301,340 sq km (116,348 sq miles).
61.7 million (2014).
204.7 per sq km.
Head of state:
President Sergio Mattarella since 2015.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi since 2014.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs either have two round pins or three pins in a row.
Travelling around Italy remains one of those rare experiences in life – like a perfect spring day or the power of first love – that can never be overrated. In few places do history, art, fashion, food and la dolce vita (“the good life”) intermingle so effortlessly. There are sunny isles and electric blue surf, glacial lakes and fiery volcanoes, rolling vineyards and urban landscapes harbouring more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country on Earth. Few places offer such variety and few visitors leave without a fervent desire to return.
The artistic and architectural treasures of Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples draw visitors to them like moths to a flame. Not content with Romans conquering most of the known world, the Venetians dispatched Marco Polo to uncharted lands off the map, while Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo kick-started the Renaissance in Western art and architecture.
Look around at all the splendid palaces, paintings, churches and monuments and wonder at the centuries of hard graft and the unswerving devotion to traditional techniques and terroir. Like the local art, wine is also designed to elevate your spirits. From the neatly-banded stone terraces of the Cinque Terre, which snake from sea level to terrifying precipices, to the blousy hillsides of Chianti, the riverine plain of the Po valley and the volcanic slopes of Etna, Italian wines are lovingly made to complement the carefully-sourced regional cuisine on your plate.
Much like its food, this country is an endless feast of experiences. No matter how much you gorge yourself, you’ll always feel as though you’re still on the first course. Do you go skiing in the Dolomites, or cycling in wine country? Do you dive the sun-split waters of Sardinia, climb Aeolian volcanoes or stalk market stalls in Naples? The choice is dazzling and bewildering. So take the advice of the locals. Slow down, sit back, tuck in that napkin and get ready to begin.
Last updated: 19 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime levels are generally low but there are higher levels of petty crime (particularly bag snatching and pick-pocketing) in the big city centres. This often involves co-ordinated gangs including minors. Targets are often hassled and jostled to distract them, while other members of the gang go into action.
Take care on public transport and in crowded areas in Rome, especially around the main railway station ‘Termini’ and on the number 64 bus, which goes to and from St Peter’s Square.
Be particularly vigilant on trains to and from the main airports in Italy (especially Fiumicino airport) and when unloading your baggage from trains and coaches. Thieves sometimes rob sleeping passengers on overnight trains.
Use a hotel safe for valuables where possible.
Alcohol and drugs can make you less alert, less in control and less aware of your environment. If you are going to drink, know your limit. Drinks served in bars overseas are often stronger than those in the UK. Don’t leave food or drinks unattended at any time. Victims of spiked drinks have been robbed and sometimes assaulted.
Cars, at rest stops and motorway service stations are targets for robbers. Be wary of offers of help for flat tyres, particularly on the motorway from Naples to Salerno. Tyres have sometimes been punctured deliberately. Always lock your vehicle, never leave valuables on show and avoid leaving luggage in cars for any length of time.
Police in Europe have issued warnings that counterfeit Euro notes are in circulation. Make sure notes received from any source other than banks or legitimate Bureaux de Change are genuine.
Only use officially licensed taxis. These will have a taxi sign on the roof. Make sure the meter in the taxi has been reset before you set off.
Tickets on public transport must be endorsed in a ticket machine before you start a journey. The machines are usually positioned at the entrance to platforms in railway stations, in the entrance hall to metro stations and on board buses and trams. Officials patrol public transport and will issue an on the spot fine of Euros 50 to 60 if you don’t hold an endorsed ticket. Tickets can be purchased from shops displaying the ‘T’ sign, and are usually bars or tobacconists.
Pedestrians should take care at Zebra crossings. Vehicles don’t always stop, even though they are required to under the Italian Traffic Code.
Transport strikes are often called at short notice. For more information visit the Ministry of Transport website (in Italian).
You can drive in Italy with a UK driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents. If you are driving a vehicle that does not belong to you then written permission from the registered owner may be required. On-the-spot fines can be issued for minor traffic offences.
In 2013 there were 3,400 road deaths in Italy (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 5.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013.
Private and hire cars are not allowed to enter the historic centre of many Italian cities without an official pass. If your hotel is in the centre of one of these cities, you can buy a pass from most car hire companies. The boundaries of historic centres are usually marked with the letters ZTL in black on a yellow background. Don’t pass this sign as your registration number is likely to be caught on camera and you will be fined.
There is a congestion charge for Milan city centre. For further information see the Milan Municipality website.
To reduce pollution, the city authorities in Rome sometimes introduce traffic restrictions whereby vehicles with odd or even number plates are allowed into a ‘green area’ on alternative days. For further information see the Rome Municipality website.
See the European Commission, AA, RAC and Italian Police guides on driving in Italy.
Trucks over 7.5 tonnes (75 quintali) are not allowed on Italian roads (including motorways) on Sundays from 7:00 am until midnight, local time. These restrictions don’t apply to trucks that have already been granted an exception (eg those carrying perishable goods and petrol supplies). Both the Mont Blanc and Frejus road tunnels linking Italy and France are open but restrictions introduced following fires in 1999 and 2005 are applied to HGVs. These can be summarised as follows:
Mont Blanc: height restricted to 4.7m; minimum speed 50 km/h; maximum speed 70 km/h. Further details from www.tunnelmb.com or by telephone on 00 33 (0) 45 05 55 500.
Fréjus: Vehicles of more than 3.5 tonnes are subject to 1-hour alternate traffic flows starting at 8:00am leaving Italy. Special regulations apply to vehicles carrying dangerous loads. Further details from http://www.tunneldufrejus.com.
If you are planning a skiing holiday, you should contact the Italian State Tourist Board for advice on safety and weather conditions before you travel. Address: 1 Princes Street, London W1R 9AY. Telephone: 020 7355 1557 or 1439.
Off-piste skiing is highly dangerous. You should follow all safety instructions meticulously given the dangers of avalanches in some areas. Italy has introduced a law forcing skiers and snowboarders to carry tracking equipment if they go off-piste. The law also obliges under-14s to wear a helmet. There are plans for snowboarders to be banned from certain slopes.
Follow local advice if jellyfish are present.