From the cultural melting pots of the south where tradition holds true to eclectic cities and towns that balance out ancient ruins with fashion capitals, when it comes to travel, there isn’t much that Italy doesn’t do well; this Italy travel guide will introduce you to the finest food, beaches and historic sites that demonstrate just what this country is capable of.
Italy is known for what has become the big three: Rome, Florence and Venice. While in Rome, you cover some of the most spectacular ruins in the world and are introduced to the progression of Roman architecture and art, that is used as a warm-up for Florence, the home of Renaissance and catalyst for what art is today. You finish up in Venice, one of the most famous cities in the world. The city is everything that you think it is; boating on the canal with the ring of accordion music echoing in the watery streets is a cliche that will play out within minutes of arriving.
From top to tail and side to side, the country is filled with chances to embrace your favourite ways of travelling. Whether you are looking to walk the many trails on a tour of Cinque Terre, hunt for truffles in Piedmont, taste wine from Mount Etna or shop ‘til you drop in Milan; Italy is a country that covers all bases.
From this introduction alone, you can begin to picture just what Italy has in store for you. This Italy travel guide will show you the best of all corners of the country to introduce you to its beauty on and off of the tourist trail.
When to Go to Italy
As a top destination in Europe, the best time to go to Italy is in the shoulder seasons, between April and June and mid-August and October which also fall in line with European spring and autumn.
Travelling at this time will welcome slightly fewer crowds and pleasantly surprise you with favourable temperatures. Your experience will be all the more immersive at this time as locals relax on the streets.
In the summer months of June and July, temperatures soar, European tourists pack out destinations and locals leave to travel themselves and escape the chaos. While travelling at this time is possible, for a more authentic experience, the shoulder seasons are encouraged.
Tip: In Italy, no one is in a rush: stop for a chat, have a coffee and take a nap – it’s la dolce vita!
Best Places to Visit in Italy
Rome and Venice
Although deserving of their own individual places in this list, Rome and Venice come together as the ultimate Italy land tour like in this 8-day Venice, Florence and Rome trip.
Starting in the capital, in Rome, you’ll tick off your bucket-list destinations like wildfire. An Italy Rome tour bounces from the Trevi Fountain to the Roman Forum; the Palatine Hill to the Vatican Museums, and Travastere to the Colosseum to unlock the secrets of one of the world’s most romantic destinations.
Hot on the trail of romanticism, a Venice day tour is one to remember. The floating city is everything that you want it to be, where streets are replaced with waterways and creativity is on every corner to make it the number one destination on any Italy travel guide. The best places to visit in Venice are off the beaten path where you’ll be introduced to the age-old craftsmanship of this port city.
Tours in Tuscany, Italy and Its Capital Florence
Whatever your idea of the Italian countryside is, it’s probably a scene from Tuscany. Home to some of Italy’s most famous wine brands, Tuscany is characterised by endless vineyards, rustic local produce and a burnt orange hue that seems to echo across the landscape no matter where you go.
A Tuscany tour from Florence will start in the city itself. The home and cradle of Renaissance, Florence is the artistic capital of the region, where you will find Michaelangelo’s David among other masterpieces that make Florence like an open-air art gallery. While Florence will introduce you to Tuscan cuisine, a Florence to Siena day trip or a visit to San Gimignano is a must to sample true Tuscan food and wine.
One of the best places for a Tuscany walking tour is San Gimignano, known for its wine, olive oil and prosciutto ham. When walking through the cobbled streets, you have to stop for a sample!
A picturesque stretch of coastline facing the Mediterranean, the Amalfi Coast is made up of a series of quaint white-washed towns and villages that sit on the cusp of the Sorrentine Peninsula with the stunning island of Capri in the distance.
One of Italy’s most sought-after coastal destinations, the most famous stops in the Amalfi Coast are Sorrento, Positano, Ravello, and Amalfi town. However, the journey itself will capture the beauty of Italy’s most impressive coastlines on any Amalfi Coast trip. It is also possible to take a variety of boat trips to explore the coastline line, like boat trips from Sorrento to Positano for a different perspective, as well as a Capri day tour from Naples.
While each town offers something a little different, they are typically characterised by row-upon-row of houses perched on hillsides connected by cobbled-stone streets and colourful doors – a postcard moment that everyone should post home.
Sitting in the northwest of Italy, Piedmont is one for the food lovers.
Just moments from the border of France and Switzerland, Piedmont has both mountainous and flat terrain that creates a unique advantage for its local producers and an amazing backdrop for your Italy food tour. This diverse region has created a palette of flavours that have come to represent some of Italy’s most famous products with more DOC and DOCG appellations than anywhere else in the country.
Your typical day in Piedmont could take you for tastings of Barolo and Barbaresco wines, paired with Bra cheese and Alba truffles – divine!
The Best Tour in Sicily
Where history collides, and the Mediterranean feel flows through the streets, Sicily is what Italy’s “boot” is kicking, so to speak. The island is home to town after town that is steeped in history and jam-packed with architectural marvels that give Rome a run for its money in its very own Sicilian way.
From the Byzantine, Neo-Classical and Norman streets of Palermo to the Ancient Greek and Roman ruins of Syracuse, you’ll begin to paint a picture that reflects Sicily’s history as a favourite stop on the empire-building trail, something that tours in southern Italy and Sicily are known for.
The influence does not stop at Sicily’s architectural landscape, it is reflected in the food too. Sicilian food is a little different to the traditional southern Italian flavours with ingredients that are with thanks to the island’s many invaders.
A private tour of Sicily like this 12-day luxury Sicily tour will give you an idea of Sicily as a full package destination.
Emilia Romagna and Puglia
While Puglia is ‘the breadbasket of Italy’ in the south, Emilia Romagna grows the wheat that will fill it. The two regions of Italy can pair together as two more of Italy’s foodie capitals.
In Emilia Romagna, you’ll be blessed with fresh air and fresh produce. The most famous city, Parma, reflects the beauty of the countryside with its warm rustic hues and internationally renowned products.
To continue the culinary event that Emilia Romagna is, the regional capital, Bologna is home to the not-so Italian dish, spaghetti Bolognese, or tagliatelle al ragu as it is known here. Other products you’ll sample in Emilia Romagna include Modena and Aceto balsamico with yet more bread and 21 DOC wines.
In Puglia, you’ll guide yourself through incredible beaches and coastal towns, quaint Trulli buildings, lashings of olive oil, wine and more bread and pasta than anywhere else in Italy.
Another highlight of your southern Italy travel guide, Puglia lines the coast with breathtaking Roman ruins and rustic stone house. Puglia is a top destination for those who want to balance beach days with history, architecture and yet more bread and wine.
Tours in Cinque Terre
The pastels of Cinque Terre are charming, to say the least. If your Italian is any good, you would have worked out already that this stunning destination is made up of five (cinque) villages (terre) that cling and carve their way into the cliff faces of the Italian Riviera.
Regarded as one of the best walking tours in Italy, hopping between the villages on foot on trails, such as the Path of the Gods, offer stunning views across the coastline and to Genoa. Travelling from Rome to Cinque Terre on a day trip is a great way to escape the city and witness a more rural side of Italy where olive groves and bespoke vineyards separate houses.
Tip: Cappuccinos in Italy are strictly for the morning. If you order one after 11 am, waiters will assume you are hungover or have not been home. You’ll be doing yourself a favour by opting for a latte instead!
How to Get around Italy
As a country of design, Italy’s transportation, much like everything else in the country, is stylish and efficient, covering just about everywhere you will want to go;
A fun alternative way to travel around Italy is to hire a car. Starting from any of Italy’s major cities like in this 8-day Puglia self-drive tour, you’ll be able to rent a car in the airport and discover the rolling hills of Italy at your own pace. While exploring the country by yourself is fun, cautious drivers beware; the rules are a little different here. With this in mind, driving in Italy’s cities does not come recommended.
For whistle-stop travellers, flying around Italy is convenient and efficient. With cheap flights across the country, you’ll be going from north to south and east to west in no time! If you are arranging an Italy land tour from Rome to Venice in the north or for a tour of Sicily in the south, there are multiple airports to choose from, making flying one of the best ways to get around the country.
Italian train services to major destinations are fast and efficient; however, it is worth noting that they are frequently not on time. With the regional services, you can expect a rickety, dated and slow service that has a little charm about it, especially when you are going through rustic landscapes. Inexpensive and an experience in itself, as taking trains in different countries are; train travel in Italy allows you to slow down to this country’s pace of life.
To forget about your troubles on your trip to Italy, hiring a private car for the duration of your journey may be the best option. Getting public transport can often be the most stressful part of your journey; trying to find stations, getting connections, missing connections – it’s the part of your trip you don’t want to remember!
By arranging a private car with our one of Local Designers who are experienced and on the ground in Italy, the most challenging part could be done for you!
Where to Stay in Italy
The most popular areas of Venice come with a hefty price tag and lots of people! For an authentic Venetian experience, stay outside of San Marco. There are many ‘sestieres’ (districts) that are quiet but still within the proximity of all of the must-see attractions, such as San Polo, Dorsoduro and Cannaregio.
Among the chaos of Rome, there are areas to suit every kind of traveller looking to visit Rome. From chic boho guesthouses in Trastevere and Monti and to luxurious boutique hotels around the Spanish Steps; Rome’s accommodation options will put you right at the heart of Roman life where dining al fresco is the only way to go.
No matter where you choose to stay in the Amalfi Coast, you’ll find rustic seaside accommodation that puts you right at the heart of this stunning region. Most visitors choose to stay in Sorrento, Positano or Amalfi; however, if you go for Praiano or Ravello, you’ll find that when the buses and trains leave, it’ll be just you and the locals in an incredibly charming location.
Clinging to the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre is one of the most popular destinations in Italy, so despite their small size, all five of the villages can get quite busy in the height of summer. Each town has its own character and charm; it’s possible to stay in any town and hop between them on foot or the regular bus and train services.
The most popular towns in Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore and Vernazza, known as some of the most beautiful locations in Italy. However, the other three, Manarola, Corniglia, and Monterosso are often overlooked, the latter of which is strictly reserved for luxurious hotels.
Places to Eat & Drink in Italy
One of the best recommendations you can have while in Piedmont is to try everything! Known for their bold, savoury dishes, thick and flavourful sauces and some of the best wines in the country, the Piedmontese don’t hold back.
To eat as much as possible while in Piedmont, opt for antipasti: from thinly sliced meats to pickles and flavourful dipping sauces, antipasti is the perfect match for Piedmont’s robust wines.
Dishes that are perfectly seasoned and perfectly matched sums up the complex flavours of Emilia Romagna.
Home to some of Italy’s most famous DOC products like Parmigiano Reggiano and Modena balsamico, Emilia Romagna has well-known foodie havens like Parma and Bologna under its belt. If you are on the coast, fish is a must, while meats and pasta are essential inland; the region is considered by many to be the best in the country for both.
Considered initially as ‘poor cooking’, Tuscan food, along with the local economy, has become more famous than any other region. Tuscan food now has a strong focus on the quality of each ingredient added which, most of the time, comes from the neighbour’s back garden.
In Tuscany, it’s not about complex flavour combinations. Everything from the antipasti to the pasta sauce is simple but good quality. You can probably count on one hand how many ingredients are in each dish, but you won’t fail to be amazed by how good it is.
A meal in Tuscany will start with locally cured meats, followed by pasta or soup that can be either hot or cold. In summer, don’t miss out on Panzanella; leftover bread soaked in balsamic and olive oil with onions and tomatoes – a delicious classic that has been handed down through generations!
Tip: Greetings and farewells in Italy are important. Two kisses, one on each cheek, are mandatory for everyone you speak to. You’ll quickly get the hang of it!
The Cost of a Trip to Italy
When you are looking to travel to Italy, there are few things to consider before travelling, the first things that come to mind are;
- Length of your trip
- Season or month you choose to travel in
- Accommodation class and type
- How many places you visit during your trip
- Number of activities or tours you take part in
- Expenditure on shopping and dining out
With all of the choices in this Italy travel guide, you’ll start to feel a little overwhelmed. With so many unique destinations in Italy, we don’t blame you. To keep your trip within your budget and to make sure all bases are covered, Designer Journeys will take care of you.
By browsing a range of customisable Italy trips on our website, you can customise any trip to meet your budget; however, if you don’t quite like what you see, you can design your own trip to Italy with our Local Designers who will create a private tour in Italy that matches your travel style.
Specifying your budget, trip duration, activity preferences and how you like to travel are the first steps towards planning your trip, from there on in, a Local Designer in Italy will work with you to create your dream trip for you based on these requirements.
As an example, take a look at this 9-day luxury Italy trip from Rome to Venice that costs around $2,985 per person and features:
- 5-star accommodation
- 25 guided activities
- Airport transfers and transport by private car
- Travel insurance
- Eight breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner
By making some adjustments like changing the class of the hotel, the number of meals included and choosing join-in tours over private tours, the cost of your trip will drop significantly.
Everyone has different interests, priorities and preferences when it comes to planning a trip. With Designer Journeys, you can browse our range of fully-customisable Italy tours and tailor any one of them to your preferences with a Local Designer. Or better yet, select your travel style with the ‘Design your Own Trip’ function and connect with a Local Designer to create your Italy tour today!
Festivals in Italy
From the top to the very tip of the boot, Italy has festivals throughout the year; some are much more bizarre than others! Here are the best;
Carnevale in Venice
A festival that is known and celebrated throughout the world, Carnevale is one not to be missed! Walking the streets of Venice, you’ll be surrounded by people in elaborate costumes in celebration of Lent. Thought to date back to the 12th century, faces will be replaced with Venetian masks to create a magical atmosphere that you could only compare to a masquerade ball.
Scoppio del Carro in Florence
This folk tradition in Florence brings people together on Easter Sunday to watch the explosion of a cart. It all starts off with a 17th-century wagon being pulled along the street draped in garlands; the procession ends with a great blast, including fireworks.
Battle of the Orange in Ivrea
Regarded as the biggest food fight in Europe, the Battle of the Orange is a re-enactment of a 12th-century local citrus fruit fight. Locals take to the streets to make the memorable moment happen once more. The town is divided into nine teams for three days of orange throwing.
Game of the Bridge in Pisa
On the last Sunday of June, Pisa’s men divide into two teams of 20 to battle in pushing a metal cart across the Ponte di Mezzo. With six rounds to try and beat the other team to battle it out for the crown. You’ll be surprised by how caught up you get in the atmosphere.
Opera Festival in Verona
Held in Verona’s Roman amphitheatre, the opera festival is perhaps one of the most beautiful in the world. With a variety of shows every year, the Opera Festival is the best chance to enjoy live music while in Italy. In the past, famous plays such as Carmen and Aida have taken to the stage.
Inspired by This Italy Travel Guide?
If you weren’t excited about an Italy land tour, you will be now! It’s time to get the ball rolling.
To start planning your trip, scroll through our fully-customisable Italy trips to be inspired or contact one of our Local Designers in Italy to discuss your travel style, preferences and interests and watch them put together your next trip!