What is the best way to get around Italy? For us, it seemed that the train would be best for day trips from Rome and Verona and for intercity travel.
This notion is foreign to many in the United States, where train options are few and far between in most of the country.
How about price? It varies tremendously. Comfort, convenience? Those vary too, largely based upon what you are willing to pay. We have found that the train can be convenient, comfortable and inexpensive here. It can also be confusing, as travel can be in an unfamiliar country. But, this is part of the challenge and fun of traveling.
The conventional wisdom is that you get the best deals by purchasing tickets at the train station on or near the day of the trip. For regional trains, we have found this to be true. We went from Rome to Naples and back for 22 Euro each. Verona to Venice, about 15 Euro return per person. Some of these deals did not show up on the computer the day before.
Regional trains are fine and allow you to use the tickets any day and time within a specified period, usually a couple of months. They do not give you reserved seats, but we easily found seats except once and on that trip we got seats after about half an hour. They make more stops, but if the distance is not too great, it is no big deal. And, you can almost always travel spontaneously and cheaply.
But, if you have a fair distance to travel, there are other options, such as Eurostar, a more comfortable, high-speed train. We have used Eurostar twice, from Rome to Verona (74 Euro each) and from Verona to Florence today (about 40 Euro each). A Euro is about $1.29. These trains are very fast, comfortable, quiet, and make few stops. Plus, you get to choose your seats when you book. We enjoyed both Eurostar trips very much.
Many people book their train travel online through trenitalia. At the station, you can book at the ticket counter through an agent or use a touch-screen machine. We used the machine every time, and it was easy. Just tap the British flag for English and the rest is easy. You can choose your itinerary and the machine prints your tickets. You can use credit cards.
If you book a regional train (without reserved date, time, or seat), get your ticket validated on the day of your journey by getting it stamped in one of the validating machines at the station. You can be fined (50 Euro) if you do not. Some people ride the trains without tickets…some hide in the bathroom when tickets are being checked. Several times, we had our validated tickets, but no one ever checked them. Ah, well.
We booked our Eurostar travel a couple of days in advance both times at the touch-screen machine at the station. We think the extra cost is worth it for longer trips.
Rome and Verona are walkable cities, but we used the buses several times. We bought tickets at tobacco stores, which are common (1,50 in Rome and 1,30 in Verona). The tickets are good for any one bus trip on any day. There are machines on the buses to validate your tickets. On some buses, you can buy tickets on machines. There are signs at bus stops that show which buses stop there and where they go. Usually, we were going to the train station (stazione), so it was easy to figure out.
We know some who use cheap, intercity flights (Ryan Air, for example) to get around. If you love airports, this might be your ticket!
Now we are in Tuscany for a week, staying in a small, mountaintop village. Time for Californians' favorite form of travel: the car. After just one day, I am glad we have our little Alfa Romeo sedan. Italian drivers following us today may not agree, though. We booked online for about 240 Euro a week, full insurance included (as well as a fee for having two drivers).
No matter your mode of travel, travel light! Our rolling carry-on sized bags have been relatively easy on this trip. I remember once pulling two suitcases around London…never again!
What can you add about the best way to get around Italy? Share your ideas by writing a comment.