You can reach almost any destination in Italy by train, bus or ferry and services are efficient and cheap; for longer distances there are plenty of domestic air services.
Your own wheels give you the most freedom, but be aware that benzina (petrol) and autostrada (highway) tolls are quite expensive and that Italian drivers have a style all of their own: the stress of driving and parking your car in a big Italian city could cancel out the relaxation element of your trip. One solution is to take public transport between large cities and use a car only for country drives.
Navi (large ferries) service Sicily and Sardinia, and traghetti (smaller ferries) and aliscafi (hydrofoils) service the smaller islands. The main embarkation points for Sardinia are Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia and Naples; for Sicily the main points are Naples and Villa San Giovanni in Calabria. The main points of arrival in Sardinia are Cagliari, Arbatax, Olbia and Porto Torres; in Sicily they are Palermo and Messina.
For a comprehensive guide to all ferry services into and out of Italy, check out Traghettionline (www.traghettionline.com in Italian). The website lists every route and includes links to ferry companies, where you can buy tickets or search for deals.
Many ferry services travel overnight and travellers can choose between cabin accommodation in a two- to four- person cabin or even a dorm, or a poltrona, which is an airline-type armchair. Deck class (which allows you to sit/sleep in the general lounge areas or on deck) is available only on some ferries. Almost all ferries carry vehicles.
Hitching is extremely uncommon in Italy. Public transport is surprisingly reliable (save for regular train and bus strikes) and most Italians would rather give up an arm than their car. This makes it quite easy to pick up rides once you’ve befriended a few amici, but hitchhikers could get stranded for hours and women would be extremely unwise to hitch.
Bus services within Italy are provided by numerous companies and vary from local routes meandering between villages to fast and reliable intercity connections. As a rule, buses are not always cheaper than the train, but can be invaluable getting to smaller towns.
It is usually possible to get bus timetables from local tourist offices. In larger cities most of the intercity bus companies have ticket offices or operate through agencies. In some villages and even good-sized towns, tickets are sold in bars or on the bus. Note that buses almost always leave on time.
Although it’s usually not necessary to make reservations on buses, booking is advisable in the high season for overnight or long-haul trips.
You must buy bus tickets before you board the bus and validate them once on board. If you get caught with an unvalidated ticket you will be fined on the spot (up to €50 in most cities).
There are metropolitane (underground systems) in Rome, Milan and Naples, as well as the new automated MetroTorino (www.metrotorino.it) in Turin, which is partially up and running. Again, you must buy tickets and validate them before getting on the train, with fines of up to €50 if you don’t. You can get a map of the network from tourist offices in the relevant city.
Every city or town of any size has an efficient urbano (city) and extraurbano (intercity) system of buses that reach even the most remote of villages. Call ahead if you want to travel on a Sunday, though, as many services come to a virtual halt.
Tickets can be bought from a tabaccio (tobacconist), newsstands, from ticket booths or dispensing machines at bus stations and in underground stations, and usually cost around €1. Most large cities offer good-value 24-hour or daily tourist tickets.
There is an excellent network of autostradas in Italy, represented on road signs by a white A followed by a number on a green background. The main north–south link is the Autostrada del Sole, which extends from Milan to Reggio di Calabria (called the A1 from Milan to Rome, the A2 from Rome to Naples and the A3 from Naples to Reggio di Calabria).
There’s a toll to use most of Italy’s autostradas. You can pay by cash or credit card as you leave the autostrada; to avoid lengthy queues buy a prepaid card (Telepass or Viacard) from banks and ACI offices in denominations of €25, €50 or €75, which you can use all over Italy. For information on road tolls and passes, contact Autostrade per Italia (800 26 92 69; www.autostrade.it in Italian).
However, off the beaten path you’ll be doing most of your travelling on the larger system of strade statali. On maps they’ll be represented by ‘S’ or ‘SS’ and can vary from four-lane highways (no tolls) to two-lane roads. These can be extremely slow, especially in mountainous regions. The third category is the strade provinciali, which you’ll find on maps of rural areas and connecting small villages and, finally strade locali, which might not even be paved or mapped. You’ll often find the most beautiful scenery off the provincial and local roads.
The ever-handy Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI; 80 31 16 24hr; www.aci.it ; Via Colombo 261, Rome) is a driver’s best resource in Italy. It has a dedicated 24-hour phone line for foreigners in need of emergency assistance, weather conditions or even tourist information.
To reach the ACI in a roadside emergency, dial 116 from a land line or 800 11 68 00 from a mobile phone. Foreigners do not have to join, but instead pay a per-incident fee.
Cars entering Italy from abroad need a valid national licence plate and an accompanying registration card. A car imported from a country that does not use the Latin alphabet will need to have its registration card translated at the nearest Italian consulate before entering the country.
If you plan to ship your car, be aware that you must have less than a quarter of a tank of petrol. Unfortunately, you can’t use your vehicle as a double for luggage storage; it’s supposed to be empty apart from any necessary car-related items. All vehicles must be equipped with any necessary adjustments for the Italian market; for example, left-side drive cars will need to have their headlamps adjusted.
All EU member states’ driving licences are fully recognised throughout Europe. Those with a non-EU licence are supposed to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) to accompany their national licence, which your national automobile association can issue. It’s valid for 12 months and must be kept with your proper licence. People who have held residency in Italy for one year or more must apply for an Italian driving licence. If you want to hire a car or motorcycle you’ll need to produce your driving licence.
Italy is covered by a good network of petrol stations. You will have three choices at the tank – benzina (petrol), benzina senza piombo (unleaded petrol) and gasolio (diesel).
For spare parts, call the 24-hour ACI motorist assistance number, 80 31 16. You’ll almost always get connected to an operator who speaks English.
Most tourist offices and hotels can provide information about car or motorcycle rental. To rent a car in Italy you have to be aged 25 or over and you have to have a credit card. Most firms will accept your standard licence or IDP for idenitification purposes.
The most competitive multinational car rental agencies:
Avis (199 10 01 33; www.avis.com)
Budget (800 472 33 25; www.budget.com)
Europcar (02 703 99 700; www.europcar.com)
Hertz (08708 44 88 44; www.hertz.com)
Italy by Car (091 639 31 11; www.italybycar.it)
Maggiore (06 224 56 060; www.maggiore.it)
Italy is made for motorcycle touring, and motorcyclists swarm into the country in summer to meander around the scenic roads. With a bike you rarely have to book ahead for ferries and can enter restricted-traffic areas in cities. Crash helmets are compulsory. The US-based Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures (1-716 773 4960; www.beachs-mca.com) can arrange two-week tours around various parts of Italy in May and October. Riders need to have a motorcycle licence – an international one is best.
You’ll have no trouble hiring a small Vespa or moped. There are numerous rental agencies in cities where you’ll also be able to hire larger motorcycles for touring. The average cost for a 50cc scooter (per person) is around €20/150 per day/week. Note that many places require a sizable deposit and that you could be responsible for reimbursing part of the cost of the bike if it is stolen.
Most agencies will not hire motorcycles to people aged under 18.
Trains in Italy are good value – relatively cheap compared with other European countries – and the better categories of train are fast and comfortable.
Trenitalia (800 89 20 21 in Italian; www.trenitalia.com) is the partially privatised, state train-system that runs most services. Other private Italian train lines are noted throughout this book.
There are several types of trains. Some stop at all stations, such as regionale or interregionale trains, while faster trains, such as the Intercity (IC) or the fast Eurostar Italia (ES), stop only at major cities. It is cheaper to buy all local train tickets in Italy.
Almost every train station in Italy has either a guarded left-luggage office or self-service lockers. The guarded offices are usually open 24 hours or from 6am to midnight. They charge around €3 per for each piece of luggage.
There are 1st and 2nd classes on most Italian trains; a 1st-class ticket costs just under double the price of a 2nd-class ticket.
To travel on Intercity and Eurostar trains you are required to pay a supplement (€3 to €16) determined by the distance you are travelling. On the Eurostar, the cost of the ticket includes the supplement and booking fee. If you are simply heading over a town or two, make sure you check whether your 40-minute journey requires a supplement. You might arrive 10 minutes earlier but pay €5 more for the privilege. Check up-to-date prices of routes on the Trenitalia website.
On overnight trips within Italy it can be worth paying extra for a cuccetta – a sleeping berth in a six- or four-bed compartment – which can cost just €20 more but save you the cost of a hotel.
Reservations on trains are not essential but advisable, as without one you may not be able to find a seat on certain trains. Bookings can be made when you buy your ticket, and usually cost an extra €3. Reservations are obligatory for many of the Eurostar trains.
You can make train ticket bookings at most travel agencies, in many cases on the internet, or you can simply buy your ticket on arrival at the train station (allow plenty of time for this). There are special booking offices for Eurostar trains at some train stations.
Available at all major train stations, the Carta Verde is available to anyone between 12 and 26. It costs €40 and is valid for a year, entitling holders to discounts of 10% on national trains and up to 25% on international trains. The Carta d’Argento (€30) is a similar pass for the over-60s, offering 15% reductions on national routes and 25% on international journeys.
All the major cities have good transport systems, with bus and underground-train networks usually integrated. However, in Venice your only options are by vaporetti (small passenger ferries) or on foot.
You can usually find taxi ranks at train and bus stations or you can telephone for radio taxis. It’s best to go to a designated taxi stand, as it’s illegal for them to stop in the street if hailed. If you phone a taxi, bear in mind the meter starts running from when you have called rather than when it picks you up.
With a minimum charge of €2.33 to €4.91, depending on the time of day or night, plus €0.78 per km, most short city journeys end up costing between €10 and €15. In Rome, once you go outside the ring road, it costs €1.29 per km. No more than four or five people are allowed in one taxi.
Italy’s major domestic airlines are Air One (tel: 199 207 080; www.flyairone.it); Alitalia (tel: 06 22 22; www.alitalia.it) and Meridiana (tel: 89 29 28; www.meridiana.it). Ryanair (tel: 899 678 910; www.ryanair.com) also flies a number of domestic routes.
Cycling is a national pastime in Italy. There are no special road rules, but you would be wise to equip yourself with a helmet and lights. With good reason, you cannot take bikes onto the autostradas. If you plan to bring your own bike, check with your airline for any additional costs. The bike will need to be disassembled and packed for the journey. Make sure you include a few tools, spare parts and a bike lock and chain.
Bikes can be taken on any train carrying the bicycle logo. The cheapest way to do this is to buy a separate bicycle ticket (€3.50, or €5 to €12 on Intercity, Eurostar and Euronight trains), available even at the self-service kiosks. You can use this ticket for 24 hours, making a day trip quite economical. Bikes dismantled and stored in a bag can be taken for free, even on night trains, and all ferries allow free bicycle passage.
In the UK, Cyclists’ Touring Club (0870 873 00 60; www.ctc.org.uk) can help you plan your tour or organise a guided tour. Membership costs £12 for under-18s and students, and £34 for adults.
Rome’s Collalti Bici dal 1899 (06 68801084; Via Pellegrino 82), close to Campo di Fiori, is a splendid, historic bike shop, where you can buy or hire. Staff are helpful and can do repairs.