Italy can inspire and frustrate in equal measure, but this vibrant and colorful country has too many good points that even the most irritating quirks can only add to its unique charm.
Closing your eyes and imagining you are back in the days of the gladiators while visiting the Colosseum is rather difficult when you are surrounded by thousands of noisy tourists. Italy is home to a wealth of important cultural and historical sights, so it is hard to avoid encountering jostling lines of people. Making an early start from Italy hostels to beat the masses is definitely a good idea.
While the idea of jumping on a scooter in central Rome or hiring a convertible and hitting the coastal roads of the Riviera may seem perfect, the reality can be somewhat different. Italian motorists are notorious for their 'relaxed' approach to highway etiquette so backpackers planning to get behind the wheel on a trip to the country should be prepared to accept maneuvers that elsewhere in Europe might prompt road rage.
Italy boasts some of the best soccer teams in the world and Italians are not shy about letting their fellow Europeans know of their prowess. Italian off-the-field boasting is almost as famous as on-the-pitch skills so non-Italian fans of the beautiful game should be prepared.
Everyone enjoys public holidays - unless you are backpacking and find you can't check into any hostels in Italy, that is. The country celebrates 11 events with national holidays every year, and each town marks its saint's feast day as well. These holidays can mean the closure of services such as information offices, restaurants and public transport so planning ahead is essential to avoid mishaps like stranding, hunger and being unable to find hostel accommodation.
The home of pizza, pasta and gelato, or ice cream, Italy is an exciting destination for food-loving travelers. Backpackers staying in hostels in Italy should, however, avoid filling up on pizza and pasta as these are traditionally starter dishes, followed by a main course of seafood or meat.
One thing Italy is not short of is history and the country's glorious past is reflected in the architecture of major cities like Rome, Venice and Florence. Treasures dating from Ancient Rome to the Renaissance sit comfortably alongside contemporary and 21st century architecture, so travelers visiting these cities are likely to come across a crowd of tourists taking photos of a recognizable landmark or stunning facade on almost every street.
Italy seems to have more than its fair share of beautiful people, looking like they've just stepped off a catwalk, sporting chic designer threads and managing to pull off sunglasses indoors. This is perhaps unsurprising given that it is the homeland of famous fashion houses such as Gucci, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana; travelers wanting to join the stylish set or just people-watch should head for the Riviera or Milan.
As well as boasting some of the world's finest cities in Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy is also renowned for its beautiful rural regions. From the rolling hills of Tuscany to the lakes of the north, Italy's breathtaking scenery has been inspiring artists and drawing-in travelers by the millions for centuries.
Rather than jetting halfway around the world, many Italians opt to holiday at home and, with the beaches they have on their doorstep, it's not hard to see why. Backpackers keen to bag the best and most affordable spots on the coast should follow the locals away from the popular but pricey Riviera to the relatively unspoilt gems of Sicily and Sardinia.