Language: Italian (Primary), Regional Dialects, some German in northern provinces
Visa required?: In short, no. Americans, Canadians, and Australians are allowed 90 out of 180 days travel within the Schengen Countries (Which includes Italy). Check this site if you want to know more: click here.
Most Visited Cities: Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan
Famous Landmark: The Roman Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater)
National Train: Tren Italia
Random fact: Presently, there are two countries that exist within the borders of Italy. The Vatican, which is found inside the famed city of Rome, and San Marino, which is near the coastal town of Rimini on Italy’s eastern Adriatic Coast.
Overview: Italy (Italia) is one of the most coveted countries to visit in Europe. After taking one glance at what Italy has to offer, it is quite easy to understand why this is so. Italy boasts a rich cultural blend where ancient traditions meet modern markets. By region, Italians can be as diverse as the country is long. Today great differences exist between some of the northern regions and the southern ones. In a days time, one can experience terrific food, ancient ruins, family traditions, mountains ranges, quality hand-made products, and market trending fashion.
How to get around?
The best way to travel around Italy is the train system. If you are willing, there are other existent methods though. Although there is not a national bus company of Italy, there are some regional bus companies. You can view these with companies like Euro Lines. Other options include hitchhiking and carpooling. Keep in mind that the train network is quite extensive and relatively inexpensive if you know how to properly use it.
There are multiple train lines in Italy. The first is the Regionale. This line is the cheapest and slowest. If you have all the time in the world and on a tight budget go with this. This train stops at just about all the stops that you can come up with, and even stops in other places to let other trains move ahead of it. If you are impatient and like to make quicker progress the Diretto or Espresso lines are probably better for you. These lines make fewer stops and move at a faster pace. One may think of these lines as a 2nd Class option. The most luxurious and fastest trains are the Eurostar and Eurocity trains. These trains are much quicker, have more plush seats, amenities, and usually frequented by business people in the regions. They are A to B trips going between major cities. They are also as you might imagine, the most expensive. Choose the best line for you.
To get a good idea of how to budget for these you can check out the Tren Italia website and type in your route. The date should not matter as prices do not vary greatly.
Where to go in Italy?
Well, if you are like me, lining up for the major tourist attractions can be a big turn off. I will admit that it is quite difficult to avoid all tourist areas in Italy these days, but knowing where to go and what to look for can help. Surely, you are like most and want to hit some of the major greats, like Rome or Venice, or maybe looking for a romantic few days with your lover in Florence. Realistically, these places are famous for good reason. Let us take Rome as an example. Rome was the center of the world to many people not too long ago. The empire was one of the longest standing empires in history (Especially, if you include its remnants of the Byzantines). The idea that there are still remains from the civilization after all the things that the empire underwent can be quite fascinating in of itself. However, Rome and the other majors hot spots are not really the best that Italy has to offer. In fact, Italy has a multitude of other cities worth visiting that will be cheaper and are less effected by tourists.
In the north cities like Genoa, Lago di Como (Lake Como), Verona, Bologna, Sienna, Parma, Perugia are nice to visit. In the south places like Salerno, Bari, Brindisi, and the island of Sicily are less visited, but still offer plenty of sights and experiences. As you read these names you may recognize some as places to visit, but I list them because they are certainly the less visited of the bigger cities. One could make a much more inclusive list for those smaller cities that exist throughout Italy’s country sides.
How to budget for Italy?
Likely, you have heard from everyone how expensive Italy is. Well, to every rumor there is some form of truth. Parts of Italy can be extremely expensive as well as the goods that you buy. At the same time, Italy can be seen on a tight budget. Budgeting in Italy is much like budgeting anywhere else, it mainly depends on what you buy and the manner in which you do so. For example, you can buy cheap food from the street or spend a fortune at a nice restaurant. Budgeting is really about the choices that you make. If you make conscious decisions when shopping then Italy is absolutely possible on a budget. That means, save your dinner nights for special occasions and opt for a pizza or something smaller along the way.
Where to eat?
Italy’s food service industry is basically divided into tiers. At the top is a ristorante. Ristorante is the nicest ‘restaurant’ that Italy has to offer. They can vary somewhat, however, they are usually the fancier more formal places. They have menus and serve top dishes. They are also the most expensive. Next, is a trattoria. A trattoria is basically a less formal restaurant. Food can be on a menu or off of a menu and is usually more local. The next level is an osteria. An osteria is near the level of a trattoria, but different in its style of service. An osteria will tend to focus on smaller foods and wines. Traditionally, they have been somewhat male dominated, but still can service a more diverse group. Lastly, the pizzeria. A pizzeria is exactly what it sounds like. They are usually hole-in-the-wall type places with a brick-fire oven. Price wise, a pizzeria should generally be the cheapest, assuming that it is not in, or near, a high tourist area.
What to eat?
In Italia, it is all about the region. You need to stick to the local foods in the regions that you travel to. Mainly because it is there specialties for good reason. For example, you would be best to go with Pasta Bolognese while in Bologna or Regionne Emilio-Romagna (the Emilio-Romagna region). The lasagna is also particularly good there. In Genoa, Pesto Genovese would be good. I am not going to name all the food groups, but you surely get the picture. When in Rome… eat as the Romans do.
Are Italian language skills necessary?
Yes and no. Just like anywhere else, your opportunities are greatly increased by your ability to converse in another language. Italian is the common language spoken throughout Italy. There are some places where English is spoken, but these are mostly the major tourist areas and around universities. The rest of the country English is somewhat hard to come by. Therefore, knowledge of some basic Italian phrases is recommended.