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When you’re planning a trip to Italy, one of the important things you need to decide is how to get around. There are several options for transportation in Italy and in this article, we’ll tell you when to use each one depending on your itinerary, travel style and budget.
If you are visiting from the United States or outside Europe you may not be familiar with some of the Italian transportation options so we’ll take you step by step through each one and what to expect when before and during your trip to Italy.
Getting around Italy by train
The best way to travel around Italy, if you mainly want to visit the cities like Rome, Florence and Venice, is by train. Italy has an extensive network of both fast speed inter-city trains and regional services that connect the smaller cities and towns.
Travel by train in Italy is fast, efficient, comfortable and convenient. Trains go up to speeds of 300km / 185 miles per hour which cannot be matched by car, even if you’re driving a Ferrari! You can relax in your seat with access to power and wifi. There’s usually a snack bar. And room for your luggage in the overhead racks or in compartments at the end of each carriage.
Train stations are generally located in the center of cities and towns which means there is no need to negotiate traffic and congestion or find expensive and secure parking.
It’s also cost effective if you book in advance. There are fares as low as €15 for fast speed trains from Rome to Florence that will get you to the Renaissance city in an hour and a half compared to at least 3 hours by car.
Train schedules and tickets
Italy has two main train companies. Trenitalia is the government owned carrier that operates fast speed inter-city rail and regional train services. Italo is a privately owned company operating fast train services between the major cities.
We recommend using Omio website if you want to check the timetables and fares for your train journeys. They give you a handy comparison of train departures, travel times and prices for both operators. When you’re ready to book your travel, your tickets are held in their app so there is no paper or extra documentation to manage.
Main fast-speed train routes in Italy
If you want to see the major cities and perhaps do a side trip to smaller towns like Pisa, Verona and Bologna, train travel is the easiest option. Below are the main train lines in Italy
- Venice – Padua – Bologna – Florence – Rome – Naples – Salerno
- Turin – Milan – Bologna – Florence – Rome – Naples – Salerno
- Milan – Brescia – Verona – Vincenza – Padua – Venice
You can also reach popular destinations like the Cinque Terre, Lake Como, Lake Garda, and Sorrento by train.
Italy train map – the major routes
Travel by car in Italy
Driving in Italy is fun and can take you to places that others will not be able to reach easily using trains and buses. In fact, many off-the-beaten-path towns and villages are only accessible by car. The best places to drive in Italy are Tuscany, Sicily, Puglia, the Dolomites, along the Riviera coast and through Umbria and Le Marche. This is where you’ll see the picturesque villages, rolling green hills and coastal vistas of your dreams.
We recommend renting a car if you want to explore the countryside and lesser-known regions that are not well connected by high speed trains and other regional services.
However, if you are thinking of driving in Italy you’ll need to be aware of some important differences to the conditions you experience at home:
- automatic transmission cars are rare and you may need to drive a manual or stick shift model
- Italian cities are very congested and it is often difficult to find parking, and when you do it is expensive
- Towns and cities restrict entry to their historic zones – known as ZTL (more info on that here)
- Tolls apply on most highways known as autostrada – they are the fastest way to get around by car
- Gas or petrol is expensive
- Italian drivers are known for their fast and fearless skills!
That being said, if you want to experience the countryside, discovering Italy by car is one of the most thrilling experiences you’ll have on your trip.
Car rental in Italy
We usually do a sweep of Auto Europe and Rentalcars.com to find the best deals for car rental in Italy. You will find all the major and Italian brands on those sites. We’ve used many different car rental companies including Italian providers via these sites and they are all comparable in terms of vehicles available and services provided.
If you’re planning a longer driving trip in Italy and Europe, consider Auto Europe’s long term car rentals and short term lease options. They offer the best rates available for trips of one month or more.
Private drivers and airport transfers
If you’re not keen on driving, you might consider a private driver or transfer. There are some places that are easier to get to by car and let’s face it, Italian drivers have a fairly fearsome reputation.
Getting from Naples
to Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast is the most popular route to do this. You can arrange this transfer from the station or airport easily online with Suntransfers. They have long standing global reputations, competitive prices and 24/7 customer service. You just book online and your transfer is confirmed instantly. For those traveling in large groups, they have larger vehicles and you can also book child car seats if required.
We also use Suntransfers for airport transfers in the major cities. In Rome, we also like to use Welcome Pickups – a friendly airport transfer service with an easy-to-use and reliable system for booking airport transfers. Rates include meet and greet service for around the same price as a local taxi. Customer service is available via their passenger/driver chat system. In Venice, we recommend arriving in style in a water taxi.
Flying within Italy
Flights in Italy are available but with the exception of a few key routes, they rarely make sense from a convenience or cost perspective. Although you can find cheap flight deals (we use Skyscanner), many of them are with low cost airlines that will charge extra for checked luggage and seat allocation.
The airports are generally on the outskirts of major cities so you’ll need to factor the time and cost of getting to and from each one. Plus the waiting time for security and potential air traffic delays.
That being said, there are some routes for flying in Italy that make sense from a time, cost and convenience perspective:
- mainland to Sicily – short, inexpensive flights beat out long overnight uncomfortable ferries and train journeys
- mainland to Sardinia – flights are short and ferries take upwards of 8 hours
- Venice to southern Italy – Naples, Bari or Brindisi (for Puglia) – or vice versa
- Milan (Linate airport) to Puglia (Bari or Brindisi) – or vice versa
- Rome to Reggio Calabria and vice versa
Buses in Italy
If you’re looking for a budget alternative to trains, Italy is also served by buses. There is no national bus service however so finding the best routes and prices requires a bit of scouting around.
Flixbus has a huge network of bus routes in Italy between the main cities as well as smaller cities. With comfortable seats, power and wifi onboard, if you are not on a tight schedule and want to save some cash then the bus is a great solution.
Some cities in the south of Italy, especially Puglia, are not well served by trains. In this case, Flixbus can be very useful and a great alternative to driving long distances.
In regional areas like Tuscany, Puglia and beyond local bus networks connect the smaller towns. These local bus networks are run by various different companies, many of which do not publish timetables online. In this case, you need to go to the bus stops and check out the schedules. We would not recommend bus travel unless you have plenty of time to get around.
Ferries in Italy
The Italian peninsula relies on several ferry services between the mainland and Sicily and Sardinia as well as islands in the bay of Naples and throughout the lakes region.
To get to Sicily there is a short car ferry ride from Reggio Calabria to Messina or overnight ferry services from Naples, Civitavecchia (port of Rome) and Genoa to Palermo.
The ports of Sardinia – Olbia, Golfo Aranci and Porto Torres – have services to Livorno and Genoa. With journeys taking 8 hours or more they are useful only if you are taking a car over to the island.
Different ferry companies run services throughout Italy and their websites are hard to navigate. Direct Ferries is a useful English language site that has easy to understand travel routes, times and prices for Italian ferries.
Best Italy transportation options for your trip
When we’re planning our trips to Italy, some of the most useful tools are Google Maps and Rome to Rio. These online applications give you the various options for the journeys you want to take by train, car, bus and plane.
In the Google maps example below you can see various options for getting between Rome and Florence. In this case the train icon is highlighted which gives you the public transportation results. You can also choose car and plane icons to find out the driving and flying times.
Google allows you to view the upcoming train schedule via the schedule explorer and you can even change your preferred departure and arrival time to find the best option for you. In this example, you can see that the 280 kilometer journey takes 1 hr 44 mins by train and 3 hours by car.
Using these tools is one of the first things we do when planning our trips to Italy. They give you a general overview of travel times, prices and schedules for using public transportation in Italy as well as driving and flying alternatives.
Andiamo! Let’s go to Italy
We hope you now have a better idea of the best ways to travel in Italy. You should now know how to travel to different cities in Italy and explore the countryside. With a little forward planning, getting around this amazing country is a breeze.