Italy, with so much passion, its hard to hate it. One of those dream countries that most people visit when they go to Europe, Italy has inspired people for ages. What is it about Italy that makes it so special? Is it the fashion, cars, food, weather, or the people? For me one of the highlights of Italy is it’s culture and history. As kids we learn about the famous sites of Italy, like Pompeii, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Venice. We know that fashion comes out of Milan. And we learn that Italians make pretty expensive cars. But being in Italy is a little different from a fairy tale. Italy is pushy sometimes, cities feel a little grungy, and ruins lay scattered across the city. But none of this should phase you from coming here. Italy is exactly the way I thought it would be and should be and I loved every minute of it.
(click on a topic to skip to that section)
Getting to/around Italy
Breakdown of Costs
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
From Splurging to Saving
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Noteworthy Places I’ve Been To
Rome – Rome is pretty much the heart of Italy. For centuries this region has been occupied and was the center for the long-lost Roman Empire. More than likely you will visit Rome if you come to Italy. And what’s not to love. Some of the highlights include the Trevi Fountain, Sistine Chapel, Spaghetti (this is a major highlight), the Pantheon, and the Colosseum. Literally you could walk down any street of Rome and probably find some ancient building or monument (Rome just has them scattered about).
Naples – Ah grungy Naples! Naples is actually known for having “passionate” people as well as being kind of grungy city (traffic is horrible, pollution rampant, and at one time had a serious garbage problem). But most people don’t know this, that without Naples we would not have our beloved pizza! Being a food center Naples also does well at gelato and spaghetti.
Pompeii/Amalfi Coast – Probably one of the most beautiful parts of Italy and in the world, is the Amalfi Coast. Located just south of Naples the Amalfi Coast is world-renowned for its cliffs and the colorful cities that lie on them. This stretch of coast offers breathtaking views and is also known for limoncello (a liqueur mixed with lemons). Not too far also lies one of the most important ruins to date. The ruins of Pompeii. Discovered only recently the ruins of Pompeii, is a city buried by ash some 2,000 years ago. View mummified corpses and ancient Roman town that hasn’t been touched in centuries.
Venice – Venice is Italy’s charming jewel in the ocean. Literally this city was built on the ocean on now old wooden logs. Venice is best described as exactly how you imagine it. Romantic squares and old Italians buildings This Italian floating city (currently sinking) is famous for its gondola rides, canals and the hundreds of bridges that cross them.
Florence/Pisa – Florence is best known for its ancient city, birthplace of the Renaissance, as well as once being one of the richest cities in Europe. The highlights include the famous Florence Cathedral, the Sculptures in the Loggia dei Lanzi, the Old Palace of Florence, and the Medici Chapel. Not to far from Florence lies famous Pisa. Really the main attraction is of course the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Messina – Messina is on the fame island of Sicily (where the mafia was started) and is known as a port city. One of the most exciting attraction is the nearby Mt. Etna, an active volcano and one of the most active in the world. From here you can climb the mountain and visit the famous fame city of Taormina, a little commune that sits below Mt. Etna that is a popular tourist destination.
Getting to/around Italy
By Plane – Getting to Italy is easy for most people in the world. From the United States there are direct flights and usually these flights are to Rome, Milan, and Venice. If you’re flying from Europe you will of course have more options and most major cities in Europe fly direct to Italy. Flights to Italy can be pricey and usually the highest prices are seen in the summer time. If you’re continuing on to a different city in Italy from outside of Europe you will most likely have to connect in a European city or in Rome.
By Bus -You can ride the bus from Slovenia and Sweden (I know I find this weird as well) into Italy and then take a train/bus onwards. The bus is run by Eurolines.
By Train – Trains are a European staple and of course you can ride a train into Italy. You can reach Italy from train from France, Austria, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. Trains are probably the easiest and cheapest (but still comfortable) way to get into Italy if you’re already in Europe. Visit the Italian train website here.
By Boat – Because Italy is surrounded by water it is possible to arrive by a ferry or a boat. From Africa to Sicily from cities like Tunisia. There are ferries that offer travel to Greece, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and certain European cities like Barcelona and Ajaccio.
By Car – You can get around by renting a car and entering Italy from all countries that border it.
Getting around Italy is fairly easier. Most people should take the trains as they are pretty reliable and offer the fastest and cheapest way to get around Italy. High-speed trains are the most money but are obviously the fastest and reliable. The regional trains are considered less reliable (and they are from experience). It is possible to travel by bus, renting a car, as well as traveling by boat between certain Italian port cities. I took a cruise around Italy and that was an awesome way to see the major port cities.
Breakdown of Costs
Hotels – Like much of Europe Italy usually has pretty pricey hotels… and you usually the quality that Americans expect is just not quite there. Most of Italians buildings and hotels are old and small (this is just reality of much of Europe). Because Italy is popular in the summer time expect prices to be more expensive. Major cities do have every type of hotel range from budget to the very expensive, so whatever your comfortable paying, Italy should have it. One of the more popular things to do is to stay on a vineyard called a farm-stay. I would expect to pay anywhere from 100 euros to 300 euros for something decent in Italy (of course there are hostels in Italy… my recommendation is to just check the rating on websites like hostelworld.com)
Food – You come to Italy to eat!! Food is fantastic here and if you like Italian food at home… it will be 10 times better in Italy. Spaghetti, pizza, wine, beer, meats, cheeses, gelato, paninis, and espresso. You will be eating very well in Italy but don’t be surprised if food is pricey against the dollar as well. Unfortunately you should budget around 5-20 euros for a meals. This does add up so make sure you add this into your budget when planning your trip.
Other Activities – Italy has so many monuments… it’s hard to even count. Make sure to know that you will usually have to pay an entrance fee to get into places like the Sistine Chapel or Pompeii, etc. (Check online for up to date ticket prices). I think in a day it would be reasonable to spend around 100 euros for things like souvenirs, entrance fees and food. Now if you’re really on a budget some things may just not be feasible. Of course if you walk most streets in Italy… art, history, and culture are always around. If you’re into fashion then you probably know Milan is one of the centers of fashion. Clothing is relatively expensive and will be comparable to any North American city. If you’re looking to see the Alps then you can travel to northern Italy and see cities like Cortina d’Ampezzo, and the many beautiful cities that surround Lake Como (like Bellagio). Skiing is comparable to any other European resorts but make sure you know you will probably have to rent equipment and pay entrance fees (a day skiing is easily 100 euroes). Wine tours are popular and it’s suggested you visit the famous region of Tuscany.
What can I say about Italians!? They are loud at points and can be kind of pushy. But they are good-looking and always conscious about their appearances. Out of most countries in Europe, Italian people are passionate and it shows in most things they do. Most Italians are friendly and courteous and are used to interacting with foreigners (their country is invaded by millions of foreigners a year) with southern Italians being probably slightly more friendly than northerners. The official greeting of course the two kisses on each cheek (even men). Like France Italy is very fashion forward and Italians take pride in wearing the latest styles.
Italian is a romantic language with about 60 million speakers. Outside of Italy Italian is not very widely spoke. All Italians know Italian and like a lot of romantic speaking countries the Italians are not well versed in speaking English. To learn Italian is properly easier than French but harder than Spanish.
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
Do enjoy the food of Italy. Italy has world renowned food and part of experiencing Italy is to experience its food. Spaghetti, pizza, gelato, meats, cheeses, etc… you will not go hungry in Italy.
Don’t miss the some of the famous monuments… Leaning Tower of Pisa, Trevi Fountain, Pompeii, Uffizi Gallery, The Pantheon, Florence Cathedral, etc…
Do dress while in Italy. Most Italians are very self conscious and don’t be surprised if your see people with the latest fashion.
Don’t go forget to have an espresso! Italians are known for their coffee and café culture. A café on the street is quintessential.
Do experience the regional trains in Italy. Seriously sometimes they are so run down or late or come on the wrong platform. You will have a good laugh.
Don’t miss the glass making of Venice. It is truly an art form and original to that region.
Do drink as much wine as possible. Wine is synonymous with Italy and you can even go to a vineyard to experience how the process is done.
From Splurging to Saving
Well like most European countries, spending money is very easy to do. The euro has been stronger than the dollar for quite sometime so prices are always a little more when traveling in Europe. In Italy it is the average to pay for a hotel costing 100 to 300 euros and this hotel will be considered average by western standards. If you have a lot of money and are looking to splurge than of course there are plenty of the brand name hotels to choose from.
Saving in Europe probably means going to budget hotels and hostels. There are many options in major cities and to save money on a hotel wouldn’t be that hard. Obviously if you’re not splurging on the hotel don’t expect the comfort level to be that great. With food it is advisable to find a street vendor or shop in a local grocery store. This will always be cheaper than going eat out at a restaurant. Some things are just not negotiable like train tickets and entrance fees to museums, etc…
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
While Italy is a Catholic country… gays are pretty accepted here (because it’s Europe and most of European outlooks are more liberal than the United States). What is surprising is that there is some large part of the population (although a minority) are not so accepting of gays and that discrimination is still widely practice. Most Italian gays are still keep their relationships and sexuality in the dark.
Much of the government is not supportive of homosexual relationships although in recent polls the population is most in favor. Italy does have a good gay nightlife in the major cities of Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan, etc… Italy is not a scary place for gays to travel together but always keep tabs on your surroundings and watch how much you display affection. In the end Italians will still look at a gay couple holding hands, kissing, etc…
If you’re taking a regional train… pay attention to which platform the train is arriving at. A lot of times the board will say one thing but the train will arrive at another platform (this has happened to me personally).
Get Euros before you arrive in Italy. Make sure you tell your bank that you are traveling in Italy and they will make sure your credit card is working so that you can draw cash from the atm.
Tip is not really necessary in Italy. Of course if you think you received great service… than a little extra is always nice.
Accept the graffiti that exists all over the city. You will be shocked about how much their actually is!
Don’t be surprised if in the summer time it is actually very hot in Italy. Italy can go through extreme heat waves.
Perhaps think about taking a cruise to the different port cities of Italy. It’s a great way to see the variety that Italy has to offer.
images by: shawnvoyage