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Italy Country Information
Italy dips down out of Europe and into the Mediterranean like a women's leg firmly planted in a sleek stiletto, so it's hardly surprising that Italians are known for their impeccable style and fashionable dress sense. They're also known for once having an empire that stretched across the globe, and for having the most spectacular churches, frescos, sculptures and Renaissance paintings in all of Europe.

The Italy of today is littered with the relics of more than 3,000 years of history, and an atmosphere that ranges from the Armani-wearing-scooter-driving-espresso-drinking buzz of its cities to the quiet, pastoral existence of its hillside olive farms and seaside fishing villages.

Italy's cities reveal awe-inspiring architecture from the curved arches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to the crumbling magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome. Home of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Carvaggio and Botticelli, its artworks are a visual delight to all visitors.

Nestled into the outskirts of Rome is the independent Vatican City, the seat of the Pope and home to the famous St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. The influence of the Holy Catholic Church on the people of Italy is still evident today in a series of holy festivals, carnivals, and parades involving young and old alike in almost every city, town and village.

The Basics
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in September).

Electricity: Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use including the European-style two-pin plug.

Money: The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtain Euros through any bank, ATM or bureaux de change. ATMs are widespread. Travellers cheques can be exchanged with ease in the large cities, not so in the smaller towns. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends, but tend to have better rates than casas de cambios.

Language: Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country.

Travel Health: There are no specific health risks associated with travel to Italy. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services provided they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Cases of the deadly bird flu were found in swans in southern Italy and Sicily, but there is a low risk of human infection; as a precaution all close contact with wild, caged and domestic birds should be avoided, and poultry and egg dishes should be cooked thoroughly.

Tipping: Tipping is customary in Italy and 10-15% of the bill is acceptable in restaurants (unless, as is increasingly the case, a 15% service charge has already been added to the bill). Hotels add a service charge of 15-18%, but it is customary to tip the service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxi drivers, but a 5-10% tip is always appreciated.

Safety Information: Tourists should be vigilant to ensure their safety in public places and tourist sites as the Italian Government has warned that the risk of international terrorist attacks has increased. Domestic terrorism continues, but targets are usually Italian authorities, however there is a possibility of being caught up in attacks. Tourists are vulnerable to pick-pocketing and muggings in the bigger cities, particularly on public transport, in crowded areas and around tourist sites, and should exercise caution when carrying large amounts of cash and valuables. Be particularly careful on bus 64 to St Peter's Square and around the main train station, Termini. Visitors should be wary of groups of children, some of whom will distract attention while the others try to steal what they can. Strikes by transport workers take place regularly throughout Italy and delays are possible.

Local Customs: It is an offence to sit on steps and in courtyards near public buildings, including the main churches, in Florence; eating and drinking in the vicinity should also be avoided. Shorts, vests or any other immodest clothing should not be worn inside churches.

Business: Italians can be very formal and old fashioned, but are also warm and welcoming. Face to face communication is best, and often a third party introduction can speed initial negotiations. Business attire is formal and very stylish, and handshakes are the norm. First impressions count for a lot in Italy. Expect plenty of gesticulating and interruptions, or people talking over each other. Business cards are used. Unfortunately the bureaucracy in Italy can slow down deal-making. Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but can vary according to season and region.

Communications: The international access code for Italy is +39. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). All numbers must be preceded by 0, whether originating in Italy or out, unless calling a mobile phone. City/area codes are in use, e.g. 02 for Milan and 06 for Rome. There can be high surcharges on calls made from hotels and it is generally cheaper to use a calling card. Public telephone boxes take phone cards for local and international calls, which can be bought from newsagents. The local mobile phone operators use GSM networks and have roaming agreements with most international operators. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts.

Duty Free: Travellers over 17 years from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g tobacco; 1 litre spirits with alcohol content higher than 22%, or 2 litres dessert wine not exceeding 22% alcohol content and sparkling wine, and 2 litres of table wine; perfume up to 50g or 250ml eau de toilette, and other goods for personal consumption to the value of €175 per adult or €90 for children under 15 years. Prohibited items include narcotic drugs, medicinal products, arms and weapons, explosives and protected animal and plant species.

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Visa and Entry Information

  • Entry requirements for Americans: United States citizens must have a passport, but a visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
  • Entry requirements for UK nationals: British passport holders, endorsed British Citizen, British National (Overseas), British Overseas Territories Citizen, or British Subject do not need a visa to visit Italy for up to 90 days. Other passport holders require a visa.
  • Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians must have a passport, but no visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
  • Entry requirements for Australians: Australians must have a passport, but no visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
  • Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans need a passport and a Schengen visa to travel to Italy.
  • Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand citizens must have a passport, but no visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
  • Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a passport, but no visa is required.

Passport/Visa Note: The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. Travellers are advised to have a return or onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover the period of intended stay in Italy.

Weather and Climate in Italy
The weather in Rome during summer is uncomfortably hot, temperatures often exceeding 95°F (35°C) at midday, and Romans tend to close up their businesses during August to take holidays in cooler spots. Mid-winter is mild, the average temperature in December hovering around 55°F (13°C). The best time to travel to Rome is in springtime, when skies are blue and the weather warm. Rain showers are possible any time of year.

The climate of Italy is mainly temperate, though it varies slightly according to region. The north of Italy is warm in summer, with occasional rain; the central area of the country is very humid; and the south is hot and dry. The northern cities of Milan, Turin and Venice experience cold, damp foggy winter weather, and in Tuscany the mercury drops close to freezing. Winter weather in the south of Italy is more pleasant. The recommended months for travel to Italy is during April and May (spring) or September and October (autumn), when the weather is favourable and resorts and tourist sites are less crowded.

Venice experiences very high humidity, with hot weather in July and August, the height of summer. Temperatures in summer usually range between 86°F to 91°F (30°C - 33°C), dropping in winter to between 32°F and 37°F (0°C - 3°C). Due to its location on the Adriatic coast, Venice often experiences thunderstorms and rain showers which, particularly in spring and autumn, tend to cause flooding. Known as the 'acqua alta,' it is best to pack waterproof shoes or boots, to avoid a soaking. April to October is usually the busiest time in Venice, though it is a popular destination year round. Christmas, Easter, Carnival (in February) and the Venice International Film Festival (in August) are also busy periods and winter is perhaps the best time to travel to Venice to avoid crowds and find better rates on accommodation.

The Mediterranean climate of southern Italy is milder and sunnier than the north, with dry summers and wet autumns and winters in Naples. The average temperature in summer (June to September) is 72°F (22°C) and in winter (December to March) it's about 48°F (9°C).

The climate of Milan is Mediterranean, but like any large urban metropolis, buildings and human activity affect the local micro-climate. In the case of Milan this makes the weather rather more extreme. Summers can be swelteringly hot and humid, with temperatures rising above 86°F (30°C) during August. The mountains behind the city protect Milan somewhat from the severity of winter, but the weather is very chilly with temperatures occasionally dropping below freezing. Winter also brings rain showers and heavy fog.

Florence enjoys a humid, subtropical climate. Summers are hot and muggy with temperatures overriding those along the coast. Relief rainfall prevails in the winter with cool to cold temperatures and occasional snow.

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Attractions in Italy

  • The Colosseum - This enduring symbol of ancient Rome tenaciously clings to its foundations as the site of former gladiatorial conquests. Its architecture boasts an impressive array of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns and an underground network of cells, corridors, ramps and elevators that were used to transport animals from their cages to the arena.
  • Pantheon - The stately Pantheon is one of the world's most inspiring architectural designs. Fittingly built as a temple to the Gods by Hadrian in 120AD, its perfectly proportioned floating dome rests seductively on sturdy marble columns.
  • Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) - The tiny Piazza di Trevi has been immortalised through this fountain built for Pope Clement XII. The statues adorning this watery display represent Abundance, Agrippa, Salubrity, the Virgin and Neptune guided by two tritons. Tossing a coin into the fountain is supposed to guarantee a return trip to Rome.
  • The Sistine Chapel & Vatican Museums - The Sistine Chapel's famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo looms above the frescoes on the side walls that were painted by an illustrious team of artists that included Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Roselli, Pinturicchio, Signorelli and della Gatta.
  • Pompeii - Mount Vesuvius' fiery temper erupted in the volcanic lava that buried the Roman city of Pompeii. The most evocative testimony to its victims is the 'frozen people', plaster casts of the victims' whose anguished contortions and facial expressions reveal the horror of their untimely deaths.
  • Portofino - Nestled in a sheltered inlet within the stretch of the Italian Mediterranean is the coastal village of Portofino. It has long been the playground for the rich and famous, attracting the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace.
  • Mount Etna - Sicily's greatest natural attraction is the very active volcano, Mount Etna, which has been spewing lava and shaking the earth for centuries, most recently in 2002.
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa - The world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa was built as a freestanding bell tower (campanile) behind the city cathedral. Constructed during the 11th and 12th centuries, the tower is the third oldest building in Pisa's Cathedral Square.

Events in Italy

  • Milan Fashion Weeks - Milan has a well-deserved reputation for being the haute couture fashion centre of Europe, and a stroll around the downtown 'fashion block' bounded by Via Monte Napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via della Spiga and Corso Venezia will have fashion fundis drooling over the collections of Italian and international designers concentrated here.
  • RomaEuropa Festival - RomaEuropa is an annual, international cultural event that features performances and concerts of theatre, dance and music.
  • La Sensa, Marriage to the Sea - This annual ceremony reaffirms the 'marriage' of Venice and the Adriatic sea. The mayor arrives at the Lido by boat and drops a gold ring into the water.
  • Venice Film Festival - The Venice Film Festival (Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica di Venezia) is the oldest film festival in the world and takes place during the August each year.

Airports in Italy

Bologna G Marconi Airport (BLQ)
Location: The airport is located four miles (6km) north-east of Bologna city centre.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in September).
Contacts: Information desk: +39 051-6479615.

Milan Linate Airport (LIN)
Location: The airport is situated four miles (7km) from downtown Milan.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in September).
Contacts: Tel: +39 02 7485 2200.

Milan Malpensa International Airport (MXP)
Location: The airport is located 28 miles (45km) north-west of Milan.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the Saturday before the last Sunday in September).
Contacts: Tel: +39 02 7485 2200.

Naples International Airport (NAP)
Location: The airport is located five miles (8km) north of the city centre.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in September).
Contacts: Flight enquiries: +39 081 751 5471.

Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE)
Location: The airport is located 10 miles (16km) north-east of Venice.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in September).
Contacts: General information: +39 (0)41 260 6111.

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Driving Information

Drinking and driving:
If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.051 per cent or more, severe penalties include fines, confiscation of vehicle and imprisonment.

Driving licence:
Minimum age at which a UK licence holder may drive temporarily imported car and/or motorcycle (over 125cc or with passenger) 18. All valid UK driving licences should be accepted in Italy. This includes the older all-green style
UK licences (in Northern Ireland older paper style with photographic counterpart) although the EC appreciates that these may be more difficult to understand and that drivers may wish to voluntarily update them before travelling abroad, if time permits. Alternatively, older licences may be accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP).

On-the-spot. Fines are particularly heavy for speeding offences. The police can impose the fine and collect 1 quarter of the maximum fine, and must give a receipt for the amount of the fine paid. Fines for serious offences committed at night between 2200 and 0700 hours are increased by 30%, serious offences include speeding, going through a red etc. Illegally parked vehicles can be clamped or towed away and a fine imposed.

Unleaded petrol (95 and 98 octane), diesel (Gasolio) and LPG is available. No leaded petrol (lead substitute additive available). Petrol in a can permitted. Credit cards accepted at most filling stations; check with your card issuer for usage in Italy & San Marino before travel.

Driving Distances:

5 hrs 42mins
2hrs 54mins
2hrs 25mins
5hrs 33mins
3hrs 54mins
4hrs 45mins
17hrs 31mins
13hrs 31mins
Rome Nice 7hrs 707km
Rome Barcelona 13hrs 1370km
Rome Vienna 10hrs 26mins 1133km
Rome Pisa 3hrs 54mins 335km
Rome Naples 2hrs 25mins 229km
Venice Florence 3hrs 37mins 262km
Venice Naples 7hrs 26mins 732km
Venice Milan 3hrs 27mins 275km
Venice Bologna 2hrs 19mins 156km
Venice Bari 8hrs 47mins 765km
Venice London 15hrs 11mins 1468km
Venice Paris 11hrs 16mins 115km
Venice Nice 6hrs 3mins 575km
Venice Barcelona 12hrs 4mins 1239km
Venice Vienna 6hrs 27mins 587km
Venice Pisa 4hrs 333km
Milan Florence 3hrs 16mins 318km
Milan Naples 7hrs 9mins 774km
Milan Bologna 2hrs 17mins 219km
Milan Bari 8hrs 881km
Milan London 12hrs 18mins 1205km
Milan Paris 8hrs 24mins 852km
Milan Nice 3hrs 19mins 317km
Milan Barcelona 9hrs 19mins 980km
Milan Vienna 8hrs 8mins 867km
Milan Pisa 2hrs 58mins 286km

Please click here http://www.viamichelin.com/ for more driving distances

Use of dipped headlights during the day compulsory outside built-up areas and during snow and rain / poor visibility. Rear fog lights may only be used when visibility is less than 50 metres or in case of strong rain or intense snow. Lights must be switched on in tunnels.

Use of dipped headlights during the day compulsory on all roads. The wearing of crash helmets is compulsory for both driver and passenger. The vehicle can be seized for non-compliance. It is prohibited to carry a child less than
5 years on a moped or motorcycle. The registration certificate must state that the moped / motorcycle is designed to carry a passenger. Motorcycles under 150cc are not allowed on motorways.

Motor Insurance:
Third-party compulsory.

Passengers / Children in cars:
Children less than 1.5m have to use a UNECE approved child restraint system. Rear-facing child restraints must not be used in a passenger seat equipped with an active passenger airbag.

Seat belts:
Compulsory for front / rear seat occupants to wear seat belts, if fitted.

Speed limits:
Standard legal limits, which may be varied by signs, for private vehicles without trailers: In built-up areas 31mph (50km/h), outside built-up areas 55mph (90km/h) on ordinary roads, 68mph (110km/h) on dual carriageways and
80mph (130km/h) on motorways.

Note: In wet weather lower speed limits of 55mph (90km/h) apply on dual carriageways and 68mph (110km/h) on motorways.

Restrictions apply if vehicles are using spiked tyres.

Compulsory equipment:

  • Warning triangle - (for all vehicles with more than two wheels)
  • Reflective jacket - The wearing of reflectorised jacket / waistcoat compulsory if driver and / or passenger(s) exits vehicle which is immobilised on the carriageway at night or in poor visibility.
  • Snow chains - In the area of Val d’Aosta, vehicles must be equipped with winter tyres or snow chains from the 15 October until the 15 April. .

Other rules / requirements:

It is recommended that visitors equip their vehicles with a set of replacement bulbs.

Any vehicle with an overhanging load (e.g. carrying bicycle at rear) must display a fully reflectorised square panel 50cm x 50cm which is red and white diagonally striped, a fine may be imposed if the sign is not displayed. This also applies to vehicles such as cars/caravans carrying bicycles at the rear.

Tolls are levied on the majority of motorways.

In built up areas the use of the horn is prohibited except in cases of immediate danger.

The transportation or use of radar detectors is prohibited. Violation of this regulation will result in a fine between 708 and 2834 Euros and confiscation of the device.

Eco-pass:- An experimental pollution charge is levied in the centre of Milan. Charges apply Mon-Fri and generally from 7.30am until 7.30pm. Drivers must purchase an eco-pass before entering the restricted zone. Tariffs vary according to the emissions of the vehicle. Full information can be found by clicking on the following link (this is only available in Italian) www.comune.milano.it/dseserver/ecopass/richiedere.html

Traffic is restricted in many historical centres/major towns known as ‘Zone a Traffico Limitato’ or ZTL’s, circulation is only permitted for residents.

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