The long booted leg of Italy stretches out into the Mediterranean Sea, tapping the island of Sicily with its toe. This slender peninsula is brimming with beautiful scenery, gastronomic delights, world-class art and architecture, glorious music, timeless literature and ancient history. Its splendid cultural heritage is the result of a complex past, where centuries of conflict between states, nations and world powers have shaped the land and its people as different rulers have come and gone.
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Flying time from London 2.75 hours
Official language(s) Italian
Time difference +1 GMT
Visa requirements Not required for UK passport holders
The Italy Experts
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Italy is a food lover’s heaven. Each region has its particular specialities and the local markets are the best place to discover the ingredients, as well as daily life and some enthusiastic gesticulating and shouting. Suggestions include the Rialto fish market in Venice, which displays a beautiful (although some might say ugly) array of fruits from the sea; Mercato Centrale in Bologna, beautifully located among a maze of medieval streets selling a mouth-watering range of pasta, meats, fruits and vegetables; and the Ballarò market in Palermo where the southern energy of the Italians is particularly palpable.
Explore Pompeii and Herculaneum
Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried under ash and mud during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. Considered the most important archaeological sites in Europe due to their exceptional preservation, these towns offer a rare insight into daily Roman life. See houses, shops and public buildings with their contents still intact, as well as the chilling plaster casts of the victims of the eruption.
Attend the theatre
Some of the finest buildings in Italy are its theatres, and the greatest opera and ballet companies in the world perform in them. One of the most beautiful is La Scala in Milan. The performance schedule here runs from December to July: visit the Museo Teatrale alla Scala for a behind-the-scenes tour and an insight into its magnificent history since its first performance in 1778. Venice has two theatres: La Fenice, which has burned to the ground twice, and the Teatro Verde, an open-air theatre on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore with romantic views across to St Mark’s Square. For something a little different, book tickets for the Arena di Verona, a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre, still used for magnificent open-air opera performances.
Visit glorious Ravenna
Today, Ravenna is a small quiet town, but it was once the glittering capital of the western Roman empire. From the fifth and sixth centuries, beautiful churches were built with dazzling interiors, and it remains the best place to see early Christian and Byzantine church architecture. Impressive mosaics can be found in the Church of San Vitale and the Battistero degli Ariani. Ravenna can be easily visited on a day trip from Bologna.
Relax on the Ligurian Riviera
Combine sightseeing and city tours in Tuscany with sea, sunshine and relaxation on the Ligurian riviera. Retreat to the luxurious towns of Portofino or Rapallo on this dramatic coastline to enjoy incredible sea views, delicious Italian cuisine, and just watch life go by in the harbour. Make sure to take a trip along the coast to Le Cinque Terre National Park, a Unesco world heritage site where tiny villages of colourful houses and cobbled alleys cling uncertainly to the cliffs.
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"The content of the tour was excellent as were the tour leader and local guide. We very much enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot about the artists and times in which they worked. It was wonderful to visit an Italian stately home and have a private tour by the owner who was very kind and welcoming."
Dr John Saunders
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