Episode #011: Getting around Italy by train, car, bus, plane and more

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Wondering how to get around on your trip to Italy? In this episode, we talk about the best transport options to choose depending on your itinerary. Getting around efficiently will ensure you maximise your time in each place you visit. So you can relax and enjoy seeing the sights.

Show notes
Understanding your transport options in Italy is an important part of your trip planning process. Italy has some unique conditions that are important to be aware of as you finalize your itinerary. In this episode you’ll learn when you should choose to travel on Italy’s fast speed rail network and when driving is the best form of transport.

We also give you advice on when you should consider flying between destinations and when traveling by ferry or bus is a great idea. Our goal is to help you prepare and make an informed decision on your transport options as you plan your trip. For more information, check out our transport in Italy article that has more tips and advice about getting around Italy.

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What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. What it is like to travel by various modes of transport in Italy
  2. When you should take the train
  3. Things to consider if you want to rent a car
  4. The routes where a flight makes the most sense
  5. Situations when a bus can be useful

Useful sites mentioned in this episode

  • Omio – plan and book train and bus tickets
  • Suntransfers – book your transfer from Naples to Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast
  • Google Maps and Rome2Rio – great for route planning and deciding transport options
  • Trenitalia – the main Italian rail company
  • Italo – private company running fast speed inter city trains in Italy
  • AutoEurope and Car Rental by booking.com – we use both these sites to find the best car rental deals for Italy
  • Direct Ferries – timetables and ticket bookings for ferries in Italy


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Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely Australian accents however!

Intro (00:04):
Ciao and benvenuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes, and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show. Now let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia

Josie (00:50):
Ciao Everyone. Welcome to untold easily. In this episode we’ll be talking about transport options in Italy, how to get from city to city and town to town.

Katy (00:59):
Choosing the best transport option or options for your trip depends on a few factors so we will talk you through when we would choose each one. We’re not talking about transport within each city that you visit. This talk is about going longer distances and getting to your next destination.

Josie (01:14):
Great, Katy. So we’re going to talk about trains, buses, cars, planes and fairies, and when we should be using them.

Katy (01:20):
Yup, exactly. And we’ll cover the pros and cons of each, but we’ll do a deeper dive into train and car travel on later episodes because there is a lot to discuss on those topics. But first things first, let’s talk about the first steps that we should take when we’re considering which transport that we should use around Italy. And I think that’s really getting out of map or either Google maps or Rome to Rio and plugging in your journeys to see how long they will take by the various modes of transport. These tools aren’t perfect, but they give you a really good starting point to plan the next steps.

Josie (01:50):
I 100% agree, Katy, because sometimes you think that you know how long it’s gonna take you to get somewhere, but when you’re actually plug it in, you find out that it’s a little bit longer than you thought.

Katy (01:59):
That’s right. You may think that you want to do one particular mode of transport, but there’s certain things you need to take into consideration. The first thing that we’ll talk about is travel by train.

Josie (02:10):
Trains are absolutely fantastic in Italy. They’re efficient, they’re safe and they’re clean and really easy to get to and on and off from every major city.

Katy (02:20):
That’s right. And so if you’re just visiting cities and most people on their first trip to Italy will just be visiting cities most for the most part. Then the trains are your best options. They are, as Josie said, they’re clean, they’re safe and they are super efficient. They go up to 300 kilometers an hour and they’ll drop you right in the heart of the city center. So you don’t need to worry about parking or paying for tolls or anything like that. You’re going right from point a to point B and the only thing you need to worry about is getting to your accommodation.

Josie (02:51):
Yeah, I agree Katy. Most travelers on their first trip or even second trip, depending on where you’re going, use trains. I mean it is, it is easiest, by far the most comfortable way to travel. Italy. That’s right.

Katy (03:04):
And even, you know, you might be thinking, well I’ve got luggage, how do I get them on and off trains? Well you do need to consider maybe not taking a large suitcase, but there is plenty of room for luggage on the trains in Italy.

Josie (03:16):
Yeah. They’re all different where you put them. So on some trains you’ll find that they’re above the above your head. And then in between the seats, you can also put them and a lot of them have them at the end of the carriage. So as you get on, so there’s a big jump up. So I always have, my husband help me get it up. So there’s, there’s always a tag team of who’s pushing the luggage on and you leave them at the end. So make sure that they’ve got a, for security, make sure you’ve got your padlocks and you’ve got them closed, you put them there. And very rarely anyone will walk off with them. But again, be be aware that, that you’ve got them down there.

Katy (03:50):
And if you’ve got a medium sized case, you can actually put them above the seated area. There’s quite a big space in the overhead racks for a medium size case. So that’s good to know.

Josie (03:59):
I always travel with a big one, Katy. It’s not a very good look. When I tried to get on and off a train,

Katy (04:03):
You should know better. Shouldn’t you! Anyway I’m not a super light traveler. I’m not carry on only, but I do recommend a medium suitcase if you’re going to be traveling the trains in Italy.

Josie (04:15):
I agree.

Katy (04:16):
Now there’s a couple of train companies in Italy. There’s Trenitalia and Italo. Now Trenitalia is the state run rail company and Italo is a privately run company and they run the fast speed trains between the cities. And do you think there’s any difference between the two, Josie?

Josie (04:36):
No, I’ve traveled with both. I find them fantastic both of them. The only differences is the classes that you book, so you can have sort of a business class booking where you get food with it and then you’ve got just the standard. But both are very, very good and, and I don’t find either a problem. I think they’re both great.

Katy (04:55):
Yeah. Do you choose a different class or you prefer, I mean, I don’t mind the, I think second class is fine, but if you wanted a more comfortable journey, then you could choose first-class.

Josie (05:04):
I tend to go for the, that first class purely because it’s just more spacious and on and off. And there’s only usually you know my husband and I traveling, so I just find it just a bit easier. But the second class is fine as well. I don’t, when it comes to those regional trains though because there’s a lot more locals and it becomes a little bit more fighting for a seat. I tend to make sure that I always have my own seat booked when I get on a local train.

Katy (05:34):
Okay. So when we’re booking trains and looking at schedules, et cetera, I find the best way to look at schedules and to book my travel is using a website called Omio. And what that does is it gives you all the options of both train companies and the prices and the schedule. So you can choose the one that’s best for you. If you book well in advance. And I’m not talking six months cause you don’t need to book six months in advance for the trains. But if you book four to six weeks in advance and you know your departure time and date, then you can really make some significant savings on those trains. And I recommend doing that. You can certainly turn up on the day and get tickets but it will be more expensive.

Josie (06:23):
Yeah, I agree. I remember when I was planning my big trip that I was trying to get tickets 12 months out. That’s just not gonna happen. So I was being a little bit too excited about going.

Katy (06:35):
Which is understandable. Now, for the regional trains it’s not as possible to book online but they are useful as well. So getting to some regions by the regional train makes a lot of sense. And probably the most popular ones where people will use regional trains is getting to the Cinque Terre and also to the Italian lakes. It’s really easy to, transit from one of the big cities, say Florence or Pisa to get to the Cinque Terre to La Spezia or Monterosso. And you can easily just go by train. You wouldn’t need a car there. I wouldn’t say.

Josie (07:10):
no. I agree. And also when you do look, you actually brought up a really great destination. So if you’re going to from Florence to the Cinque Terre you can actually jump on and off off the train and actually have a bit of time in Pisa. So have a look at those options as well when you’re looking at your trains and the destinations that they’re going to, cause you could also just be in Pisa for an hour, go and see the Leaning Tower, jump on a train and off you go. And a lot of these train stations also have luggage storage, which is really great and really cheap too.

Katy (07:40):
That’s true. And there’s some other companies that are offering luggage services even cheaper than at the train station. So one’s called Luggage Hero and then it’s another one called Bag BNB. And you can find them near the train stations or in little cafes around the by. And I think there are about five Euro a piece and they’ll hold it for you, which makes things really easy as you say, just to get on and off the trains.

Josie (08:04):
Yeah. And those local trains when we talk around the ones even in the Cinque Terre because the five cities if you want to walk them, you’ve got to have some fitness and it’s, it’s quite a walk. We did one from Monterosso to Vernazza was one and it was a big walk, but you can actually get the trains from each of the cities. You can go on and off. So again, look at what you want to do in your bigger view of where you want to go and then use some of these trains.

Katy (08:32):
Yeah. I think it makes a lot of sense to use trains, if you’re traveling between cities and when you think about the costs and the effort going into car travel, which we’ll talk about in a sec. I think the train just makes a lot more sense really, because you just have to sit back and relax really. And you will just be taken right into the heart of where you to go. And they’ll have wifi on board and a snack bar and it’s very relaxing. But if you’re finding the train travel might be a little bit expensive or sometimes the trains aren’t so great from a scheduling point of view. There’s a company called Flixbus, which operates on major routes throughout Italy and some of them actually offer a comparative service in terms of speed compared with the train. So Flixbus is a great option to look at if you’re looking at buses in Italy and they’re very clean, safe and they also have wifi on board.

Josie (09:38):
Yeah. You’ll find that it’s easier sometimes to get buses as well. Like my daughters wanted to go to Puglia and they were in Sorrento. And it was going to be two or three flights to get there, you know, into sort of a funny destination. So it was actually easier to jump on a bus. I think it was a seven, eight hour bus and they got to Puglia, into Bari. So I think, you know, look at those sorts of destinations where you think it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not so easy and it’s a better option to get on a bus. So like Puglia was better for them and also cheaper because they were, you know, girls on a budget.

Katy (10:19):
Yup, exactly. And they’ll also drop you in the center of town. Which, you know, we’re gonna let’s talk about cars now because the cars have some unique challenges in Italy and they are the best way to see small towns and villages. And there’s nothing quite like driving through Tuscany or Puglia or Sicily and going through those little towns and discovering the gorgeous countryside around you. But there’s some challenges with cars that you need to know about. And look, I love traveling, doing a road trip in Italy. In fact, I’m planning one right now that’s going to take us down through the center, down through Umbria. And Emilia Romagna down to Puglia and then back again up to the Dolomites. But you know, I would not be using a car if I wasn’t going to these areas that are not really cities and not well served by public transport.

Josie (11:11):
Yeah, I agree. Like in June we went to Puglia and the car is the only way really. I mean, you can do trains and we met people who did trains and buses. But in these sort of rural, Southern parts of Italy we did a car. Usually we pick up from an airport destination cause it’s easier. They are usually a little bit out of out of the cities. So we picked up a car at Bari airport. When you’re looking at cars, automatics are very difficult to get in certain destinations. I drive an automatic. So I just feel comfortable because also the problem that we have coming from Australia is that in Italy, they drive on the opposite side of the road. So I try to minimize the change my car that I can. So knowing that I have an automatic, that I have a navigator is important but all these are little extra costs. The other thing also to note because as I said, we love sharing our bloopers and what we’ve done wrong – is that we picked up a car in Catania and there was four of us, the two girls and myself and my husband, and we had too much luggage. So the car didn’t fit the luggage. So we had to upgrade the car, which then costs us a lot of money. So just think about thinking about those sorts of things – about the size of the luggage, the type of car. I always get sucked into getting a bigger car. They upgrade me and talk me into it. But you know, they say it’s just easier. No, it’s not easier because the actual roads are small. So and you also into the ancient cities, some of these really like Siracusa in Sicily. You cannot get a car into some of those areas. They were not built for cars.

Katy (12:49):
They were not. No, they were definitely were not. And I think everything happens in Sicily, right? So I did not take the advice of our hotel and I did not read the information that they gave us about traveling into the city of Agrigento. We were happily driving along. We picked up our car, we got into the town and I was happily using Google maps. And it does not tell you certain things. Like that the streets become very narrow. So we had an unfortunate incident where we were just driving along and following the map. And my husband said to me, I don’t think we should keep going because there were stone walls on either side and they were getting narrower and narrower and narrower. And in the end I had to get out, I had to squeeze myself out of the car and then go and find the hotel owner who managed to get the car out, but not without a lot of scratches and damage to the car. So look, get a small car and really pay attention to where you’re going. So this is another challenge in Italy is the historic zones. So these are called ZTL and they have a sign, which is a white sign with a red symbol, red circle symbol on it. And these zones are – no cars are allowed to go there.

Josie (14:09):
Katy, I wish we had this podcast when I went to Puglia because I certainly went through an ancient area, which I shouldn’t have and I didn’t know about the road sign. And so I’ve actually got a fine now and we did it in June. I still haven’t got the fine because the Italians take a bit of time to get to you. But one of the main things is I want the fine so I can pay it because when we go to Sicily to drive next year, I want to make sure that I’ve got no debts and no problems. So, you’re right, it is about knowing the signs and understanding that and also knowing where you can’t drive. So when we look at easy options, train is definitely an easy option. But in some of places like Puglia to drive to the beach or to drive from Bari or to go to different places around, car is the most efficient and easy way to do that. Now, in saying that we only had five days, they do have buses and they do have trains. And we did meet people and travelers that were taking trains around to go to Ostuni and, or Taranto in Puglia. But again, you have to have a lot of time because also they don’t run on certain days because in Puglia they still have their afternoon siestas. And they do the Sunday. So you can’t get buses on a Sunday.

Katy (15:30):
Well, I’m glad they have their weekends, but yeah, so the car has advantages and disadvantages. And so some of the other things you might like to think about if you’re considering hiring a car or renting a car is there’s a lot of traffic in the cities. So this is traffic probably like you’ve never been used to and fast driving like you’ve never been used to. And it can be quite intimidating. So that’s there in the big cities. But even if you’re heading out of the cities, you need to consider from a cost perspective and a hassle perspective is parking, which can cost a lot of money. And also trying to find a car park, which you think might be straightforward. Well I’ve learnt the hard way that you need to preplan where you’re going to park, you can actually, I actually Google where to park in wherever I’m going and pop that into the map now because that otherwise you can waste a lot of time just driving around in circles. If you’re traveling on the Autostrada or the highways, you’re going to need to pay tolls, which can be quite expensive. Like you know, 50 euros for some long stretches or 30 to 50 euros. So that can really add up. And if you don’t go on the Autstrada, then you’ll need to take the country roads, which are beautiful. And it’s a great way to see the country. However, it takes a long time on some of these roads, it takes a lot longer than you think cause they’re winding and they might be one lane each way and they’re not designed for fast speed travel. So that’s another consideration. Plus you’ve got your gas or your petrol and you’ve also got insurance charges. So you know, a car is great for seeing the countryside, but you do need to take these things into consideration.

Josie (17:18):
I think a couple of things just to note there. Make sure that you read your insurance policy that you actually take for your travel. And there’s a mandatory insurance that the government actually makes you take. But it’s the access that you need to look at. So make sure that your insurance, your travel insurance or whether you pay on a credit card and you’ve got some sort of insurance. Just make sure you understand that. Something that you and I spoke about as well is the international license. Now people sometimes think that they don’t have to have it. Katy and I have for our own peace of mind.

Katy (17:57):
The International Driver’s Permit is actually a mandatory requirement if you’re renting a car in Italy. And some people I’ve heard say they’ve never been asked for it, so they don’t know why they should bother having it. But let me tell you, if you’re stopped by the police, you will need to show that. Or if you’re in an accident and if you don’t have it, you may enter into a bureaucratic nightmare that you would not want; that you would not enjoy. They’re very easy to get. You just need to go to your local automobile association. And in the U S I think they cost around $20. And in Australia they cost around $40. So we’re leaving in a few weeks and I need to get mine organized. You can do it online. And you just have to have it. So what it does is it translates your existing license into Italian. So they’ve got that record. Yeah.

Josie (18:48):
So again, I think find the modes of transport that you need. So for me, Puglia there was no option. Sicily, there’s no option but to take a car, because we wanted to see different remote areas, but again, understand that there’s some challenges. Parking’s easy. I think you’re right. You Google the parking and you’ll find in some of these older cities that you can’t go into the main city but we found that on the outskirts it was a parking, but you pay for and they’ve got like little buses or little transfers that get you right into the center of the city. So just do your investigation and work out what is, what is best for you. But we, we’ve learned the hard way of not driving through historical centers.

Katy (19:33):
Another tip that I have is to try and rent from an airport because they have bigger stock and more choice and they’re likely not to have run out of cars, which has happened to us actually in the past, which is slightly annoying. But yeah, hire them from Rome airport or Florence airport and you can easily get trains or trams into the city from the airports if you need to get back in. I think it’s just a much more efficient way to do it and cost-effective too. So the other place that people like to drive is the Amalfi coast. And my view on this is we did drive the Amalfi coast and we went in April and it was wonderful. My husband is a very competent driver. He also speaks Italian and he and it wasn’t busy at that time. But I think if you want to go in summer, I’d really consider not taking a car because it gets very busy on that road and it’s a very winding, challenging road and it’s probably not the best place to start off your international driving experience. So on the Amalfi coast, just think about it very carefully. A car does give you the opportunity to visit lots of places, but the parking’s a challenge. And getting to some of the smaller places and around those bends can be quite hairy.

Josie (20:55):
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I’ve heard stories about people getting there thinking it was easier than what they thought and then they were, they were very scared. So I mean, even the buses, I mean, people on buses get scared. So Iwhile we’re on the Amalfi coast, I think one of the things that we do do that you can do as another mode of transport is drivers. And I find that coming from Naples into the Amalfi coast, it’s easy to get a driver from Naples train station or wherever it is for the transfer up to the Amalfi coast.

Katy (21:30):
It’s much easier. Like you can get a train that takes you to Sorrento and then transit onto a bus or a ferry from there, but it’s very slow. Whereas the driver will take about an hour and you can sit back and relax. It obviously costs a bit of money but I think it’s well worth it. There’s another, from the airport, there’s actually a transfer bus service, which is quite cost-effective as well. But if you’re not using either of those two options in another really good way to get around the Amalfi coast, the Cinque Terre and the Italian lakes is using ferries. They tend to operate between May and October. So if you’re traveling outside of those times, you’ll get either a reduced service or nothing at all actually. But they’re really handy, especially on the Amalfi coast for getting between towns because you don’t need to stay on a road where people have moved only a couple of miles in one hour. Like it can get very congested. So the ferry is a really great option in that case.

Josie (22:24):
Yeah. And also ferries from Sicily to the mainland or to Calabria. They’re called the traghetto and it actually takes the car onto the ferry and then you go across that way. So that’s also something that I would also recommend and look at.

Katy (22:43):
I’m really waiting for them to build a bridge between the two. It really does just need a bridge there. There are varies between Naples and Sicily, but I think it’s overnight and it’s very slow and apparently it’s not that nice. So in those cases I would suggest taking a plane and there’s not very many cases where I would suggest taking a plane within Italy, but getting to the islands, Sardinia and Sicily, that’s probably the main time when I would consider getting a plane. Cause most of the time the the train can get you there faster in the end.

Josie (23:25):
Yeah. I think when we talk about planes, so definitely into Sicily. My daughters were trying to fly into Bari and they found that that was a bit difficult from the Amalfi coast, so they actually took a bus. So again, look at where you are, look at where you’re going, plan your trip and use the best mode of transport because things like flights from say Naples to Catania are easier. I go to Calabria to a little airport called Lamezia. Even though it’s like not even a half an hour flight, it’s very expensive and actually a route done by Alitalia but I don’t want to spend eight hours on a country train to get there. So again, if you have time, then look at the time. If you’re in Puglia if you’re going around. Again, depending on driving trains or buses also be aware of the different times that you’re going because it could be peak and there’s lots of people. Also if you’re traveling on a national holiday or on a Sunday routes may not operate. So again, there’s different things that you need to take into consideration when you go to different paths.

Katy (24:37):
That’s right. So look, I hope we’ve given you a good overview of all your different transport options within Italy. Like we said, the train is usually your best option unless you really want to go on a road trip and go and see some of the more lesser known areas where the public transport’s not so easy to get around. We love traveling by both methods of transport and will do that in my upcoming trip. But I think on your first visit, you’ll probably stick to the trains and they’re very easy to use.

Josie (25:09):
Yeah, I agree Katy. When I first took a car, I got a little bit stressed about it because it’s also how fast they drive. You actually drive on the right side of the Autostrada if you’re slow. So you’ve got to get used to all of these silly, you know, silly things. So as much as they’re silly, there are practicalities around it. But I think for me, I love sitting on the train and got my wifi, I’ve got my book, get to where I need to go. So I think it’s great and I hope all of you have got some really great hints here. And if there are any questions, please reach out because we’ve done most of the travel around Italy by one of these modes, so we’re always happy to help.

Katy (25:48):
That’s right. And if you have questions about getting around in Italy, head on over to the Italy travel planning Facebook group where you can get answers to all your questions from other Italy, travelers, not just Josie and I. You will find our guides to train, travel and driving in Italy in our show notes at untolditaly.com/11 and we hope that you’ve really found it useful. It’s one of those things that can be a bit overwhelming for people, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really, really easy.

Josie (26:18):
Yes, Katy, I think we could’ve gone on for another hour really on this topic, but coming up in our next episode, we’re going to be talking about safety and keeping your belongings safe.

Katy (26:29):
Oh, that’s a great topic, Josie. You can never be too careful. So thank you everyone for listening. We really appreciate it. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please hit subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. Grazie. Thanks for listening.

New Speaker (26:42):
Grazie, Ciao. [inaudible].

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