Italy has captured the imagination of tourists for centuries, from 18th-century aristocrats to Byron and Shelley to George Clooney. Every year, around 94 million tourists visit the country, accounting for over 5% of the national GDP. People come for a myriad of reasons, but good food, wine, art and beaches tend to be top of the list. According to Unesco, Italy boasts more World Heritage Sites than any other country too. In short, if you’re considering a trip to Italy, you’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last to look for a slice of la dolce vita. Here are a few tips on how to travel Italy when you do book your trip.
Top tips on how to travel Italy
1. Book your accommodation in advance
Italy isn’t shy of accommodation, but not all of it is good and not all of it is cheap either. While it might be tempting to play it by ear when you get there, it pays to book ahead. A wide range of boutique hotels, hostels, B&Bs, villas, farmhouses, 5* properties await, but to get the best deals to book in advance. This is particularly important during the summer months when whole towns on the coast have been known to fill up to full capacity. Most hotels have their own websites or can be booked via a booking platform such as Booking.com, Airbnb or Agriturismo.it.
2. Make the most of Italy’s train network
Italy boasts an extensive and modern rail network connecting all of its blockbuster cities, as well as many lesser-known gems too. It’s fast and fairly affordable too, particularly if you book in advance. High-speed trains like the Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, and Frecciabianca zip across the city regularly, reaching speeds of 155 mph. Slower regional trains tend to be much more affordable and offer more scenic routes too.
Trenitalia is the state-owned train operator that runs most high-speed services, but there are newer players that are worth looking into too. Italo, launched in 2012, was created by two of Italy’s most powerful businessmen – Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, CEO of Ferrari, and Diego Dalle Valle, CEO of Tod’s. Services are super speedy, with added amenities such as LCD TV screens and unlimited WiFi.
3. But rent a car if you’re looking to explore rural Italy
If you’re looking to travel beyond Italy’s cities and large towns, it’s worth considering a car rental. Many coastal don’t have their own train stations and bus networks tend to operate on a summer timetable. The same goes if you’re looking to explore the country’s wineries and olive groves, as most of these are located inland in rural hamlets or villages.
To rent a car, you’ll need to be over 18 years and have a valid driving licence. Book ahead with a platform such as Enjoy Car Rental to get the best car and insurance rates.
4. Don’t save Italy for the summer
Italy has some of the best beaches in the world, but every Italian knows it. That means that if you’ll need to join the crush to explore popular resorts along the Amalfi, Sicily, Tuscany and Puglia. With most of the Italians off on summer holidays, the cities can feel a little artificial too. If it’s two weeks worth of stretching out in the sun and swimming in bathwater-warm temperatures you’re after, head here in the summer. But if not, consider travelling in Spring or Autumn. Temperatures are still warmer than those in Northern Europe and the countryside is at its most scenic too.
Italy is a brilliant winter destination too. In the north, outdoorsy types can ski, snowboard and sledge to their heart’s content. Cities like Rome and Florence are at their prettiest too, pimped up with Christmas lights and nativity scenes.
5. Take it slow
If you’re travelling from further afield, it can be tempting to jam as many destinations as you possibly can into one trip. That’s a mistake. While it might look feasible to travel between Rome, Pisa, the Cinque Terre and Lake Como in four days, it won’t be pleasant. Plus you’ll miss out on the real charm of Italy in the rush.
6. Check the opening hours – always
Italian business hours are dependent on the season, the business and the city. Just because you’ve found a pharmacy open in Milan at 2:30 pm on a Monday, doesn’t mean you’ll have the same luck in Verona. Generally speaking, most banks, cafes and shops operate from 08:30 or 09:00 until 13:00 or 14:00, then re-open in the afternoon at around 15:00 until the early evening.
In coastal towns, opening hours will be longer in the summer, while in big cities like Milan and Rome many shops and restaurants close for several weeks holiday.
7. Make the most of the first Sunday of the month
Since 2014, the Italian government has promoted the ‘Io vado al Museo’ (I go to the museum) initiative. It means that 480 museums and galleries across the country are free on specific days, usually on the first Sunday of the month. It doesn’t just apply to smaller, more obscure sites either, with star attractions like the Colosseum, the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Gallerie d’Italia all part of the scheme.