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Is It Safe to Travel to Italy? Warnings You Need to Know

SmarterTravel

Deciding to visit Italy is almost a no-brainer. The boot-shaped nation has pretty much everything any traveler would want: sights, art, history, dreamy Mediterranean beaches, and arguably the best food in the world. But is Italy safe for travel right now?

What with terror threats ongoing throughout Europe and Italy’s notorious reputation for organized crime, as well as the country’s susceptibility to natural disasters, it’s a fair question.

Generally, the answer is yes, Italy is indeed a safe country to visit. The nation’s violent crime rates are low these days, and global safety rankings consistently place Italy higher than both England and the United States. That said, there are some factors that travelers should keep in mind in order to protect themselves when traveling to Italy.

Tips for Staying Safe in Italy

  • Is it safe to travel to Italy? Yes, but you have to know where to go—and where it’s best to keep your wits about you. Understand that there are parts of Italy where you’re more likely to become a crime victim, including packed city centers, crowded tourist attractions, and certain parts of Milan.
  • If you’re planning on traveling around Italy, stay safe by being vigilant on public transit, making sure that any taxi you get into is official, taking the typical rideshare precautions, and keeping all valuables under wraps.
  • How safe is Italy when it comes to terrorism? Fortunately, Italy hasn’t been as plagued by terrorism as its neighboring countries have been. But travelers to Italy are still advised to be on high alert in crowded tourist spots, report suspicious packages and people, listen to local authorities in the event of an attack, and enroll in the STEP program to make it easier to find you in the event of an emergency.

Crime in Italy

Although there aren’t any truly dangerous parts of Italy—most tourists won’t have to deal with safety concerns other than petty crimes—there are cities and regions of Italy that do tend to be less safe than others.

Travelers in Rome, for instance, have a higher than average risk of being pickpocketed or scammed and a moderate risk of being mugged, according to SafeAround. And though Venice is mostly safe, popular tourist spots are also popular targets for pickpockets and scammers.

As for Naples, it has the unsavory reputation of being a mafia hotspot (in Italy, more than 1,600 mafiosi are arrested per year), although it’s quite rare for mafia activity to affect tourists. Nonetheless, the risk of scams is high in Naples, and drive-by purse snatchings do happen.

Florence also suffers from a higher than average risk of pickpocketing and scams, especially in the popular Piazza Del Duomo area, where thieves have been known to pose as beggars to distract tourists while the crooks’ accomplices steal purses and wallets.

Milan, for its part, is slightly more dangerous than other major Italian cities, holding the dubious distinction of being Italy’s top spot for thieves (followed, respectively, by Bologna, Florence, Turin, Catania, and Rome). So be even more defensive against pickpockets and scammers in Milan, especially while you’re riding on public transit.

Milan’s city center is rife with counterfeiters selling fake goods. Note if you’re caught having purchased any of it, you can be fined up to 10,000 euros. In the city’s Brera and Montenapole districts, home of Milan’s exclusive high-fashion shops, the police presence is palpable; nonetheless, be wary of petty criminals here as well—and avoid the area around Central Station, especially after dark.

The most common crime in Italy is theft. More than 1 million cases are reported per year, with the highest theft rates being in the provinces of Rimini and Milan. The big city centers, such as Rome, are more vulnerable to pickpockets and bag snatchers, so it’s especially important to keep your belongings under wraps there, and to guard against being distracted.

Common scams targeting travelers in Italy often involve street vendors selling counterfeit goods, usually fashion items. Occasionally, Italian thieves will impersonate police officers who ask to see your ID, then take your wallet. Other times, thieves use motor scooters to snatch purses or bags—so never leave your belongings unattended. If you’re driving, keep your doors locked and windows rolled up. And if you’re drinking alcohol, never leave your drink unattended, as there have been instances of spiked cocktails at Italian bars and nightclubs.

Natural Disasters in Italy

If it’s natural disasters you’re concerned about in Italy, you’ll want to beware of summer wildfires, especially on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and of autumn rain’s resulting in coastal landslides, including in Calabria, on the Amalfi coast, in Cinque Terre, and in Sicily and Tuscany. Venice is famously prone to flooding as well.

All of Italy is an active seismic zone, and recent years have seen multiple earthquakes cause death and destruction. The country also has several active volcanoes, including Mt. Etna in eastern Sicily; Mt. Stromboli, on the island of Stromboli; and Mt. Vesuvius, near Naples.

How to Get Around Safely in Italy

Though Italy’s crime rate is generally low, it’s still smart to be aware of your surroundings on public transit and in crowded areas like city centers, especially in and around Rome’s Termini station. (Note that you need to endorse your ticket in a ticket machine before starting a train trip—if you don’t, you’re liable to be fined on the spot.)

When using taxis in Italy, stick to officially licensed vehicles with a taxi sign on the roof, and make sure that the driver resets the meter before you get going. Fake taxis have been known to prowl Milan, stealing passengers’ belongings before they get in or wildly overcharging them at their destination.

Uber rides are available only in Rome and Milan, and it’s as important in Italy as it is anywhere else to take the typical precautions when using app-based hired cars: Choose a busy, well-lit area when waiting for your ride, confirm that your vehicle’s license plate and driver match what’s listed on your phone, sit in the back, and share your ride’s progress with a friend or loved one. Also, don’t tell the driver your name when you arrive; ask for the name on the booking instead.

As in most places, safety in Italy is more of a concern if you’re female. Italian men aren’t exactly known for their subtlety, and this can translate into what most American women would consider harassment. Solo female travelers may get a lot of unwanted or aggressive flirtation, along with direct and prolonged eye contact that’s beyond U.S. cultural norms. Your options in this situation include walking away, ignoring the attention-seeking perpetrator, telling him that your husband (“marito”) is due shortly, or reporting groping incidents to the police. In Italy, the three worst cities for sexual assault are Bologna, Florence, and Milan.

Another factor to know in the realm of Italy travel warnings is that prostitution is rampant and legal in Italy, and that sex workers are easy to find on streets, at “massage” salons, and online. However, organized prostitution, solicitation, and brothels are all illegal, and their existence spikes the Italy crime rate, especially in northern Italy, where prostitution-related crimes are more abundant. Trieste leads the pack, followed by Catania, Ravenna, Ancona, and Alessandria.

Terrorism in Italy

As in many parts of Europe, a key consideration when pondering whether Italy is safe to travel to is the threat of terrorism. Thankfully, Italy has largely sidestepped the incidents of terrorism that have plagued some of its neighboring countries—you won’t see terrorism covered often in Italy news—but that doesn’t mean that it’ll never happen.

Italy is considered at moderate risk for terrorism, and the U.S. Department of State advises Americans to “exercise increased caution in Italy due to terrorism.” The agency also states, “Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Italy. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.” The U.K. government seems a little less alarmed, noting that “there are isolated cases of domestic terrorism … generally aimed at official Italian targets.”

Either way, to ensure your safety in Italy—and anywhere you travel—be hyper-aware of your surroundings whenever you’re in crowded tourist spots, report suspicious packages and people, listen to whatever the local authorities tell you to do in the event of an attack, monitor local media and Italy news stations for breaking information, and sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that you become easier to find in case of emergency.

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