Italy tourist information
With more than 43.2 million tourists a year, Italy is the fourth highest tourist earner, and fifth most visited country in the world, behind France (76.0 million), Spain (55.6 million), United States (49.4 million), and China (46.8). People mainly come to Italy for its rich art, cuisine, history, fashion and culture, its beautiful coastline and beaches, its mountains, and priceless ancient monuments, especially those from the Greek civilization and Roman civilization. Tourism is one of Italy's fastest growing and most profitable industrial sectors, with an estimated revenue of $42.7 billion.
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People have visited Italy for centuries, yet the first actual tourists to come to Italy for touristic reasons were aristocrats during the Grand Tour, beginning in the late 17th century, and flourishing in the 18th century.
Rome, as the capital of the powerful and influential Roman Empire attracted thousands to the city and country from all over the empire, which included most of the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, mainland Great Britain (England) and the parts of the Middle East. Traders and merchants came to Italy from several different parts of the world.
When the empire fell in 476 AD, Rome was no longer the European political and cultural epicentre, yet the base of the papacy, which then governed the growing Christianity meant that Rome remained one of Europe's greatest religious centres and places of pilgrimage. Pilgrims, for centuries and still today, would come to Rome, and that would have been the early equivalent of "tourism" or "religious tourism". The trade empires of Venice, Pisa and Genoa meant that several traders, businessmen and merchants from all over the world would also regularly come to Italy. In the 16th and early 17th century, with the height of the Renaissance, several students came to Italy to study Italian architecture, such as Inigo Jones.
Despite some previous forms of tourism, real "tourism" only began in Italy in the second half of the 17th century, with the beginning of the Grand Tour. This was a period in which European, notably British, aristocrats travelled parts of Europe, most famously, Italy, to study architecture and the culture of those places. The Grand Tour was in essence triggered by the book Voyage to Italy by the Roman Catholic priest Richard Lassels and published in 1670, which mentioned the several sights and the different culture of the country. The Tour in Italy would begin with the tourists visiting Turin for a short while. On the way there, Milan was also a popular stop, yet visiting the city was not considered essential, and several passed by or simply stayed there for a very short period of time. If a person came via boat, then they would remain a few days in Genoa, which was also considered a significant stop in the tour. Yet, the main destination in Northern Italy was Venice, which was considered a vital stop, and also the cities around it such as Verona, Vicenza and Padua. Tourists rarely, yet occasionally, got to Trieste.
As the Tour went on, Tuscan cities were also very important stops, which was significant, yet not essential. It was considered better for a person to stop in Florence, and several would if they had the time. Other Tuscan towns, such as Siena, Pisa, Lucca and San Gimignano, were considered important itineraries. The most important stop in Central Italy, however, was Rome, the most important city in Italy and the essential itinerary for any Grand Tourist. Later, the tourists would go down to the Bay of Naples, and after 1756, when they were discovered, Pompeii and Herculaneum were popular too. Sicily was considered a significant part of the trail, and several, such as Goethe visited the island, yet it was, like Tuscany, not a vital stop.
The Grand Tour was, in the 17th century, mainly only for academics, priests and important people, yet by the 18th century, wealthy families also commonly took part in the Grand Tour. However, by around 1840, when rail transport was introduced and the Grand Tour began to slightly fall out of vogue, visiting Italy was no longer considered something for the elite, and the first form of mass-tourism was introduced. The 1840s saw the period in which the Victorian middle-classes began to tour the country too, unlike the Georgian upper-classes in the 18th century. Several Americans were also able to visit Italy, and several more tourists came to the country. Places such as Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and Sicily still remained the top attractions. By the 1850s, less-cultural visits began to be made, and several tourists also came to Italy for its nature and weather. The first sea-side resorts, such as those in the Ligurian coast, those around Venice, coastal Tuscany and the Amalfi coast became popular. This vogue of summer holidays heightened in the 1890s and first decade of the 20th century, when the first "Grand Hotels" and holiday resorts began to be built, notably in Sanremo, Lido di Venezia, Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi. Islands such as Capri, Ischia, Procida and Elba became more popular, and the Northern Lakes, such as Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda became more frequently visited, notably by wealthy foreigners and academics. Tourism to Italy remained very popular until the late-1920s and early-1930s, when, with the Great Depression and the economic crisis, several could no longer afford to visit the country, and the increasing political instability in the country meant that less and less tourists came. Only old touristic groups, such as the Scorpioni in Tuscany remained alive.
After a big slump in the number of tourists beginning from approximately 1929 and lasting after World War II, tourism became popular again in Italy, with the Italian economic miracle and raised living standards, and also the popularity of Italian films such as La Dolce Vita abroad, whose depiction of the perceived lazy and idyllic life in Italy brought back tourism to the country. By this point, with higher incomes, Italians could also afford to go on holiday, and new holiday resorts opened up in the coastline, especially in the Romagna coast. Cheap hotels and pensioni (hostels) were built in the 1960s, and with the rise of wealth, by now, even a working-class Italian family could afford a one-week holiday somewhere along the Italian coast. The late-1960s also brought mass-popularity to mountain holidays and skiing, which, from the 1930s, was something reserved for the elite. In Piedmont and the Aosta Valley, ski resorts and chalets began to be built. The 1970s also brought a wave of foreign tourists to Italy, since Mediterranean resorts saw a rise in international visitors.
Despite this, by the late-1970s and early-1980s, economic crises and political instability meant that there was a significant slump in the Italian tourist industry, as more foreign destinations such as in the Far East or South America rose in popularity. Yet, by the very-late 1980s and early 1990s, the tourism re-arose in popularity, and cities such as Milan became more popular destinations. Milan saw a rise in tourists, since it began to ripen its position as an international fashion capital, and several came there to shop and see the different designer labels of the city.
Home of the Italian Riviera, including Portofino, and of Cinque Terre. There are many historic cities in this part of Italy such as Turin, the manufacturing capital of Italy, Milan, the business and fashion capital of the country, and the important port of Genoa which share the region's visitors with beautiful landscapes like the Lake Como area.
This part of Italy also boasts several important tourist attractions, such as the canal-filled city of Venice, the cities of Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Trento, Bolzano, Bologna, Ferrara, Piacenza, Parma, Ravenna and Trieste. There are also several mountain ranges such as the Dolomites, the Carnic and Julian Alps and first-class ski resorts like Cortina d'Ampezzo and Madonna di Campiglio.These four regions offer much to see and do. The area has a unique cuisine, including wines and dishes such as Prosecco and Tiramisu in Veneto and Cotechino, Ragu and Parma ham in Emilia Romagna, San Daniele ham and white D.O.C. wines in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
This area is possibly the most visited in Italy and contains many popular attractions. Rome boasts the remaining wonders of the Roman Empire and some of the world's best known landmarks such as the Colosseum. Florence, regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, is Tuscany's most visited city, whereas nearby cities like Siena, Pisa, and Lucca also have rich cultural heritages. Umbria's population is small but it has many important cities such as Perugia and Assisi.
Naples is the most visited city in the area, and the ruins of Pompeii are the most visited sights. Other important tourist destinations include the Amalfi Coast and Ravello, Apulia and the beaches and sights of Calabria, as well as up-and-coming agritourism make this less visited region become increasingly popular.
The Italian rail system has different train types: TBiz, EurostarItalia, Eurostar Italia AV (for Alta velocita or high speed with the ESAV logo), Eurostar City Italia, IntercityPlus, Intercity, Espresso, Interregionale and Regionale, Eurostar Italia and TBiz being the classiest. Generally speaking, for a given distance each tier costs from 40% to 100% more than the one below it. The train cars used by the TBiz and Eurostar Italia services are far newer than those used by the other types, but are not necessarily more comfortable; however many of them provide power sockets which may be useful if you plan on working on the train. On the other hand the cars used by Intercity trains might be split up into distinct, six-seater compartments. A new level has been introduced recently. It is called Intercity-plus and it is just a way to have passengers pay more than the intercity fares. Recently, many of Interegionale trains have been classified as Intercity.
The main practical difference between train types is reliability. Intercity services are generally reliable, but if you need to catch a flight, for example, it might be better to pay extra for the Eurostar Italia. Interregionale and Regionale are less reliable, and stop in many more stations along the way. The other big difference between TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity with Interregionale, Regionale and Espresso services is that on the best ones seating reservation is compulsory, where every passenger has a seat allocated to him/her. This means that the train will never (theoretically) be packed with an impossible number of people, but it also means you will need to purchase tickets in advance. Actually, many passengers with tickets for other trains that take a wrong one will have to pay the cheap fine for not having a seat reservation. As a result, on major routes or peak hours, expect to find your seat taken, in this case usually a brief discussion is enough to get your seat. During commuter hours, on major north-south routes during the holidays, or before and after large political demonstrations, trains on the lower train types can become extremely full, to the point where it gets very uncomfortable, in which case you could find yourself sitting on a tiny fold out flap in the hallway, where you'll have to move for everyone passing by.
The pricier train types are usually faster, but there is not a consistent speed difference between trains. The main difference being the number of stops made along the same routes. On some routes, the Eurostar will cut the travel time in half, but on others all trains go more or less at the same speed, and taking the Eurostar Italia might be a waste of money. Just check the Trenitalia website or the printed schedule, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to see how long the trip will take.
On long routes, such as Milan - Rome or Milan - Reggio Calabria, Trenitalia operates special night trains Treni Notte. They depart around 22.00 and arrive in the morning. Depending on the train, you may be able to choose between normal seats, couchette and sleeper cabins of different categories. Seats are cheapest, but even sleeper cabins are not prohibitively expensive and are a very relaxing way to travel long distances. Also keep in mind some trains do not provide air conditioning so bring your own water bottle during the hot summer months.
On the train schedules displayed at each station, every train is listed in different colours (i.e. blue, red, green). The arrival times are listed in parentheses next to the names of each destination. One thing to watch out for is that certain trains only operate seasonally, or for certain time periods (for example, during holidays).
The lines to buy tickets can be very long, and slow, so get to the station early. There are touch-screen ticket machines which are very useful, efficient, and multilingual, but there are never that many, and the lines for those can be very long too.
Italy has a well-developed system of highways in the northern side of the country while in the south it's a bit worse for quality and extent. Every highway is identified by an A followed by a number on a green backdrop. Most of the highways (autostrade) are toll roads. Some have toll stations giving you access to a section (particularly the tangenziali of Naples, Rome, and Milan, for example), but generally, most have entrance and exit toll stations. It is advisable to not lose your entrance ticket, for if one does so, one will be charged for the longest distance (example: if you are on A1 Milano-Napoli at the Milano toll station you'll be charged for the entire 700 km distance). All the blue lanes (marked "Viacard") of toll stations accept major credit cards as well as pre-paid card (Viacard) that one can buy at tobacconist, Autogrill, or gas stations.
Many Italians use an electronic pay-toll device, and there are reserved lanes marked in Yellow with the sign "Telepass" or a simply "T". Driving through those lanes (controlled by camera system) without the device will result in a fine and a payment of the toll for the longest distance. Due to agreement with other countries, if you're foreigner, you'll pay also extra cost for locating you in your country.
Even if speeding is very common on autostrade,( although lot less than in the past) be aware that there are a number of automatic and almost invisible systems to punish speeding and hazardous driving, also Italian Highway Patrol (Polizia Stradale) has several unmarked cars equipped with speed radars and camera systems.
Since 2006, several sections of the Italian Highways are equipped with an automatic system called SICVE or TUTOR that check the average speed of the vehicles over a long distance (5/10 km), and the coverage is continuously improved (at the moment, signs are posted at the beginning of the section covered - full list of sections covered is here ).
A good clue of a nearby check system is when cars around you suddenly reduce speed. If you see a lot of cars keeping themselves just under the limit and nobody overtaking, you'd better do the same. Driving outside an autostrada, when cars coming in the opposite direction are flashing lights to you, you're probably driving towards a speed check.
Note that common use of flashlights may be different from your country. Flashing lights may be meant either as a warning to give way or as an invitation to go first, depending on the situation: so, please, be extremely careful in order to avoid any problem.
Italian laws allow a 5% (minimum 5 km/h) tolerance on local speed limit. Fines are generally very expensive.
Motorbikes should drive always with the headlights on, for other vehicles that applies only outside cities and on autostrade.
Drunk driving is a controversial issue. The tolerated limit is 0.50g/L in blood; being above this limit punishable by a heavy fine, licence revocation and jail time, but drunk driving is still rather common.
After several deadly accidents involving drunk drivers the checks are becoming more and more frequent and as of January 2009 the Government was planning to reduce the limit to 0.20g/L or even to 0.0g/L.
Signposts used in Italy are patterned according to EU recommendations and use mostly pictograms (not text) but there are minor differences (example: highway (Autostrade) directions are written on a green background while the white stands for local roads and blue for other roads).
As can be expected, fuel is considerably more expensive than in North America and Japan, but on par with most of the rest of western Europe. Expect to pay about â‚¬1.25 per liter for fuel.
Many tourists report that they got fined (about â‚¬100) for entering a ZTL (zona a traffico limitato; Limited Traffic Zone) unknowingly. ZTLs are restricted areas in many Italian cities where vehicles are not permitted except for limited reasons between certain hours. The entrance to a ZTL is marked by signs and cameras, which go easily unnoticed by tourists driving a car. They are traps for tourists renting a car that end up receiving one or more tickets up to a year later and finding out that the fine was doubled just because of the paper work needed to send the papers abroad. Also the renting companies may charge from 15 to 50 euros to give the driver details to the police. So beware a fine might add up to 200 euros easily.
Buy town bus tickets from corner stores and other shops before boarding. The payment system for most mass transit in Italy (trains, city buses, subway) is based on voluntary payment combined with sporadic enforcement. Specifically, you buy a ticket which can be used at any time (for that level of service, anyway) and when you use it you validate the ticket by sticking it into a machine that stamps a date on it.
For tourists it may be very convenient to buy daily (or multi-day) tickets that allow you to travel as much as you want in a single (or more) day. Every major city also has some type of City Card, a fixed-fee card allowing you to travel on local public transportation and visit a number of museums and giving you discounts in shops, hotels and restaurants.
Check for both these possibilities at local Tourist Offices or on the city's website (which is often of the form www.comune.cityname.it as for example www.comune.roma.it).
The climate of Italy is highly diverse and can be far from the stereotypical Mediterranean climate, depending on location. Most of the inland northern regions of Italy, for example Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, have a climate variously described as humid continental or temperate. Adriana Rigutti (in Meteorologia, Giunti 2005) states that the climte of the â€śPo valley region [is] continental ... with harsh winters and hot summersâ€ť. The coastal areas of Liguria and most of the peninsula south of Florence generally fit the Mediterranean stereotype (KĂ¶ppen climate classification Csa). Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior's higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer.
Italy did not exist as a state until the country's unification in 1861. Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian Peninsula, many traditions and customs that are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social distinction of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe and the world remain immense. Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (47) to date, and has rich collections of world art, culture and literature from many different periods. Italy has had a broad cultural influence worldwide, also because numerous Italians emigrated to other countries during the Italian diaspora. Italy has, overall, an estimated 100,000 monuments of any sort (museums, palaces, buildings, statues, churches, art galleries, villas, fountains, historic houses and archaeological remains).
Italy has a very broad and diverse architectural style, which cannot be simply classified by period, but also by region, due to Italy's division into several city-states until 1861. However, this has created a highly diverse and eclectic range in architectural designs. Italy is known for its considerable architectural achievements, such as the construction of arches, domes and similar structures during ancient Rome, the founding of the Renaissance architectural movement in the late-14th to 16th century, and being the homeland of Palladianism, a style of construction which inspired movements such as that of Neoclassical architecture, and influenced the designs which noblemen built their country houses all over the world, notably in the UK, Australia and the US during the late-17th to early 20th centuries. Several of the finest works in Western architecture, such as the Colosseum, the Milan Cathedral and Florence cathedral, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the building designs of Venice are found in Italy.
Italian architecture has also widely influenced the architecture of the world. Italianate architecture, popular abroad from the 16th to mid-20th century, was used to describe foreign architecture which was built in an Italian style. British architect Inigo Jones, inspired by the avant-garde designs of Italian buildings and cities, in the early-17th century, brought back these ideas with him to London, and ever since, this Italianate architecture has been popular in construction designs all over the world.
Modern Italian cuisine has evolved through centuries of social and political changes, with its roots reaching back to the 4th century BC. Significant change occurred with the discovery of the New World, when vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and maize became available. However, these central ingredients of modern Italian cuisine were not introduced in scale before the 18th century.
Ingredients and dishes vary by region. However, many dishes that were once regional have proliferated in different variations across the country. Cheese and wine are major parts of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Denominazione di origine controllata (regulated appellation) laws. Coffee, and more specifically espresso, has become highly important to the cultural cuisine of Italy. Some famous dishes and items include pasta, pizza, lasagna, focaccia, and gelato.