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Italy: Where to live

Milan or Turin? Naples or Rome? With so many stunning locations to choose from, it won’t be easy to choose a location for your new life in Italy.

Milan

Home of the most famous opera house in the world, La Scala, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and a stunning cathedral, the Duomo Milan also has a reputation as an industrial city. Milan is Italy’s 2nd city. It has excellent rail links with the rest of the country as well as two airports. Make sure that you take time to admire Mussolini’s stunning railway station (commissioned by the famous Prime Minister-turned-dictator from the early 20th century). The city boasts a chemical industry, motor car manufacturing facilities and a thriving economy, Italy’s leading stock exchange is also based here.

With a population of 10 million, Milan is also Italy’s leading expat destination. Home to numerous international schools, as well as many free public schools, this is an added bonus for any expat family. The city is also renowned as a world centre for fashion and hosts many international fashion fares. Of course, sports lovers will have a splendid time cheering on Milan’s famous football teams, Inter Milan and AC Milan. Life here is pricey, and Milan is at the top of the list when it comes to Italy’s most expensive cities. It’s an easy city to travel around as there is an excellent public transport network including buses, trams and metro.

Climate

Expect to enjoy long hot summers, 24 – 30 degrees Celcius, though July can be wet, and cold winters. It sometimes snows in Milan so pack some sensible winter clothes.

Housing

Most expats tend to live in the area around the Duomo. The Brea district is within the city walls and is a former industrial section that’s been converted into bars, apartments, shops and restaurants. If you travel further north to Porta Venezia, you’ll be able to track down more vibrant neighbourhoods where you’ll find local Milanese as your neighbours, as well as students, families and young professionals. Porta Nova is another residential area north of the Duomo, that’s popular with the younger generation.

Fiera, still further north-west is a converted fairground that’s been designed by the international architects Daniel Libeskind and Zara Hadid. It is renowned for its access to schools, shops, parks and metro station.

Navigli is to the southwest of the Duomo, and is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the most popular neighbourhoods for those who enjoy a hectic and fashionable nightlife.

Travelling around

Milan is also ideally situated should you wish to visit The Alps, or the wonderful lakes just north of the city. You can take a train to Lake Garda and wander around the perimeter, visit a vineyard and then enjoy a wonderful meal at one of Garda’s many restaurants. Or you can pop into Verona to the east of the city to catch a glimpse of the Romeo & Juliet balcony, and enjoy a musical or theatrical performance in the city’s ancient amphitheatre.

If you travel further east, you’ll be able to spend some time in Venice. Known as the Serenissima, from the days when it was an independent republic, Venice is an extraordinary city. Sadly, the city’s population is in decline and you’re as likely to spot crowds of tourists enjoying its delights as you are authentic Venetian inhabitants. Don’t let this fact stop you paying a visit to the city. The light here is extraordinary — thanks to its canals, and its museums and churches are home to some astonishing artworks. There’s also the very contemporary Venice Biennale, where you’ll be able to enjoy some of the world’s finest art.

Living in the ‘eternal city’ — Rome

Founded in 753 BCE, Rome has been playing hosts to expats for centuries. It’s unusual in that within the centre of Rome, lies Vatican City, home of the pope since the 14th century and created as a state in 1929. St Peter is said to be buried on the Vatican Hill following his crucifixion in 64 CE.

The tourism industry is a major employer here, as are international firms of accountants and electronics companies. Multi lingual secretaries and administrators are in demand in Rome as are software specialists. If you’ve studied any form of art restoration, you’ll also easily find employment here. If you don’t yet speak Italian, get to grips with the language as soon as you can as this will improve your employment chances.

With its plethora of schools and other educational institutes, as well as easy access to some of the best museums in the world, Rome is a fascinating city. If you’re looking for an easy introduction to the city, then the members of the website Expats Living in Rome might be able to help you navigate some of Rome’s more schools.

Before you move to Rome, be sure to read up about this fascinating city and its history. Once living there it’s quite easy to become overwhelmed by its beauty.

Popular areas for accommodation

Trastavere

Enduringly fascinating, Trastavere, is one of those areas where you’ll constantly be making new discoveries. Although it’s not close to a metro, this area is constantly on the move — with scooters zooming through the narrow and historical streets. Bars, cafes and restaurants are in abundance, and though there are apartments to rent in this area, they tend to be quite small. You will, however, be living right in the centre of the city, a definite compensation.

Testaccio

This part of Rome’s centre, where the site of a former slaughterhouse has been transformed into an art gallery, is rapidly becoming a popular destination with the expat community. You’ll avoid the city’s heavy tourist traffic if you live here, and the prices for property, mainly rental, are cheaper than in Trastavere and Prati. Be aware that the noise from the numerous local nightclubs can become somewhat excessive at night and that this area might better suit younger people rather than those with families.

Prati

North-east of the Vatican and close to Trastavere, this area is famous for its retail therapy opportunities. There is a metro station nearby, but you’ll be able to walk to many of Rome’s historic and cultural centres. For this reason, many tourists flock to this area, which some expats may consider a potential downside, and apartment prices can be high.

Monteverde

Situated on a hill above Trastavere, Monteverde is popular with families. The area is verdant thanks to its many parks. There’s also access to parking, a rare thing in Rome! It’s close to some excellent schools and many good restaurants, and the apartments are larger here. If you’re thinking of using public transport, you’ll have to take a tram as there’s no metro stop nearby.

Aventino

Popular for its quiet atmosphere and location in the centre of Rome, Aventino has plenty to suit those with families, or simply wishing to live away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are countless local and international schools in the area. Another reason for choosing Aventino as your base is that the United Nations’ headquarters for its Food and Agriculture Organisation is situated here - many expats hold jobs at this organisation.

Balduina

Close to the Vatican and Prati, this area commands some of the largest apartments in Rome — some even boasting a terrace. The views from this part of Rome are stunning, and the centre is walkable, but Balduina is lacking in shops. Accessing the rest of Rome can be difficult should you not have access to a car.

Turin

Situated in the north-east of Italy in the Piedmonte province, Turin is renowned for being the Italian headquarters of the Fiat company, despite its amalgamation with American giant, Chrysler. Turin is a wonderful blend of very ancient buildings sitting alongside some very new structures, including the converted race track, the Lingotto, made famous in the film The Italian Job.

With a population of around 900,000, Turin is a busy and vibrant city and popular with expats. Many international companies have their Italian headquarters in Turin, and local companies include Olivetti, Fiat, Lavazza, and Altran. Despite the rest of Italy suffering from economic problems since the global downturn in 2008, Turin’s local economy has remained buoyant. As Turin welcomes fewer tourists than some cities in Italy, it has a more business-like atmosphere. The centre of the city is beautiful with its covered arcades, wonderful shops and palaces, most of which have been recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. Next to the Palazzo Reale is the Duomo, home of the Turin shroud. Turin’s restaurants are wonderful, with many serving local produce from the countryside just outside the city. You’ll be able to enjoy a meal close to a mock medieval castle should you visit the Borgo Mediovale. Why not try the Bagna Caoda, a typical local dish made from garlic, anchovies and olive oil?

Popular neighbourhoods

Centro

If you enjoy the atmosphere right in the beating heart of a city, then this is the area for you. Centro is close to schools, shops and transport systems. Turin is easy to navigate as it boasts a metro, trams and buses and the central station has many suburban lines as well as access to Milan and other major destinations. Look out for some of the wonderful cafes that are dotted around the old winding streets and expect to see a mix of age groups.

Crocetta

For upmarket housing, Crocetta is the place to explore. Close to Turin’s Technical University and the San Salvario neighbourhood, this is the place to move to if your salary allows it.

San Salvario

Situated on the banks of the River Po and close to the city centre, San Salvario is renowned for its eclectic and vibrant atmosphere. The area is full of music bars and is popular among those who enjoy seeing a concert or simply a sole guitarist strumming in a quiet bar. This area is also known for its range of shops and wonderful restaurants.

As so many of the city’s residents tend to live in the heart of the city, it’s best to check out the local estate agents for accommodation. Schools are good in the city, there’s a branch of Montessori here as well as a Rudolf Steiner school, and there are other international schools in the city.

Naples

Deep in the south of Italy, and situated by the sea, the busy city of Naples is a popular expat destination. The tourist industry is also very popular here, though to find a job in this industry you’ll have to speak Italian and a little local dialect will go a very long way. Ship yards populate the port, and the city is also home to an Alfa Romeo factory and NATO military installation. Anyone working in the finance sector will often be able to find employment here. But unemployment in the city is high, so you will be better off securing employment before you arrive in the city. As a result of unemployment younger people from the city are moving overseas or to the north of Italy.

With a population of 1 million and the third largest city in Italy, Naples still has a lot to offer as long as you have the right skills. Reigning over the area is Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano that famously destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 CE and last erupted in 1994. Campi Fleigri is also nearby, underneath the Bay of Naples, known as a ‘super volcano.’ Although it hasn’t shown signs of seismic activity since 1538, scientists are concerned that it might erupt in the near future.   

Transport links in the city are good, with regular trams and buses, and two metro lines. Links to the rest of Italy are fast and efficient thanks to the advent of the high-speed express trains. Should you wish to visit Rome from here, it will only take you 1 hour and 10 minutes.

There are 850 public schools in the city as well as the International School of Naples. Naples is also home to Frederico 2nd, the oldest university in the world, founded in 1224. The whole city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Despite its beauty and historic charm, Naples is also renowned for its high levels of pollution. The Centro Storico is the best place to start your exploration of old Naples - packed full of beautiful churches, stunning architecture and vibrant street markets.

The city becomes very hot in the summer. Temperatures can be as high as 30 degrees, and the average year-round temperature is 25 degrees. Winters are cool and wet, though you shouldn’t have to don a warm coat during the months of December and January.

The Ancient Greeks first visited here in the 9th century BCE and the city has been in constant occupation since then. Close to the ruined city of Pompeii and the islands of Capri, Ischia, and Sicily, it’s easy to escape the busy centre and enjoy the peaceful surrounding areas.

Neighbourhoods for living

The city is divided into 30 areas, with some more suitable for accommodation than others – perhaps why many expats choose to live outside the city. Housing prices are much cheaper here than in Northern Italy, so you may be able to afford a larger apartment or house if you relocate here.

Pozzuoli

Situated some 24 km to the west of Naples, this area is popular for those with families. You’ll be close to a national park if you live here, and travelling to and from Naples is easy, as Pozzuoli is on the metro.

Vomero

If you’re looking for a laid-back Bohemian atmosphere, then the bars and cafes in this area will appeal. The nearby Piazza Bellini is popular with those who like to live life at a faster pace, as the area has plenty of nightclubs and live music venues. You’ll mainly find apartments rather than houses in this part of town.

Santa Lucia

Previously home to the hundreds of Naples fishermen, Santa Lucia has been redeveloped as a quitter residential area. It is well worth exploring if you’re looking for a more relaxing place to come home to.

Once you’ve decided where to live, it’s time to find your dream home. Learn more about buying a house in Italy.1 

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