One of the questions I get asked the most is: “What is the best way to travel around Italy?”.
I get asked it so many times that I decided to write a blog post about this topic, so that hopefully I can help you figure out what is the best means of transport depending on your likes and needs.
Moving around Italy is not difficult at all, but you have to choose carefully your means of transport. The train is great if you just want to visit the big cities or, in case you want to see more secluded areas, if you are willing to spend a lot of time on the train or waiting for your connection.
If you want to visit off-the-beaten-track locations, the car is the best solution, but you have to take into account the fact that you might have to drive up steep roads or in narrow alleys and that finding a parking spot can sometimes be difficult – especially in Liguria, where I live, where there is no room basically for anything!
So, as for everything in life, the key to having the best experience possible is to know yourself and be well aware of the kind of journey you want to have and the places you want to visit. Once you know that, the choice is endless! In this post, I am trying to give you an overview of the means of transport in Italy, so that you know more about the different options you have once you get here.
I have always been told that driving in Italy is a nightmare. Well, it’s not, you just have to know a few things. First of all, most Italian cars have a stick shift but it is super common to find cars with automatic transmission nowadays. So, if you rent a car, you don’t have to worry about it. Second of all, you need to know which kind of places you want to visit.
Big distances can be covered using the autostrada, which is a big network of motorways that connects most of the country. You can take the autostrada and get most everywhere. But be careful: motorways are toll roads, which means that you need to pay to access them and covering big distances can be quite expensive.
When you enter the motorway, you’ll find yourself in front of a series of gates, where you take the ticket you’ll need to use when exiting at your destination. Just pay attention because some gates are reserved for Telepass users and you won’t be allowed to go through them. You can recognize them because they have a blue/yellow sign and yellow bands on the road as well.
Main motorways can be quite congested in certain periods, so keep in mind that you might get some heavy traffic, especially if you are driving in towards turist destinations or around big cities. When you get to your destination, you’ll find a casello autostradale (toll booth), where you need to pay. You can pay with cash or credit card, just make sure not to take the Telepass line because you won’t be able to go out.
If you feel hungry while on the motorway, you can stop at the autogrill, where you can find food and beverages – and gas, of course. In the past, those places used to serve very basic food but nowadays some of them have become very trendy and even have a proper restaurant.
Once you are out of the motorway, the possibilities are endless! 🙂 As I said before, it depends on where you need to go. If you need to go to a big city, pay attention because in most cases access to the center is limited. So, do some research before to avoid getting a fine. Some cities are quite difficult to drive around, like Rome, Naples or Palermo, so be prepared.
Otherwise, if you need to get to remote destinations, just keep in mind that streets can be narrow, steep or extremely bendy. So driving there will definitely be fun, if you see what I mean! In addition, sometimes finding a parking spot is quite difficult. As I said before, in places like Liguria, especially in summer, finding a spot for your car can be quite challenging. Moreover, when looking for a parking spot, pay attention to payment parking: if there are blue lines on the tarmac, it means that you need to pay. Just look for the nearest meter and get your ticket, if you want to avoid a fine.
If just hearing about driving makes you feel stressed or you prefer to have some time to relax while moving from one place to the other, the train is the perfect option for you. If you just want to visit the main Italian city, I wouldn’t even consider a different option: connections are fast, reliable and relaxing and you have some time to absorb the magic of Florence before getting to Venice or Rome – and vice-versa.
If you want to visit more of the country, using the train can be a bit challenging, though. While it is super convenient to visit Cinque Terre, for example, it is less so if you need to get to certain mountain or countryside locations: the train does not get everywhere, you have to be willing to take a local bus as well.
We have three kinds of trains, here in Italy: regionale (or regionale veloce), InterCity (also known as IC) and Frecce (they can be Frecciabianca or Frecciarossa). Regional trains usually connect small cities within a certain region and make a lot of stops, while InterCity trains connect big and small cities, but make way fewer stops. Frecce are high-speed trains that connect only big cities, they are a Trenitalia brand but there’s also an independent company called Italo that covers some routes.
For regional trains, you do not need to book seats in advance, while for the other two kinds of trains you must do so. There are few different ways to buy tickets: at the ticket counter inside train stations, at a travel agency (just keep in mind that not all travel agencies offer this kind of service) or online (with credit card or Paypal).
If you buy tickets at the counter or in travel agencies, it is mandatory to validate them before boarding: you’ll see little white/green machines just before train platforms, validate your ticket there or you may get a fine. If you buy tickets online, you’ll get an e-ticket which you do not have to print-out. Just show your e-ticket on your phone and you’ll be fine. Obviously, no validation needed. You can use Trenitalia website to check your train schedules. They also have a very good app for smartphones.
If you are hungry, food is sold onboard only on the Frecce (sometimes there are food carts on the InterCity as well), but it is so expensive that I’d definitely recommend you to buy something before leaving and eating it while on the train. After all, there are so many amazing bakeries around Italian cities, why eating some sad packaged food?
If you need to travel long distances and don’t really like the train – or simply are on a budget – the solution for you can be Flixbus, a bus company that connects most destinations in Italy and Europe for very cheap fares. I have never tried their service but it is widely used nowadays. Obviously, it takes longer than the train but it can be a good option if you don’t want to spend a lot of money – or just hate the train.
In every region or province, there are local buses connecting cities and small villages but every region and province has its own way of doing things, so it is better to check the service online depending on the area where you are. Basically, these buses are perfect if you don’t have a car and need to reach a secluded or isolated location.
If you visit big cities, instead, you may need to use public transport. Big cities have metro lines, buses, and trams which allow you to get most everywhere. In some cities they are super reliable, in some others it can be a bit messy, especially during rush hour, but they are still a very convenient way to move around.
If you need tickets, you can buy them at newsstands, bars, vending machines at the main metro and bus stops. Only in a few cases, you can buy tickets onboard or via mobile. Most single-ride tickets are valid within a certain period of time since validation (times range from 75 to 100 minutes usually) and for only one ride on the metro. Never forget to validate them before boarding (for metro) or onboard (for tram and buses). If you stay for a few days and plan on using public transport a lot, you may consider buying passes.
Well, I have tried to give you a general view of public transport in Italy. I hope this was useful for you to have an idea of how it works and what is the best option for you. Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below if you have questions or need more information!
By the way, what’s your favorite means of transportation in Italy and why? I am curious to know!
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!