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Italy Travel Guide
Italy dips down out of Europe and into the Mediterranean like a lady'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 is also home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country on earth, with an incredible 47 sites of global historical significance dotted around the country.
From the depths of the canals in Venice, which floats on a series of islands in an Adriatic lagoon, and the bleached sands of San Remo on the Riviera, to the rocky crags of the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines, Italy has everything from beach holidays to luxury mountain ski resorts.
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, Caravaggio 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.
Electrical current in Italy is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use including the European-style two-pin plug.
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
The official language of Italy is Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country.
Tipping is customary in Italy and 10 to 15 percent of the bill is acceptable in restaurants (unless, as is increasingly the case, a 15 percent service charge has already been added to the bill). Hotels add a service charge of 15 to 18 percent, but it is customary to tip the service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxi drivers, but a 5 to 10 percent tip is always appreciated.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to Italy and you should be able to travel without special vaccinations and medications. Medical facilities in Italy are good but travel insurance is still recommended for non-EU citizens as medical attention can be expensive. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services provided they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Although it should be possible to get most medication in Italy, travel authorities always suggest that you take any prescribed medication that you require with you, in its original packaging, and with a signed and dated letter from your doctor explaining what it is and why you need it.
Tourists in Italy 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 pickpocketing 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. Make intelligent use of hotel safes and split valuables between people, bags and pockets to limit the damage if you are pickpocketted. 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. Anti-austerity strikes have also become common and travellers are advised to avoid these mass gatherings which can degenerate into violence.