Much like the rest of Italy the northern part of the country is not easy to get around for travellers with disabilities. Even a short journey in a city or town can become a major expedition if cobblestone streets have to be negotiated. Although many buildings have lifts, they are not always wide enough for wheelchairs. Not an awful lot has been done to make life for the deaf and/or blind any easier either.
The Italian National Tourist Office in your country may be able to provide advice and may also carry a small book titled Services for Disabled Passengers, published by Trenitalia (Italian railways), which details facilities at stations and on trains. Trenitalia also has a national helpline for people with disabilities. For more information, see the 'Information & Support' section of the Trenitalia website and click on the English version.
In Milan and Verona, general guides on accessibility are published.
Accessible Italy is a San Marino–based company that specialises in holiday services for people with disabilities, ranging from tours to the hiring of adapted transport. It can even arrange romantic Italian weddings. This is the best first port of call.
Milano per Tutti (www.milanopertutti.it) offers information on Milan.
For tips on accessibility in Locarno, see www.ascona-locarno.com/it/turismo-accessibile.html.
In addition you can download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide at http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Gentle haggling is common in flea markets and antiques markets; in all other instances you're expected to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Northern Italy is an extremely safe destination, but you should employ common sense in the larger cities of Milan, Verona and Brescia.
- Be aware of pickpockets operating in the larger train stations of Milan, Brescia and Verona.
- Do not leave valuables on view in parked cars in major cities, and if you have luggage on board leave your car in a guarded car park.
- Air pollution can be a problem in Milan, particularly on hot summer days. Asthmatics should carry medication.
- Take care when driving or cycling on narrow mountain roads around Lake Como and Garda.
Air pollution, caused mainly by heavy traffic, can be a problem in Milan, particularly in summer. On especially bad days, traffic curbing restrictions are put in place.
Pickpockets operate in Milan and around major train stations, especially in Brescia and Verona.
In case of theft or loss, always report the incident to police within 24 hours and ask for a statement; otherwise, your travel-insurance company won't pay out.
Driving into and around Milan can be nerve-wracking. Traffic is dense and the signposting is not always immediately clear. In other cities around the region, things are calmer. Pedestrians should be watchful wherever they are, as drivers will not always automatically halt at crossings.
Traffic can be heavy on minor lakeside roads in summer. Some mountain roads are very narrow, particularly around Lakes Como and Garda, and you'll be sharing the road with everything from buses to bicycles. Be prepared for some poorly lit tunnels at the northern end of Lake Garda.
City & Regional Discount Cards
Musei Lombardia Milano (www.abbonamentomusei.it; adult/reduced €45/35) Offers discounted access to 100 regional museums, villas and royal residences (including the Violin Museum in Cremona, Bergamo's Accademia Carrara and the Villa Reale in Monza) and is valid for one year.
Civic Museum Card (www.turismo.milano.it; €12) This three-day cumulative ticket allows admission to Milan’s nine civic museums. Tickets can be purchased online or at any of the museums.
VeronaCard (24/48hr €18/22; www.turismoverona.eu) Verona’s cumulative discount card offers access to most major monuments and churches, unlimited use of town buses, plus discounted tickets to selected concerts, opera and theatre productions.
Senior & Youth Cards
International Student Identity Card (www.isic.org) Handy for minor transport, theatre and cinema discounts, as well as occasional discounts in some hotels and restaurants. For nonstudent travellers under 25, the European Youth Card (www.eyca.org) offers similar benefits.
Carta d'Argento (Silver Card; €30/free for 60-75 years/over 75) For seniors who are travelling extensively by rail. It entitles the holder to discounts of 10% to 15% on national travel and 25% on international trains. The card is valid for a year.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Italy country code||39|
|International access code||00|
|All emergency services from a mobile phone||112|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering both Italy and Switzerland is usually trouble-free and rarely involves anything more than cursory customs and immigration checks.
Duty-free sales within the EU no longer exist (but goods are sold tax-free in European airports). On leaving the EU, non-EU citizens can reclaim any Value Added Tax (VAT) on expensive purchases. Note that this applies to Swiss citizens and residents too.
Not required for EU citizens. Nationals of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the US do not need visas for visits of up to 90 days.
Citizens of EU countries, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland do not need a visa to visit Italy. Nationals of some other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and the US, do not require visas for tourist visits of up to 90 days. For more information and a list of countries whose citizens require a visa, check the website of the Italian foreign ministry (www.esteri.it).
The standard tourist visa issued by Italian consulates is the Schengen visa, valid for up to 90 days. This visa is valid for travel in Italy and in several other European countries with which Italy has a reciprocal visa agreement (see www.eurovisa.info for the full list). These visas are not renewable inside Italy.
- Greetings The standard form of greeting is a handshake. If you know someone well, air-kissing on both cheeks (starting on the left) is the norm.
- Be polite Say mi scusi to attract attention or say 'I'm sorry'; grazie (mille) to say 'thank you (very much)'; prego to say 'you're welcome' or 'please, after you' and permesso if you need to get past someone in a crowd.
- Cafe culture Don’t linger at an espresso bar; drink your coffee and go. It’s called espresso for a reason.
- Paying the bill Whoever invites usually pays. Splitting the bill between friends is common enough, but itemising it is molto vulgare (very vulgar).
- Boating Always allow passengers to disembark first before boarding boats. For those in need of assistance, the crew are happy to lend a hand.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. It may also cover you for cancellation or delays to your travel arrangements. Paying for your ticket with a credit card can often provide limited travel accident insurance and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn’t deliver. Ask your credit-card company what it will cover.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Wireless internet access is widespread in most hotels and some cafes and restaurants – access is usually (but not always) free. Otherwise, there are just a handful of internet cafes around, charging €2 to €6 per hour.
The average tourist will have a brush with the law only if they are a victim of petty theft. If you're stopped by the police in both Italy and Switzerland, you will be required to show your passport.
Possession of any controlled substances, including cannabis or marijuana, is illegal. Those caught in possession of 5g of cannabis can be considered traffickers and prosecuted as such. The same applies to tiny amounts of other drugs. Those caught with amounts below this threshold can be subject to minor penalties. You should be equally circumspect in Switzerland.
If driving, the legal limit in both countries for blood-alcohol level is 0.05% and random breath tests do occur.
If your Italian and German are up to it, try the following newspapers:
- Corriere della Sera (www.corriere.it) Italy's Milan-based leading daily.
- La Repubblica (www.repubblica.it) A centre-left daily.
- Neue Zürcher Zeitung (www.nzz.ch) German-language Swiss newspaper of record, known for its objectivity and detailed reporting.
Tune into state-owned Italian RAI-1, RAI-2 and RAI-3 (www.rai.it), which broadcast all over the country and abroad. Milan-based left-wing Radio Popolare (www.radiopopolare.it) is good for its biting social commentary and contemporary music.
- Turn on the box to watch the state-run RAI-1, RAI-2 and RAI-3 and the main commercial channels – Canale 5, Italia 1 and Rete 4 – mostly run by Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset (www.mediaset.it).
- Switzerland has numerous channels that broadcast in Italian, German and French, but you can usually pick up CNN in most hotels.
ATMs are widely available and credit cards accepted at most hotels, restaurants and shops. To change money, you'll need to present your ID.
The euro is Italy's currency and euro notes come in denominations of €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5. The euro coins are in denominations of €2 and €1, and 50, 20, 10, five, two and one cents.
Switzerland's currency is the Swiss franc. The six notes come in denominations of Sfr1000 (which you'll hardly ever see), Sfr200, Sfr100, Sfr50, Sfr20 and Sfr10. Coins are in denominations of Sfr5, Sfr2, Sfr1, Sfr½ (ie
50 Swiss cents), and 20, 10 and five cents. As a rule, it's pretty easy to use euros in Ticino, although generally you'll get change in francs and the rate will not necessarily be all that favourable.
There are bancomats (ATMs) that accept international credit and debit cards in all northern Italian cities and towns. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely recognised cards, but others like Cirrus and Maestro are also well covered. Bank fees apply to withdrawals and there's a daily limit of €250.
You can change cash and travellers cheques at a bank, post office or cambio (exchange office). Post offices and most banks are reliable and tend to offer the best rates.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
- Cafes & bars Most Italians just leave small change (€0.10 to €0.20 is fine).
- Hotels At least €2 per bag or night, for porter, maid or room service.
- Restaurants Tips of 10% are standard – though check to see that a tip hasn't already been added to your bill, or included in the flat coperto (cover) charge.
- Transport Round up taxi fares to the nearest euro.
Although travellers cheques are now fairly uncommon, Visa, Travelex and Amex are still accepted brands. Get most of your cheques in fairly large denominations to save on per cheque commission charges.
Opening hours in Italy tend to be longer in summer. In August, in Milan, many shops and restaurants close for several weeks' holiday, or have reduced hours, and clubs move their activities out of town. Conversely, in winter, around the lakes, many places are shut.
Banks 8.30am–1.30pm and 3.30–4.30pm Monday–Friday
Cafes & bars 7.30am–8pm; most serve alcoholic drinks in the evening
Nightclubs 10pm–4am; may open earlier if they have restaurants
Restaurants noon–2.30pm and 7.30–11pm (kitchens close at 10pm); most close at least once a week
Shops 9am–1pm and 3.30–7.30pm (or 4–8pm) Monday–Saturday; some shops only open for half the day on Monday
Each Swiss canton currently decides how long shops and businesses can stay open. With the exception of convenience stores at 24-hour service stations and shops at airports and train stations, businesses shut completely on Sunday.
Banks 8.30am–4.30pm Monday–Friday
Restaurants noon–2.30pm and 6pm–9.30pm; most close one or two days per week
Shops 10am–6pm Monday–Friday, to 4pm Saturday
Le Poste (www.poste.it), Italy's postal system, is reasonably reliable. The most efficient mail service is posta prioritaria (priority mail).
In Switzerland, the main categories for international post are Economy and Priority. For details on the Swiss postal system, see www.post.ch.
Francobolli (stamps) are available at post offices and, in Italy, at authorised tabacchi (tobacconists; look for the official sign – a big 'T', usually white on black).
Many Italians and Ticinesi take their annual holiday in August. This means that, depending on where you are, many businesses and shops close for at least a part of that month. Milan and cities like Bergamo, Brescia and Cremona can be eerily quiet in August, while lakeside towns such as Como, Locarno and Lugano bustle with holiday activity. Settimana Santa (Easter Week) is another busy holiday period.
Individual towns have public holidays to celebrate the feasts of their patron saints.
New Year's Day (Capodanno or Anno Nuovo) 1 January
Epiphany (Epifania or Befana) 6 January
Good Friday (Venerdì Santo) March/April
Easter Monday (Pasquetta or Lunedì dell'Angelo) March/April
Liberation Day (Giorno della Liberazione) 25 April marks the Allied Victory in Italy, and the end of the German presence and Mussolini, in 1945
Labour Day (Festa del Lavoro) 1 May
Republic Day (Festa della Repubblica) 2 June
Feast of the Assumption (Assunzione or Ferragosto) 15 August
All Saints' Day (Ognissanti) 1 November
Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Immaculata Concezione) 8 December
Christmas Day (Natale) 25 December
Boxing Day (Festa di Santo Stefano) 26 December
New Year's Day 1 January
Ascension Day 40th day after Easter
Whit Sunday & Monday 7th week after Easter
National Day 1 August
Christmas Day 25 December
St Stephen's Day 26 December
- Smoking Forbidden in all indoor public places in Italy. However, if restaurants, bars or cafes have outdoor seating you will find yourself among smokers.
GSM and tri-band phones can be used in Italy with a local SIM card.
- Italy and Switzerland use GSM 900/1800, which is compatible with the rest of Europe and Australia but not with North America GSM 1900 or the Japanese system.
- To buy a SIM card you'll need to show your passport and the address of your accommodation.
- Prepaid SIM cards are readily available at telephone and electronics stores. Purchase recharge cards at tobacconists and news-stands.
- Since June 2017 roaming charges have been abolished within the EU.
The dialling code for Italy is 39. The city code is an integral part of the number and must always be dialled. Toll-free (free-phone) numbers, known as numeri verdi, start with 800.
|International directory enquiries||176|
|Local directory enquiries||12|
The dialling code for Switzerland is 41. When calling Switzerland from abroad, the leading 0 in area codes must not be dialled.
Area codes begin with 0, which must always be dialled when calling locally. Telephone numbers with the code 079 are mobile phones, those with the code 0800 are toll-free and those beginning with 156 or 157 are premium rate.
National telecom provider Swisscom (www.swisscom.ch) provides public phone booths that accept coins and major credit cards.
Italy and Switzerland are one hour ahead of GMT. Daylight-saving time, when clocks are moved forward one hour, starts on the last Sunday in March. Clocks are put back an hour on the last Sunday in October. Italy operates on a 24-hour clock.
Here and there you'll find public toilets in city centres, but more often than not you'll probably want to duck into a cafe or bar. The polite thing to do is order something at the bar, although more often than not no one will say anything if you don't, especially if things are busy. Most service stations have toilets.
The lakes area takes in four Italian regions – Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto – and the Swiss canton of Ticino. Tourist offices can be found in most cities and towns throughout the region.
The main regional websites covering northern Italy are those for Lombardy (www.in-lombardia.it), Piedmont (www.piemonteitalia.eu) and Veneto (www.veneto.eu).
Websites dedicated to the lakes include:
Lake Maggiore (www.illagomaggiore.com) Covers the southern (Italian) half of Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, Varese and the Ossola valleys.
Lake Como (www.lakecomo.org) Covers the whole Como area.
Lake Garda (www.visitgarda.com) Covers all the towns and cities surrounding Italy's largest lake, including a list of all tourist offices.
The most useful tourist offices in the region are:
Bergamo (Città Alta) Tourist Office Helpful, multilingual office in the upper town.
Como Tourist Office The main tourist office on Lake Como with helpful English-speaking staff.
Laveno Tourist Office Particularly good for hiking and walking information, and insider tips about Lake Maggiore.
Mantua Tourist Office Useful office in the centre of Mantua with excellent information on the city and surrounding area.
Milan Tourist Office Centrally located with helpful English-speaking staff and tonnes of maps and brochures.
Sirmione Tourist Office Efficient office on the main road into Sirmione, just before the castle.
Stresa Tourist Office Located at the ferry dock. Has brochures and tips on Lake Maggiore activities.
Varenna Tourist Office Provides information on Lake Como's entire eastern shore.
Verona Tourist Office Excellent, multilingual service. Also offers discount cards and advises on tours and booking services.
Ticino (www.ticino.ch) is the Italian-speaking Swiss canton that borders the northern end of Lake Maggiore. Bellinzona is the capital but Locarno is its most touristed city. The most useful tourist offices are:
Ascona-Locarno Tourism Conveniently located at Locarno's train station, this tourist office has stacks of information about Locarno and the surrounding region. Ask about the Ticino Discovery Card and its discounts.
Bellinzona Tourist Office Helpful information office located in the restored Renaissance Palazzo del Comune (town hall).
Travel with Children
The Italian Lakes are a fabulous family-friendly destination, packed with outdoor activities, safely landscaped lakefront beaches and promenades, and two of Italy’s largest theme parks. Even rides on turn-of-the-century trams, high-speed hydrofoils and cloud-scraping funiculars are bound to delight, while reasonably priced agriturismi (farm stay accommodation) and campgrounds abound.
Best Regions for Kids
Home to Italy’s best science museum, a castle and grand park, plus turn-of-the-century trams and canal cruises, Milan is more child-friendly than most imagine.
- Lake Maggiore & Around
Whiz up funiculars with bikes and binoculars, traverse the 'Hundred Valleys' by rail, picnic in flower-filled gardens, bobsled high in the mountains and wander with white peacocks on the Borromean Islands.
- Lake Como & Around
Head for the hills for walking and cycling trails or to Lenno and Villa Olmo near Como for lido-style lakeside swimming. To the north, in Gravedona, waterski or zip around in a zodiac.
- Lake Garda & Around
Ringed with campsites, furnished with two theme parks and blessed with an endless number of exciting activities, Garda is the most family-friendly lake. Windsurf, hike, cycle and horse ride with specialist operators that provide classes and tours for all age groups.
The Italian Lakes for Kids
If you’re looking for a family-friendly destination, the Italian lakes certainly fit the bill. The variety of museums, adventure parks, gardens, beaches, activities and shopping means that there is truly something for everyone.
Lake Garda is an activity hot spot, offering rock climbing, canyoning and water sports. Lake Como’s cloud-busting walking trails, funiculars, mountain-biking (book in advance) and chi-chi lidi (beaches) offer family fun with a touch of glamour. Lake Maggiore offers grand-slam sights and gardens within easy reach of Milan. And even in Milan and Verona large parks and family-friendly attractions and dining keep everyone happy.
Your most important pre-departure decisions will be accommodation and point of entry: Verona airport for Lake Garda; Milan Malpensa or Bergamo's Orio al Serio airports for Lake Como; and, Malpensa for Lake Maggiore. If you want to tour more than one lake, car hire is almost inevitable. However, think carefully about how much time you want to spend driving, particularly in summer when the roads are congested.
Agriturismi, country resorts and high-class campsites, such as Residence Filanda, Agriturismo Le Radici, La Garzonera, Agriturismo San Mattia, Camping Conca d'Oro and Campeggio Fornella are a good option for families, often with self-catering facilities and plenty of kid-friendly activities.
Many museums and monuments are free for children – but there is no single rule about the age limit for free admission (often up to six years). In Milan, Bergamo and Verona state museums are free to EU passport holders aged under 18. Otherwise, museums offer a reduced admission fee – usually half the adult price – for children, usually six and over. Students and young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 also get discounted entry with the appropirate ID.
Food & Drink
Lakeside towns have long been used to catering to Milanese and Veronese families on their summer vacations, and children are warmly welcomed in casual trattorias and osterie (taverns), although high-chairs are not always available. Menus always feature simple pasta dishes, cured ham as well as a varied selection of simply cooked fish and grilled meat. Restaurants in tourist hot spots like Stresa, Riva del Garda and Sirmione, as well as Milan and Verona, may have a menù bambini (children's menu), and are well served with pizzerias. If not, simply ask for a plate of pasta with butter or olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
Although having a car will allow you to move freely around the lakes, it is worth considering whether you really need one. Frequent trains from Milan connect with Stresa on Lake Maggiore and Como, while Sirmione on Lake Garda can be reached from Verona. What’s more, once you’re on the lakes its far quicker (and more scenic) to travel across them on the efficient network of ferries and hydrofoils.
If you do decide to drive, you’ll have more options on where to stay as the best value accommodation is usually situated a little distance from the lake shore. However, think hard about your itinerary and try to minimise inter-lake travel, which can be time-consuming. Children under 150cm or 36kg must be attached in an appropriate child seat for their weight and are not allowed in the front. Car seats should be booked in advance.
On public transport, a seat on a bus costs the same for everyone (toddlers and babies on laps are free). Children under 12 pay half-fare on trains and ferries.
Beaches & Swimming
- Idroscalo Milan's suburban water park that was once the liquid landing strip for seaplanes.
- Lido di Villa Olmo Lakeside lido backed by Como’s landmark Villa Olmo.
- Punta Lido Three kilometres of landscaped waterfront join Riva del Garda with Torbole.
- Parco Archeologico Rocca di Manerba A Unesco-protected nature reserve of evergreen woods and picturesque beaches.
- Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Let little Leonardos loose in Italy’s best science museum in Milan.
- Centovalli Train Cross the vertiginous ‘Hundred Valleys’ on this historic train ride into Switzerland.
- Museo Mille MigliaMarvel at the vintage racing beauties in Brescia.
- Rocca di Angera Lake Maggiore's most imposing castle with one of the best doll and toy museums in Europe.
- Sacro Monte di San Carlo Climb the colossal statue of St Charles and peep through his eye holes.
- Laveno Funivia Lake Maggiore's funkiest funicular with open-air capsules.
Gardens to Explore
- Parco Sempione Rollerblade around Parco Sempione then take the lift up the Torre Branca.
- Il Vittoriale degli Italiani Tour the wildly eccentric house then find the full-sized battleship in the garden.
- Villa Taranto Picnic and play amid rolling hillsides of rhododendrons, camellias and tulips.
- Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller Play eye-spy with world-class contemporary art amid the bamboo groves.
- Villa Carlotta Explore a fantastical floral landscape with a forest of ferns, a Zen garden and spectacular lookout point.
- Windsurfing & sailing The lakefronts at Riva del Garda and Torbole are lined with schools.
- Rock climbing Check out one of the world’s toughest rock-climbing festivals, the Rockmaster Festival, then take a few lessons with Arco Mountain Guide.
- Canyoning Jump, slide and abseil into crystal-clear waters with expert guides on Lake Ledro.
- Cycling Hire top-class off-road bikes from a national champion at Guti Bike Rent and Xtreme Malcesine.
- Kayaking Take a spin on the glassy waters of Lake Como in kayaks from Bellagio Water Sports.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
The lakes area of northern Italy and Switzerland is very safe for female travellers. While some city savvy should be exercised in Milan, women travellers generally encounter no real problems. Be aware that eye-to-eye contact is the norm in Italy's daily flirtatious interplay.
Homosexuality is legal in Italy and well tolerated in Milan, but a little less so in other towns. Overt displays of affection by homosexual couples could attract a negative response in smaller towns. There are gay clubs in Milan but otherwise pickings are slim. For more information:
Arcigay (www.arcigay.it) National organisation for the LGBTI community.
Gay.it (www.gay.it) Website featuring LGBT news, feature articles and gossip.
GayFriendlyItaly.com (www.gayfriendlyitaly.com) English-language site produced by Gay.it, featuring information on everything from hotels and events, to LGBT politics and rights.