Italy Tours & Vacations
Best Italy Tours
Italy is a country that’s as varied as the palettes of its great Renaissance artists, awash with color and culture. Lose yourself in the green rolling hills of Tuscany, bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun, and sip a succulent limoncello while taking in the sapphire surf of the sea. Marvel at the fantastical cream-colored figures of the Trevi Fountain, and relax at a neighborhood trattoria with a ruby-red glass of the country’s best Chianti. This isn’t a place where you go to vacation – this is a place where you go to live.
The richness of Italian civilization incorporates history and heritage through art, architecture, and gastronomy acting as a celebration of culture with unquestionable inimitable style, endless feasts, and sensational landscapes. Sacred sites and medieval villages, lavish churches, and scenery imitating art, the ambiance of Italy derives from a fantastical culture basking in the daily revelries of life, from a simple sip of espresso to the aromas of a slow cooking stew.
Exploring Italy takes you face-to-face with icons of Western Civilization, such as the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to witnessing expressions of the soul in the works of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Michelangelo’s David, or Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Playful baroque fountains grace the public piazzas of Rome, and elegant statuary adorns the nave of the Sansevero Chapel in Naples. The trails of the past take you past the Roman empire to the Greek settlements of Southern Italy and Sicily or along the famous pilgrimage route of Via Francigena, which connected France to Rome during Medieval times.
Luxury, wonder, and adventure cross paths around the Italy’s more than 116,000 square miles, featuring over 4,700 miles of coastline along the Adriatic, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian seas. The fascinating preservation of Italy’s past has attributed to the nearly 50 different UNESCO World Heritage sites scattered around the Italian peninsula. The diverse landscape and captivating wildlife of Italy escape the awareness of visitors interested in nothing more than capturing the culture of the main three cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice, however, Italy’s treasures go beyond the beauty inside the preserved historical centers of villages, towns, and cities across the peninsula by protecting its varied scenery spanning the arid plains and craggy gorges of the south, rolling lush hills at the heart of Italy, and snowcapped peaks of the Dolomites and Alps in the north.
The remarkable history of civilization in Italy dates back to the 18th century BC, but the history of the unified country began in the 1860s during the Risorgimento, during which time Vittorio Emanuele II, king of Sardinia liberated the territories of Italy occupied by the French, Spanish, and Austro-Hungarians. The Republic of Italy is even younger, beginning after World War II and the end of Mussolini’s fascist regime.
The aftermath of the Second World War left Italy with a shattered economy and divided society. The king, Vittorio Emanuele III, abdicated the throne and the new king, Umberto II, called for a Constitutional Referendum, which ended the Italian monarchy by placing a republic in its stead by mid-year 1946. The post-war economic growth cooled by the early 1970s and has since rebounded only in popular tourist destinations and the industrial cities of the north.
Even the most curmudgeonly of people fall in love with Italy’s distinctive pace, which changes between the rush of the cities to the quiet streets of towns and the peaceful ambiance of hillside villages. Even the atmosphere shifts between North, Central, and Southern Italy, emanating from enchanting aromas, delectable wines, and a slower pace of life. The Mediterranean peninsula captures the importance of Western European history in the way it shaped the greater continent and the world measured against the natural history of the landscape.
Great roads, accessible airports, and consistent ferries make even the most remote destinations of Italy reachable for a full-fledged romantic escape, unforgettable family vacation, educational sightseeing tour, or a simple Italian retreat to satisfy your curiosity. Your introduction to Italy provides easy access to all practical information regarding visa questions, steps to pre-trip healthcare, and the variety of activities and must-see destinations. Explore the famous, infamous, or hidden wonders across the Italian Peninsula and islands, indulging in the excitement of your Italy vacation to come.
For centuries, Italy has been one of the most popular destinations for discerning travelers: a fact that’s undoubtedly linked to its rich history and cultural attractions. This is a country that saw the birth of the Renaissance and the spread of the Roman Empire; that has produced profound poets and legendary leaders; that boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery on Earth. It’s home to some of the world’s greatest cities – Florence, Venice, Rome – as well charming and bucolic towns and villages. Throw in a beloved cuisine and some of the friendliest people you could hope to meet, and it’s no wonder that Italy continues to draw people in – as it has for centuries.
Photo: Photo of Piazza San Marco with the Basilica of Saint Mark
A relatively small country (it’s less than half the size of Texas!), Italy is so filled with cultural and natural treasures that UNESCO conferred it with 49 World Heritage Sites – more than any other country in the world.
First-time visitors can sometimes be overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of choices that Italy has to offer, flustered by the vast range of attractions in every corner of this captivating country. Wherever you choose to go, your tour of Italy will surely leave lasting memories. Nonetheless, there are some places that you simply cannot afford to miss, such as these cities:
- Italy’s famed and cosmopolitan capital, Rome remains one of the great European cities more than two thousand years after its founding. The Roman Forum is a stirring sight, as are the fabulous marble fountains and elegant piazzas that symbolize the more modern sections of this stylish city.
- Vatican City is the world’s smallest sovereign state and home to some of the greatest art and architecture in the Western world. The residence of the Pope and the center of Roman Catholicism, its legendary attractions are sure to leave you breathless – from St. Peter's Basilica to the incredible Sistine Chapel.
- There is truly nowhere on Earth quite like Venice, the fabled ‘Floating City’ that has enchanted visitors of all stripes for centuries. Here, you can shop for fine glass and handmade lace on the Rialto Bridge, sip a refreshing Bellini at Harry’s Bar, and enjoy the sunset over the Adriatic from a cafe on the banks of the Grand Canal.
- The capital of Tuscany and the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence offers a stunning array of museums, churches, art galleries and restaurants that are sure to delight. The art scene here is justifiably famous – the Uffizi Gallery is one of the best in Europe, and the Accademia houses Michelangelo’s magnificent David – but history buffs, gourmands and shopaholics will also relish this spectacular city on the banks of the River Arno.
- Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the home of some of the most celebrated fashion designers and haute-couture houses in the world. It’s a vibrant city of fine living and high culture, from the glittering boutiques of Via Montenapoleone to the hallowed halls of La Scala – one of the world’s most renowned opera houses.
Italy isn’t a place that you visit, it’s a place that you experience: touching all of your senses, engaging your emotions, in a way you never thought possible. While many might choose to walk the streets of the country’s historic cities or simply relax in its postcard-perfect countryside, these are a few special attractions that cannot be found anywhere else:
- Take a tour through the seven miles of galleries that make up the Vatican Museums, as an erudite guide introduces you to some of the greatest artworks in human history. You’ll be regaled with stories as you feast your eyes upon the stunning frescoes of Raphael, the sublime watercolors of Titian, and to cap it off, the inimitable beauty of the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel.
- Explore the sun-dappled vineyards and medieval hill towns of Tuscany, one of the country’s most diverse and evocative regions. You’ll marvel at some of the world’s most venerated architecture: from the stately villas of Palladio (the West’s greatest architect) to the iconic tilt of the Leaning Tower of Pisa; from the soaring Duomo in Florence to the graceful Campo in Siena.
- Immerse yourself in Italy’s centuries-old culinary heritage in Bologna, the gastronomic heart of the country, as you learn all the tricks of the trade in a true Italian kitchen. You’ll make pasta, antipasto, main dishes, and classic desserts – then sit down to enjoy them at a family table with a fine glass of local wine or one of the succulent national liqueurs, like Amaretto DiSaronno from Lombardy or Campari from Milan.
- Explore Venice in timeless fashion as a charismatic gondolier captains you through the city’s labyrinthine canals in a sleek, jet-black gondola. Whether cruising by grand piazzas and famous landmarks, or through some of the quieter Venetian neighborhoods, this is an incurably romantic experience that is sure to leave indelible memories.
Photo: Picturesque view of blue gondolas at sunset in Venice
- Discover Milan’s most glamorous fashion boutiques (and most attractive bargains) on an exclusive guided tour with a ‘personal shopper’. From the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, to the dazzling Quadrilatero della Moda, the fashionistas among you might just think they’ve died and gone to Heaven.
- Spend a day in majestic Naples, where the largest historic city center in Europe lies under the daunting shadow of soaring Mount Vesuvius. Take a guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the city’s outskirts, from the opulent Palace of Caserta to the haunting ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum – both buried by Vesuvius in the devastating eruption of 79 AD. Gourmands should make time to try an authentic Neapolitan pizza at one of the many little pizzerias overlooking the Gulf of Naples – where the world’s most famous flatbread was first made.
- Sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts simply can’t miss the north of Italy, where the Southern Alps gradually give way to the roiling waves of the Mediterranean Sea. In winter, the skiing here is among the best in Europe, and the scenic stretch of the Italian Riviera – including the enchanting villages of Cinque Terre – is truly awe-inspiring. It’s also the home of Italy’s lake district, where visitors will find some of the most elegant and romantic resort towns in the world: places like Como, Bellagio, Ravenna, and Cannobio.
Weather and When to Go
There is no singular best time to visit Italy. Each season represents something unique and different about the landscape, culture, and traditions to create alternate experiences. The weather changes the colors of the countryside between spring and autumn, while the festivities in the cities change between summer and winter. Traditionally summer has the most popular time to visit Italy, with schools in the United States, Canada, and the UK dismissed for vacation.
But the crowds of summer offer diminishing returns in the most popular cities and towns, making it hard to explore, experience, and discover. Wait times at the museums reach hours long, and actual locals leave on holiday from mid-August, coinciding with the Catholic calendar and the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, to the first of September. But Italians do not disappear from Italy during the height of summer, with the peak of the travel season offering a stunning impression of local life in smaller communities and the popular resort getaways in the south or the cooler alpine climates in the north. For a more comprehensive overview of when to go to Italy, please view our best time to visit Italy page.
An Overview of Italy’s Seasons
There are little surprises to Italy’s weather systems, which is considered the four seasons of the European continent. The winter brings cold weather and snow in the north, especially in the mountainous landscape separating Italy from France, Switzerland, and Austria, along with the Apennines along the bordering regions of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. The moisture of Northern Italy causes abundant rainfall throughout the year, most prominently during the summer months with precipitation average 40 inches per year, adding to the winters during which snow blankets the mountains.
The weather systems of Central Italy provide a milder shift between summer and winter, with a shorter and less intense cold season than northern Italy. The summers linger in Central Italy without the balminess of the mountains. The refreshing sea air helps mitigate the humidity around most of the central regions. Temperatures around Rome can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during July and August, but average a high of 86 degrees Fahrenheit in Tuscany. Rain falls mostly in the winter, as opposed to Northern Italy’s summer months, providing an annual precipitation between 31.5 and 33.5 inches.
Southern Italy boasts the popular Mediterranean climate for which Italy is most known, averaging temperatures of 77 degrees Fahrenheit in in July, shaping the hot, dry and long southern Italian days. Rain in the southern regions fall during autumn, winter, and spring, averaging between 19 and 23 inches a year. The southern coasts of Sicily and Sardinia are the driest areas of Italy. However, the mild seasons of the Italy’s southern regions provides navigable climate year-round.
The climate throughout Italy varies by regions and seasons. The northern part of the country generally experiences longer, colder winters and more mild (but more humid) summers than the south. For instance, in a northern city like Milan, the temperature can get down to the 20s during December and January. A southern city, like Palermo, can experience 90s in the months of July and August. The central regions of Italy – Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio, for instance – commonly have the best weather regardless of the season: you’ll be spared the heat of the south and the greater likelihood of rain in the north.
The Best Time to Visit Italy
Italy consistently ranks as one of the most visited countries in the world, rich in ancient history, magnificent art, and natural beauty. The best time to visit Italy is based on the types of activities you wish to pursue and the different areas of Italy you choose to explore. The cool waters of the Adriatic Sea will feel rigid if dipping your toes into the tide in winter instead of summer. The lush greenery and blossoming wildflowers of the alpine pastures in the Dolomites strike a profound contrast to the expectant reflective white of blanketing snow when staying in a ski during summer instead of winter.
Those who can travel to Italy outside of the “Peak Season” should, but remember, other travelers have the same concerns as you and hope to get the most out of their time in Italy with the least amount of hassle. Witnessing Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is a majestic experience. Standing up close to these masterpieces of western artwork allow you to view the intimate details photographs can’t capture, making you feel part of the work. That feeling of enchanting and gratitude disappears when surrounded by ten tour groups with chatty tour guides and other members who pass through the galleries taking pictures but otherwise not staying long enough to view the artwork away from the camera lens or phone screen.
Visit the fascinating statue of the Veiled Christ in Cappella Sansevero in Naples, and you feel as though you have the majestic work and the chapel to yourself. Tour the Colosseum in Rome at the beginning of August, and you might feel like a gladiator trying to wrestle free from the crowd; take a photo without featuring a tour guide’s umbrella, an idling bus, or strangers lingering near the entryway.
The peak travel seasons in Italy are late spring to early summer, and early autumn. Normally, many prominent attractions will be busiest in May and June, so the best time to go to the best-known destinations – Florence, Venice, and Rome – is either in April or in October. However, smaller towns and more rural areas are generally less crowded even in the height of the season, which makes for a nice option in those months when the major cities are packed with tourists from around the world.
Photo: David by Michelangelo, Florence
There are a number of great places to visit in Italy during the winter. Skiing is excellent in the north – the Dolomites and Alpine regions. Southern Italy (regions like Puglia, Campania, Sicily and Calabria) is generally quite pleasant in the early and late parts of the year. It’s not unusual for Milan, in the north, to see snow while Palermo, in the south, can be in the 70s on the same day. Early March can be rainy (Venice, Cinque Terre, etc.) but the biggest and well known cities start to clear up in late March or early April: this is the time to visit, before the influx of tourists come to experience the brilliant months of May and June. Christmastime brings a number of beautiful and unforgettable festivals and traditions throughout the country, though you’ll find the weather in the southern and central regions usually less harsh than in the north. The winter months are also the best time to visit for budget-conscious travelers, allowing you the chance to engage with Italy’s splendid cultural scene without the burden of large crowds.
Is There a Perfect Time to Visit Italy?
While hotels might offer deals or tour groups promote packages, there is no perfect to visit Italy. Rome does not stop as a popular destination outside of summer, nor do locals in Venice suddenly welcome you into their homes because you are the single visitor to the lagoon in winter. The different times of year simply provide different experiences. The winter does not always mean the water along the southern shores of Italy is too cold to swim in, while the summer doesn’t mean you can trek the plains and mountains of the Italian Alps without caution.
Life in Italy has endured for over two millennia and will continue to feature history, culture, and natural wonderment rain, snow, or shine. Instead of the familiar four seasons of summer, winter, spring, and “autumn, there are only three seasons that matter when traveling to and around Italy: low season, shoulder season, and high season.
The High Season
Although summer is the best season for many people, especially families, to visit Italy, tourists on similar schedules--those shaped mainly by their child’s school system or the two-week vacation calendar their job allows them--crowd the main cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice. Italians take their vacation between August and September, with local shops closing during the holiday, leaving mostly tourist shops open between August 15th and as late as September 15th. The air in August across much of Italy grows humid and muggy, made worse by the tight crowds filling piazzas and narrow cobblestone streets.
Hotels and restaurants mark up their prices as a premium for staying home while their neighbors take a break on the coast or in the mountains. Less-visited cities, such as Turin and Milan, feel like ghost towns compared to the major attractions of Venice, Rome, and Florence, with fashionable restaurants and popular nightspots closed for the entire month. In these less-popular destinations, hotels often offer a discount during August, with the largest crowds passing through the popular triangle of cities between May and July. There are also various festivals in specific towns across Italy held during summer that are fun and unique experience in which visitors can take part, including, but not limited to, the Palio horse race in Siena and the Opera Festival in Verona.
Apart from the main season of summer, prices and crowds skyrocket at certain times of the year, mainly Christmas, New Years, and Easter, when Italians also like to vacation for the holidays and spend time with their families. When traveling to Italy to ski the Alps and the Dolomites or spend time in the snow, High Season begins in late November and ends in early March, consistent with the snowfall along the northern borders.
The Low Season
The low tourist season represents the opposite of the crowds and long lines of the High Season. Summer resorts along the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas have closed their doors. Family-run hotels and smaller seasonal museums shut down as well. Low Season provides the perfect opportunity to experience the cultural events of larger cities, such as touring popular museums, archeological sites, medieval towns. It is the best time to explore the canals of Venice, without the maddening packs of people clogging the waterways with gondolas.
It is also a great way to visit the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David or traverse the halls of the Uffizi, both located in Florence. Fewer people mean less time waiting in line and provide ample opportunities to interact with locals in Italy, whether dining in a stylish trattoria in Padua or sampling cheese in a salumeria in Napoli.
The colder air also makes the sporadic crowds of Rome more bearable, but keep in mind, the metro system in Milan and Rome do not have air conditioning. When exploring the major cities by foot and utilizing the public transportation, you will notice locals wearing gloves, scarves, and heavy coats outdoors and inside the trains, which creates sweltering body heat in the non-air-conditioned train cars during rush hour. From certain perspectives, visiting Italy in Low Season is ideal. The cities are quieter, the lines are shorter, and you can have the chance for a more immersive Italian experience.
The Shoulder Season
The shoulder season flanks both low and high tourist seasons, encompassing spring and autumn, mainly from April to June and September to October. The large crowds generally depart Italy early September to return home, while the summer resorts in the south remain open until mid-September. It is also still warm enough to enjoy the beauty of the famous shorelines and towns of the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre before the cold sets in.
The main festivals of the regions begin in spring coinciding with cultural celebrations, produce cultivation, and religious events. The fall ushers in the favored grape harvest across much of Northern and Central Italy. Temperatures remain cool in both spring and autumn, while the colors of the landscape change from winter white to emerald green, or from the lush summer landscape to a shimmering tawny and burnt sage.
Every October Perugia celebrates chocolate with a week-long festival and Bari pays homage to the harvest with a food festival dedicated to vineyards, olive groves, and the season’s bountiful culinary pleasures. The Shoulder Season provides a stable amount of tourists across the country with many visitors focusing on the three most popular destinations of Rome, Florence, and Venice. This is still the best time to visit these major destinations, along with the various regions of Italy.
If you prefer a beachside getaway, you should visit Southern Italy or wait until the warmer months of summer, as the weather and water will not be warm enough in the Northern or Central Italy until late May, cooling by early September. You could enjoy the serene gold sands and warm water lapping against the southern edges of the country as late as early November, depending on how far south you choose to travel.
Nothing will heighten your Italian experience like the perfect hotel, and Italy has a huge range of accommodation that is as eclectic and exciting as the country itself. Families will revel in the condo-style hotels that can be found off the winding canals of Venice, or the charm of a private villa deep in the hills of Tuscany. Couples will cherish the romance of a cliff-hugging suite near the Blue Grotto of Capri, and rave about that quaint hotel room right next to that incredible pizzeria and the sprawling Spanish Steps. Nor do the options stop there: you can step into the Renaissance splendor of a former castle, indulge in bubbly and room service at a posh Rome hotel, or charter a luxury motor-yacht to cruise along the Amalfi coast.
Photo: Scenic view of the colorful village of Vernazza, Cinque Terre
There are also, of course, a number of international hotel chains with an extensive presence in Italy – offering you all of the comforts and familiarities of home while you’re an ocean away. Be advised that rooms in European hotels tend to be smaller than their American counterparts, and many older hotels in the country do not have elevators to the higher floors. When considering a particular type of hotel, it’s wise to remember that room sizes in Italy tend to be smaller than those of an equivalent rated American hotel.
The Quality of Accommodation
Boutique and eco-lodges have become popular in Italy over the years, along with luxurious villas, elegant castles, and even quiet monasteries. The travel industry has moved away from the bland accommodations and brand names of the past, revealing dedication to quality, distinctiveness, and fashion to make your accommodations in Italy part of the travel experience. Brand hotels, such as the Marriott or Hilton, the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons are names affiliated with grandeur and luxurious rooms. The most common brand hotels in Italy are Jolly and Hilton. However, smaller boutique hotels have created a movement capturing the leisure and Italian culture tucked in behind hidden bakeries and along private palaces. There are approximately 40,000 hotels in Italy, each with a fixed price in association with the Provincial Tourist Board.
The ways in which grand hotels now have distinctive designs more connected to their locations is a symbol of the effort's strength, which demanded unique style inspired by tradition, history, and heritage from the local furnishings to particular colors often associated with royalty or the former aristocracy. Erecting new structures in the heart of a historic city can be challenging, necessitating accommodations to use what was readily available, following in the longstanding tradition of renovating to upgrade the state of antique, and in some instances derelict, buildings or renovating and retrofitting seasoned edifices in need up updating but not major repairs. Ingenuity accompanies style in design, with different private hotel owners finding ways to personalize their accommodations, reflecting a region, town, or city more than the elusive culture of Italy.
It is easy to imagine four- and five-star quality lodges decorating the landscape of Italy, both in the cities and across the rural expanse. From mountain lodges in the Alps to seaside resorts overlooking the Adriatic or the Mediterranean, you are unlikely to find an ironing board in your room, and you will most likely open the door with an actual key as opposed to an electronic swipe card. In older hotels, the bathrooms can be narrow, but the windows in the bedrooms look out to the bustling life of the city, providing the soundtrack of daily life adding to the historic charms of the accommodation and its setting along cobblestone streets or olive groves, undulating hills or vineyards.
When contacting an accommodation, you should always hold onto an email or receipt of confirmation for your reservation. If you have traveled to a hotel without a reservation, it is considered normal to ask to see a room before booking. Italy has a variety of names for their accommodations across the country, with some words strictly in Italian. There are also six classifications for accommodation in Italy ranging from 1-star to 5-star deluxe, which is considered the very best. This guide can help you better understand the different types of lodgings you might prefer when traveling through Italy.
The common travel accommodation is a great way to save money across Europe and the world. The Italian name for a Hostel is ostello. They often have dorm-style rooms, along with rooms for couples or individuals. These rooms often still share a common bathroom with the other rooms on a given floor. A hostel can also call itself a hotel in Italy. Just because a lodging has the word hotel does not mean it will be the fanciest or most luxurious establishment. However, hostels do remain popular amongst international travelers on gap years, university students, and those looking for cheaper accommodation options during their travels through Europe.
In English the term translates to “farm holiday,” however, in Italian the word has a much deeper meaning. The accommodation is located on a working farm with experiences ranging broadly across the country. Options for low-budget travelers often include working on the farm to subsidize accommodation, while other visitors can enjoy the unique qualities of the rural landscape through hiking, cycling, or cooking classes for insight into life, culture, and the traditions of Italian farmers. Agriturismo could also mean staying on an olive estate or vineyard, with some properties providing enchanting and lavish grounds for their clientele to enjoy outside of the major cities and towns.
Bed and Breakfast
The term Bed and Breakfast has become more popular in recent years in Italy’s hotel industry. While the words conjure a warm image of countryside cottages or seaside bungalows, Bed and Breakfasts in Italy do not always fit the same criteria. Many of these types of accommodations serve traditional Italian breakfast in the morning, which consists of espresso and a pastry. This meal often leaves non-Italians desiring eggs, bacon, or traditional dishes of a breakfast from western English-speaking culture. The accommodations themselves are of good quality, with fresh flowers decorating the room and a cocktail welcoming guests upon their arrival. In Italy, a Bed and Breakfast could be viewed as a guest room located in a private home, as well as inside a working villa or an apartment.
The religious grounds have long histories of serving as hostels for traveling pilgrims or knights searching for a bed for the evening. The tradition continues in many monasteries and convents across the Christian world, especially in Italy, with the historic edifices offering inexpensive options for tourists or glamorous stays on refurbished grounds now housing elegant accommodations. Staying at a working monastery or convent can shape your experience through exposing you to the same type of rules and regulations to which monks and nuns are subjected. The doors to the grounds are locked at a certain hour, instating a curfew. Separate sleeping quarters are imposed on men and women regardless of their marital status. The grounds are safe, quiet, and offer a distinctive understanding of monastic life that has remains unchanged for centuries.
The words are interchangeable in Italy, with some accommodations using one, the other, or both when advertising to visitors. The star system in Italy can vary more wildly than what you may be accustomed to while traveling. The amenities a hotel has differs not only between stars but between cities, towns, and villages. Options like elevators, air conditioning, and gyms depend upon the age of the building, with more lavish amenities common in larger cities such as Rome, Venice, or Florence.
Swimming pools are common at hotels in the countryside where space is not an issue. The star rating is not as standard as would suggest from other countries. 1- and 2-star properties may not be substandard and are instead smaller, family-run inns brimming with character and friendly owners eager to help perfect your travel experience. Their rating could be due to a lack of Western-English style amenities, such as an elevator or American breakfast. 5-star hotels will offer the types of amenities and comforts for which travelers familiar with American or English standards will expect and appreciate.
There are different ways to appreciate the villas and palaces of Italy. Many former aristocratic mansions or estates have been renovated and revitalized as private accommodations. While some villas provide unique rental opportunities, similar to renting an apartment or vacation home, others fit into the category of hotel. The most common place utilizing former palaces as hotels is in Venice, where images of the Republic continue to decorate the elegant halls and grand lobby, leading to enchanting rooms overlooking the quiet canals. A region popular with tourists for renting private villas is Tuscany, providing a base to make day-trips into the surrounding countryside to visit the medieval villages.
Staying in a castle is also an option when visiting Italy. The accommodation is also considered a hotel but offers a unique perspective on the ways in which Italy has transformed its history for contemporary use while simultaneously representing its heritage. The types of castles range from 14th-century masonry reminiscent of a storybook overlooking a small town to 11th-century strongholds in the countryside in view of lush vineyards. The architectural style and age of the castles depend on the region in which the edifices are located, providing fabulous insight into the different families that shaped the various regions of Italy, promoting the distinct cultures connected more to the former city-states than to the country as a whole.
What was once considered a rustic alternative to hostels or luxury hotels has become a luxury excursion in its own right across the world. The word “glamping” embodies the beauty of the countryside, the quiet of rural life, and the luxury of a five-star hotel. A variety of campsite around Italy provides shuttles to the nearest city throughout the day for visitors to tour monuments and culture while still reveling in nature and comfort. Glamping is gaining in popularity due to its ability to combing discovery and seclusion, comfort, and nature with accommodations ranging from elegant tents to gorgeous bungalows, quiet lodges to fascinating caves, and even treehouses and yurts.
Top 10 Unique Lodgings in Italy
The accommodations in Italy can add to the allure and luster of one of the most visited countries in the world. Villages around Lake Maggiore in the north could have just as interesting and luxurious lodgings as the quiet towns of Lecce, located on Italy’s heal in the region of Puglia. The country’s treasures go beyond the monuments of Rome and the art of Florence with perfectly preserved mountains, reflective waters, grand architecture, enrapturing history, and unique accommodations from which you can view it all.
1. Trulli Hotels – Masseria Torricella is a trullo on the outskirts of the town of Alberobello and is surrounded by clay, olive, and prickly pear, providing an eco-friendly luxury experience with a heated pool, hot tub, and cycling paths crisscrossing the landscape. A trullo is a unique architectural design in the Puglia region. The whitewashed walls and conical roofs resemble a fairytale dwelling. The distinctive shape helped locals of the southern region keep their homes cool in against the summer heat and warm in the dry winters. A number of the antique homes have been modernized over the years and turned into vacation apartments or boutique hotels. The rooms offer a private bath, and a stunning experience found only in Puglia and Southern Italy.
2. Sassi Hotels – Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita has 18 lavish rooms in the oldest area of the cave dwellings to feature a composition of traditional design made with local materials, along with minimalist contemporary touches. The sassi zone of Matera refers to the caves dwellings in the region located in Southern Italy. Locals dug homes and churches out of the soft tufa stone and utilized the subterranean dwellings for centuries until as recently as the 1960s. A number of the cave-homes have been refurbished and modernized with designer touches and contemporary luxuries. The wild ambiance touches on the history of the city and the Basilicata region while providing guests the unforgettable chance to reinterpret their ideas of authentic Italian tradition.
3. Treehouse Glamping – Italy is drawing visitors from around the world with new and different perspectives on the unique contours of the country’s topography, with tourist finding more than just the art and architecture of the big cities. In Sicily’s Madonie Adventure Park, located in the province of Palermo. Tents are suspended from the trees at more than 20 feet above the forest floor, allowing couples, families, and individuals to feel as though they are nesting with the birds. The grounds also provide local food, a collection of nature trails, and captivating adventures for family fun activities.
4. Ultimate Luxury – Italy’s star-rating system ranges between 1 and 5 stars, with an extra emphasis on luxury hotels rated as 5-star deluxe. However, the ultimate in glamor, comfort, and extravagance appears in the form of Milan’s Townhouse Galleria, which classifies itself as a 7-star establishment. High-end services are tailored to satisfy each guest and included amenities such as personal butlers versed in the guest’s native language, a wellness area, concierge services, and private limousine transfers. The hotel also hosts The World of Leonardo da Vinci Museum, a gallery dedicated to models, machines, and works of the artist and inventor. The hotel is located amidst the grandeur of Milan’s premier shopping corridor, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which was erected in the 19th century.
5. A Village Resort – Erase whatever image you have of when thinking of the word “resort,” because one of the truly unique establishments in Italian accommodations is the idea of restoring and transforming abandoned villages into something new, exciting, and welcoming to visitors from across Italy, Europe, and the world. One such resort is Sagna Rotonda, which was a small mountain village in Piedmont. The eco-friendly estate is powered by renewable resources and low-energy light bulbs. Wide windows and marvelous vistas offer views to the Valle Maira, which remains little known to visitors outside of Italy, providing a perfect escape into nature or an extravagant romance in view of the mountains.
6. A Chocolate Lover’s Dream – Chocolate is more than candy in the region of Umbria and its capital Perugia, but is a sweet obsession, embodied in the nearly 100-room Etruscan Chocohotel, which is dedicated to the popular confection. The restaurant carries a chocolate-themed menu, and three floors of the hotel are dedicated to different types of sweets with Milk Chocolate, Gianduja—a popular sweet spread with chocolate and hazelnut, and Dark Chocolate floors. The Etruscan motif emanates from the heritage frescoes decorating the rooms of a particular floor, combining the ancient history of the Umbria region with the contemporary culture of Perugia through its chocolate delights. There is also a panoramic terrace offering views of the Umbrian plains and hills leading to Assisi, with a swimming pool filled with crisp, cool water, as opposed to thick, creamy chocolate.
7. Mountaineer’s Paradise – Rifugio Bella Vista provides a luxurious eco-friendly experience inside an igloo at over 9,300 feet above sea level in the South Tyrol region of Italy, also known as Alto Adige, an autonomous, German-speaking province in the Alps separating Italy from Austria. The sustainable lodging is only offered in winter with three authentic igloos carved from snow and ice. 100 percent of the electricity derives from renewable sources and the accommodation offers the luxury of soaking in the highest outdoor sauna in Europe with panoramic views of the Oetztal Alps. Fans of winter sports have options such as skiing, snowboarding, or glacial hikes in the winter. In the summer, although the igloos are not available, the landscape provides exceptional scenic hiking and boating on the glacial lake.
8. Exceptional Charm – The overlooked region of Marche houses a quaint bed and breakfast known for its unique rooms located inside remodeled wooden barrels. The eco-friendly establishment is situated on family-owned farmland, which grows its own organic food used in the meals prepared for guests. The windows overlook the terrace for views of the enchanting landscape of the region known for its rugged mountains, lush forests, and stretches of glistening beach. The tranquil accommodation is located near the church of Santo Stefano and the sandy shores of San Benedetto del Tronto, an active fishing port on the Adriatic coast.
9. A Hidden Tower – Torre Prendiparte is one of the last remaining 12th-century towers in the city of Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Over 100 towers once created the lavish skyline of the city, and served as fortresses or refuge for the noble families who funded their assembly. The tower has been fully restored with all 12 stories open to visitors, with a single room adorning the top floor. The tower stands nearly 200 feet tall and provides a breathtaking view of the city known for its captivating cuisine. The stairwell wraps around the walls leading upwards for a dizzying climb, reflecting the impregnable stronghold built to protect and defend the Prendiparte family in the Middle Ages.
10. In the Tradition of Napoleon - Rome is known for boasting lavish accommodations and elegant palaces dating back to the times of emperors and Roman legions. However, the 16th-century Roman palazzo Residenza Napoleone III captures the imagination of guests with remarkable 16th-century luxury. The boutique hotel known as Palazzo Ruspoli has hosted many distinguished guests since its creation in the mid-1700s and served as the home of Napoleon III in the 1830s.
Only three of the palace’s rooms are open to visitors with the most coveted being the Napoleon Suite. Guests immediately feel the wealth of the former nobility upon entering the grounds decorated with massive wooden doors and a stunning marble staircase. The Napoleon Suite is decorated with antique furnishings, giant oil paintings, parquet floors, hand-stenciled walls, and original 16th-century tapestries. There is also an exquisite marble bathroom that feels like a palace onto itself.
11. An Eco-Friendly Bonus – A yurt is not something visitors to Italy, nor Italians, would associate with the traditions of the country. Yet the accommodation connected to the heritage of Central Asia, most notably Mongolia and Turkey, have made a big impact on the luxury camping industry of Italy. Maremma, a province of Southern Tuscany, hosts a unique bed and breakfast situated on 210 acres in the heart of the hills near a selection of traditional medieval villages.
Goats, sheep, horses, and cows graze on the grass allowing guests to experience farm life and organic produce grown on the property. Guests of the yurt can explore Tuscany, lounge on the secluded beaches of Maremma, or partake in the daily activities of the farm to learn more about the agricultural history the region. There are also plenty of medieval towns and hot springs to visit, representing greater Tuscany and the unique properties of the particular province.
Zicasso's network of Italy travel agents and specialists are considered to be among the industry's top 10%, and have been personally vetted through a detailed screening process for their level of knowledge, expertise and reputation. Based on the positive feedback of Zicasso's clients and the endorsements of our top travel specialists, a highly selective group of accommodations have been recognized with Zicasso's Top Travel Specialist's Choice Award, which can often be found on the hotels' websites.
La Ciliegina is positioned to provide a true oasis in the heart of Naples through beauty and tranquility. With panoramic views of Naples, the hotel overlooks Piazza Municipio and is just a few minutes walking distance from the main harbor and many of the iconic landmarks. La Ciliegina has been completely redesigned by a team of master architects to accentuate the modern touch points while preserving the historic essence of the hotel. La Ciliegina hotel is well appointed with modern amenities including furniture that was especially designed for the property. With only 14 guest rooms, La Ciliegina is truly a gem in the heart of Naples.
Relais Fra' Lorenzo
Immerse yourself in the classic love story of Romeo at Juliet at Hotel Relais Fra’ Lorenzo, named for the friar who, in secret, married the couple. Legend has it that the friar often visited this property to admire the beautiful grounds and ponder the wonders of life beneath the olive trees. With the spirit of love in the air, celebrate the romance of the star crossed lovers. Stand on your private balcony as Juliet would, and gaze at the breathtaking views of Verona. With their elegant rooms, impeccable service, and proximity to Verona, you’ll never forget your stay at the luxurious Hotel Relais Fra’ Lorenzo.
Guests can expect a warm welcome to the Salento peninsula at Palazzo Virgilio Hotel Brindisi, a stylish hotel that celebrates the rich culture and artistic history of Brindisi and neighboring Puglia. The contemporary rooms have beautiful hardwood floors, fresh linens, and comfortable beds--creating a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. Each room comes equipped with modern amenities that make traveling more convenient. Sample some of the finest regional cuisine at the hotel’s restaurant. Then, explore the city on one of the hotel’s foldable electric bikes. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will be happy to recommend the best beaches, museums, and markets that Southern Italy has to offer.
Parco Delle Nazioni
Parco Delle Nazioni offers guests an opulent escape into history and heritage of Rome’s countryside. The resort is located a few kilometers from Rome and is easily accessible from the Fiumicino and Ciampino international airports. The property is a historically significant site, in 100 B.C. it was a military base supervised by the famous Roman general, Gaius Marius. The rich history blended with the creatively restored rooms create an ambiance guests will not forget. The hotel prides itself on providing guest with outstanding service and unique touches of luxury. Sit in a candle lit dining room surrounded by fragrant gardens as you indulge in an artistic meal prepared by the talented in-house chef. Enjoy a peaceful escape at the charming and historical Parco Delle Nazioni.
Ca’ Leon d’Oro
Situated in the heart of Venice just steps away from the iconic Rialto Bridge, Ca' Leon d'Oro offers travelers a hidden gem that is often overlooked. Built on a 18th-century Venetian style, the hotel offers only 5 rooms with all the amenities travelers come to expect, so guests can expect a personalized service in an intimate setting.
Sorico, Lake Como
Family owned and operated since 1973, Hotel Europa provides the wholesome touch of Italian hospitality. Located in the quaint town of Sorico on the northern tip of Lake Como, Hotel Europa offers some of the most scenic views of the Italian Alps and access to outdoor activities in northern Italy. Whether guests are looking to enjoy a day at the lake or take a bike ride along the Alps, Hotel Europa is a gem in Lake Como region.
Located in Lecce, a beautiful town in the region of Puglia, rests 8PiuHotel. Offering a comfortable blend of modern art and technology complemented by traditional Italian hospitality. 8PiuHotel provides everything the 21st century travelers expect in a well appointed room. The hotel also offers on premise, the famous Negroamaro Restaurant, where local Italian chefs present lucky guests with the fine tastes of hand selected, seasonal southern Italian ingredients.
El Mosaico del Sol
Situated on the Italian island of Lampedusa, overlooking the bright blue water of the island’s port lies El Mosaico del Sol. The hotel’s convenient location provides guests the freedom to enjoy the island’s unique culture and landscapes just a few steps away. Each suite is provided a scooter to freely roam around the island to truly accentuate the island experience. Take the option to relish in the luxury of the hotel’s distinct gastronomical lifestyle as the in-house chefs prepare special meals for “happy hour” on the rooftop terrace. El Mosaico del Sol prides itself on providing superb service and heart warming hospitality, creating an unforgettable experience for guests.
Quirinale Luxury Rooms
Situated in Rome’s historic city center is Quirinale Luxury Rooms, a comfortable and contemporary hotel. The hotel will meet your every need, as they pride themselves on their superior service, luxurious rooms, personal shoppers and private city tours. It’s convenient location will immerse guests in Rome’s stunning architecture, fascinating history, and vibrant culture.
Hotel Rosary Garden
Surrounded by several artisan shops, delicious restaurants, and historic homes, is Hotel Rosary Garden which provides guests with a heartwarming welcome to Florence. Relax in the beautiful rooms, decorated with furniture crafted by local carpenters. Take a stroll along the river to the center of the city or sit in the square, basking in the sun. Dine in the hotel’s restaurant, which is renowned for their “Chianina” Florentine T-Bone Steak. The hotel’s outstanding hospitality will truly accentuate your days in the Renaissance city.
Visa and Passport Requirements
Italy is a member of the European Union, so Americans don’t usually need a visa or any other entry requirements unless you plan to work here or to stay longer than 90 days. Should you require a visa for either of these reasons, you can apply for one at the nearest Italian consulate: much of the process can be done over the phone, but you will need to visit a consulate in person before you receive your visa to travel.
Traveling through Italy is harder than people think. When visiting a country known for ancient Roman relics, Renaissance art, romantic canals, you could easily get stuck in the tourist route consisting of Rome, Florence, and Venice. This is by no means a bad experience of Italy, but the country is so much more than these three popular destinations. Each region has its own customs and cuisine, cultural history and flair. Traditions, flavors, and even rivalries become more intricate on the micro-level, looking beyond the country as a whole and the united regions to find distinctive provinces and proud communes.
The longer you plan on staying in Italy, the better you can experience the true nature of a culture defined by the history of their towns as opposed to the past of the region. Witness a unified country with centuries of city-states vying for power, writers and poets performing their works in regional dialects, and artists commissioned by local lords to create unforgettable masterworks that surpass time and carry the nobles’ names into history.
Traveling through Italy walks you through a larger-than-life course in European history exceeding the Roman Empire, showcasing the Middle Ages, and connecting Byzantium with the Renaissance, the Baroque with ancient Greek settlers. Step beyond the surprise of learning there is more to Italy than Rome, Florence, and Venice. These three cities have gained a remarkable reputation over the centuries as grand tourist destinations for a reason, however, beyond the obvious lies the illustrious.
Planning a trip to Italy can be overwhelming. You could spend years traveling through the different regions and still not have enough. It is one of the reasons Italy is such a popular destination for tourists year-round from all around the world. Some visitors choose to return to Rome each year or spend their October in a villa in Tuscany on their anniversary. The following list is a compilation of the regions of Italy with a number of well-known and lesser-known cities, towns, and villages to explore during your first time or 100th time visiting Italy.
Health and Safety
Italy has long been a destination for travelers across the globe, whether pilgrims eager to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in the Middle Ages, Greek merchants headed to ancient Rome, or tourists eager to view the wealth of history, Culture spans the boot-shaped country nestled between the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas to the South, East, and West, with the rugged Alps bordering the north. The image of fashionable locals, famous artwork, and pristine coastline draws visitors with the promise of lavish excursions and relaxing getaways. The following information is intended to offer practical considerations when preparing for a trip to any part Italy’s nearly 116,500 square miles.
Italy has more diverse landscape than people realize. Although Italy is only Europe’s 10th largest country in terms of landmass, visitors can ski on the mountainous terrain, lounge on the bright sands of the coastline, sip wine or delight in olive oil sustained by the Mediterranean climate, or traverse a semi-arid desert. Most visitors to Italy associate the lush rolling hills of Tuscany and the indigo waters of the Amalfi Coast with the country’s diverse setting. The dry climate of Southern Italy has caused serious droughts, keeping farmers in the rural region of Calabria from irrigating their fields, while in the north, floods have caused evacuations in the Liguria and Piedmont regions during heavy autumn rains. It is important to keep destination and time of year in mind when traveling to any country, accounting for the intensity of weather conditions and the possibility of emergencies.
Vaccinations while in Italy
Italy has a westernized culture emphasizing the importance of health facilities, vaccines, and medicines in large cities and villages across the country. The Center for Disease Control, along with the U.S. Department of State does not suggest any inoculations beyond the routine vaccinations recommended before leaving your country of residence. These include:
· Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
· Varicella (chickenpox)
The suggested vaccines for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are meant as precautions, especially if you might come in contact with contaminated food or water while in small towns or rural villages. You should discuss any vaccination with your doctor based on your destination and the amount of time you will travel. If you do not have a personal doctor, you could visit a travel clinic. You can find the nearest your travel clinic by visiting Passport Health.
The Euro was established as an official unit of currency in Italy on January 1, 1999. It officially replaced the lira as legal tender on February 28, 2002. The move benefitted travelers across the European Union and travelers wishing to explore a variety of countries by not having to exchange different monetary units between countries, simplifying travel, transfers, and banking in the region.
ATMs are prevalent across Italy. Restaurants, hotels, and shops in large cities or tourist areas often accept major credit cards. Small shops, hotels, and restaurants located in villages or towns outside of major tourist destinations may only accept cash. Local businesses, from hotels to restaurants, will quote their prices in euros. The exchange rate from dollar to euro can fluctuate daily.
Money exchange is easy across Italy. It can be done at kiosks located in any international airport or the bureau du change prevalent near the tourist areas of major cities. Rates can vary between the kiosks dependent upon the location in town versus the airport. British pounds and American dollars are the easiest currencies to exchange. You can also exchange currency in a bank if you have your passport.
Traveler’s checks are not as readily accepted by businesses in Italy. If an exchange company does accept the traveler’s check, they may charge a large commission. If you feel safer traveling with traveler’s checks, there are American Express offices in Milan, Florence, and Rome, which offer easy and accessible currency exchange when dealing with traveler’s checks. It is best to use traveler’s checks as an emergency currency. They are replaced if stolen and provide an extra source of money if bank computers, ATMs or credit cards malfunction.
Italians are not known for tipping. Many members of the service industry enjoy visitors from the US due to the tipping culture, however tipping is not necessary when eating at a cafe, taking a taxi, or enjoying an espresso at a traditional bar. If you do feel the need to tip but are not sure how much to give each time, you can use the following as a rough guide to how and when to tip:
· Taxis are optional. Most people round up to the nearest euro if they felt the ride had a measure of quality,
· Hotel porters often receive up to 5 at high-end hotels. It is okay to give a porter 1 per bag if the bags are heavy.
· Restaurants usually include gratuity on the check listed as servizio. If the charge is not included, it is customary to leave 1 or 2 euro at a pizzeria or up to 10 percent in a restaurant.
· If you drink a coffee or espresso at the bar like Italians often do in the morning, leaving small change is the custom. If you take drinks at the table, the bartender appreciates a small gratuity.
Is Italy Safe to Visit?
Horror stories while traveling has become ubiquitous in the travel industry, almost as common as the stories people share about their love affairs with a charming villa in Tuscany or a hidden gem on the Adriatic Coast. All-encompassing generalizations can leave a negative stamp on the growth of the tourism industry across Italy. The country is a safe destination for travelers from around the world but does have instances of petty theft centered on heavy tourist destinations.
Crime rates in the United States rank above those in Italy, accounting for more violent crimes occurring annually. However, it is important to remain safe and keep yourself out of harm’s way whenever possible, including when protecting your personal belongings. Keep your valuables hidden or in a safe place on your body while in large crowds to avoid theft. If using a money belt or travel satchel, use one made to hide under a shirt, jacket, or in the inseam of the pants, as opposed to protruding around your waist.
Pickpockets are notorious in Rome around the railway hub of Termini, along with the crowded tourist centers of the Colosseum, Piazza di Spagna, and the popular nightspots in the Trastevere neighborhood. Always make sure purses and backpacks are zipped tight before entering a crowd. Hold tight to any loose bags, including backpacks, as persistent thieves may try to cut holes in the bottom of a pack or purse to let the valuables fall out on their own, with the perpetrator trailing behind to collect any spoils.
If you choose to wear a purse or backpack, or are carrying a bag from a day of shopping, keep the item close to you when walking through a popular tourist area. In the same regard, you should keep a constant eye on active groups of gypsies who frequent tourist stops. Women and children work in tandem on unsuspecting tourists using a common scam.
The baby toss is an example when a woman wraps a doll like a baby and throws the “baby” at a victim. While the person attempts to catch the high-flying doll, the gypsy and her accomplices loot the victim. Another type of swindle to keep an eye on is the “Rose Scam.” Vendors walk around the romantic areas of a city carrying bouquets of roses. They compliment a woman on her looks before handing her a gorgeous flower. The vendor then hounds the boyfriend or husband to pay for the rose. If the boyfriend or husband does not pay, the vendor will force the woman to return the rose, making everyone look bad in the process.
Visit your doctor to receive any prescription drugs used consistently before departing for your trip. You can attempt to take with you’re a surplus of your medication as long as you carry the doctor’s perspiration in concurrence with the treatment. Health care is readily available across the country with standards varying by the size of the city and location, with Southern Italy often seen as more disadvantaged.
Pharmacists offer a range of valuable advice and over-the-counter medication good for minor illnesses. Pharmacists can also offer advice on seeking more specialized help from doctors or a hospital in the area. Pharmacies keep the same hours as regular shops in Italy, including closing its doors on Sundays. If for any reason you need an ambulance, the number for general emergencies across Italy is 112. Pronto Soccorso is the emergency section of the hospital, which also offers immediate dental treatment when necessary.
Food and Water Safety
Food and water standards in Italy are similar to those in the United States, and therefore it is not necessary to take food or water precautions when traveling, beyond any precautions you would take at home. Ancient springs continue to feed cities and towns across the country, allowing for crisp, clean, and refreshing water springing from Nasoni, free fountains. These water fountains are tested for purity several times a year and are a much better way to cool off during a Roman or Florentine summer than dunking your head into Trevi Fountain and receiving a more than $275 fine.
Whether worried about your gluten-free diet or suffering from an autoimmune disorder that affects the way you can digest wheat, Italy is the perfect destination for those who still want to indulge in the delights of Italian cuisine. The Italian government learned that one percent of its citizens suffer from celiac disease. Regulation has ensured the majority of restaurants across the country have gluten-free options, including pizza and pasta. Even when ordering a gluten-free option, it is important to confirm the pans, floured surfaces, and doughs were not cross contaminated.
There are gluten-free restaurant guides to Italy available, which helps someone otherwise unable to partake in the more than 600 varieties of pasta in Italy learn about Italian culture through the cuisine. For more information about gluten-free in Italy, you can visit the Italian Celiac Association or download the Mangiare Senza Glutine app for your iOS device. The app is offered in Italian or English.
Hygiene in Italy
When traveling through Italy, you should expect Western-style toilets in accommodations across large cities, small towns, and even in secluded villages. This also applies to campsites, lodges, national parks, and refurbished historic buildings such as monasteries or castles. The unique properties of ancient villages hidden in the mountains and structures hundreds of years old can mean the pipes might not be thick enough or new enough to allow for flushing toilet paper. In these instances, a note is often left inside the bathroom, visible to remind you not to flush the paper. A small trashcan will also be set beside the toilet as the place to deposit the paper after use.
Outside of department stores, trains stations, and museum galleries, there will be few opportunities in Italy to use public restrooms. If you must enter a café, restaurant, or bar, it is polite to order a drink or snack before using the facilities. If a public restroom is available for use somewhere in town, it is often contingent upon payment of between .50 to 1.50. In smaller towns and villages, these public toilets could also be what are referred to as “squat toilets,” which can consist of porcelain footprints bordering a hole or just a hole for which to aim.
Visa and immigration requirements for Italy are the same as for other members of the European Union. With US, Canadian, Australian, or New Zealand passports, travelers can enter Italy for up to 90 days without any need for a visa. You can travel through the Schengen Zone, which accounts for 26 European countries, as long as you have six month’s validity in your passport and two clean pages.
Travelers hoping to stay longer than 90 days in Italy must apply for a permesso di soggiorno, a permit to stay. The residence permit pertains to any person of non-European Union citizenship wishing to stay longer in Italy to study, work, or relocate. Before arriving in Italy, you must have proof of onward or return travel within 90 days of your arrival readily available for immigration officers to view.
Electricity and the Metric System
The electricity in Italy adheres to the European standards of frequency and voltage, ranging from 220V to 230V with a frequency of 50Hz. Thus, converters for other European countries will work while in Italy. Wall outlets accommodate plugs with two or three round pins. You will not be able to charge your accessories while in Italy without a converter or adapter due to the different plug shape of European sockets, along with the possibility of electrical fire or damage. Voltage can also make a difference when deciding to use an adapter versus a converter.
Adapters do not convert electricity but allow a dual-voltage appliance to access electricity through the socket. You should always check the device to ensure it can withstand the difference in voltage. Common dual voltage devices are iPhone chargers, laptops, iPads, and cameras. A stamp on the power label will say if the device is single or double voltage. If the device was sold in North or South America, the voltage would state 110V or 120V AC along with 220V to 230V if the device allows for double voltage. If the device is single voltage (110V or 120V), a converter is recommended to keep the device from damage. Examples of a single electric product are:
· Non-travel hair dryers
· Steam irons
· Non-travel electric shavers
· Non-travel electric toothbrushes
· Small fans
Italy, like the rest of Europe, uses the metric system instead of the United States Customary Units (USCS). The alternative measurements used in most countries around the world uses the base unit uses meters, liters, and grams as the base units of distance, volume, and weight. The system applies the idea that units get larger or smaller by units of 10. The basic conversions between the metric system and the USCS are:
· 1 Meter = 3.28 feet
· 1 Liter = 33.81 ounces
· 1 Kilogram = 2.2 pounds
Being a member of the EU also ensures that Italy must meet international standards of hygiene and cleanliness, making it one of the safest countries in the world to visit. There is little risk of major disease, the water is safe to drink, food cooking and preparation standards are extremely high, and all hygiene facilities are modern and well-kept. Should an accident occur, Italian hospitals and the healthcare system are excellent: in 2000, Italy’s healthcare system was rated the second best in the world – behind only France – by the World Health Organization.
While much has been written about the pushiness of Italian men, this trait is essentially benign. Some single women suggest wearing a false wedding ring to discourage advances, but this is generally considered overkill: even the most dedicated flirters will back off if they feel their advances are unwelcome.
Photo: Golden evening light of the Grand Canal in Venice
In terms of general safety, almost every Italian city is as safe or safer at night than the average American city – and even the “more dangerous” cities like Naples are tamer than they are sometimes portrayed. The incidence of violent crime is much lower in Italy than in the US, and major city centers are almost always well-lit and patrolled by local law enforcement.
As with any travel experience, it is wise to employ some basic discretion in your everyday practices. Keep your passport separate from your cash and credit cards (your hotel is almost always the best place to keep it), travel in groups, keep to well-lit streets and intersections, and try not to appear obviously lost or disoriented. The overwhelming majority of Italians are friendly, engaging people who will help you if asked, so never be afraid to ask for assistance if you need it. English is generally understood or spoken, and even people who can’t speak English usually know where to find someone who can.
Like most of Western Europe, the official currency in Italy is the euro. Changing money is very easy, although you generally get the best exchange rates if you withdraw cash from an ATM rather than exchanging bills at a currency exchange. (Many American banks have sister banks in Europe, allowing you to use their ATMs without incurring a fee.) For most of its history, the euro has been more valuable than the dollar, so keep that in mind when making your purchases. Restaurants tend to add a ‘service charge’ of up to 15% on their bills, so tipping is not necessary or even expected. (If you do want to add a tip for exceptional service, you can always leave a small amount of cash on the table.)
Italy is a modern nation with contemporary sensibilities, but it is also a country with a strong conservative past. Shorts are more common now than they were even fifteen years ago, but everyday fashion is, generally speaking, slightly more formal in Italy than it is in the States. The most important considerations when it comes to Italian etiquette relate to churches and other places of worship: many of Italy’s churches will ask that you cover at least your shoulders – and often your upper legs as well – before entering. There will usually be a sacristan at the door to inform you if you need to cover yourself further, and they’ll generally offer a large piece of fabric to wrap around you while you’re inside the church.
Photo: View of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence
Finally, while most Italians – particularly in the service sector – can speak English reasonably well, every Italian appreciates an effort to try to converse with them in their own language. Memorizing everyday words and phrases like “hello”, “please” and “thank you” (as well as the ever-important “do you speak English?”) will not only make you easier to understand, but will also demonstrate a respect for Italy, its language and its people that natives are sure to appreciate.
Italy remains rather formal in its etiquette, at least compared to other western countries, such as the United States, Canada, and members of the United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand. Casual greetings are enthusiastic but retain a sense of formality in the way familiar friends or business partners or strangers shake hands while making direct eye contact and a small smile. After a relationship develops, friends will kiss both cheeks, starting with the left. Men also add a pat on the back as a formality. However, Italians will not refer to one another by their first name until invited.
First impressions are important in Italy and can shape the entire relationship between people, making propriety and respect important. Punctuality is not considered an important part of etiquette in Italy, with friends or acquaintances arriving between 15 and 30 minutes later than the specified time. When invited to a home, guests bring gift-wrapped chocolates or wine, preferring to spend more for a smaller amount with better quality than for a larger amount of a less delicious product.
The Dos and Don’ts of Respectful Travel in Italy
Traveling to another country can be an enriching experience that teaches you about other cultures, spectacular history, and fascinating contemporary lifestyle, or it could lead to awkward glances, anxiety, and unfortunate misunderstandings if not adhering to simple social norms of Italy. While traveling Italy, it is important to use common sense in terms of what is considered respectful and what might be taken as rude. As a member of the European Union, many of the traditions and cultural conventions of Italy adhere to the standards you might be familiar with if living in an English-speaking westernized country such as the United States or Canada. However, there are still certain aspects of the Italian tradition that might be considered strange or overlooked.
Italians do not walk while eating or drinking. They may stand at the bar or inside a café but will not stroll down the street eating lunch or sipping a coca cola. Italians stop for their meals, even when in a rush, to enjoy a small pleasure during their busy day. An exception to the rule is for children who are often seen with a breadstick or piece of pizza while wandering the city at any time of day.
Dinner is eaten later in Italy than what you may be accustomed to back home. Most traditional restaurants in Italy do not open until 7 pm, with many Italians not sitting down for dinner until 7:30 or 8 pm. The best way to keep the hunger pains at bay is to partake in an aperitivo, a type of Italian happy hour, when small snacks, such as sandwiches, olives, or cheeses, accompany your cocktail order. Friends, families, and couples meet between 5 and 7 pm to chat about their day before heading home or to a restaurant for dinner.
Do not use your fingers when eating, and use a fork instead to pick up pieces of fruit and a knife to pick pieces of cheese is polite and considered more sanitary. Wine is served with meals when visiting a person’s private home. It is rude to refuse a glass of wine. Rather, if you do not want anymore or do not wish to imbibe at all, you can leave your glass relatively full.
The Best Walk in Italy – The Passeggiata
La Passeggiata is one of the few traditions to permeate the culture across the entirety of Italy. The simple act of walking through town becomes an art form when couples, families, and friends arrive on the boulevards to see and be seen. The daily pre-dinner activity translates to the “little walk” takes place between five and seven pm. Locals window shop while walking up and down the street before bumping into friends and acquaintances.
In smaller cities and towns, the passeggiata can be the social event of the weekend as people represent the personification of fare la bella figura, cutting a beautiful figure. Via del Corso in Rome provides an elegant panorama of the luxury boutique shops and window-shopping pedestrians. The narrow lanes of Florence lead locals to the public square of Piazza della Repubblica. Locals of Siena return to their medieval streets after the crowds of daily tourists retreat, winding around the shell shape of the main square Il Campo.
Italians are known for their passion, whether in business, love or with personal interests. Their enthusiasm spreads to their communication, leading to wordy, eloquent, and emotional illustrations accentuated by facial expression and hand gestures. While traveling Italy, you should be aware of your hand movements so as not to offend those around you and better understand a heated situation.
Clenching your middle and ring fingers against your thumb, while extending your index and pinky is known as The Horns. When made with both hands, this gesture is used to ward off curses or bad luck. However, the gesture is also an insult, used to accuse someone of being a cuckold.
A gesture often made when imitating Italian hand gestures shows the thumb and fingertips brought together upright, while simultaneously waving the hand up and down. The animated gesture is frequently used in heated conversation, whether in person or on the phone and means “what do you want,” or more often, “what the heck do you mean?”
A classic gesture involves the hands loosely in front of the body, shaking from the wrists. The movement means that you have had enough or give me a break, reflected in an attempt to imitate testicles exploding. It is associated with the colloquial Italian phrase “non rompere le palle,” which roughly translates to “don’t break my balls.”
Italian Coffee Culture
Coffee has its own culture in Italy, and with that culture comes its own rules. Coffee in each region mirrors the predominant heritage, personifying distinctive features of a city or region. Therefore the names of Italy’s different types of coffee are an expression of flavor and a connection to one’s customs. There are eight common types of coffee in Italy:
· Caffé – a shot of espresso
· Cappuccino – a cocktail of one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foam
· Macchiato – an espresso with a drop or two of hot milk. You can also order a Latte macchiato, which rotates the ratios of milk to espresso
· Marocchino – a shot of espresso with a layer of foam dusted with powdered cacao. It is milkier than a macchiato
· Caffé Latte – Latte in Italian means milk, therefore if wanting a latte traditional in the English speaking world, you must order a caffé latte, which is one-third espresso and two-thirds heated milk, topped with a light foam
· Shakerato – Espresso poured over ice and shaken until frothy, basically an Italian version of an iced coffee
· Caffé al Ginseng – Espresso brewed with ginseng extract to increase the nutty flavor with a natural sweetener
· Caffé d’Orzo – A roasted grain beverage made from ground barley and served as an espresso. However, the coffee substitute is caffeine free and often considered an alternative for children or those looking for decaf. It is often enjoyed with the bright citrus of a fresh orange peel
The time of day has a heavy influence on the type of drinks Italian will order. Espresso is acceptable at any time of day, but ordering a cappuccino or a caffé latte is considered unfashionable after 11 am. Even though an Italian would never order the drink after lunch due to its milky properties, you are allowed to order one from a café or bar despite rumors about prejudiced bartenders or judging glances from other diners. Caffé al Ginseng is also considered a great digestive aid, with many Italians ordering the nutty and spiced drink after lunch or dinner.
Ordering a caffé doppio will get you a double shot of espresso. This type of drink is not common for Italians to order, however visiting the local barista multiple times a day for coffee breaks is normal behavior for most Italians. In the evening you can relax with a caffé corretto, an espresso served with a splash of alcohol, most often grappa or Sambuca.
Each region of Italy boasts its own special flavors of coffee, adhering to the local palates shaped by the cuisine and cultural history over the centuries. In the late 17th century Vienna exiled the occupying Ottomans with the help of the Venetian Republic. The retreating army abandoned approximately 500 bags of coffee, beginning the coffee drinking tradition in Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy, most notably Venice.
Coffee in Venice continues to in the traditions of its heritage with well-rounded aromatics of a Middle Eastern and Central Asian vanilla fragrance. Milan coffee is light, delicate, and fine, connoting the high-speed pragmatism of the industrial city. The fast-paced urbanites drink their espresso quickly before heading to the office. The regions of Piedmont and Liguria produce sweet and delicate coffee shaped by the world wards, turning coffee into a small luxury in which to indulge. Neapolitans prefer their coffee intense and dark, with Neapolitan espresso becoming the worldwide embodiment of Italian coffee standards in style and quality.
Italians tend to order their drinks al banco, which means “at the bar,” preferring to stand with their colleagues and friends near the bar with their caffé in hand. The nomenclature of coffee changes between cities as well, with the city of Trieste claiming the most creative terms for its most popular beverage. Locals refer to espresso as Nero but order “Nero in B” if desiring an espresso in a small glass. However, if you were to place a simple order at the bar while in Trieste, Turin, Milan, or Naples, such as ordering an espresso, cappuccino, or macchiato, the bartender would understand even without the local terminology unless you ask for “coffee.”
The official language of Italy is Italian. However, there exist many different dialects dependent upon the region. The traditional national dialect is the original dialect of Tuscany as popularized by Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem La Divina Comedia, The Divine Comedy, which today is remembered around the world mostly for the first book in the epic, Il Inferno, Dante’s Inferno. Sicily’s dialect is so strong that Italians from other areas of the country have trouble understanding due to a long influence of Arabic, Greek, and Spanish on the island.
Groups along the northern border of France speak with an accent heavily influenced by a history of French occupation, along with the fluidity of the border connecting republics to the French monarchy. German is also spoken with prevalence in the mountains along the Swiss and Austrian borders due to deep border connection with former German-speaking monarchies and the occupation of eastern Italy by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Beyond language, Italians remain loyal more to their hometowns than to their country, with ancient feuds continuing to draw families together or wedge them apart. The national anthem of Fratelli d’Italia is played with pride during international sporting events but while in the United States or the United Kingdom, politicians build fervor through a call of patriotism to “God and Country,” Italian politicians create passion by stressing ties to loyalty to the family and the historical ties to the country.
Transportation - More to Italy than Tuscany, Rome, and Venice
Italy is accessible through various modes of transportation, with the major cities reachable by train and small towns accessible by car or bus. The way you travel across Italy will offer different experiences through the various perspectives spanning train tracks, country roads, and vast coastline. The view can also change dramatically between driving a car, having a private chauffeur, or riding like an Italian on a Vespa.
Travel by Train
The train system in Italy is the most popular way to travel around Italy. The national company is Trenitalia, which runs most services, with the private company Italo offering high-speed trains between Turin in the north and Salerno in the south, along with Venice to Naples, or Brescia to Naples. All three services top in Bologna, Florence, and Rome before reaching their final destinations.
- Important note: Before boarding the train, you should always get your ticket stamped in the green machines most often located at the head of the rail platform. This machine validates your ticket and failure to get the ticket stamped will result in fines.
It is important to make reservations on high-speed trains, especially when traveling during peak season. Like with airline travel, the earlier you book a train ticket through Trenitalia or Italo, the more variety you will have and the greater the savings. Many trains also offer 1st- and 2nd- class seating, with the regular sections reaching prices half as expensive as the luxury compartments.
Consider the different types of train services before booking the trains. Regionale/Interregionale trains are slow and stop at nearly all stations between destinations. InterCity services are faster and can also travel to destinations outside of Italy on EuroCity lines. Alta Velocitá, the high-velocity trains, reach speeds of more than 185 miles per hour and connect major cities across Italy, cutting the travel time of the InterCity express trains by half.
Travel by Car
Italy has an extensive network of motorways, state-funded highways, and local streets making exploration by car easy, with even the most remote village accessible. Cars drive on the right side of the road, consistent with the United States and Canada. When on the highway, drivers are allowed to overtake other cars on the left. You must always drive with your headlights on, day or night, when outside of cities, most notably on country roads. Unless otherwise indicated, the speed limits in Italy are:
- 80 miles per hour on the Autostrada, which is similar to a freeway
- 68 miles per hour on all main roads in non-residential areas
- 55 miles per hour on all secondary, non-urban roads
- 31 miles per hour in built-up areas, such as cities
Travel by Bus
Traveling by bus can be an easy, efficient, and cheaper way to access the smaller towns and villages in the secluded areas of Italy not connected to the main cities by rail. Buses connect the vast streets of Rome, along with the InterCity bus companies reaching smaller towns such as Assisi in Umbria or Alberobello in Puglia.
Bus companies sell their tickets through agencies in large cities, online, or at the station when traveling to different areas of Italy. In small towns, villages, and cities local buses sell tickets in bars or directly on the bus. Advanced booking is often not required but is advisable during high season, especially for long-haul trips or when trying to travel on a Sunday to a destination unreachable by train.
Travel by Private Chauffeur
Traveling by a private chauffeur through Italy makes exploring easy and the small towns around each region accessible. Transferring or touring with a private chauffeur allows you to relax and enjoy the scenery Italy without the worries of navigation or paying attention to the rules of the road in a different country. The train offers fast, frequent, and cheap travel across the country, and remains the most popular form of travel for Italians and visitors. Private transports between distant cities can be expensive and do not always reach their destination faster than the high-speed trains.
The best way to appreciate the comforts and luxuries of a private transfer is to experience each individual region. For example, if staying in Italy and wanting to explore the famous medieval towns unconnected by the railways, a private chauffeur provides a perfect, stress-free alternative to renting a car, along with the freedom of staying or going at your preferred time as opposed to the time set by a tour company or bus schedule. Some of the best places to enjoy the services of a private chauffeur are:
- The Amalfi Coast - the narrow, winding roads nestled between the edges of the Tyrrhenian Sea and coastal mountains of the Campania region are daunting to traverse on your own. Local drivers easily navigate the dramatic landscape and also offer quality information on the local towns unknown to visitors
- Tuscany – the medieval towns of the region are not linked by highway or main roads but are known to local drivers who often navigate the rolling hills and valleys of the region. A private chauffeur is especially valuable during a day of wine tasting; as an added benefit, most drivers are knowledgeable about local wineries
- Umbria – the hidden, preserved medieval towns of Umbria have retained their culture partially due to the absence of the railway and access to the Autostrada. There is also great wine tasting in the region, which is often overlooked by tourists for the more famous valleys of Tuscany.
- Naples to Bari – While there are trains that connect Naples to Bari, which cross the regions of the Southern Italy, they are slower than a car due to a lack of public infrastructure concentrated in the south. The most common train route between the capital of Campania and the capital of Puglia stops in Caserta, where continuing travelers would have to switch trains. The journey could take nearly four hours long at the minimum. Hiring a private chauffeur will only help navigate the crazy roads and driving rules of Naples, but will also reach Bari much quicker, with a journey taking less than three hours total.
There is no shortage of festivals to celebrate in Italy no matter the season or month of the year. Italians don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate and indulge in an expression of joy with their neighbors, whether in traditional ceremonies or unusual festivities, customary holidays or special events. Attending one or more festivals when visiting Italy can turn a great vacation into a memory your family and friends will want to hear over and over again. It is important to note that national holidays in Italy are public holidays, which means many workers have the day off, including workers in tourism and transportation.
Be sure to check train/bus schedules if traveling away from your accommodations, along with the hours of monuments and museums to ensure they do not operate on different holiday hours. The following list offers a comprehensive calendar of the major festivals and celebrations across Italy. The list includes a selection of national holidays--when banks, businesses, and major attractions close -- legal holidays, and regional events or festivals, which provide a better experience during your travels, including the possibility in celebrating like a local.
December 31st to January 1st – The passion and style Italians bring to the fashion world carry into their celebrations of the New Year. Festive ambiance erupts in the cities, towns, and villages from the tip of Sicily to the top of the Italian Alps. New Year’s Eve marks the Feast of Saint Sylvester (La Festa di San Silvestro) when Italians focus on family and friends with a large dinner. The meal is less family oriented than on Christmas but remains a large part of the holiday, complete with certain dishes popular for their commitment to tradition and symbolism.
Pork ushers in a new year with a commitment to the richness of life. Lentils symbolize money, with each bean representing a coin to bring wealth and prosperity in the coming year. Grapes, a delicious crop harvested late summer and early autumn, embodies frugalness, so Italians who gain their fortune in the next year will spend their money wisely. The custom has ancient roots, deriving from the belief that only a prudent person could have saved a portion of their grape harvest for a celebration of the new year.
Cities, towns, and villages fill with an uproar of excited locals eager to spend their time on amidst the community, with bonfires and light displays filling main piazzas. Fireworks displays fill the sky at midnight for a celebratory exhibition. The farther south you travel in Italy, the grander the fireworks display. Naples provides the largest spectacle in Italy. Larger cities, such as Naples, Bologna, Palermo, Rome, and Milan turn the evening into an outdoor festival, often using pop and rock bands to emphasize the jovial atmosphere.
Southern Italians throw their old crockery out the window at midnight. The custom has transitioned to many locals crashing pots and pans together from their front door to frighten away spirits in the new year. Pay attention to the first person who helps you celebrate after midnight. Custom dictates that someone older or of the opposite sex brings signs of long life or luck in love, respectively. The party carries on early into the morning. Many Italians choose to stay in the main squares or venture to a perfect viewpoint at which to watch the sunrise. New Years Day, also known as Capodanno, is quiet in the morning. Adults sleep late, resting after a long night of festivities.
Trains and buses run on a holiday schedule on December 31st and January 1st. The methods of transportation still run between cities but travel few and far between their normal consistent times. This leads to an overcrowding of train cars and sold out buses. It is better to stay in your location until after the celebration. If you must travel over the New Year, book all your transportation ahead of time; this includes taxis or private transfers, as many people working in local transport also choose to take a break during national holidays.
Epiphany (Epifania) – January 6th – The iconic image of Christmas in the English-speaking western world depicts a child running down the stairs to find presents Santa left in the night, with elegant wrapping glinting beneath a lush tree. Italian children receive their Christmas gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany. The holiday tops the 12th Day of Christmas, when the Three Wise Men reached the manger, bearing gifts for Baby Jesus. While Italy does have a character similar to Santa Clause, who visits on Christmas, it is La Befana from whom the children wait for a visit. La Befana is a witch who travels around Italy on a broomstick on the eve of January 5th, bringing presents to the good girls and boys of the country and lumps of coal to those who have been naughty.
The legend dates back to the Three Wise Men, who stopped at a small shack on the way to the manger to ask for directions. They met an old woman and invited her to join their party. She refused at first, but after seeing the bright light in the sky attempted to follow their path to reach the manger. The woman was lost and never heard from again. Ever since, she travels around on her broomstick on the 11th night of Christmas, bringing gifts to children in the hopes she might one day find the baby for whom she originally set out.
Cities and towns across Italy celebrate the holiday in their own unique way. A procession forms along the wide avenue leading to Vatican City with participants dressed in medieval costumes. Hundreds of people carry symbolic gifts for the pope before the Bishop of Rome leads morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In Florence, the parade Calvacata dei Magi begins at the Pitti Palace in the early afternoon and crosses the Arno River to reach the Duomo. Flag throwers perform in medieval uniforms in Piazza della Signoria, under the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Smaller towns celebrate with live nativity scenes, with locals donning the costumes of the historical characters involved. Venice holds an annual regatta, with participants dressing like the fabled witch. One of the most notable festivals takes place in Urbania, in the region of . The four-day festival celebrates La Befana when children can visit the witch’s home and snack on confections sold at the seasonal market. The Epiphany is a national holiday and therefore disrupts the normal train and bus schedules. You can avoid the inconvenience by booking any transportation ahead of time or staying in your respective destination to join in the celebrations with the locals.
Flag Day (Giornata Nazionale della Bandiera) – January 7th – The flag is an important symbol of Italy, representing the unification of what was once separate city-states, proud kingdoms, and also occupied territories under Spanish, French, and Austro-Hungarian sovereignties. The Tricolore was originally created as a representation of the Cispadane Republic in the 1790s, which is currently the region of Emilia-Romagna. The red and white represented the French flag, under whose authority the region fell in the 18th century.
The colors also have a deeper meaning. Red represents charity, white symbolizes faith, and green embodies hope. Italy’s Tricolore gained prominence in the mid-19th century when famous general Giuseppe Garibaldi carried the flag during his campaign to unify the country for the first time since the Roman Empire. The symbol continued as sign of a unified Italy under the Kingdom of Savoy, the Social Republic led by Mussolini, and the modern Italian Republic.
A selective part of the Italian Republic celebrates Flag Day with vigor, with the majority of celebrations concentrated in the region of Emilia-Romagna and the cities of Bologna and Reggio Emilia. The most notable ceremony takes place in Rome at 3.15pm, when the Corazzieri, a special branch of the president’s honor guard, performs a changing of the guard in full medieval military regalia, which includes metal breastplates and shimmering helmets decorated with long flowing horse’s tail.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Giorno della Memoria) – January 27th – The Italian Republic helped establish the International Holocaust Remembrance Day to coincide with the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation. Large cities around the country organize ceremonies, public initiatives, meetings, and lessons to provide locals and visitors a chance to reflect on the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, its supports, and its allies, which included the Social Republic of Italy under the administration of Mussolini. The yearly commemoration also allows Italy to shed light on the lesser-known stories of victims and heroes of the Holocaust through different mediums of storytelling.
Over the years the memorial has brought to the forefront the Foibe, a term symbolically referring to the disappearances or killings of Italian peoples in Yugoslav occupied territories. The annual event also offers insight into the role Italy played during as an ally to Germany, which lasted from 1936 to 1943. Many people from around Italy travel to the national museum of Risiera San Sabba in Trieste, the only concentration camp located on Italian soil. Nazi Germany managed the camp from 1943 to 1945, engaging in the systematic murder of political prisoners and members of the Jewish and LGBT community. Milan also has a popular and moving Shoah Memorial providing exhibits and tours in English and Italian, located in the Central Station once used to transfer deportees away from the prying eyes of the city.
Fair of Saint Orso – January 30th to 31st – The quiet alpine region of Valle D’Aosta brims with life during the Fair of Saint Orso, which is the largest celebration of its kind in the region. Over 1,000 stalls and stands spread through the historic center of Aosta leading to the town’s historic walls. The festival celebrates an Irish monk who traveled the region handing out wooden sandals to the poor, giving way to a celebration lasting more than a millennium.
Craftspeople bring objects carved from wood, keen on demonstrating their mastery of the material for two days. Local restaurants serve regional specialties. The vendors showcase grolle, a cup with many spouts used for sharing wine, along with mortars and pestles, ladles, and instruments used to remove cream from milk. The most popular items on display are the wooden sandals known as socques. The fashionable footwear resembles clogs made with wooden soles and a leather top. The tradition of the leatherwork dates back to Roman times. Artisans also exhibit other skills over the two days, such as weaving, wrought ironwork, looming, lacework, and how to properly use wicker.
Almond Blossom Festival in Agrigento (Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore) - February 3rd to the 12th – Almond blossoms cause a celebratory uproar in the Sicilian city of Agrigento each February. The blossoms connote the spring, with their delicate pink and white buds indicated the warmer weather is not too far behind. The folk festival has spread a message of peace, integration, and cooperation between peoples since 1935. The highlight of the 10-day celebration culminates with song and dance performances accompanying a parade winding through the streets of the city.
The ancient Greek edifices of the Valley of the Temples acts as a backdrop to the special event, with the remains of the seven Doric temples providing an example of the interconnectivity of the world. You can follow the parade through the city and participate in the folk dances taking place along the cobblestone streets and inside the public squares leading to the Temple of Concord, the largest and best-preserved Greek architecture in the ancient city.
Carnival (Carnevale) – Exact dates change annually – Carnival is the most famous holiday of February, conjuring images of Venetian masks, grand regattas, elegant banquets, and a constant celebration of debauchery. The true winter festival has pagan roots and was adapted to fit the Catholic rituals and calendar. The holiday falls on one day each year, but cities across Italy have elongated the celebration into a festival lasting weeks before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Historically people wanted to indulge in sugar, meat, and fats before restricted by a religious diet for 40 days. Children throw confetti in the streets. Pranks and mischief are common in the big cities, giving credence to the phrase, “a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale,” which translates to “anything goes during Carnival.”
Masks have become a symbol of the festivities, beginning from a tradition of hiding one’s face during the mischief, allowing a person to act freely without reprisal from government laws or the reprisals of the gods. This same belief gave way to participants wearing elaborate costumes and participating in masquerade balls in private or public spaces. The festivities gained prominence in the Italy in the 13th century, with visitors traveling from around the world to watch and partake in fabulous costumes, dramatic masks, and captivating ambiance. The tradition drawing people from around the world has only grown over the millennium, with an estimated 3 million people having attended Venice’s Carnival festivities in 2016.
Carnival begins on the holiday known as the Feast of Maries, Festa delle Marie, which began as a Venetian custom when the Doge offered jewels to humble Venetian girls as bridal dowries. Venice begins celebrating two weeks on average before the start date of calendar holiday. Nightly events draw costumed locals and visitors reveling in the cool nights of the city and the ticket-only masked balls and fascinating festivities centered on Piazza San Marco, including a costume contest and the Flight of the Angel, during which an acrobat descends a rope from the Campanile to the Doge’s Palace. Parades take place on the Grand Canal featuring gondolas and children take part in fun activities in the family-friendly neighborhood of Cannaregio.
Areas with equally exciting Carnival celebrations without the crowds of Venice are Viareggio in Tuscany, which utilizes fascinating parades with huge paper mâché caricature floats. Another is Acireale in Sicily, which has one of the most famous celebrations inside of Italy due to the beauty of the allegorical paper mâché and flower floats accentuated by the surrounding baroque architecture. Carnival is not a considered a national holiday, so the train and bus schedules are not affected. However, staying in a city such as Venice during Carnival can be stressful due to the large crowds and limited accommodations. Be sure to book your accommodations and travel to a city known for a grandiose Carnival celebration before arriving in Italy.
The Feast of St. Agatha – February 5th – The celebrations of the Feast of St. Agatha are not well known outside of Catholic communities, however, the holiday draws devout Catholics and non-believers to the Sicilian city of Catania to honor the patron saint and witness one of the world’s most famous religious processions. Saint Agatha lived during the 3rd century AD and remains a popular figure in the hearts and minds of locals of Catania more than 1,700 years later.
The city stops for three days to commemorate the woman, Agatha, who refused the advances of a Roman prefect, resulting in her torture and eventual sentence to life in prison. The festival begins with mass on the dawn of February 3rd. The midday parade carries eleven candle-shaped structure symbolizing historic guilds, connected to the local Senate. The following day members of the church place a statue of St. Agatha and her relics on a 40,000-pound silver carriage. It takes 5,000 men to lift the carriage and carry the emblem down Via San Giuliano as nuns from churches around the city chant. Local officials estimate approximately 1 million people line the streets to participate in the celebrations during the three-day festival.
The Lateran Pacts (Patti Lateranensi) – February 11th – Mussolini signed the Lateran Pacts with the Holy See in 1929. The document offered an alliance between Italy and the Vatican, separating the heart of the Catholic religion into its own independent principality, unattached to the governance in Rome. The pact is named after the Lateran Palace in Rome, where the treaty was signed. The treaty consisted of political, financial, and concordat issues between to the two states, including letting the Church influence public education in Italy. In return, Mussolini received a public coronation through the pope’s recognition of the Kingdom of Italy. The holiday passes without much fanfare across the country. However, both Italy and Vatican City recognize the pact, updating the treaty most recently as 2016, sharing views regarding international issues and foreign relations policy.
Valentine’s Day – February 14th – Italy is known for its passion, with a history of famous lovers, including the legendary Casanova. The country does not celebrate Valentine’s Day as ardently as the United States or Great Britain, but couples do give candy, flowers, and provide ineffable romance. Shop windows in the main cities represent the customary reds and pinks of the holiday in the naturally adoring ambiance cast by the historic city centers and gorgeous landscapes in the north and south of the country. The devotion to the holiday varies depending more on the city and its romantic history than on the location of the city itself.
The “Lovers of Camogli” festival takes place during the week of Valentine’s Day in the town of Camogli, located in the region of Liguria. The sleepy town awakens annually as the center of romance along the coast, bordered by olive and mimosa groves. Hearts decorate the streets and traditional fishing nets adorning the harbor wall. A marketplace on the promenade specializes in confections, cakes, pastries, and jewelry. Shops participate in a window-dressing competition, while poets and artists partake in contests of their own dedicated to the theme of love. Chefs and bartenders also offer classes on Valentine recipes, from cocktails to desserts.
Although Florence and Venice are considered two of the most romantic cities in Italy, lovers often spend their Valentine’s Day in Verona, attending one of the public concerts or visiting the home of Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet, the heroine of Romeo and Juliet. The small town of Terni in Umbria decorates the streets with lights and inviting hearts. The Basilica of St. Valentine commemorates the town’s patron and the holiday with ancient Roman and Greek roots.
The festivities are spread over six weeks, beginning February 1st and ending in mid-march. Young couples participate in the Festa della Promessa, and the locals indulge in sweet treats during the Cioccolentino, a celebration of decadent chocolate. On the evening of February 14th, the city glows by candlelight for the final touch of romance. Those wanting to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a more religious focus travel to Rome to visit Chiesa di Santa Maria to view a display of the saint’s more than 1,500-year-old remains.
Saint Faustino’s Day – February 15th – The day celebrating St. Faustino is considered the single person’s response to Valentine’s Day. Italians passion and love of a good celebration has broken away from the need to applaud coupling over the independence of begin single. Saint Faustino is the patron saint of singles. What started as a joke in 2001, grew into a full-fledged holiday celebrated in cities around Italy each year, promoting social events for singles and opportunities for new people to meet whether in social or romantic capacities.
Milan, Turin, Catania, and Rome have championed the holiday and inspired many more events across the country for singles on the day after Valentine’s Day. Little is known about St. Faustino, but legend states the priest helped young and unwed women find partners. The name Faustino in Latin can mean “lucky” or “auspicious,” adding another layer of meaning to the reasons for singles celebrating on the commemoration day of this particular saint.
Carnevale d’Ivrea – February 16th to the 22nd – In the tradition of Carnival and the resounding festivals celebrating the holiday around Italy, Ivrea offers one of the most famous celebrations outside of Venice. The small town in Piedmont continues the customs began in medieval times. A colorful parade travels down the main avenues of town before the iconic orange-throwing battle begins. Historians are not sure when the orange throwing officially began as a custom, but folklore dictates the story of a young peasant girl who rebuffed the advances of the ruling tyrant in the 12th or 13th century.
The girl decapitated the tyrant, inspiring a revolt resulting in the villagers burning down the castle. The present-day reenactment has a local girl playing the role of the heroine, Violetta. Dozens of people known as aranceri signify both the tyrant and the peasants and throw oranges at each other. The fruit represents stones and other ancient weapons. The townsfolk are divided into nine teams on foot, with a number of locals positioned on carriages. Those with helmets and protective gear represent the legions of oppressive feudal lords over the centuries, including Napoleon’s armies.
The participants on the ground embody the ordinary citizens contributing to the rebellion. The orange battle begins on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday and culminates in the burning of the scarli, which are big poles covered with dry bushes and positioned in the middle of the main square. Visitors eager to watch the festivities but not participate in the battle wear red caps. There is no guarantee those choosing to observe will not be hit by a misfired orange, but joining in the fray will certainly have you marked by a well-guided throw. The battle ends when a victor is declared in front of the town hall. The night then fills with light fro a bonfire lit in Piazza Ottinetti, the town’s main square.
CioccolaTó – March 2nd to 11th – The chocolate fan can find refuge in a celebration devoted to the sweet confection during a nearly 10-day long festival in Turin. The name plays on the word for chocolate in Italian, which is simply cioccolato, blended with the Italian word for Turin, which is Torino. Although the largest chocolate festival in Italy is located in Perugia, Turin has its own fascinating history connected to the delicious treat, due to the evolution of the Ferrero company.
The name of the company is not as well-known outside of Italy as its signature product of Nutella. The creamy and decadent combination of chocolate and hazelnut, a mixture known officially as gianduja, provides a consistent theme for the festival each year. Aside from the traditional flavor associated with Italian chocolate deserts or a flavorful spread for toast, Piedmont, the greater region surrounding Turin, continues to produce chocolate with good quality ingredients.
The first hot chocolate was served in the court of the Savoy in the mid-16th century after the ruling duke received a bag of cacao beans from the King of Spain praising the duke’s record as a general in the Spanish army. The exotic drink became a fixture at grand balls and aristocratic parties before opening the product to the people and its popularity growing through low taxes on sugar and cacao goods. Artisans of Piedmont continue to craft careful concoctions using traditional and brand-new methods with attention to quality and detail highlighted during the CioccolaTó festival each year, along with demonstrating the chocolate producing methods established by the Aztecs centuries ago.
International Women’s Day (La Festa della Donna) – March 8th – The popular holiday grew in meaning over the years with women traditionally enjoying a night out with their friends at dinner, a movie, or relishing a dessert to celebrate the freedoms in their preferred manor commemorating Women’s Rights Movement around the world. Men purchase yellow mimosas for their wives, girlfriends, daughters, and sisters in a tradition begun in 1946 after moving away from the customary violets and lily-of-the-valley the French presented. Yellow mimosas and chocolates are more prevalent in the Italian landscape and therefore less expensive to purchase.
The holiday allows women and girls to contemplate the distance their role in society has come since the first Women’s Rights March, which took place in New York on February 28th, 1909. However, the commemorating takes place on March 8th due to a memorialize the women who took the streets of St. Petersburg in 1917 demanding an end to the Great War. Italy officially recognized International Women’s Day in 1922 but did not celebrate the holiday around the entirety of the country until 1946.
Mimosa is not just the symbol of the holiday in Italy but has become an important ingredient in the cuisine, showcasing the ingenuity of mixologists and chefs alike, utilizing the bright flower in cakes, cocktails, custards, and creams. It is not uncommon to see women out in the bars and nightclubs with their male counterparts at home for the evening. Museums have also joined in the celebration by offering free admission for women with special exhibits highlighting female artists in Italian history, bringing to new light one of the most popular lesser-known female artists Artemisia Gentileschi and the first woman to graduate one of Italy’s university institutions, Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia, who matriculated from the University of Padua in the 17th century.
Rome Marathon – March 18th – The annual competition has brought famous runners from around the world since its establishment in 1982. The dates have moved multiple times over its three decades of existence, including taking place on January 1st, 2000 to bring in the new millennium. On race day much of Rome shuts down due to the route, which passes through the major tourist attractions changing minimally from year to year. Participants pass landmarks such as St. Peter’s Square, Piazza di Spagna, the Trevi Fountain, and the Colosseum.
Runners are expected to complete the race within seven hours before the streets are reopened to regular traffic. In 2010 Rome held a commemoration race in memory of the 50th anniversary of the gold medal winner from Ethiopia Abebe Bikila, who ran the entire marathon barefoot during the 1960 Rome Olympics. The winner of the 2010 race, Siraj Gena from Ethiopia, crossed the finish line barefoot to honor the original champion from his home country.
Saint Joseph’s Day (Festa di San Giuseppe)/ Father’s Day (Festa del Papá) – March 19th – Father’s Day and the festival celebrating St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, go hand in hand in Italy. The historical figure played a prominent role in the early life of Jesus but became a venerated saint in the Middle Ages when Sicilians prayed to the saint to end the legendary drought. Devout Sicilian immigrants carried the tradition North America and Australia during the Great Migration of the 19th century and early 20th centuries.
The novena, nine days of prayer, lead to the veneration of the saint’s day and the decoration of the altar. Flowers, oranges, lemons, rosaries, bread loaves, and fava beans decorate the altars with displays of faith, devotion, and celebration. The food served continues traditions with each dish symbolic of a past invaluable resource, including wild fennel and chickpeas. The holiday is celebrated widely in Southern Italy, with the largest festivals taking place in Sicily.
Pisan New Year – March 25th – On the New Year the calendar begins anew, with the majority of the world adhering to, or acknowledging, the Gregorian calendar. However, numerous regional or stately calendars remain in use and calculate the New Year differently. Pisa is an old republic that celebrates the new year twice, once on January 1st with the greater world, and once on the 25th of March. The city holds fast to its custom first begun in the year 1200 and ending in the year 1749.
The celebration coincided with the Annunciation, taking place nine months before Christmas along the solar calendar. At midday in Pisa, a ray of sharp sunlight penetrates the Duomo in the round nave window. A marble egg on a shelf refracts the light above a column. A historical parade and religious parade fills the morning with locals marching through the streets dressed in period costumes. Drummers and troubadours add traditional music to the fascinating ambiance before noon hits and the crowds venture to the cathedral to view the display of natural light and lavish craftsmanship.
Vinitaly Conference – March 25th to 28th – Vinitaly is the world’s largest conference dedicated to the wine sector and has been growing each year since its inception in 1967. Over 4,000 exhibitors from around the world present their top products across the four-day event, attracting more than 150,000 professionals of wine and spirits. The convention is referred to by those in the profession as “the most important convention of domestic and international wines.” The conference also offers the largest wine showing in the world, utilized as a barometer of the health of the international wine industry.
Vintner and producers release new wines, announce unique styles, and showcase up-and-coming or emerging Italian wine regions. One popular aspect of the conference is the sensory judgment of wines, when a five-member panel of two Italian judges, two members of the international wine press, and a non-Italian judge sample dry, sweet, still, sparkling, and fortified wines. Exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops, tastings, and lectures provide an interactive experience for participants in addition to the popular landmarks of Verona.
Marriage of the Sea (Festa della Sensa) – Venice has been married to the sea for over a millennium, established in a ceremony first performed in the year 1,000 AD. The celebration commemorated Doge Pietro II Orseolo’s conquest of Dalmatia. Every year the city renews its vows to the sea with an elaborate ceremony that continues to capture the imaginations of Venetians, Italians, and tourists from around the world. The first ceremony saw the sailors cruising into the lagoon and throwing rings into the open water.
The initial ceremony marked a time of great expansion for the republic, turning the medieval city-state into a powerhouse of the Adriatic Sea, along with creating a piece between competing families to help reestablish trade with the Byzantine and Holy Roman empires. The ceremony’s meaning has changed over the millennium, no longer accounting for the marriage between sailors and their dominion over the water, and instead marking the anniversary of the famous mission undertaken by the Doge as a symbol of the city’s great heritage.
The mayor of Venice performs the role of the Doge, leading the water parade of rowing boats made up of the Venetian Rowing Society. The mayor tosses the gold ring into the water representing tradition, heritage, and the city’s indelible connection to the sea. The Church of St. Nicoló hosts the religious ritual preceding the festive market overtaking the piazza. Races also provide entertainment along the Grand Canal and around the Venetian Lagoon. Venice is a popular destination year-round, therefore it is important to book your accommodation in the city known as Serenissima ahead of time. During regional and local celebrations transportation can become crowded, which is another reason to either travel before or after the festivities, or reserve your train, bus, or flight ahead of time.
Good Friday/Easter (Venerdi Santo/Pasqua)– Varies between March and April – Easter is one of the biggest holiday celebrations in Italy. Colorful displays chocolate eggs decorate shop windows, and parades march through the cobblestone lanes of large cities and tranquil villages with statues of Jesus or the Virgin Mary adorning the processions. Church bells peal in the morning drawing neighborhoods to services ranging from the small local chapel to the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Every church around the country opens for Easter weekend, and priests travel door-to-door privately blessing homes and shops in time for the Easter festivities. Restaurant menus and bakeries present traditional religious dishes, including the customary ingredient of lamb, abbacchio, for the main course and almond paste creating the pastries and desserts. Children prefer the cake Colomba di Pasqua, which takes the shape of a dove. Hollow chocolate eggs contain small prizes inside.
The religious processions across Italy begin on Good Friday. Parade participants dress in traditional medieval or ancient costumes while carrying olive branches or palm fronds to decorate the churches. The most well-known Good Friday procession takes place in Enna, in Sicily. The religious community draws people from all over the island and from around the world interested in viewing 2,000 friars dressed in ancient costumes parading through the city’s streets.
Trapani, also a city in Sicily, holds several processions during the Holy Week leading to Easter Sunday. Their Good Friday parade, known as Misteri di Trapani, lasts 24 hours and is the longest religious event in Italy. It is also one of the oldest continuously observed religious events, having begun before the Easter of 1612. Images of the Passion and Crucifixion parade through the city streets, starting and finishing in front of the Chiesa del Purgatorio.
A lesser-known celebration of Easter in Italy is Pasquetta, which literally translates to “Little Easter,” but refers to Easter Monday. The day is popular amongst Italians and is celebrated as a national holiday. Groups of friends make picnics in the public plazas, in the lush parks, or in the countryside to play games involving egg races or Easter-centric themes. The town of Panicale celebrates the holiday by rolling giant wheels of cheese around the old city walls. Judges gauge the winner by speed, and whoever used the least strokes to propel their wheel of cheese forward.
Traveling through Italy during Easter Weekend depends on your desire to participate in the festivities. Traditionally, Italians travel outside of their respective cities or towns for the holiday, making transport by bus or train more crowded. The public transport schedules run on ferie, the holiday schedule, which means trains and buses run less often. By running infrequently, you must wait longer between transports and deal with larger crowds. Shops and museums close during the weekend for staff to celebrate with their families.
Restaurants typically serve more seasonal, customary dishes associated with Easter. It is easy to be swept up in the majesty of the processions and the unique ambiance Italy during the holiday, but it is not easy to travel around Italy on the religious weekend. If you choose to travel in or around Italy during Easter Weekend, all accommodations and transportation should be booked well in advance to avoid missing out to other travelers, whether Italian or international.
Birthday of Rome – April 21st – The celebration of Rome’s Birthday takes place in the Eternal City with little fanfare in other parts of Italy. The lavish celebration centers around the birth of the empire and the legends surrounding it. Activities span the weekend with an extravaganza of concerts, historical reenactments, parades, and cultural celebrations at the Circus Maximus. Light bathes the Colosseum in a grand display of fireworks. The myth begins with the small settlement atop the Palatine Hill, which grew to become what Roman’s considered Caput Mundi, the “Capital of the World,” whose dominance lasted over a millennium.
Plays and storytelling across the city retell the tale of the twins Romulus and Remus, the sons of Mars, who were weaned by a she-wolf. Gruppo Storico Romano has brought history to life through battle and historical reenactments for the last 20 years and continues to dress as Roman legions or in the traditional garments of Roman women, for dramatic retellings of daily life and captivating mysteries of the former empire, leading to the conquest of Britain in a mock battle.
Feast of Saint Mark (Rosebud Festival) – April 25th – The majority of Italy overlooks the Feast of St. Mark for the unifying holiday that lands on the same day, Liberation Day. However, Venice, the City on the Lagoon, pays homage to its patron saint each year with the rosebud festival, recalling a little-known tradition when men give their beloveds a red rosebud as a sign of true love. The custom began in the 8th century when the daughter of Doge Orso I Participazio, fell for a man of humble origins.
The man was sent into battle with the Turks and fought valiantly but succumbed to a mortal wound, dying in a rosebush. With his dying breath, he tasked a friend with delivering a rose soaked in his blood to his beloved as a pledge of their everlasting passion. Since that day in the 8th century, Venice celebrates love, passion, and their patron by honoring partners, mothers, and daughters with a red rosebud, following in the tradition of the man who fought the Turks to prove his love of the Doge’s daughter.
Musical and dance performances, along with carnival rides and boat races commemorate the festival spirit. It is a romantic time to visit Venice, with the already charmed air carrying the aroma of roses. The food festival of St. Mark’s Feast follows shortly after, with lovers of cuisine celebrating with face painting, Italian ice, pizza baking, and gastronomic treats. The festivities commemorate the day in which two Venetian merchants stole the remains of St. Mark from his grave in Alexandria to return the saintly body to the island and fulfill the angel’s pronouncement that predicted St. Mark’s body would one day rest in Venice. A mosaic of the event decorates the basilica.
Liberation Day – April 25th – While Venice celebrates St. Mark and the legend of the rosebud on April 25th, the remainder of Italy rejoices in La Festa della Liberazione, Liberation Day, which commemorates the day Allied troops freed Italy from its ties to Nazi Germany in 1945. It is also the day Italy honors its fallen soldiers and resistance members who fought against Mussolini’s troops throughout the Second World War. Towns large and small exult with marching bands and big flags.
Political rallies and music concerts fill the public squares of larger cities and smaller museums and shops close in memoriam. University students gather in the main squares and along cafes singing the partisan anthem Bella Ciao, which left-wing anti-fascist groups appropriated as a rallying cry against Nazi and Italian fascist leaders. The most elaborate celebrations take place in Rome, the nation’s capital. Citizens parade and demonstrate to honor the struggles of World War II culminating in the annual address by the president after visiting the Ardeatine Caves Mausoleum, where Nazis killed 335 Romans in 1944.
It is not uncommon for establishments, such as shops, museums, or even restaurants to close for the day. Public transport is also hard to obtain during the national holiday, with trains, buses, and ferries running less often. Larger museums around the country, such as the Uffizi in Florence, the Vatican Museum in Vatican City, and the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, remain open. You should always check in advance and, when available, book your tickets in advance as well.
Labor Day (Festa dei Lavoratori) – May 1st – The Day of the Worker is a national holiday in Italy, bringing more parades, festivals, and special events to a country that knows how to celebrate. Many Italians take a vacation from April 25th (Liberation Day) to May 1st (Labor Day). Museums large and small close for the holiday, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the National Archeological Museum in Naples. In Rome attraction such as the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, and the Borghese Gallery are also closed. Labor Day is one of the few national holidays during which Italy shuts down.
Labor unions continue to organize a free concert in the capital, with attendees topping 1 million people annually. Venice in the north and Alberobello in the south remain popular destinations during the long weekend for Italians and tourists to visit. The important festival of Sagra di Sant Efisio begins in Sardinia on the same day. If in a large city like Rome or Florence, it is easy to pass the day walking around the streets, which act like open-air museums. Smaller towns shut down for the day, which makes traveling and sightseeing difficult.
San Efisio Procession – May 1st to 4th – The streets of Cagliari brim with antique life and excitement during the four-day festival, which has provided one of the world’s largest and most continuous religious processions since 1656. The celebration commemorates Efisio; a Roman officer sent to Sardinia to suppress Christianity. While on the island Efisio had an epiphany and became a follower instead. The Roman legions beheaded him after he refused to renounce in the year 303 AD.
During the plague of 1652, Sardinia turned to their patron saint, announcing in their desperation they would carry the statue of Efisio through the streets in a long procession from the church in Cagliari to the chapel in Nora to display their devotion. The plague disappeared, and the citizens of Cagliari have kept their promise ever since. The festival involves more than 5,000 people. Displays present approximately 30 Traccas, peasant carts drawn by oxen and decorated with flowers and Sardinian produce. Followers wear traditional village costumes while singing customary prayers taken from the rich religious heritage of the island. The most dazzling costumes shine orange from the commune of Desulo and austere black on the dresses worn by the women of Tempio.
Men from Quartu wear gold jewelry on their waistcoats and fishermen from Cabras walk barefoot through the streets. Horsemen trail the procession in the back and divide the large crowds lining the streets of the old city. The statue leaves the church at midday traveling inside a 17th-century gold-plated coach. Traditional Sardinian pipes accompany the procession, creating a haunting atmosphere in the otherwise quiet streets. People near the parade reach out their hands to touch the effigy, which rid the island of plague and protected its citizens from the French siege of 1793. On the evening of May 4th, the statue follows a parade lit by torches, guiding the effigy back to its place rightful place in the Church of St. Efisio in Cagliari.
Wedding of the Trees (Lo Sposalizio dell’Albero) – May 8th – Small towns in northern Lazio celebrates nature and the season of fertility during this auspicious festival. The ceremony has ancient roots with pagan rituals recalling the former connection people had with the landscape and the seasons. Locals claim the celebration as the world’s first and most ecological festival, consistently practiced since 1432 in the town of Vetralla. Costumed dancers move to the music played by the town band. Flag throwers perform in the open spaces beneath the shading forest.
Horsemen hold bouquets of yellow scotch broom flowers and gallop around a clearing of forest at the top of Mount Fogliano. Participants dress two giant oak trees in veils and garlands. The mayor wears a sash of the Tricolore and officiates the symbolic wedding between the two oak trees. The mayor reads a notary’s act attesting to the union and witnessed by those resent. The ceremony annually reasserts the town’s possession and protection of the forest, having only canceled the ceremony in nearly six centuries.
Snake Handlers Procession (Processione dei Serpari) – First Thursday in May – The name “Feast of St. Domenic,” does little to share the uniqueness of the events that take place during the festival, which is celebrated in the tiny hamlet of Cocullo, located in the region of Abruzzo. St. Domenic is the protector against snakebites. Participants in the festival decorate a statue of the saint with jewels, banknotes, and live snakes.
Carters haul the statue through the village as snakes coil around both the effigy of St. Dominic and the statue bearers. The procession protects villagers from snakes and snakebites each year once the live snakes are re-released into the wild. Six weeks before the event, snake handlers scour the countryside collecting snakes from the local villages to ensure the bearers’ safety during the procession. Fireworks begin at eight in the morning, followed by mass.
The devout ring the bell with their teeth ensuring good dental health for another year, as St. Dominic is also the patron protector of toothaches. The procession begins at noon. The actions of the snakes on the statue are prophetic. If they wrap around the head, it promises a good harvest. If the snakes slither around the arms, it is a bad omen. A sweet, ring-shaped bread populates the village at the end of the procession as an homage to the snakes, the festival, and the former custom of cooking and eating the snakes.
Race of the Candles (Corso dei Ceri) – May 15th – The town of Gubbio in the region of Umbria embodies the distinctive display of history and religious devotion of Italian communities. Little about the festival has changed since its inception in 1160 when Ubaldo Baldassini passed away. People travel from around Italy and across the world to watch the ancient festivity held between May 3rd and May 15th. The ritual begins with a priest blessing the town before groups of young men split into three teams. The yellow team plays for St. Ubaldo, the blue team plays for St. George, and the black team plays for St. Anthony.
Despite the name of the festival and a common misconception for those unfamiliar with the celebration, the festival has nothing to do with candles but instead is a feat of strength and ingenuity. The three teams race through the streets of the town and up the steep slopes of Mount Ingino to reach the Basilicata of St. Ubaldo, all while carrying the 13-foot tall wooden pillar known as a ceri, which is referred to as the candle from which the festival receives its name. Each pillar weighs over 880 pounds. The race begins at six in the evening when the three teams made up of 10 to 15 men dressed in bright colors correlated to their particular saint, spring through the streets. Spoiler alert: The festival commemorates Saint Ubaldo Day; therefore St. Ubaldo’s team always wins.
Cantine Aperte – Last Weekend in May – Italy is a wine lover’s dream in-and-of-itself, but the celebration of Cantine Aperte can turn even an ardent opponent of wine into an admirer. The movement began in 1993 when vineyards all over Italy first opened their cellars on the last Sunday in May to encourage direct contact with wine enthusiasts. The annual event has become a fixture of the Slow Food Movement in Italy, in which hamlets, towns, and regions celebrate the cuisine produced locally, appealing to a philosophy of discovering the true culture of Italy’s territories through its flavors.
The weekend allows wine lovers from around the world to go beyond tasting and buying wine directly from farms and vineyards and allows visitors to enter the cellars and discover the art of crafting and refining wine. Each year provinces around Italy also offer spectacular events listed on Cantine Aperte’s official website, along with all the participating cellars listed by region. You don’t have to be serious about wine to enjoy the festivities.
Anyone with a bit of curiosity or a desire to sample the different varietals or tastes shaped by the contours of the landscape will enjoy the principles of Italy’s open cantinas. Unlike the wine regions of the United States and Australia, the common winery of Italy does not have a large tasting room with open bottles waiting for visitors to sample the new or classic wines. Most vineyards in Italy open only for reservations and do not hold regular hours, which is one of many reasons Cantine Aperte has become so popular over the years.
Republic Day (Festa della Repubblica) – June 2nd – Republic Day in Italy is similar to the Independence Day in the United States or Australia Day in Australia and Canada Day in Canada. The holiday commemorates the birth of modern Italy as a republic after a nationwide referendum in 1946. The vote instated the republic and exiled the monarchs from the House of Savoy who had helped unify the country in the 1960s. The constitution now forbids a monarch to be reinstated as the head of the Italian government.
The House of Savoy officially renounced their claim to the throne in 2002 as a condition to return to Italy from their exile. Martial bands and military parades overtake cities and towns across Italy, with the main celebration taking place in Rome. An Italian flag drapes over the Colosseum and a parade, presided over by the president, runs along Via dei Fori Imperiali, the main road running alongside the Roman Forum. The president traditionally visits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I to lay a wreath in commemoration of Italian peace and unity.
The memorial stands beside the grandeur of the Vittorio Emanuele II monument on the edges of the historic city center. Nine planes of the Italian Air Force Acrobatic Patrol fly over the city emitting red, green, and white smoke, creating a Tricolore over the monument of the first king of unified Italy. Shops, museums, and monuments close for the majority of the national holiday, with transportation adhering to an infrequent schedule. Plan all transfers ahead of time and book all accommodations early, as Italians enjoy traveling to celebrate the holiday, as well. Larger museums and monuments, including the Roman Forum, Colosseum, and Vatican Museums, reopen in the afternoon after the festivities have waned.
Quintana Joust (Giostra della Quintana di Foligno) – June 3rd to 16th – Watching a joust take place in Italy is exciting for novices of the medieval sport or amateur historians who have seen performances before. The town of Ascoli Piceno in the region of Le Marche holds one of the finest jousting tournaments in Italy and recreates medieval traditions that would have otherwise been lost to history. Officiants read the customary documents of the elders and participants carry new banners crafted to commemorate the ceremonies each year.
A procession begins on the Feast of San’Anna, juxtaposing celebrations of Sant’Emidio, the town’s patron saint. A competition of flag throwers precedes the jousting tournament, and devout Catholics offer candles to the bishop. 60,000 residents fill the stands and cheer the six participants partaking in the jousting competition. Each participant represents one of the ten different neighborhoods of Ascoli Piceno and dresses in particular colors to match.
People who marched in the parade watch fully costumed in medieval garments. The talent, skill, and precision of the competitors recall noble knights akin to storybooks and legend. One of the most rousing games takes place on the lemniscate-shaped track. A wooden statue of the god Mars stands with his right arm outstretched and holding a ring in his clenched fist. The rider gallops at full speed attempting to tuck his metal spear into the ring. The rider who finishes the fasted with the least amount of penalties wins.
It traveling by train or bus, be sure to research the schedules of public transportation in and out of Ascoli Piceno. The festival draws interested parties from around Italy, along with visitors from around the world, which means accommodations in town can fill quickly and reservations on buses and trains can also book ahead of time. Festivals and celebrations easily enchant participants who are unaware of the transit schedules. You do not want to be eating dinner with the winners of the jousting competition to find you have missed the last transport back to your accommodation outside of the city and all the hotels in town are already booked.
Saracen Joust (Giostra del Saracino) – June 23rd – Arezzo captures life in the medieval time after the return of soldiers from the Crusades through the devout celebration its jousting history. The small town in Tuscany exults two times a year during the Joust of the Saracen, surpassing the mere representation of its past by rejoicing in the unique properties of its heritage. The festival has antique origins captured in 13th-century documents restating how Aretini, citizens of Arezzo, preferred the jousting tournaments to other forms of entertainment.
The most historic document in possession of the township offers the rules of the original competition, including the timing, which should always take place on a Sunday, and the reward, which was originally a piece of purple satin. Stories of the Saracen reached Arezzo and other parts of Italy after soldiers from the Crusades returned, bringing new customs, traditions, and legends from the greater world. The festival in Arezzo was reestablished in the early 1930s after a long period of inactivity, returning twice a year, during the evening on the Saturday before the last in June, and on the afternoon of the first Sunday in September. The city is divided into quadrants. Each participant is given colors corresponding to their district:
- Porta Crucifera wears red and green
- Porta del Foro wears yellow and crimson
- Porta Sant’Andrea wears white and green
- Porta Santo Spirito wears yellow and blue
Over 250 participants Aretini participate in the precession, dressed in costumes consisting of soldiers, musicians, valets, flag jugglers, knights, jousters, and members of the government council. The procession ventures through town and ends in Piazza Grande, one of Italy’s most characteristic main squares. All participants in the jousting competition must first take the sacred oath in front of the town hall. If visiting the town for the procession and tournament, pay attention to the public transportation schedule. Accommodations in town during the festival book quickly. Make sure to reserve any local hotels or transfers to and from Arezzo ahead of time.
Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist – June 24th – The cities of Florence, Turin, and Genoa celebrate St. John the Baptist on his feast day with much fanfare and unique festivities. Though much of the country remains proportionally quiet, Florence celebrates its patron saint who was beheaded around the year 30 BC. The preacher and religious figure led baptism rituals in the Jordan River, which artworks of the saint depict most often. The image of the saint was also stamped on the original coins of the republic. Fireworks fill the night sky over the Arno River. Florentines enjoy the light display in the warm evening while sharing gelato.
Music and sporting events fill the day, and select piazzas offer public bonfires. The celebration has ancient origins with nobles and lords originally donating large candles to the church on the saint’s day. As time went on the candles became larger and more ornate, in an attempt for the noblemen to show their wealth and prestige. One of the best ways to experience the fireworks is on a boat on the Arno River. The local government also opens San Niccolo Tower, one of the oldest towers in the city that lines the ancient walls around the historic city center.
The Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa keeps relics of St. John, such as a collection of the venerated figure’s ashes. The maritime city provides a jumble of torchlit processions, street art, musicians, and food stands before the crowds gather at midnight in Piazza Matteotti to light the main bonfire. The historic procession begins the following day and travels between the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the antique port. Participants carry precious gold statues and religious artifacts before the archbishop blesses the sea.
In the night fireworks reflect in the water and light the city. The celebrations in Turin are less flashy but just as popular with the locals. Sporting events, concerts, and costumed processions fill the days leading up to the 24th of June, along with vintage car parades—Turin houses much of the Italian automotive industry, making it the automobile capital of Italy. The ceremonies end on the Po River with an afternoon regatta, canoe race, and torchlit boat procession.
Historic Soccer Match (Calcio Storico) – June 24th – Soccer fans never knew the sport could be as violent as when watching Calcio Storico in Florence, which takes place as part of the festivities of the Feast of Saint John. The tradition dates back to the 16th century during the Renaissance and is best-described as a blend soccer, rugby, and wrestling. Colors signify the team’s neighborhoods from around the historic city center representing:
- Santa Croce in blue
- Santo Spirito in white
- Santa Maria Novella in red
- San Giovanni in green
A historical parade preceded the match and leads to the stadium set up in the center of Piazza Santa Croce. The games were originally reserved for members of high society. Legend states members of royalty and even popes wanted to take part in the games. In the 1930s the local government reinstituted the games after a dormancy of nearly two centuries. The event and sport continue to draw ardent fans and passionate players. The original rules published in 1580 remain the official outline of the sport.
Players use both hands and feet to move the ball up and down the field over the course of 50 minutes. The rules state that sucker-punches and kicks are illegal. However, head-butts, punches, elbows, and chokeholds are all allowed. The four teams have 27 players with 24 players on the field at one time and no substitutions. Getting tickets to the coveted event is a hard task due to the sport’s popularity and scarcity, as the main event takes place only once a year. You can find more information on purchasing tickets to the game from the official box office website.
Festival of Two Worlds (Festa dei Due Mondi) – June 29th to July 15th – the original intent of the Festival of Two Worlds was to highlight the cultural differences and similarities between American and Italian art, dance, and music. The festival takes place over more than two weeks in the quiet, serene town of Spoleto located in the region of Umbria. The composer Gian Carlo Menotti founded the festival in 1958 to inspire discussion in the arts and sciences.
The celebration helps strengthen the bonds of friendship between Europe and the United States through the act of creation taking place in conjunction with the Spoleto Festival USA held annually in Charleston, South Carolina. In recent years the governing council has taken steps in introducing younger generations to the spirit of education within the festival’s playful setting to learn about the heritage of the event and the way classical music and art inspires contemporary works. The annual event attracts thousands to the sleepy ancient town, which acts a stunning backdrop to the fascinating celebration.
Feast Day of the Saints Peter and Paul – June 29th – The annual public holiday celebrates the patron saints of Rome, the Eternal City, bringing the fast-paced streets to a relaxed stride. Businesses, shops, and public offices close for the day in honor of the saints. St. Peter was one of the 12 apostles and died by crucifixion in the 1st century AD. He is also regarded as the first pope of the Catholic church. St. Paul became an influential leader in the church before being beheaded in the 1st century AD during the reign of emperor Nero.
To commemorate the saints, the pope places a type of woolen cloak known as a pallium over the archbishops appointed over the previous year to symbolize the unity of the church and the hard work and sacrifice of the bishops. Lights decorate St. Peter’s Basilica and unique art displays made out of flowers adorn the cobblestones of St. Peter’s Square. In 2015 over 1,500 artists from around the world produced nearly 32,300 square feet of floral portraits, utilizing 500,000 flowers.
Each year a regatta takes place on the Tiber River. Boats turn into lavish floats with historical décor cruising to the Ponte Sant’Angelo the famous bridge ornamented with gorgeous statues designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The evening ends with fireworks bursting over Castel Sant’Angelo around 10 in the evening. The celebration first began in 1481 and continues to draw followers of the saints and devoted Romans to the festivities each year.
Battle of the Bridge (Gioco del Ponte) – June 30th – If the game tug-of-war had medieval military roots, it would be the Battle of the Bridge in Pisa, located in the region of Tuscany. The origins of the games are unknown, but the reinstitution of the battle came in the 1930s after a century-long hiatus. Participants in the games wear medieval costumes inspired by traditional Spanish military garments. The celebration takes place in two distinct parts:
- Historical Pageant – The procession consists of over 700 participants in a grand military parade. The procession leads to the edges of the Arno River and Ponte di Mezzo bridge on which the battle takes place. Banners connote the participating teams of the four historical quarters of Pisa, represented by their colorful garments.
- The Battle – The battle takes place between the different teams from Tramontana and Mezzogiorno groups, which represent the different neighborhoods of Pisa. The four groups stand on opposite sides of the Ponte di Mezzo with a seven-ton wooden block resembling a carriage positioned between them. The teams push the carriage attempting to shove their opponent to the opposite end of the bridge. The tournament takes place over six challenges. The winning team takes the most challenges, pushing the trolley the length of the bridge at nearly 165 feet.
Legend attributes the games to Pelops, the mythical founder of Pisa who wished to institute a tournament similar in spirit and conciliation to the Olympics. Another myth positions the games as a reenactment of the battle of the bridge fought by the Pisans and Saracens during the 11th-century campaign, celebrating the warrior tradition of the city-state and former republic.
Verona Opera Festival – June 22nd to September 2nd – The stellar acoustics of the 2,000-year-old Roman arena in Verona have drawn famous opera singers, musicians, and music enthusiasts from around the world since the beginnings of the unique festival in 1936. The amphitheater was erected in the 1st century AD and adds luster to the surrounding medieval cobblestone lanes, fortresses, and castles of Verona in view of Piazza Bra. The stadium can hold up to 20,000 spectators per evening, along with hosting elaborate stage dressing to enhance any performance. Audience members can sit on the stone steps near the top of the arena, on cushioned benches in the middle of the amphitheater, or on reserved chairs closer to the central stage and arena floor.
Local restaurants offer tables and chairs in the enchanting ambiance of the city during the festival. Markets, quick-service cafes, and salumerie provide delicious options for picnics during the performances. Wine is also allowed during performances, but glass is not, so locals and aficionados bring plastic cups or bottles. Many restaurants in the city offer pre-opera dinners, which start around 6.30pm, while other establishments remain open late into the night for post-opera meals, drinks, or dessert. The festival captures the imaginations of opera-lovers and musical novices alike. The conductors choose pieces fans recognize from pop-culture or minuscule knowledge of musical history.
Infiorata – the Sunday of Corpus Domini – The Infiorata Festivals drape the countryside in flowers during May and June in towns across Italy. The late spring and early summer celebrations bring colorful festivities most notably to the Umbrian town of Spello, the Sicilian city of Noto, and the town of Genzano in Lazio. The word infiorata translates to “decorated with flowers,” which embodies the unique artwork decorating the festivities.
Artisans use flower petals to decorate the earth, often utilizing beans or wood cuttings for embellishment to perfect a piece. The tradition began in the 13th century and evolved to current iteration in the 17th century when the head-florist of the Vatican presented carpets made of flowers to decorate the basilica on the day of Saints Peter and Paul’s Feast. Famous architect and sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, spread the idea around Rome during baroque festivals he organized when revealing new works of art.
Locals near the Castelli Romani continued the custom in association with the celebration of Corpus Domini and the flower-carpets of the Vatican florist, which takes place nine weeks after Easter. The celebration in Sicily takes place in the third week of May. Artists bring a flourish of colors to elaborate and simple designs on the streets leading to the churches and abbeys around the various towns. After months of sketching on the floor in chalk and marking each line with soil or coffee grounds, the marvelous creations blossom, with the artists utilizing flower petals instead of paint. Artists can choose to use entire flowers instead of just the petals. The works employing stem, petals, and pistil provide three-dimensional scenes. The most common flowers artists use are:
- Broom for yellow
- Goat’s rue for blue
- Carnation for red
- Wild fennel for green
The small town in Lazio began its tradition in 1778 and continues to hold the festival every June on the Sunday of Corpus Domini. The blanket of flower mosaics covers more than 21,500 square feet consisting of 15 flower panels. Artists use an estimated 500,000 flowers and seeds to create the overall work. The festival ends when the crowning procession marches down the center of the flower carpet, preceding the spallamento, when local children dash down the staircase of the church of Santa Maria, uprooting the petals and the dramatic images connoting art, culture, and faith.
Flowers blanket the baroque city of Noto in Sicily during the festival of Infiorata. The event gained popularity in the 1980s and has since become the most popular spring-time celebration for artists eager to display their skills with the natural materials. Flower petals, soil, beans, and wood shavings shape the different panels over the span of 48 hours. The principal mosaic decorates Via Nicolaci, the main street of the city running beneath baroque balconies. The town reveals the finished works on Sunday. On Monday, the town’s children run through the temporary works to represent the customs of the seasons through destruction and renewal.
The small Umbrian town of Spello has celebrated the Corpus Domini since the 1930s with nearly 1,000 people working strenuously to craft and shape the floral carpets each year. The long flowing floral mosaics decorate the cobblestone streets of the historic city center in preparation for the Blessed Sacrament. The designs have grown more complex and sophisticated over the years with artists utilizing the flowers and petals found in the wilds of the Umbrian countryside. They also use berries, leaves, and dried petals to add texture and color to the captivating designs.
Il Palio – July 2nd – The famous horse races of Siena take place twice a year, once on July 2nd and again on August 16th. The sleepy hill town in Tuscany erupts with civic excitement amidst the Medieval architecture. The famous races have celebrated heritage and tradition for over 500 years. The medieval city is divided in 17 distinctive neighborhoods.
10 neighborhoods make it to the horserace each embodied in their banner, along with the strength and speed of their horse. The neighborhoods, known locally as contrade, receive their horse through a lottery system. They shower the horses with affection, grooming, and training in connection with the local church. Flags shine with bright colors and the symbols of each neighborhood:
- Aquila – Eagle
- Bruco – Caterpillar
- Chiocciola – Snail
- Civetta – Little Owl
- Drago – Dragon
- Giraffa – Giraffe
- Istrice – Crested Porcupine
- Leocorno – Unicorn
- Lupa – She-wolf
- Nicchio – Seashell
- Oca – Goose
- Onda – Wave
- Pantera – Panther
- Sleva – Forest
- Tartuca – Tortoise
- Torre – Tower
- Valdimontone – Valley of the Ram
Citizens of contrade fly their respective flags all year but become more spirited near the races. The day before the race, jockeys meet with their horses during the customary charge of the carabinieri, a practice run through the main square of Piazza del Campo. The usual tranquil town continues to pulse with anticipation after midnight with locals eating, drinking, singing, and sharing in the energy of the night before the big race. Priests at the contrade spur on their respective horses. Workmen fill Piazza del Campo with dirt to help the horses run.
The day begins at 10.30 in the Palazzo Comunale, where the mayor confirms the name of the jockeys. A blessing ceremony starts the procession before the race at three in the afternoon. Members of each contrade march through the streets dressed in medieval regalia, shining with the colors of their particular neighborhood with over 600 participants in total. The display offers an homage to the city’s illustrious past, crowned by the race. The horses enter the piazza.
Jockeys receive their whips, which are used more to irritate their opponents than to use against the horses. Horses must run three laps around the piazza. The first horse to cross the finish line wins the evening. The jockey does not have to be present when the horse crossed the finish line to win. The champion contrade receives the drappellone, a hand-painted banner topped by a silver plate, with the inscription of the previous winners decorating the silk alongside sacred symbols for the Sienese. An estimated 25,000 people celebrate the event each year.
The race is free, but the piazza fills quickly. Be sure to purchase accommodations inside Siena well in advance. If traveling from around Tuscany, trains, and buses to the city can grow crowded as the race nears. Be sure to make your way to the city early and enjoy the day full of festivities. The race happens fast but takes place in the early evening. If not staying inside Siena, be sure to check the train or bus schedules so as not be stranded in the Tuscan city after the festivities
The tendency to consider Rome, Florence, and Venice as a single entity of Italy has many people planning too many activities or tours without allowing themselves time to explore and experience the distinct cultures and local histories that separate the cities, along with their greater regions. It is important to look beyond seeing Italy as a single, unified destination to understand the epic feuds and captivating sagas between towns and cities dating back centuries and shaping contemporary culture. The great flood of Florence in the 1960s shaped the way the city protects its artifacts. However, the waters did not affect Rome. The consistent eruptions of Mount Etna over the millennia continue to shape its nearby Sicilian cities and towns but have no connection to the mountains of Lombardy in the north.
What to Wear
Fashion matters in Italy. It is easy to spot a tourist or backpacker based on the clothes they wear while wandering through the city. University students and young professionals often linger around the monuments and popular sites of a city after the tourists have gone, such as Campo de’ Fiori or Piazza Navona in Rome or Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence. Toddlers to geriatrics wear respectable and chic clothing throughout the year, from stylish jeans and trousers to a button-down and polo shirts.
Even the t-shirts are designer-caliber. Women wear skirts, trousers, or dresses even in summer. Shorts, sandals, and tank tops for men or women are considered resort attire and beachwear. When dining at a casual to nice restaurant Italians generally wear long sleeve garments consistent with a smart, casual ambiance, including a light sweater or waterproof jacket in spring or autumn. Comfortable, yet fashionable shoes are a must when visiting archeological sites, with Italians not sacrificing fashion for arch support.
Women wear low- or high-heeled shoes, along with stylish leather walking shoes easily transferrable between visiting Pompeii to entering a delicious restaurant. Boots in the winter add to the cacophony of footsteps pounding against the cobblestones of the antique cities, but due to their heavy bulk, boots are not necessary when traveling through Italy unless planning on country hikes or skiing excursions. Be careful when traversing the ancient streets when in high heels. The uneven ground can catch visitors off-guard, while Italian women have years of experience navigating the crowded narrow lanes and historic boulevards.
The churches, and some museums with church paraphernalia and artifacts require visitors to dress modestly. Signs posted outside of the church doors often detail the clothing not allowed inside, which includes:
· Bare arms
· Low-cut dresses
These rules meant for men and women, forbidding tank tops as well as short skirts. Southern Italy is often more conservative. Women are expected to wear a shawl or scarf over their shoulders. Although sandals are allowed, men should consider wearing footwear considered more traditional or respectful.
Trend Need Not Apply
Modern designer fashion began in Italy in the early 1950s when a dignitary held a show in his private villa in Florence, beginning the celebration of runways, modeling, and an accentuation of the artistic trimmings of the city. The chic styles spread to movies where everyday people grew inspired by the elegance and quality worn by movie stars, heightening Italy’s connection as a land of art, love, and beauty.
Fashion in Italy is meant to accentuate the wearer’s best physical attributes, from bust to skin-tone, height to personal gait. The current trend is something any fashionable person would consider before stepping out their door, even while traveling, represented in the common Italian phrase Bella Figura, which translates literally to “Beautiful Figure.” The term extends beyond the physical look of the clothing and to the spirit of fashion, which is meant to promote confidence, infuses style, and affects one’s demeanor.
What Does Made in Italy Really Mean?
“Made in Italy” has become a slogan in the fashion industry meaning quality, associated with the traditions of artisanal craft reflecting the country of origin. Italians hold dearly to their customs of trade and craft with respect to the quality of material and spending time perfecting their skills. These traditions are important in providing the local and global community with quality goods made with attention to detail while simultaneously passing down heritage and tradition to the next generation. Italians are happy to spend a bit more believing in the value of the product as opposed to spending less for an inferior product.
When starveling in Italy, it is easy to assume that the “Made in Italy” stamp will ensure substantive material and attention to minute detail. The Italian government has started an initiative to ensure products promoting their merchandise Made in Italy adhere to industry standards with components, design, and assembly taking place in Italy to produce a true Italian product. The certification allows for smaller local manufacturers to separate themselves from gigantic global brands, reassuring the customer that the product was made entirely in Italy.
Top 5 Italian Designers
Fashion is not just a word in Italy; it is a way of life. Italian culture supports the fashionable eye and celebrates clothing as an art form on par with Renaissance frescoes and preserved classic architecture when done correctly. It is no wonder the world has embraced a number of fashion icons from Italy who have worked to make their mark on the industry and the greater world by creating sought-after brands. Italian designers surpass influencing their homeland and cause a global stir with new releases, providing unique aesthetics, textures, and combinations to fashion through shoes, clothing, and accessories. The following list attempts to offer five of Italy’s top designers, with the fierce and artful landscape of design always changing with a fashion-forward look at the world while paying tribute to the classics which have come before them.
1. Armani – Giorgio Armani is an Italian legend who started the label in 1974. The brand took the world by storm in the 1980s after the artist designed clothes for Hollywood celebrities. Armani’s connection to the elegance and glamor of Hollywood made his name famous and his brand coveted by the international elite eager to showcase their fame, fortune, and good taste. In 2001, Forbes magazine named Armani the most successful of Italy’s fashion designers. Armani also gained plaudits for being amongst the first designers to step away from using overly thin models with displaying his garments.
2. Dolce & Gabbana – The formidable duo of Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce began working together in 1985 after establishing a relationship in the early 1980s. Their line began as leotards in 1988 and grew to designer swimwear and underwear by the following year. The brand expanded to include perfume, sportswear, costumes, and designer clothing for the fashionable names in the music industry and Hollywood. In 2005, The New Yorker published an article claiming Dolce & Gabanna had become the next big Italian designers, like Prada in the 1990s and Armani in the 1980s.
3. Versace – Gianni Versace began his career studying architecture but gave up the foam-board models for models of flesh and bone draped in decoration. He presented his first signature collection at the Palazzo della Permanente Art Museum of Milan after a successful launch in 1977 of an experimental line for Genny, an Italian ready-to-wear manufacturer. His background in architecture led to a connection to Ancient Greek and Roman artwork, along with modern abstract art. His younger sister, Donatella Versace, is well known as the first designer to use celebrities to showcase the Versace brand at runway shows. She continues to oversee a production of over a dozen collections each year and remains well known in extravagant social circles.
4. Gucci – Guccio Cuggi founded the House of Gucci in Florence in the 1920s. The shop began as a simple family-owned leather saddlery store but grew to a picture of quality craftsmanship and visionary design. The company reached new heights in the 1950s after Guccio’s death, expanding the greater world with stores in fashionable cities such as Paris, Beverly Hills, London, and Tokyo. Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly made Gucci synonymous with chic style. In the 1990s the chic and elegant products of Gucci returned to the forefront with a selection of merchandise expanding beyond the leather purses to include perfumes, colognes, cosmetics, shoes, and watches, and jewelry.
5. Prada – The origins of Prada date back to Milan in 1913, when Mario Prada founded the label in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Mario’s daughter, Louisa, joins the company in 1970, giving way to the rise of the label’s international fame by 1977. The fashion world fawns over the nylon that resembles silk and the footwear draws fanfare from across the globe. The label continued to expand into backpacks and bags, opening stores in London, Paris, and Tokyo, while hiding their logo inside the handbags and garments to keep an understated glamour about their fashionable wares.
6. Alessandra Facchinetti – With so many well-known Italian designers, the previous list offered names synonymous with Italian fashion over the last three decades. Alessandra Facchinetti provides a name synonymous with the future of Italian fashion designers. The young designer stepped onto the scene highlighting the effectiveness of youthful vigor in prestigious positions at major labels when becoming the director of Valentino in 2007. Her talents have only blossomed when connecting to Tod’s, working as the creative director for the women’s collections. Facchinetti has helped build the brand’s reputation for ready-to-wear clothing by utilizing a youthful and captivating aesthetic of classic, wearable pieces for a fierce, glamorous look.
Why you would prefer North
Northern Italy is fashionable and romantic, home to Venice and the Italian Riviera, along with an abundance of medieval and Renaissance castles. Historic independent city-states developed into modern cities and retain a sense of their seasoned majesty in the preserved architecture, streets, culture, and cuisine. The northern regions led the movement for independence in the 19th century, which unified Italy. The climate is more continental, consisting of cold winters and wet springs.
Fashion remains an important aspect of daily life in northern Italy stemming from the connection of the industry with the chic styles of Milan. Sporadic Roman ruins lead to cathedrals brimming with gorgeous mosaics. Hill towns overlook lush vineyards producing distinctive wines while hidden local restaurants receive international accolades, such as Michelin star ratings. Renaissance villas adorn the shores of stunning lakes alpine lakes and trails connect secluded towns over in view of the Mediterranean Sea.
The northern states are more industrialized and urbanized than the south. The cities of Milan, which is known for its fashion, Turin, which was the first capital of a unified Italy, and Genoa, which remains the most important port in the entire country, embody the contemporary culture and industrialization of Italy during and post the Second World War. Italians from the south and central regions flocked north for jobs in the “Industrial Triangle,” breeding resentment from locals of the larger cities and a boom to the populations. An undertone of animosity remains in the urbanized areas against those in the south, including residents whose families once migrated for work.
Northern Italian cuisine features less pasta than in the south. However, the grain is not absent from traditional regional dishes. The egg-based pasta of Emilia-Romagna has inspired tortellini and lasagna. The states farther north rely mainly on risotto and polenta due to the ease with which the regions have historically produced rice as opposed to wheat.
Tomatoes are not as prevalent in the dishes of the north but make appearances in the hardy meat-based sauce of Ragu alla Bolognese and minestrone soup. The regions of Northern Italy are:
· Trentino-Alto Adige
· Friuli-Venezia Giulia
· Valle d’Aosta
Why you Would Prefer the Center
Central Italy is home to the notable cities of Rome, Florence, and Assisi, each located in their respective states of Lazio, Tuscany, and Umbria. Medieval towns crown lush hills and ancient villas adorn mountain ridges. The countryside provides views of grazing sheep, towering cypress trees, and the occasional palm tree. History dates beyond the Roman empire featuring tombs and artifacts from the Etruscans. Traditional gardens embody the prestige of aristocratic villas, while Umbria retains a sense of purity through undiscovered medieval villages providing grand views, serene cobbled lanes, and preserved heritage.
The culture of Central Italy runs deep, embodied in the ruins decorating Rome and the surrounding countryside of Lazio, along with the abundance of artwork and Renaissance history populating the museums and streets in the historic city center of Florence. Small and historic buildings retain a connection to their origins with elegant facades and dramatic interiors now housing cafes and restaurants, churches or hotels. Public squares host markets and festivals or nightly congregations of university students enjoying time away from their studies.
Central Italy is often connected more with Northern or Southern Italy in terms of cuisine and culture, with Rome considered dividing line connoting the two distinct regions. The cuisine of Central Italy is different from those of the north and south, blending the traditions of the kitchen with local ingredients and custom, notably bringing the family together around the table on Sunday evenings.
Gnocchi is a popular substitution for pasta in Central Italian dishes, with the certain recipes crafting the dumplings out of semolina as opposed to potato. Tuscany is also known for its remarkable T-bone steak, bistecca alla Fiorentina, made from prized Chianina cattle and cooked over a wood fire. While Northern Italy chooses to use butter in the French and Germanic traditions, Central Italy prefers the sensual flavors of extra virgin olive oil when cooking, marinating, or dressing their cuisine. The regions of Central Italy are:
· Le Marche
Why you Would Prefer South
Southern Italy represents ancient history beyond that of Rome and draws visitors from around the country and the globe with the enchanting coastline, delicious cuisine, and unique culture shaped by a history of Greek, Roman, Norman, Arab, and Spanish occupation. The city of Pompeii demonstrates the daily life of Roman citizens around the Bay of Naples. The Greek temple at Segesta represents the largest Hellenistic temple in Italy, which was erected in the 5th century BC.
Southern Italy hosts pastoral mountains and idyllic shorelines, chaotic historical streets promoting a fast-paced contemporary culture contrasting the relaxed pace of seaside towns filled with quiet cafes. Southern Italians often linger in the public piazzas debating current events or sports while sipping espresso amidst baroque and medieval architecture. The city of Lecce embodies stunning architecture and the creativity of artists in history who didn’t have the materials to sculpt, and instead dedicated their talents to creating elegant figures out of paper-mâché.
The cuisine of Southern Italy has permeated Northern Italian culinary traditions and is most often the dishes associated with Italian food in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Southern Italian cuisine is more rustic, utilizing ingredients necessary to survive in the conventional Mediterranean climate. General ingredients consist of:
· Pine Nuts
Pasta is the base of a large selection of regional dishes, along with polenta, which was once considered the “people’s grain.” The spices of the region are consistent with seasonings around the Mediterranean areas of Greece, Spain, and North Africa featuring red pepper, anise, nutmeg, and sea salt. Southern Italy also produces a variety of cheeses, including the popular Italian delicacies of buffalo mozzarella and burrata.
Southern Italy has a more traditional ambiance in the towns, villages, and cities offering a glimpse into unchanged traditions including an economy based on agriculture, as opposed to the industry-based economy of the north. With the absence of major industry shifting the culture of the region, customs have continued in daily life, along with a sense of an unmoving present, which culminates in an animosity towards Northern Italy. The south feels northerners live fast-paced lives focused on work, but believe their relaxed pace affords them a deeper connection with the life’s pleasures, including, but not limited to, an espresso and good conversation. The regions of Southern Italy are:
Zicasso matches you to top travel specialists working to plan you dream vacation, allowing you to tour Italy through the conservation of historic sites, giving new life to cultural heritage and traditions, or basking in the Mediterranean sunlight on the Riviera or southern coastline of the Western European peninsula. There is more to traveling in Italy than the ruins of Rome, the art in Florence, and the canals of Venice.
Many travelers think that they have to choose between a pre-packaged group tour versus self-planned independent travel. The former offers hassle-free convenience while the latter offers flexibility. However, we recommend a third option: Customized tours of Italy.
With this option, you have the best of both worlds and you’ll enjoy a variety of unique and authentic experiences on a handcrafted Italy itinerary, customized just for you. You’ll travel independently, but your trip will be carefully planned for you to ensure hassle-free logistics, perfect hotel selections, and most importantly, authentic experiences that are most meaningful to you. For example, food lovers can have their trips designed around the foods of Italy or explore Tuscan cuisine in one of Zicasso's Tuscany tours. If you're interested in discovering an eclectic world of Italy, our Sicily tours section offers a wide range of ideas. Or if you’re into art and fast cars, or any unique combination of special interests, your trip can be designed accordingly.
While the major cities on the Italian Peninsula provide the staples of understanding Italy’s beauty, traveling the Zicasso way takes into account the aromas, tastes, and colorful charms waiting around every corner of an historic village or along the hidden museums of a bustling city, whether with unseen natural wonders, lavish ski and beach resorts, or cultural experiences taking you into the homes of a life-long chef. An Italy tour with Zicasso allows you to experience all the must-see sights, including those destinations you had never thought of or never before knew existed.
All you have to do is tell us about your dream trip by filling out a Trip Request. We’ll then match you with 2 – 3 Italy travel specialists who will work with you to customize a tour package—designed just for you.