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Getting Around Italy

Pros and Cons of Taking the Train or Renting a Car in Italy

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High-speed Italo train. Although Mussolini is gone, Italian trains continue to run on time.

Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.
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Milan's Cadorno station. Fastest and cheapest way to get from the airport to downtown is on the Malpensa Express, which stops here. Taxis are nearby and plentiful.

Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.
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It's rare to find a Deux Chevaux in a Rome parking lot in the land of Ferraris and Alpha Romeos, Lamborghinis and Maseratis, but when you do, it's good for a giggle.

Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Once you've decided on the date of your visit to Italy, know the places you want to visit, the hotels you want to stay in, and have bought your airline tickets, it's time to think about getting around after you arrive.

If you're planning a trip that involves more than one city or destination within Italy, you'll need to decide how to move from one place to another. The typical modes are train, bus, car, or a combination of the three. (Inside the country and depending on where you visit, transportation options increase and get more romantic, e.g. gondolas in Venice and ferry boats on Lake Como, between the mainland and Sicily and Sardinia, and coastal cities.)

Getting Around Italy by Train

Train tracks cross Italy from the top of the boot down to Sicily — and they can also carry passengers from major airports to city centers. Confusing things a bit are that there are two different train companies: the government-owned Trenitalia and the privately owned Italo. 

Trenitalia trains compare favorably with United States railroads, including Amtrak. Italo's cutting-edge, high-speed trains are truly state of the art. They offer free wi-fi on board and leather reclining seats. Helpful young bi-lingual women roll a cart down the aisles, dispensing complimentary beverages like flight attendants do. 

PROS OF TRAIN TRAVEL:

  • No driving is required on your part.
  • Seats on all trains are comfortable.
  • High-speed Italo and Trenitalia Frecciarossa trains feature a well-designed and spacious bathroom in each car.
  • Trains are dependable and run on time.
  • There's usually a restaurant in or adjacent to the station.
  • Passengers can buy tickets in the station or online ahead of time.
  • Multi-day and multi-country rail passes allow for you to see and visit more places.
  • Rail Europe offers discounted prices on tickets for couples traveling together.

Check Italy Train Prices and Deals for Couples on the Rail Europe site.

CONS OF TRAIN TRAVEL:

  • Alternate transportation required to reach destinations without train stations.
  • Reservations are normally required, even when you have a rail pass.
  • Before you use a rail pass for the first time, it must be validated at a station.
  • Automatic ticket machines in stations can be confusing.
  • Train strikes (less frequent than they used to be, short-lived, and usually announced ahead of time)
  • Not everyone speaks English.
  • Some stations are not well maintained.
  • Cost to use toilet facilities in stations.


Getting Around Italy by Car

PROS OF DRIVING:

  • Go where you want, when you want.
  • Rent a car at the airport or a main train station.
  • Eco-friendly cars are available from the Rome Termini and Central Milan stations.
  • Abundant service areas on highways.
  • Cars are one of the only ways to reach parts of the countryside.
  • Beauty of backroads scenery. Stop and enjoy it at will.
  • For a price, a driver with a private car can be hired to transport you.

CONS OF DRIVING:

  • Italian drivers aren't necessarily crazy, but they are aggressive and drive fast.
  • Signs are not in English.
  • If you're stopped, you'll need to show an International Driving Permit.
  • GPS a necessity.
  • Limited traffic areas in historic town centers forbid automotive traffic other than authorized vehicles such as buses, ambulances, and police cars.
  • Highway (aka autostrada) toll roads (pay upon exiting; credit cards accepted)
  • Hill town roads are narrow and precipitous.
  • Hidden speed cameras.
  • Cost of gas/diesel fuel (measured in liters). 

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary train travel for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.

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