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Getting Around

Getting Around Italy

There are many ways to get around in Italy.  Here are some experiences that might help you.  We cover:
 

1.Trains

Italy is blessed with an extensive and efficient rail system.

TrenItalia in useOur advice generally is to make the most of this network.  All the trains are electric and most are air conditioned, but you may have to contend with people insisting on opening the windows on the regional trains, which of course mitigates any cooling effects.

If you pay for a first class ticket on the Euro Star or other fast inter city train, don't be surprised if your allocated seat is occupied.  Just politely show your ticket and take your seat.  Locals are well known for paying for a cheap ticket and walking through to the First Class carriages on the chance there will be unallocated seats.

You do need to keep your wits about you on trains and always know where your bags are and keep hand luggage within sight at all times.

We have purchased train tickets in advance, but it is really not necessary and we never do now. There are always electronic ticketing machines in all stations and also over the counter sales.

Getting around by Car2. Car

Hiring a car and driving is always an option, but be aware:

  • Parking is a scarce commodity in any of the larger cities and fines are expensive.  Most places were designed and built well before the invention of the horseless carriage and don't cater well for modern city traffic volumes.
  • The traffic in the main cities is not for the faint hearted. Rick Steves quotes traffic in Rome as like "rocks in an avalanche".  If you have been there you will know what he means!
  • Fuel is quite expensive, whether diesel or petrol.
  • If you want to stay in a harmonious relationship with your beloved partner, note that map reading and manual directions is a heavy responsibility, not to be underestimated.  Here's to GPS!
  • You can encounter massive "tail backs" on the Autostrada from time to time and sitting in traffic in searing heat is one way to see the countryside, but not recommended.
  • Fines for traffic infringements will follow you home if you incur any and you may not know you did!  You may get some snaps from your holiday in the mail you wish were not taken, but there you are looking bewildered driving in a "no traffic zone"!!  The fines can be steep and if you don't pay may haunt you on your next trip to Italy. More details on fines here.
Hire car in
UmbriaIf you travel between towns and cities, there are many toll roads in Italy.  These are generally well maintained and good roads that are well worth the toll fees.  Usually these are fully automated toll systems where you pick up a ticket from a machine at the entry point and the system calculates the toll upon exit.  You can usually pay in cash or credit card.  Some of the entries are a bit intimidating with huge trucks and masses of cars all zooming through the booths, but just keep calm and you will be fine.  Do NOT enter the tool booth gates marked "Viacard" or "Telepass" unless you have purchased one of these cards.  Otherwise, always take the one marked "Biglietto" (ticket) or drive to an unmarked gate both on entry or exit.

Parking in RomeThe main Autostrade are well numbered and sign posted.  Just be aware however, that Italy has changed since we were there in 2007.  Then, you took your life in your hands if you travelled in the fast lane at anything less than about 150km/hr with high powered cars flashing their lights at you to get out of the way from about 1km away.  When we returned in 2009, we found a different culture.  The presence of the Carabiniere (Police) with hand held radar guns has slowed everyone down.  They are now taking a much harder line on speed limits, which previously had been completely meaningless.  Now, be careful of your speed, as the fines are hefty.

In addition, it is now the law that you must drive with your lights on when on the Autostrade.

All road signs are in Italian of course.  If you are not familiar with the language, there are a few phrases that will help:

Italian Word English Italian Word English
Uscita Exit Entrata On Ramp
Il semaforo Traffic Light L'ingorgo Traffic Jam
Il pedaggio Toll    

3.Bus

In areas that the trains don't go, there are always buses.  In some of the more remote areas, the bus service is not frequent and in these cases, a car is a good thing.

If you have luggage with you, in some cases you will need to indicate to the driver that you wish to put your luggage in the luggage bay in the bus.

Also, ensure you have enough money when boarding the bus.  We encountered an English tourist in this predicament and because he spoke no Italian, he was not going anywhere and the ensuing argument was neither! We were able to bail him out with the balance of his fare, but the drivers can be a little terse in this situation and show no mercy.

It is courteous to give up your seat to an elderly person or a young mother with children, but you will also see young Italian children irritatingly flouting this social norm, but hey, Italian children can do nothing wrong and nobody seems to mind!

4.TaxiTaxi
in Capri

Taxis in the main cities of course are always an option, but it is helpful if you can advise the driver of your destination and get an estimate of the fare before you set off.  Also make sure you know if there are extra charges for luggage.  Tipping the driver is essential.

5.Scooter

Every Italian town and city has the ubiquitous "motorino".  Vespas are everywhere and you can hire them, but we never have.  Again, the traffic is generally not for the faint hearted and if you have an adventurous spirit and are looking for challenge, this could be for you.  However, I understand that they are not that cheap to hire and make sure your travel insurance will cover you!  Also, see the note above about traffic fines.  Despite locals hooning down that short cut in their droves, you may be the one that gets snapped and fined €100 for travelling in a "no traffic zone"!

6. Bicycle

on bike in
piazza, Montefalco, UmbriaTouring Italy on a bike is something I would love to do, but never have, so cannot really comment much here.  However, I have done some back country riding in Umbria and it was an experience I will never forget.  Not only was the country side a pleasure to ride in, the drivers were so courteous I wondered what was going on.  On a lonely back country road, drivers slowed down before over taking.  Rare in New Zealand that is for sure.  If you have a biking experience in Italy, we are keen to hear it. Tell us about it.  Also check out our section on out door adventures; there are some mountain bike trails there worth checking out!

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7. Hitch-hiking

Hitching a lift with a passing motorist sounds like an excellent way to meet people and to get around cheaply.  Personally, I would not recommend it.  I have a good friend who a number of years ago was standing on an "on ramp" to an Autostrada with his thumb out (with his girl friend) and a nice young man in a Mercedes stopped for them.  He popped the boot (trunk) open and they threw their back packs in and as they went to get in, he roared off down the Autostrada with all their belongings (including money and passports).  I am sure this could happen in any country and you may have an excellent experience, but it is too risky for me...

So, in summary, our recommendation is to use the trains as much as you practically can and if you are going to some of the more remote towns in, then a car is a good option.

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