of the mosaics from the stall at the main entrance, which explains the biblical and historical scenes depicted; having this guide, or doing some research before arriving, is advised because there is so much of interest going on in the intricate and extensive mosaics - some visitors even make a point of bringing binoculars to examine them properly. Entrance to the breathtaking cathedral is free, but there are small admission charges for the Treasury, Cloisters and Terraces, all of which are well worth exploring.
The subterranean catacombs that contain the mummified remains of about 8,000 ancient inhabitants of Palermo may be macabre, but are fascinating to visit. The Capuchin friars began mummifying and embalming the bodies of the city's nobles back in 1533, and the tradition continued for centuries with the last body (a seven-year-old girl named Rosalia) being embalmed in 1920. After embalming, the corpses were hung along the walls of the catacombs dressed in their best, which they still wear proudly, like the military officer in an 18th-century uniform complete with tricorn hat. The bodies are arranged according to profession, sex and age, with separate sections for virgins, children and lawyers, among other things. The tunnels are spooky and the experience can be quite emotional; the catacombs are cool and dimly lit and the atmosphere is one of respect and care for the ancestors, but although fascinating, this attraction will be disturbing for some. It is very interesting to learn about how the monks embalmed the bodies and the reasons why everything is so well-preserved, and the outfits are authentic reflections of local history. Photography is not allowed at all and visitors should treat the place with respect, keeping noise to a minimum.
The excessive opulence of the Baroque period is nowhere better demonstrated than in the magnificent Palazzo Mirto, one of the few aristocratic homes of Palermo that is open to the public, offering visitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of Sicily's noble 19th-century families. The palace was the residence of the Lanza Filangeri family, whose last heir left the estate to the Ministry of Cultural Assets in 1982. Most of the princely rooms and salons are furnished with original items that once belonged to the family. Apart from the luxurious rooms and many antiques visitors can see the old stables and wagons used by the family. Unfortunately, all the signs and information given are in Italian, and as a result some personal research into what you are seeing may be necessary for enthusiasts, but the real joy of this attraction is the feeling that you are wandering around somebody's home and the lack of information won't bother many visitors. There are guided tours available. The feeling of visiting a home is amplified by the fact that the palace is not thronged by tourists, many of whom don't know it exists. Opening hours seem to be irregular, with some recent visitors complaining as much, so it is best to check whether it is open in advance. Photography is not allowed.
An underwater city and a landscape of petrified black lava are the characteristics of the unusual little island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, just a short ferry ride of 36 miles (57km) from Palermo. The ancient volcanic island was once inhabited by the Phoenicians and often fell prey to pirate raids during the Middle Ages; there is evidence of many shipwrecks off the island and the Greeks believed it was inhabited by sirens that lured ships to their doom on the rocks. Ustica has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era and notable archaeological remains have been uncovered. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans all left their mark on the landscape. In the 20th century Ustica became a penal colony but in 1961 tourists officially replaced prisoners. Today, the island is a designated national marine park and its crystal-clear waters and undersea treasures, particularly the submerged ancient city of Osteodes, attract divers from all over the world. The snorkelling is also brilliant, as the waters around the island teem with marine life. Every year in July the island is the venue for an International Underwater Activity Show. Ustica is a delightful excursion which can occupy visitors happily for one to two days, but unless you are an avid diver, you won't need more time than that to explore the island.
The Roman ruins at Solunto overlook the coast near Santa Flavia, on the slopes of Mount Catalfamo. The site was originally a Phoenician village that was expanded by the Greeks who conquered it in 396 BC. By 255 BC it had fallen to the Romans, who rebuilt much of the original town. No complete structures remain and the ruins consist mainly of floors and the lower portions of walls and columns. Portions of mosaics and paintings are still visible and really exciting to stumble upon. An impressive view of the Gulf of Palermo can be had from the hilltop above Solunto, and there is a small archaeological museum at the site, although most of the artefacts from Solunto are in Palermo's Regional Archaeological Museum. The ruins are picturesque and interesting and they are beautifully situated. Solunto usually doesn't get a lot of coverage in guide books which means that this breathtaking site can often be explored in relative solitude. It can get hot on the slopes so it is best to avoid the heat of midday, and be sure to bring comfortable shoes as you will need to do some walking if you want to see everything. Even without the exciting archaeological remains, the area would be wonderful for a hike, and worth visiting for the views alone.
The Ponte Nuova (New Bridge) connects the mainland city of Syracuse to the island of Ortygia, where most of the area's worthy sights are located. The island was fortified by Greek colonists and the remains of the Temple of Apollo can still be visited in the Piazza Pancali: this is the oldest Greek temple in Sicily, built in the Doric style around 565 BC. The cathedral in the nearby Piazza Duomo is uniquely made up of the original walls of a 5th-century BC Greek temple known as the Athenaion, and near the sea, reached along Via Capodieci, is the mythical Spring of Arethusa. There are medieval relics on the island too, including Maniaces Castle, dating from the 11th century. Apart from the many historic sights, the island of Ortygia also offers numerous boutiques and craft shops, and restaurants and cafes galore. The winding streets are charming and there are treasures to be found around many corners. Walking is the best way to get around on Ortygia as the narrow, winding streets can be difficult to navigate by car and parking is often scarce. Several hours are required to explore the island fully. Be sure to bring along the camera as the island is delightfully picturesque.
Catania is an ancient city, founded in 729 BC. The second largest city in Sicily, Catania sits in the shadow of Europe's highest volcano, Mount Etna, on the east of Sicily between Syracuse and Taormina. It was once called the 'city of black and white' because of the use of white marble and black lava to construct its elegant buildings, many of which have since fallen into ruins or been destroyed by war, earthquakes and lava flows.
Catania boasts some interesting historical relics. There are two Roman amphitheatres, one reminiscent of Rome's Colosseum, and a 13th-century fortress, Ursino Castle, which is now a museum. The city's cathedral contains some royal tombs and was built in the 11th century. The historic downtown area, much of which dates back to the 17th-century, is a UNESCO-listed site. The city is also a great transport hub and has an active nightlife.
Visitors will find plenty to do in Catania and the city certainly has attractions, but in summer tourists should beware. Catania is regarded as the hottest city in Italy, with temperatures often soaring to 104ºF (40ºC).
Sicily's greatest natural attraction is the (very) active volcano, Mount Etna, which has been spewing lava and shaking the earth for centuries, most recently in 2008, while ash eruptions occur almost continuously. About 20 miles (32km) from Catania, the craters below the summit can be reached from the town of Piano Provenzana at the base by bus or on foot. This town also serves as a ski resort in winter, and during summer is a base camp for hikers intent on enjoying the wooded scenery and exploring the interesting caverns in the area. Various species of oak and stone pine, birch and beech trees cover the lower mountain slopes, while frogs, toads, tortoises and Sicily's ubiquitous lizards hide in the forest streams. Foxes, weasels, squirrels and other small mammals stalk the forests and a plethora of bird species fill the trees and the Gurrida Lake area. The lovely flora and fauna are an extra bonus for hikers exploring the area, and the volcanic activity attracts photographers. Mount Etna features rather prominently in Greek mythology and has been captivating people for centuries; it is one of Italy's most famous natural features and a playground for adventurers of various kinds.
The medieval fortress town of Orvieto is perched on a hilltop overlooking the Umbrian countryside, just over an hour north of Rome by car and also accessible by train. The dramatically situated town, with ancient fortifications that seem to grow out of the cliffs, has been permanently inhabited since the Etruscans. It is thought to have been an important centre for Etruscan civilization and many impressive artefacts can be viewed in Orvieto's archaeological museum. Situated as it is on the route between Rome and Florence, Orvieto has been a vital defensive outpost at various points in its long history. The famous Christian philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, once lived and taught in Orvieto. The town remains almost unchanged since medieval times, and even in summer is not too packed with tourists. The 13th-century Duomo of Orvieto, with its magnificent facade and frescoes, dominates the skyline. The cathedral is Orvieto's must-see attraction, but visitors should also take time to wander around the town's backstreets to find hidden gems and amazing views over the city walls and battlements. The best restaurants are tucked away in the side streets off the main square.
Despite the invasion of tourists over the summer months, Positano retains the authentic character that enamoured artists and writers, including Picasso, Escher, and Steinbeck. Pastel-coloured houses and bougainvillea-draped hotels are connected by steep roads and steps to a boat-filled harbour below. In the town centre is the cobbled Flavio Gioia square, which is surrounded by boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Rising above is the 11th-century Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, with its beautiful golden dome.
There are two main beachs in Positano. Just below the town centre, Spiaggia Grande is the most popular. Its expanse of dark sand is packed with deckchairs and sunbathers. Boat trips and watersports can be arranged at the harbour. Spiaggia del Fornillo is Positano's second beach, and is worth the easy ten-minute stroll from the centre. The pebbly shore slopes gently into the beautiful warm, azure waters of the Mediterranean.
Those looking for more than a beach holiday can explore some of the lovely hiking trails found in the surrounding Monti Lattari mountain range. Sorrento and Amalfi are a short drive away, and there is a daily ferry to Capri from the harbour.
Typical of the picturesque towns along the Amalfi Coast, the small hilltop village of Ravello clings to the coastal foothills and steep rocky cliffs above the town of Amalfi. Houses climb rocky slopes, green with olive trees and lemon orchards, while emerald waves lap against the sands of Castiglione Beach.
Much of Ravello is catered towards tourism, so foreign visitors will not struggle or feel out of place. Reached mostly from Amalfi by driving along the winding bends of the Valle del Dragone, it really comes into its romantic own during the evening when golden lights brighten the darkening hills. Its views are some of the best in the Mediterranean, with famous American writer Gore Vidal praising the vistas from his perch at the classically stunning Villa Cimbrone. Here, visitors can explore its gardens and vineyards, as well as gaze out from the famous Terrace of Infinity.
As mentioned, it's close enough to the town of Amalfi to make for a comfortable holiday base. While perched a little way up from the beaches, they've never further than a short drive away. Time is spent strolling around its old avenues and buildings, admiring the verdant gardens or sipping on Ravello's beloved white wines.
Villa Rufolo serves as the unofficial town centre, its centuries-old windows and domed towers looking out onto the cathedral square. Ravello cuisine is dominated by fresh ingredients found either in the hills above or the waves below, typically Italian and offering pasta, pizza, gelato, and a host of dishes containing the area's famous lemons and limoncello, a lemon liqueur.
Lacking the glamour and crowds of its more famous neighbours, Maiori is instead famous for having one of the largest beaches on the Amalfi Coast. The beachfront hotels make Maiori ideal for those who love the sea, while the fishing town's long history means there's plenty to discover and explore. History buffs should visit the dominating Castle of San Nicola de Thoro Plano, for a personal tour by the castle's owner.
Maiori is a great spot for foodies, and some wonderful restaurants line the promenade and the main street, Corsa Reginna. Depending on the time of day, visitors can enjoy a cappuccino, gelato, or the locally produced limoncello liqueur.
The tiny nearby town of Minori basks in history, being the oldest town on the Amalfi Coast. It has numerous historic sites, most notably a 1st-century Roman maritime villa.
Maiori and Minori are both good bases from which to explore the Amalfi Coast. Amalfi and Ravello are a short drive away, and Positana can be reached in less than an hour.
The Basilica of St John Lateran was built in the 4th century by Constantine the Great and was the first church built in Rome. It is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, and as such ranks above all other Roman Catholic churches, even St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It is the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope, and it is here that he celebrates Mass on certain religious holidays. The building has suffered much damage in the past and has been rebuilt several times, leaving only fragmented parts of the original church. The present building is characterised by its 18th-century façade and contains several important relics, a 13th-century cloister and an ancient baptistery.
Inside are numerous statues, paintings, the High Altar that can only be used by the Pope, and a cedar table that is said to be the one used by Christ at the Last Supper. Across the street is one of the holiest sites in Christendom, visited by pilgrims from around the world: the Palace of the Holy Steps, believed to be the 28 marble steps originally at Pontius Pilate's villa in Jerusalem, that Christ climbed the day he was brought before Pilate. They have been in Rome since 1589.
The picturesque hill town of Assisi, to the east of Perugia, is famous as the birthplace of St Francis, a 12th-century monk who founded the Franciscan order, devoted to achieving an 'abundance of the divine' through the practices of ascetism, poverty and chastity. Tourists and pilgrims flock to the bustling town for inspiration and worship, and a multitude of annual conferences, festivals and other religious activities. Assisi is a visual spectacle of shimmering white marble buildings perched halfway up Mount Subasio. The town is set against the backdrop of the towering 14th-century hill fortress of the Rocca Maggiore, a landmark with which to orientate oneself from inside the city's medieval ramparts.
One of the most loved and visited churches in Italy is the 13th-century Basilica di San Francesco, containing frescoes by Giotto commemorating the life of St Francis. Other notable works include paintings by Pietro Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini's frescoes based on the life of St Martin. St Francis' tomb rests below the lower church, also worth visiting when on holiday in Assisi. Almost all of the four million tourists who travel to Assisi each year come primarily to see the Basilica di San Francesco, but other popular sights include the 13th-century Basilica di Santa Chiara, the 12th-century Romanesque Duomo di San Rufino and the Eremo delle Carceri monastery, situated in the woodland outside the walls of Assisi.
Assisi is a beautiful city with winding streets, Roman ruins and magnificent churches, and it feels like it has changed little since medieval times. The greatest gems are the small medieval treasures and glorious views to be found all over the small city. It is considered a highly spiritual place and attracts many pilgrims - it is common to see nuns in the streets and there is a peaceful, ancient atmosphere.
Housing one of Italy's finest collections of medieval and Renaissance art, the 17th-century Pinacoteca di Brera is by far the best collection of northern Italian paintings. Many of the masterpieces here were secured by Napoleon, who used the Palazzo as a storeroom for all the art he confiscated from public and private holdings. An imposing bronze sculpture in his likeness greets visitors as they enter the courtyard. Three of Italy's great masterpieces can be found here, namely Andrea Mantegna's , Raphael's , and Piero della Francesca's (the ). The collection also includes notable works by Caravaggio. One of Milan's most popular tourist attractions, the Pinacoteca di Brera houses mostly religious art and will impress even the uninitiated with its vast collection and the stunning building, which is an attraction in its own right. The paintings and sculptures are well arranged and, unlike some galleries in Italy, there is a decent audio guide in English to supplement the information mounted for each painting, the majority of which are in Italian. There is a student cafe off from the main courtyard where visitors can get refreshments.
The Orto Botanico di Brera is a botanical garden located behind the Pinacoteca di Brera in the centre of Milan, and is operated by the Istituto di Fisica Generale Applicata of the University of Milan. The garden was established in 1774 under the direction of Maria Theresa of Austria, transforming an existing Jesuit garden used by students of medicine and pharmacology. The garden has greenhouses from the 19th century that are now used by the Academy of Fine Arts, as well as flowerbeds and elliptical ponds from the 18th century. Orto Botanico di Brera is home to one of the oldest ginkgo biloba trees in Europe, and various other mature botanical specimens can be found within the grounds. It is a true plant-lover's paradise and a wonderful place to take a stroll and admire the romantic features. The Orto Botanico di Brera is small by botanical garden standards but is well worth visiting for its historical charm and the originality of the mixture of art and nature that often results from the influence of the Academy of Fine Arts. Locals enjoy reading, relaxing and soaking up the sun in this lovely green area and the fact that most tourists never discover the rather well-hidden garden is probably a blessing, as it remains a peaceful and beautiful refuge.
The Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio is one of the oldest churches in Milan, built by Bishop Ambrose between 379 and 386 AD. Located in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions were buried, it was originally called Basilica Martyrum. In 1099 the church was rebuilt in the Romanesque architectural style but the basilica plan of the original edifice was maintained, including a portico with elegant arches in the front entrance. In keeping with the Lombard style of medieval architecture, the hut-like façade has a typically flat appearance. Of the two bell towers, the left and higher tower dates back to 1144 AD. Inside there is an apse mosaic from the early 13th century that portrays the Christ Pantokrator (Ruler of All), an inspirational religious and artistic artefact. The church also houses the tomb of Emperor Louis II, who died in Lombardy in 875 AD. There are mummified bishops in the chapels of this interesting and ancient church and it is one of the best churches in Milan for religious art and artefacts. Despite its notoriety as one of the oldest churches in the city, the basilica is not overrun by tourists and the place has retained its atmosphere of peace, silence and history; the pleasure of a visit here is seldom marred by crowds.
Originally built in the 9th century, this 318-foot (97-metre) bell tower is the highest structure in Venice and offers visitors breathtaking views of the cupolas of St. Mark's, the lagoon, its neighbouring islands and the red rooftops and church domes of Venice. When the air is clear, one can even spot a snow-capped peak of the distant Dolomite Mountains but, strangely enough, not one canal can be seen from this bell tower. Despite the fact that Venice appears to be a dry city from this vantage point, the tower once served as a kind of lighthouse to assist navigation on the lagoon, and the views of this piece of water are magnificent. The tower collapsed unexpectedly in 1902 and was rebuilt exactly as before, even rescuing one of the five historical bells that are still in use today (each bell was rung for a different purpose, such as war, the death of a doge, religious holidays, etc). The bell tower is extremely popular, for good reason, and queues for visitors can get very long, especially on weekends, so it is best to visit during the week if possible and to arrive early to avoid the crowds. Be sure to take along your camera! Kids will love this attraction as well, so it is a great outing for the whole family.
The jet-set strip of Sardinia, Costa Smeralda is a six-mile (10km) stretch of coastline between the gulfs of Cugnana and Arzachena on the island's northeast coast, which has become a developer's paradise and extremely popular with holidaymakers. Legend has it that a fabulously wealthy consortium of businessmen first exploited this beautiful wild coastal strip in the 1960s, backed by the Aga Khan. Today the local villages and towns around Costa Smeralda have become discreet upmarket resorts crammed with private villas, luxurious holiday villages, contrived Mediterranean-style shopping malls, low-rise high-priced hotels and huge yachting marinas packed with gleaming yachts.
The main town of the area is Porto Cervo, a crime and litter-free playground of the rich with its ranks of pale pink and red villas climbing the hill from the busy marina. The other favourite retreat for celebrities is the town of Porto Rotondo, situated on a natural cove about 10 miles (16km) from Olbia, site of the international airport. The town offers a wealth of beaches, nightclubs, bars and restaurants, most clustered around its Piazza San Marco, and the marina. The main attractions of the Costa Smeralda are the numerous sequestered beaches, none signposted, which can be discovered simply by following a dirt track down towards the sea. Among the most scenic are Cappriccioli, Rena Bianca and Liscia Ruja, all south of Porto Cervo.
Rome is a busy, crowded city and it can be difficult to find some peace and quiet, or open spaces for exercise. The best place to go to get some fresh air and a break from traditional sightseeing is the Villa Doria Pamphili, which is the largest landscaped public park in Rome and a wonderful place to spend a few hours. The park is huge with streams, a lake, lots of shaded areas and plenty of open grassy spaces; perfect for an early morning jog or stroll. The park is also ideal if you are travelling to Rome with kids because it provides a lovely natural outdoor area for family picnics and games, allowing children to blow off some steam. There are playgrounds, a skating rink and soccer fields to enjoy, and pony rides around the Villa Doria Pamphili are also great fun. There is a little restaurant for refreshments as well. The 17th-century villa, which gives the park its name, and features landscaped gardens, is not usually accessible to tourists but is interesting to see from the outside. The park is actually lovely all year, even in winter, though it is obviously at its best in good weather. Playgrounds and parks are hard to find in Rome which automatically makes Villa Doria Pamphili a big hit with families visiting the city.
Also known as the Castelvecchio Bridge, the Ponte Scaligero spans 160 feet (49m) across the Adige River, the largest span in the world at the time of its construction. Originally built between 1354 and 1356, the bridge was completely destroyed during World War II by retreating German troops in April 1945, but was reconstructed faithfully, using as much of the original materials as possible, between 1949 and 1951. The bridge's upper part was built with red bricks, as are all Veronese landmarks from the Scaliger era, while the lower part of the bridge is made up of white marble. The bridge is open all day, every day and is one of the best places to enjoy spectacular views over the city of Verona, as well as views of the adjoining Castelvecchio Castle, a 14th-century red-brick structure of considerable grandeur. The bridge can get very crowded, a testament to its popularity and appeal, but also an annoyance to some visitors, particularly photographers; it is a good idea to arrive early or late in the evening to avoid crowds. There are benches on the river banks where you can enjoy views of the bridge itself. On weekends there is often a delightful market spanning the length of the bridge.
The Piazza delle Erbe is a square in Verona which was once home to the city's Roman Forum during the days of Empire. The piazza contains the Britney Verona fountain, the ancient town hall, the Lamberti Tower (which affords breathtaking views over the city for those willing to climb the stairs), the 14th-century Gardello Tower, the Baroque Palazzo Maffei, adorned with statues of Greek gods, and a pretty daily market that draws tourists by the bus load. The markets are famed for their fresh fruit and vegetables but there are other things on offer, like Venetian masks and beautiful shawls, and some wonderful bargains can be found. Despite the crowds, the square is still worth a visit for its marketplace and its lovely eateries, where weary tourists can grab a bite to eat and dine al fresco in the picturesque Roman Court. The Piazza delle Erbe is the heart of Verona and its central gathering place. Street artists add to the festive atmosphere and the clash of ancient and modern is interesting and picturesque. Be sure to take your camera along, and to look up at the buildings surrounding the square rather than just at the bustle of life that surrounds you. The piazza is also lots of fun at night, when its numerous bars beckon visitors.
This enormous Ancient Roman theatre dates back 2,000 years, is the third-largest surviving theatre in the world, and is Italy's largest opera theatre. The exterior may be crumbling, but it only adds to the character and authenticity of the place. The very fact that this theatre is still fully functional after 2,000 years and has withstood a devastating earthquake makes it an attraction not to be missed while on holiday in Verona. In recent times, the Verona Arena has played host to popular music artists such as The Who, Kiss, Pearl Jam, Muse, Elton John and Tina Turner. Seating up to 15,000 people, the best time to visit the Arena is during the lyrical season, in the summer, when operas take place inside this ancient theatre on balmy summer nights. For details on what is showing and ticket bookings check the official website listed below.
You can visit the Verona Arena as a tourist attraction without seeing a show and for a small admission cost explore the ancient structure. There is very little information available at the site unfortunately but there are some wonderful views from the top levels of the theatre and it is a thrill to be in such an old structure. Catching an opera or concert is first prize, but strolling around when it is empty is still exciting and worthwhile.
One of Italy's most renowned wine regions, the valley of Valpolicella is located just east of Lake Garda, and makes a fabulous day trip for those visiting Verona. Ranking just after Chianti, Valpolicella wines are made from three grape varietals, namely Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. Winemaking here has existed since at least the time of the ancient Greeks and the region is famed for its Recioto, Ripasso and Amarone wines. A visit to Valpolicella will reward you with not only some of Italy's finest wines, but also fine food and dining in the quaint, picturesque villages of San Pietro Incariano, Fumane and Negrar. Tourists should note that Valpolicella, despite its wine pedigree, doesn't have as many tasting rooms and wineries open to the public as one might expect having explored other famous wine regions, but what they do have rewards a visit. If you feel the need to work off some of the good food and wine you've sampled in the valley, or want to see more of the natural landscapes of the region, the nearby park of Cascate di Molina showcases Italy's countryside at its best, and boasts beautiful natural waterfalls and hikes for adventurous visitors to enjoy.
The beautiful town of Spoleto was established by the Romans in the 3rd Century BC, and many Roman buildings, ruins and artefacts remain, including the Coliseum and the Church of San Salvatore, which dates from the 4th Century, making it one of the oldest churches in the world.
The Lombards made Spoleto their capital in the 8th Century, and from here ruled most of central Italy until the town fell into papal hands in the 12th Century. The medieval castle and the cathedral dominate the well-preserved Upper Town; the Lower Town was badly damaged in World War II and has had to be extensively rebuilt. The Duomo di Spoleto has a lovely facade with eight rose windows, while inside there are beautiful frescos by Filippo Lippi. Another popular attraction in Spoleto is the impressive Tower's Bridge, or Ponte delle Torri, which was built in 1350 AD and is still traversable today. The bridge provides access to some great walking trails and the views are gorgeous.
The church of San Pietro can be found in the wooded hills a short trip out of town. This church served as the cathedral of Spoleto until 1067, and sports some of the best Romanesque carvings in Italy.
Cortona is a richly historic city that enjoys a scenic position above Lake Trasimeno and the plain of Valdichiana, dotted with olive groves and vineyards. It is one of Tuscany's oldest cities, and home to some of its best-preserved Etruscan buildings. Cortona also has a strong artistic pedigree, reflected in its status as a 'City of Art', and was home to Luca Signorelli and Pietra da Cortona. The ancient city has become even more popular due to being the location for several much loved books by Frances Mayes.
Most of the Etruscan city is hidden in basements but part of the original 4th-century BC walls can be seen at the base of Porta Colonia's outer side. Climbing the city's cut-stone staircases and meandering along its cobbled streets guides one back through the past from the Renaissance to the Middle Ages and beyond. The medieval houses along Via Janelli are the oldest in Italy; massive timber beams support their overhanging upper stories. Other places of special interest for people on holiday in Cortona include the Palazzo Comunale, Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca (containing a number of major Etruscan artefacts) and the church of San Francesco, the first Franciscan church outside Assisi.
San Gimignano is a popular village on the tourist trail which attracts many with its charm and history. The distinctive skyline of the charming medieval village of San Gimignano is redolent of a modern cityscape with its many towers, hence its nickname the 'medieval Manhattan'.
Only 14 of the original 72 towers remain, however, which is unsurprising as their dual role as status symbols and defensive structures saw them caught in the middle of the many feuds and battles that eventually caused the town's downfall. Nevertheless, these 14 towers are among the best-preserved in Italy, and are the envy of Florence and Bologna whose towers have long since been destroyed. San Gimignano enjoyed an ideal position on the main pilgrimage route connecting Northern Europe and Rome and prospered during the Middle Ages. In modern times, its fortune stems from tourism and wine production.
The ideal starting-point for a visit to San Gimignano is the Piazza del Duomo, which is the centre of the town and framed by historical buildings. Nearby is the Collegiata, a church dating from the 11th-century and famed for its frescoes, which include The Creation by Bartolo di Fredi. For shopping and souvenirs, head to Via San Giovanni.
The holiday destination of Pisa is most famous for its leaning campanile; yet its other equally notable coups include its long maritime legacy, dating to 1000 BC, its prized university, and its status as the birthplace of the world's greatest physicist and astronomer, Galileo Galilei. The Pisans also created one of the most beautiful squares in the world in the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles).
Pisa's key component is the famous Leaning Tower, an essential holiday attraction, whose layers of heavy marble were constructed on a shifting subsoil foundation that has been the bane of Pisan engineers for more than 800 years. It seems that the tremulous soil underneath the Field of Miracles has exacted its price on the other buildings too, most notably San Michele dei Scalzi. Other attractions of interest in Pisa include the Museo delle Sinopie, a museum containing a display of sketches from the frescoed cycle that decorated the walls of the Campo Santo cemetery; and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, in which exhibits of arabesque panels and Corinthian capitals reveal the influences of Rome and Islam on Pisan architects. The Museo Nazionale di San Matteo displays a range of Florentine art from the 12th through to the 17th-centuries.
Pisa is a popular daytrip from Florence, and a beloved Italian destination in its own right.
The charming city of Lucca is laid out on ancient Roman roads and framed within well-preserved and photogenic medieval ramparts. It is an ancient city, founded by the Etruscans and a Roman colony from 180 BC, and still boasts many fascinating old buildings. The city walls are one of the main attractions as they are still perfectly intact despite the expansion of the city and their great age.
The city is also famous for being the home of Puccini and has an appropriate reputation for wonderful chamber music. Casa di Pucini makes an interesting visit for opera lovers on holiday here, as this 15th-century house is a shrine to the composer who lived and worked here. Lucca is also celebrated for its museums, monuments and splendid Romanesque churches. With its flat terrain and narrow lanes, Lucca is perfectly suited to explorations on foot or by bicycle, the same methods local people use to commute.
Key sights on a visit to Lucca are the Duomo, San Michele, San Frediano, Museo Nazionale Guinigi and Torre Guinigi. The remains of an ancient Roman amphitheatre can be found on Piazza del Mercato, lined by buildings dating from the middle ages.
Genoa is home to the Acquario di Genova, which is the second-largest aquarium in Europe and the best in Italy. Built in 1992, it welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors each year. The ship-like building on the promenade houses no fewer than 50 habitats, ranging from the Amazon basin and Red Sea coral reefs to Antarctic penguin pools. Hundreds of species that call the aquarium home include seals, dolphins, caiman, piranhas, jellyfish, sea turtles, and sharks - the penguins are very entertaining and are particular favourites with visitors. The aquarium is extremely well-maintained and has good English-language facilities. It is a fantastic family attraction in Genoa, and gives kids a fun break from traditional sightseeing. Unexpectedly, the aquarium also has a hummingbird sanctuary.
Due to its popularity the aquarium can get crowded in the summer months and it is a good idea to arrive early to avoid queuing. There have been complaints about scams and petty theft outside of the aquarium - the most commonly reported scam involves salesmen tying bracelets tight onto visitors wrists and then demanding payment once they cannot be removed. These hawkers are sometimes just a distraction so watch out for pickpocketing.
Formerly Genoa's City Hall, the Palazzo Tursi is the largest and most majestic of all the magnificent buildings on the Via Garibaldi. Built in 1565, the building is now a museum and houses unique artefacts like the violin of Nicolo Paganini, and ashes that are said to be the remains of Christopher Colombus. The museum also contains numerous decorative artworks, like tapestries, furniture and Ligurian ceramics, as well as historical artefacts like ancient coins and medical devices. The collection is varied and unexpected and although some may feel it lacks cohesion, others love the unusual nature of the exhibits. On sunny days, you can break from the museum's collections and just enjoy the beauty of the building's many-columned interior courtyard.
The museums along the lovely Via Garibaldi are known collectively as the 'Musei di Strada Nuova' and the individual buildings are the Palazzo Bianco, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Tursi. All the museums are worth a visit and you can buy a joint ticket valid for all three from the bookshop between Bianco and Tursi. There is a popular cafe at Palazzo Rosso if you feel the need to refuel between collections.
The 13th-century church and monastery of Sant'Agostino, once a place of retirement and seclusion, is now open for visitors to view the amazing collections within. The church itself was built by the Augustinians in 1260, and is one of the few Gothic buildings remaining in Genoa. Today, the cloisters are a museum housing more than 4,000 works, including metal and stone sculptures, frescoes, and many architectural artefacts and fragments. One of the most popular attractions in Genoa, the museum is a must-see for visitors to the region. Although not large, the museum receives rave reviews from visitors. One of the only drawbacks is that, like many museums in Genoa, Sant'Agostino has very little information in English and those who don't speak Italian should try to bring some materials with them. The museum is gradually linking its artefacts to mobile phone guides in English and Italian but this project is in its infancy. Photography is allowed in the museum but only non-flash and only in certain sections; visitors may be required to fill out a form stating that they won't use the photographs taken for commercial purposes.
Although not technically a 'valley', but rather a ridge located just outside the Sicilian town of Agrigento, the Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) is one of Italy's oldest and most interesting archaeological sites. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the Valley of the Temples is filled with some of the most outstanding examples of Magna Graecia architecture in the world. The Doric-styled structures, built in the 5th century BC, are dedicated to gods and mythological characters, including, quite rarely, an imposing structure dedicated to Vulcan. There are also some fascinating commemorative structures, built in celebration of Rome's victory over Carthage, and in memory of Roman soldiers who were killed in the Second Punic War. In the tradition of Greco-Roman architecture of the period, all the structures face east to be illuminated by the rising sun. The 'valley' is actually divided into two distinct sections: the Hill of Temples and, on the other side of the parking lot, another grouping of temples including the Temple of Zeus, but the admission charge covers everything. A must-see tourist attraction in Sicily, the site of the Valley of the Temples commands great views of Agrigento and makes for a wonderful half-day adventure.
Located just 50 miles (80km) from the region of Umbria, the city of Genga's Frasassi Caves complex is considered to be one of the most wondrous in Italy. A remarkable karst cave system - that is, a system comprised of limestone that has been dissolved over millennia - the site has been well-prepared for visitors over the years. Known as a 'show cave', the complex is fitted with safe, comfortable walkways and theatrical lighting to bring the otherworldly stalactites and stalagmites into even greater relief. The walkways are easy to traverse and you don't have to be particularly fit to manage it. You will experience a genuine thrill as you make your way down into the 'centre of the earth', as the temperature drops and your breath begins to mist, and the overwhelming silence is broken only by the resonant sound of dripping water. Tours are in Italian but audio sets are usually available for foreign visitors. Note that, despite the many photos on the internet, photography is not allowed in the caves and cameras probably won't be allowed in. One of Italy's most talked-about tourist attractions in recent years, tourists stopping off in Umbria should be sure to make the short trip to the Frasassi Caves.
Surely one of Italy's most iconic images is that of gondolas being oared through the narrow canals of Venice by stripe-shirted, serenading gondoliers. These flat-bottomed boats are unique to the canals and waterways of Venice, and taking a ride in one is considered by many to be an obligatory tourist activity while on holiday in Italy. Although you will pay dearly for the experience (roughly €80 - €90 for a 40-minute trip), taking a gondola ride in Venice is sure to leave you with a warm and lasting memory of your vacation in Italy. Tourists are encouraged to make the most of the investment, however: take a trip down the back canals of Venice, and not the Grand Canal which is too crowded and impersonal; pick an ornately-carved gondola, with a comfortable seat and blankets if it's cold; and be sure to ask your gondolier if he is of the singing variety before getting into the boat - although it is compulsory for them to wear black pants, striped shirts, closed shoes and (weather-permitting) their straw hats, they are not actually required to sing.
Gondolas are available throughout Venice and can be hailed as one would an ordinary taxi. If you book one through a hotel or tour company, you will probably end up paying a surcharge.
The flourishing fishing port of Alghero, situated on the northwest coast, is Sardinia's tourist centre and attracts thousands of holidaymakers each year. It consists of a picturesque and well-preserved old town enclosed in a stout girdle of walls. Outside, the new town sports a grid of parallel streets filled with hotels and restaurants. A favoured package tour destination, Alghero offers beautiful beaches and year-round holiday amenities together with numerous places of interest to visit. The town is very Spanish in flavour, having been invaded by Pedro IV of Aragon in 1354.
The narrow cobbled streets of the old town are lined with flamboyant churches and wrought-iron balconies, boutiques and cafes, as well as the workshops of craftsmen working the famed coral of Alghero. The local cuisine hints of Spain too, and the town is renowned for its excellent seafood. Authentic Spanish paellas, lobster alla Catalana and tasty fish soups abound, with delicious sea urchins on sale from stallholders in the port. Around the town the coast offers many secluded bays, small inlets bordered by pine forests and high, jagged cliffs washed by the sea. Inland, luxuriant vineyards produce some of the most aromatic wines on the island. Nightlife is sedate, tending more toward sipping cocktails at a sidewalk café and watching the sunset from the seafront than frenetic nightclubbing.
Visitors to Syracuse may be forgiven for wondering whether they are on holiday in Italy or Greece. This city on the southeastern corner of Sicily's Ionian coastline once rivalled Athens as the most important city in the ancient Greek world. Its Greek heritage can still be found in abundance in both the ruins of buildings older and more splendid than the Parthenon and in the myths and legends centred particularly on its oldest quarter, the island of Ortygia.
Archimedes once strode the streets here and today tourists who stroll around the Neapolis Archaeological Park on the Terminite Hill can still get a feel for Syracuse's golden age of power and prosperity. As well as the Hellenic relics, Syracuse also boasts more than its fair share of Roman ruins and some fine medieval Gothic architecture and art, all treasures to be singled out from among the uninspiring high-rises and motorways that make up the modern city. Parking is a problem in the city, particularly on Ortygia where most of the medieval sights and the best shops are located, and the heat can become unbearable in the height of summer; however, no holiday in Sicily is complete without exploring the antiquities of Syracuse. Most visitors prefer to make day trips to the city from the more comfortable resort areas nearby, where soft white beaches and fine wines can be enjoyed on the shores of the Ionian Sea.
Sicily's most famous holiday resort town, Taormina, was the 19th-century haunt of British aristocracy and the place chosen by D H Lawrence to write his erotic novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. The town boasts what is surely the most photographed view in Sicily, across the beautiful ancient Greek amphitheatre to the sea with Mount Etna in the background. Inhabited since before 734 BC, when the Greeks arrived on the Sicilian coast, Taormina is an ancient town.
Taormina today remains Sicily's favourite holiday destination with its winding medieval streets and tiny passages hiding some great restaurants, cafes and ice-cream parlours, some hidden in secluded gardens and others in pleasant squares or on terraces with sea views. It is a great place to shop, too, with thousands of boutiques selling crafts, fashion, jewellery, ceramics, mosaics and porcelain dolls. A popular beach is at Giardini-Naxos, a few miles away, and a funicular connects the old town to the coastal area of Mazzaro below. The stone walls of the old city, situated on a plateau, enclose some fascinating archaeological monuments and medieval palaces, including the Palazzo Santo Stefano. Popular for many decades, as a holiday destination Taormina still has it all: stunning surroundings, lovely nearby beaches, medieval charm, great shops and restaurants, and interesting archaeological remains.
Siena is one of Italy's best-preserved medieval cities, and one of the major drawcards for visitors to the popular regions of Umbria and Tuscany. The city's historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is only accessible on foot. Siena's peak as a wealthy city-state dates back to the 13th-century, when the Duomo di Siena was completed along with the distinctly scallop-shaped Piazza del Campo, regarded as one of the finest public spaces in Europe. The town's university was founded in 1240, and to this day ranks as one of the most prestigious in Italy, while its student population enlivens the traditionally conservative local population.
Amid the winding lanes of the medieval city are many gorgeous churches and museums, filled with artistic riches. Chief among these are the 13th-century Gothic-styled Chiesa di San Domenico and the imposing Fortezza Medicea; while the Sanctuary of St. Catherine's of Siena is a pilgrimage site for many seeking benefits from the reputedly miraculous crucifix it houses.
All of Siena's streets are a delight to explore while on holiday but some of its most notable landmarks include the Torre de Mangia, Palazzo Pubblico, the Duomo, Palazzo Piccolomini, Pinacoteca Nazionale and Museo dell'Opera. Torre del Mangia is the bell tower to the left of Palazzo Pubblico which stands at 330ft (102m), the second highest in Italy. It is named after the first bell ringer who was known for his infuriating idleness. The Palazzo Pubblico still serves as Siena's town hall although sections of it are open to the public. The Palazzo Piccolomini, built in 1460 for the prosperous Piccolomini family, contains Sienese state archives and financial records. The Pinacoteca Nazionale gallery is noted for its collection of works by artists of the Siena School. Siena's spectacular Duomo is unsurpassed amongst Italy's churches, built in full Gothic style. The carved pulpit panels, by Nicola Pisano, are magnificent depictions from The Life of Christ. Many of the original statues on the church's façade are copies; the originals are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
This sophisticated seaside resort is in the heart of the Neapolitan Riviera, on the South West coast of Italy, and is alive with holiday makers over the summer months. Lively bars and restaurants, and chic boutiques line the cobbled streets.
The town is perched on a clifftop, and is not famous for its beaches. Although there's a small beach at the harbour, Marina Piccola, most bathers swim off the rocks or from wooden jetties, or laze around their hotel swimming pool and enjoy the stunning views of Naples and Mount Vesuvius.
Sorrento is a popular base for exploring the local area. It's an hour's drive from Naples and a short distance from the stunning towns of Amalfi and Positano, both easily accessible by bus or ferry. Many visitors will also make a boat trip to the island of Capri, the mythical home of the Sirens, or to expore the ruins of Pompeii, 40 minutes away by train.
Capri has long been a favoured destination for celebrities and the super-rich. It is believed to be Homer's mythical land of the Sirens, and was home to the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who ruled his empire from a cliff top villa. Visitors can still see its ruins.
The island is now most famous for its dramatic landscape, smart hotels, and the expensive boutiques and restaurants of Capri Town. Visitors can escape the crowds by heading up Mount Salero, an hour or two's walk or a 12-minute ride on a chairlift. A boat trip is also a wonderful way to enjoy the island. Most tours stop at the famous Blue Grotto, where visitors pass through the caves in small rowing boats.
The island of Capri sits in Italy's Bay of Naples and is a popular day trip from Sorrento and Positano. It's best visited outside the peak summer months.
Italian Phrase Book
|per favore||please||por fa vor|
|il mio nome è||my name is||ill mee-oh nohm eh|
|dove è||where is||dohv eh|
|parlate inglese?||do you speak English?||pahr laht eh in gles eh|
|i don\' la t capisce||I dont understand||ee dohn la cup eesh|
|ho bisogno di un medico||I need a doctor||hor bee sog no dee uhn medico|
Italy has a largely temperate climate with regional variations. In summer the northern parts of Italy are warm with occasional rainfall, the central region is somewhat stifled by humidity, and the south scorches under the dry heat. In winter, conditions in Milan, Turin and Venice are dominated by cold, damp and fog and Tuscany's winter temperatures approach freezing, while temperatures in the south of the country are more favourable, averaging 50 to 60ºF (10 to 20ºC). Most people visit Italy in the summer months between June and August; however, the best time to visit is in spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) when the weather is good and there are fewer tourists. Travel is also cheaper off-season. The sea is warm enough for swimming between June and September. Visitors should note that most Italians take their vacation in August and many shops and restaurants are closed during this period. It also means that during August the coastal resorts are crowded with locals. The ski season runs between December and April and the best time to walk in the Alps is between June and September. The best time to visit Italy will vary depending on region and desired activities.
Possibly the best seafood restaurant in Rome, the cuisine at La Rosetta is world-class. A selection of marinated seafood appetizers, such as squid with ginger and French beans, is the best way to appreciate the flavours, followed by one of the superb pasta dishes dressed with fish or seafood. The menu includes almost every type of Mediterranean fish, grilled or roasted to perfection, and desserts such as the ricotta cheesecake with honey are worth saving space for. Reservations essential. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday.
This sophisticated rooftop restaurant boasts a spectacular view of the city below, and has an elegant setting with candlelit tables and impeccable service. Many Roman food critics claim it is the best restaurant in the city, which is attested to by a list of regulars that includes Prince Rainier of Monaco, Bruce Springsteen and Glenn Close. Food is the very best of Mediterranean haute cuisine and each dish is a work of art in presentation and taste. A sundowner at the chic cocktail bar is a fine way to start the evening. Reservations essential. Closed Sunday and Monday. Dinner only.
Small, unpretentious and serving top-quality Roman cuisine, Ai Tre Scalini is one of the nicest restaurants in the area close to the Colosseum. The small menu is a gourmet experience, from the cheeses and salamis to porchetta, complemented by the wide variety of wines on offer. Reservations required. Closed Mondays. Open from 6pm.
Oozing with old-fashioned romance and elegance coupled with breathtaking views across St Mark's Square, Ristorante Quadri lays it on thick when it comes to fine dining and style. Try the steamed Sea-bass in rosemary flavour with vegetable ratatouille or the lamb cutlets and loin flavoured with thyme and parsley and seved with a foundant of potato and eggplant. This restaurant might be perceived as being kitsch, but it definitely doesn't disappoint. Open daily, closed on Mondays between 1 November and 31 March. Reservations essential.
Enjoy sitting outside on a starry night, taking in a beautiful view of the Giudecca from the deck at Lineadombra, one of Venice's most modern restaurants. The bass fillet with potatoes and vanilla perfume comes highly recommended.
Popular with tourists and featuring grand paintings that occupy entire walls, Persian carpets and beautiful views onto the square of the Fenice Theatre, Antico Martini is one of the oldest restaurants in Venice, steeped in almost 300 years' history. The superb cuisine will not disappoint and is always made from the freshest ingredients. Open daily from 11.30am to 11.30pm. Reservations essential.
This bustling seafood eatery serves some of the most authentic Venetian cuisine and for the right price. Locals and tourists alike flock to this restaurant for delicious pastas, seafood and other mouth-watering Italian fare. Even in off-season there can be a waiting list. Open from Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Closed Mondays. Reservation recommended.
Located away from Venice's tourist hubs, you know Alla Vedova must be good because this is where all the locals eat. With marble counters, charismatic furniture, a cosy atmosphere and some of the tastiest Venetian cuisine in town, diners can feast on dishes such as the delicately grilled cuttlefish , (lasagna with sausage, radicchio, and béchamel sauce).
Located in Calle Vallaresso, this elegant restaurant belongs to the Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal, and serves traditional Venetian cuisine, including seafood and fresh vegetables. Celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been spotted dining here and, only a few metres from the Vaporetto stop, the location is both convenient and appealing, with a very romantic terrace to sit on.
The airy spaciousness of this Venetian restaurant, owned by the local Rossi family, coupled with its wonderfully varied menu creates a wonderful dining experience. Located in the heart of the city's Jewish 'Ghetto' of the Cannaregio district, this eatery is popular with both locals and tourists alike. Try the delicious homemade pastas with mouth-watering sauces, or the fish baked with tomatoes, olives, capers, potatoes, and white wine in parchment paper and then folded to look like a gondola. Indoor and outdoor dining available. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
With small tables dotted along the banks of a canal, this trattoria serves simple, hearty and unfussy fare. Guests can sample some Triestino cuisine by starting off with a mixed platter of cured meats called from the region famous for the most delicate prosciutto in Italy and the minestrone soup is to-die-for. Other favourites are Triestino (vinegar-kissed fried sardines) and for the carnivores, the (beef in a herb sauce). Closed Sundays for dinner. Reservations recommended.
One of Milan's most popular pizzerias is bustling from early dinnertime until the night owls pop by for a late-night snack. The restaurant exudes a wonderfully rustic ambience with exposed copper pipes tracing across the ceilings of rooms overflowing with laughter and long, raucous tables. The wood oven pizzas are excellent while the menu of pastas and meat dishes is equally appetising. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Giorgio Armani and other trendy fashionistas frequent Da Giacomo restaurant, and its elegant dining area was put together by world-famous interior designer Renzo Mongiardino. The menu features a selection of traditional Tuscan cuisine such as grilled turbot, or linguini with scampi and zucchini flowers. Open for lunch and dinner daily, reservations essential.
Established in 1933 and located down a narrow lane in one of the oldest sections of the city, the Trattoria Milanese has a three-beamed ceiling sheltering its long, communal tables. Serving traditional local cuisine such as risotto alla Milanese, with saffron and beef marrow, and an excellent minestrone soup, this is a favourite with locals. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, and Monday for dinner only, reservations essential.
Linked to the Peck Store, adorned with beautifully modern décor and with masterchef Carlo Cracco at the helm, this is a fantastic choice for a night of fine dining. Serving first class starters and mouth-watering mains, this restaurant was voted one of the world's top 50 by Open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday. Saturday the restaurant is open for dinner only. Closed on Sundays.
This eatery is the place to be seen! As part of a worldwide chain of exceptional restaurants, this is where food fanatics can sample such famous dishes as black cod in misu sauce, as well as sushi and sashimi, while sipping on sake with gold leaf. Closed for Sunday lunch. Reservations essential.
Famous for its Neapolitan pizzas topped with the freshest selection of seafood, such as clams, mackerel, mussels and sardines, Anema e Cozze is a firm favourite in this neighbourhood. It may not be Milan's most stylish restaurant, but it serves tasty affordable food and the fish infused pastas and other antipasti are also delicious. Bookings advisable.
This authentically Venician restaurant is famous for its great wine selection from the Veneto region and for its flagship dish, (Italian tapas) made up of wedges of Mortadella sausage speared with curly, piquant Tuscan peppers and crostini topped with creamy tuna and shredded leeks. Cantinone-già Schiavi's lively atmosphere and warm and friendly locals is what Venice dining is all about. Travellers will love the food, prices and authentic Italian cuisine at one of Venice's best kept secrets. Closed on Sundays.
Not somewhere many tourists would know about, unless escorted here by a local, La Cantina is run and owned by the passionate Francesco who is temperamental yet obsessive about food. Come here for some indulgent and lip-smacking crostini piled with tongue, chopped pickle, smoked ricotta and layers of fresh horseradish shavings, washed down with a glass of local wine. Open when the owner feels like it - usually closed on Sundays and Mondays.
This cosy pizzeria is located alongside the canal where diners can pull their boats in, sit under an umbrella at a shady table and feast on homemade crusted pies filled with roasted figs and prosciutto, among other exotic flavour combinations. Open for lunch and dinner from April to October. Closed for lunch on Mondays.
Widely recognised as Florence's most famous restaurant, the stylish décor and innovative Tuscan cuisine intertwined with subtle notes of French cuisine make dining here an experience to remember. Start with a poached egg with cauliflower, crispy bread and pancetta with black truffle before moving on to a mouth-watering rack of lamb with garlic and herbs served with Jerusalem artichokes and mint. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Bookings recommended.
One of Florence's little treasures, this family-run trattoria has been serving local Florentines for over 30 years. Try the pesto spaghetti or spinach ravioli to start, before diving into the tasty beef stefado with potatoes and Osso Buco (veal crosscut shin) cooked in tomato and served with mashed potato, or the tender stewed rabbit with a side of grilled vegetables. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
A fabulous place in central Florence, Ristorante Celestino serves a mouthwatering array of traditional Tuscan dishes. With candlelit dinners in a picturesque courtyard, this restaurant is a must for any visitor to Florence. Start with the Tuscany Salami and polenta canapés or a tortellini soup before moving on to freshly made pasta or Florence style crepes with buffalo mozzarella. The Risotto with champagne and porcini mushrooms is delectable, and the option of adding a truffle to your meal is not to be missed. Their menu has a wide selection of meat and fish dishes and a whole page dedicated to cheese as well as desserts such as chocolate truffle, green apple sorbet or gelato. Closed on Sundays.
No trip to Italy is complete without pizza. Florence has a wide selection of pizzerias but Da Tito I Peccati di Gola Pizzeria takes the cake. This funky restaurant has a vast selection of pizzas and a piping hot clay oven. Be sure to try the simple Amon with porcini and prosciutto or the Caprese with buffalo mozzarella and rocket leaves.
The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtain Euros through any bank, ATM or bureau de change. ATMs are widespread. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends, but tend to have better rates than foreign exchange houses.
The official language of Italy is Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country.
Electrical current in Italy is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use, including the European-style two-pin plug.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals: Passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, must be valid on arrival. British passports with other endorsements must be valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Italy.
UK nationals: A visa is not required for British passports endorsed 'British Citizen' or 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), nor for holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom'. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period for holders of British passports with other endorsements.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond their intended stay, and a valid Schengen visa, to enter Italy.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Italy. No visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passports valid for three months beyond period of intended stay in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Furthermore, all foreign passengers to Italy must hold visible proof of financial means to support themselves while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Note that visitors may be refused entry, either for public security, tranquillity, order or health reasons. Extensions of stay in Italy are possible, by applying to local authorities. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to Italy and you should be able to travel without special vaccinations and medications. Medical facilities in Italy are good but travel insurance is still recommended for non-EU citizens as medical attention can be expensive. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services provided they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Although it should be possible to get most medication in Italy, travel authorities always suggest that you take any prescribed medication that you require with you, in its original packaging, and with a signed and dated letter from your doctor explaining what it is and why you need it.
Tipping is customary in Italy and 10 to 15 percent of the bill is acceptable in restaurants (unless, as is increasingly the case, a 15 percent service charge has already been added to the bill). Hotels add a service charge of 15 to 18 percent, but it is customary to tip the service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxi drivers, but a 5 to 10 percent tip is always appreciated.
Tourists are vulnerable to pickpocketing in the bigger cities, particularly on public transport, in crowded areas and around tourist sites. It is advisable to be careful when carrying large amounts of cash and valuables. Make intelligent use of hotel safes and split valuables between people, bags and pockets to limit the damage of being pickpocketed. Be particularly careful around the main train station, Termini. Visitors should be wary of groups of children, some of whom will distract attention while the others try to steal what they can.
Strikes by transport workers take place regularly throughout Italy and delays are possible.
In Italy, it is an offence to sit on steps and in courtyards near public buildings, including the main churches in Florence; eating and drinking in the vicinity should also be avoided. Shorts, vests or any other immodest clothing should not be worn inside churches.
Italians can be very formal and old fashioned, but are also warm and welcoming. Face to face communication is best, and often a third party introduction can speed initial negotiations. Business attire is formal and very stylish, and handshakes are the norm. First impressions count for a lot in Italy. Expect plenty of gesticulating and interruptions, or people talking over each other. Business cards are used. Unfortunately the bureaucracy in Italy can slow down deal-making.
Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but can vary according to season and region.
The international access code for Italy is +39. City/area codes are in use, e.g. 02 for Milan and 06 for Rome. There can be high surcharges on calls made from hotels. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers over 17 years from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco. As well as this, travellers do not have to pay duty on 4 litres of wine, 16 lires of beer or 1 litre of spirits over 22 percent volume, or 2 litres of alcoholic beverages less than 22 percent volume. Other goods up to the value of €430 is also permitted (reduced to €150 for children under 15).
Travellers from EU countries travelling within the EU are limited to 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine (of which 60 litres may be sparkling), 20 litres of fortified wine, 10 litres of spirits, 1kg of tobacco, 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 1kg of tobacco and 400 cigarellos, perfume up to 50g or 250ml eau de toilette, and other goods for personal consumption to the value of €430 per adult or €150 for children under 15 years. EU citizens are also able to claim tax back if the VAT rates in Italy are higher than those in their country of residence. Prohibited items include narcotic drugs, medicinal products, arms and weapons, explosives and protected animal and plant species.
Italian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 612 4400.
Italian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7312 2200.
Italian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 2401.
Italian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3333.
Italian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 423 000.
Italian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 660 1744.
Italian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 5339.
United States Embassy, Rome: +39 06 46741.
British Embassy, Rome: +39 06 4220 0001/ 4220.
Canadian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 85444 2911.
Australian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 721.
South African Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 541.
Irish Embassy, Rome: +39 06 585 2381.
New Zealand Embassy, Rome: +39 06 853 7501.
In the year 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the Roman city of Pompeii in volcanic lava and ash. The most evocative testimony to its victims is the 'frozen people', plaster casts of the victims whose anguished contortions and facial expressions reveal the horror of their untimely deaths. The excavation of Pompeii, which started after its accidental rediscovery in 1749, is an ongoing process and every decade has brought to light new finds that provide insight into daily Roman life. A comprehensive tour of Pompeii's attractions will take approximately five hours. Guided tours are available but are pricier alternatives to doing it alone. There is an informative 'How to Visit Pompeii' guidebook for sale outside all the site entrances.
Pompeii is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions, seeing nearly 2.5 million visitors every year. It is one of the most intriguing ancient sites in the world and a full day of walking barely covers the many sights of interest. The Pompeii site has been plagued by mismanagement but has recently been granted a huge injection of funds which should improve maintenance; however, the place is so captivating that no amount of mismanagement can deter visitors from travelling to Pompeii, and the four associated sites of Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabia and Boscoreale.
The well-preserved Greek temples of Paestum are arguably the best of their kind in the world, easily rivalling those of Sicily and Athens. The city was founded by its Greek colonists in the 7th Century BC, and later fell under Roman rule (until it was no longer commercially successful and its inhabitants fled for greener pastures). The north-south axis of the city is marked by the paved Via Sacra and most guided tours begin at its southern end. A guide to the excavations and Archaeological Museum can be bought at any of the roadside shops. Notable among the remains are three Doric temples, the best-preserved of their kind in the world. Built without the use of cement or mortar, these remarkable structures comprise the Basilica, the Temple of Poseidon and the Temple of Ceres. Heading north along Via Sacra will take one to the Roman Forum, gymnasium and amphitheatre. Finally, Paestum's Museum contains a fascinating collection of pottery and paintings found in the tombs of the area. The main temples are fenced off so you can't wander through them, but many other ruins can be explored without hindrance and the site is often pleasantly devoid of tourists, leaving visitors to explore at their leisure in peace and with remarkable freedom.
Nestled in a sheltered inlet within the stretch of the Italian Mediterranean is the coastal fishing village of Portofino which is famous for its picturesque harbour and has become an upmarket resort. It has long been the playground for the rich and famous, attracting the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace. It is not surprising, therefore, that its prices rose to match the exclusivity demanded by its holidaymakers. The scenic surrounds can be explored from the outlying nature reserve, graced with cypress and olive slopes. Set off from here on a 90-minute trek to San Fruttuoso, or a two-and-a-half hour hike to Santa Margherita. Other sights around Portofino include its castle and the lighthouse (faro), with its breathtaking view of the coastline. The most famous beach in the area is the beautiful Paraggi Beach, which is a few minutes up the coast. Other popular beaches nearby include Camogli, Chiavari, Lavagna, and Sestri Levante. Portofino is sometimes a victim of its own popularity and can get uncomfortably crowded in the summer months, but it is well worth the effort to spend a few hours exploring this famously scenic and famously celebrity-packed village.
Strung along just over 11 miles (18km) of rugged cliffs between Levanto and La Spezia, the UNESCO-listed Cinque Terre is one of Italy's greatest treasures. Cinque Terre means 'Five Lands'. These are the five related fishing villages that nestle precariously on the cliffs, overlooking the azure ocean of the Italian Riviera, off the country's northwestern coast. Cinque Terre is a picture-perfect dream of sparkling clear waters and dramatic vistas, contained within the tranquil embrace of the villages that are connected to one another by a scenic pathway that curves through the hillside among olive groves and vineyards.
Monterosso is the largest of the towns and is recognisable through the huge statues carved into the rocks facing its shores. The village of Riomaggiore is quickly identified through the myriad fishing boats festooning its shores and is linked by the 'lovers lane' to the charming town of Manarola. Corniglia perches precariously on the mountainside and is accessed through a steep climb, and Vernazza's promenade and piazza have beautiful sea vistas. A stroll along these dramatic cliffs is one of the most splendid walks in the country, and photographers will be captivated by the camera fodder. Cars and motorbikes are not allowed in the villages and Cinque Terre is part of a national park.
On the Lido de Jesolo is Aqualandia, an extremely popular water and theme park that has been earning rave reviews from visitors to Italy. Aqualandia is situated on an island near Venice, and just strolling around the place and lounging on the beaches is an adventure. Much more than a water park, Aqualandia has something like 26 attractions, including one of the highest water slides in the world and one of Europe's highest bungee jumping towers. All the expected, tried and tested water park attractions can be found, as well as lots of extra entertainment.
A huge central pool is the hub for swimming and relaxation on the many comfortable loungers, and there are some fun shows and music events as well as lots of restaurants and shops, and the popular Vanilla Club for those who want to party. There is plenty to entertain people of all ages. A fun day at a water park is a great treat for children and a nice break from traditional cultural sightseeing. All attractions, shows and activities are included in admission, except bungee jumping. In the peak summer period visitors should be prepared for long queues; it is best to arrive early to avoid a long line at the entrance.
Padua is often tragically overlooked due to its close proximity to Venice; it is also almost always described in terms of comparison with Venice. Luckily, Padua, once second only to Rome in terms of wealth, is a gorgeous city with lots to offer visitors and plenty of charm all of its own. The fabulous architecture of the old town, dating back as far as 1,000 AD, is a magnificent backdrop for the wealth of culture the city contains. The main attraction is the cathedral dedicated to St Anthony. The high altar is decorated with bronzes by Donatello, who is also responsible for the proud equestrian statue of General Erasmo da Narni (il Gattamelata) that stands in the Piazza del Santo. Padua also has picturesque canals, a number of interesting markets, and many impressive landmarks. It is a city seemingly full of beautiful frescoes, with many lovely churches to house them. It also boasts Europe's oldest botanical garden, established in 1545. Some people argue that the city also has a more fun and festive nightlife than Venice, due to its youthful population - the University of Padua is Italy's second oldest, established in 1222. Padua is situated just 21 miles (35km) west of Venice, and is a very worthwhile daytrip destination.
The Venetian Islands of Murano, joined by several bridges, make for a great trip for the whole family and the perfect place to seek out special Venetian souvenirs. In 1291 all the glass makers in Venice were sent to the islands for fear of fires starting in the wooden buildings of the city, and Murano has been a centre of glass crafts ever since. Visitors can enjoy watching the local art of glass-blowing, developed over the centuries in the place that made Venetian glass so famous and sought-after, and be amazed by the products that are created. And since glass-blowing is the thing to do on Murano, there are plenty of glassware shops and factories, most of which can be visited free of charge and where visitors can get some souvenirs to take home, or else simply enjoy looking around. The Museo Vetrario is another great place to admire glassworks.
Murano has more than just glassware on offer: it is a picturesque mini-Venice with its own Grand Canal, colourful old buildings and great restaurants. It is small and best explored on foot or by boat. There are also some interesting churches to visit: the Basilica dei Santa Maria e San Donato has stunning 12th-century mosaics; and the Church of Saint Peter the Martyr, built in the 12th-century, houses two art works by Bellini.
Italian National Parks may be different to what some foreigners expect in that they are not fenced in, pristine wilderness areas, but large inhabited swathes of land deemed worthy of environmental protection. The vast Po Delta, a flatland along the Adriatic coast, is one of the most stunning natural landscapes in Italy. The Po Delta is divided into two regional parks, the Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. The latter, easily accessible from Venice, encompasses woodlands, extensive farmlands, marshes, lagoons, beaches and rivers, as well as historical monuments and even cities.
Visitors to the Po Delta Natural Park can enjoy a day exploring the great outdoors. Discover the park by bike, boat, canoe, horseback or on foot. Tours are also available for those who want to visit the more protected areas of the park, and avid fisherman can enjoy the fishing lagoons, where bream, bass and grey mullet are plentiful. There are great bird-watching opportunities here too, so pack your binoculars. There are many areas to camp and wonderful walking trails. Travellers exploring Venice, who feel they would like some experience of the natural wonders of the region, will be delighted with Po Delta, and it is a great excursion for those travelling with kids.
For anyone with even the smallest interest in human history, the Sassi de Matera - located in the region of Basilicata, about 156 miles (250km) east of Naples - are a must-see tourist attraction. The unbelievable cave-dwellings of Matera were inscribed in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1993, and have been astonishing visitors to the region ever since. Dug into the tuff rock of the region (rock comprised of consolidated volcanic ash), the 'houses' are often little more than caverns, and remain as testament to a troglodyte population believed to be the first human settlement in Italy. Some of the streets of present-day Matera double as rooftops to the underground dwellings, and beneath the surface, a network of labyrinths and caverns once traversed by the prehistoric civilisation can still be observed. As has been noted, the inhabitants of Matera's Sassi are the only people who can claim to live in the same houses as their ancestors did 9,000 years ago - making these amazing structures compulsory viewing for all tourists to Italy who are keen on historical sightseeing. It's fun to hire bikes and ride to the caverns further afield and there are many good local guides to hire.
An emblematic tourist attraction, the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is reason enough for any visitor to Naples to make the short trip across to the island of Capri. A world-famous sea cave, the Blue Grotto is perpetually filled with brilliant sapphire light, caused by sunlight entering through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater from beneath. The cave also contains a smaller opening right at the level of the waterline, through which bright sunshine pours, and through which tourists are admitted by row-boat. Gaze in wonder at the spectral water, more light-filled than the air in the cave, and be sure to dip your hands and watch them glow an eerie silver-blue. Since row-boats entering the cave can only take a maximum of three passengers, you are ensured a private and truly unforgettable experience in the Blue Grotto, one which you will treasure for the rest of your life.
Blue Grotto Tours is a popular tour company which guides trips into the mystical blue cave and has earned rave reviews from tourists. Of course, the island of Capri is beautiful and a hop across the water from Naples is worthwhile just to see the lovely landscape and experience the atmosphere of this famous island.
Exploring the beautiful Dolomite Mountains and Renon Plateau is a popular excursion from Milan, and quaint mountain villages like Bolzano and Collalbo complete the package for day-trippers. The Dolomite mountains are famously picturesque and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some interesting and unusual rock formations, or 'pyramids', dot the landscape of Renon Plateau. Hiking is naturally a popular activity in the region and photographers will be in their element.
Most tourists travel first to Soprabolzano, a two to three hour drive from Milan, where they can get stunning panoramic views of the Dolomite landscape either by taking the Renon Cable Car up the mountain to Bolzano, or hopping aboard the hundred-year-old electric train, the Ritten Railway, to Collalbo. Bolzano is an interesting town with a distinctly German atmosphere - it was German until World War Two - and Collalbo is a charming, tiny village perched high on the plateau, and a great base for those wanting to do walking trails as it is surrounded by pristine countryside. The Dolomites are best visited in spring and summer but autumn is still a pleasant season in the mountains. Winter gets very cold! Although there are a number of guided package tours available, it is easy and fun to drive yourself around the region.
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