Several factors should be considered when deciding how to get around in Italy once you get there. Your type of vacation (e.g. major cities only versus smaller/off-the beaten path towns); personal preferences (e.g. higher or lower comfort with Italy’s somewhat aggressive driving style; ability/comfort in driving a manual car versus an automatic) and budget are the three major factors you may need to consider when making your choice around transportation in Italy.
Italy by Car
Getting around Italy by car provides great flexibility, an opportunity to see beautiful scenery and the pleasure to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience when mingling with Italian drivers. Traveling by car may be your best choice when visiting the countryside, most of the South of Italy and any time your itinerary strays from the major cities.
Renting a car
All major rental car companies operate in Italy and offices are generally located in airports and railway stations. The vast majority of their rental fleet is manual transmission cars, often diesel (as diesel fuel is cheaper than gas in Italy). Consider booking your car well in advance and asking specifically for an automatic and/or a gas fueled car if those features are important to you.
Consideration should also be given to renting a GPS, since road signs in Italy may be often incomplete and confusing (e.g. in Italy direction is provided by naming the closest major city in that direction and not by “North” or “East” like in North America. So if you are in Naples and wishing to go north, you should follow the indications towards Rome).
An International Driver ‘s Permit is legally needed by non- EU visitors to drive in Italy and Rental Car Companies are progressively becoming more stringent in applying this requirement. The Driver’s Permit (or IDP) can be obtained before you leave home by AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (through the National Automobile Club). For more information on how to obtain this permit.
Navigating major cities by car can be a daunting task for non-natives. Traffic and congestion can be heavy, narrow streets are challenging to navigate through, parking spots are a premium and many downtown areas are either pedestrian only or open to residents’ cars only (these types of areas are signaled by a ZTL (Zona a Traffico Limitato – Limited Traffic Area) sign and their access is monitored by cameras. Hefty fines are given to trespassers. So, get a good map and plan your route in advance.
Renting a Private car with driver
Renting a Private car with driver, while more expensive than renting a car, could be a valid alternative when you want to avoid dealing with some of the driving in Italy challenges. Private cars can also be used in combination with other means of transportation, like trains, for short transfers of for day-excursions or tours.
Italy by Train
The railway system in Italy is a very valid alternative to driving, especially when focusing your visit on major cities. A great variety of regional and long-distance trains allows for flexibility in your planning, and a good offering of discounted fares makes this choice affordable for virtually all budgets.
Moreover, the recently revamped fleet of high-speed trains (in Italian Frecce) make traveling by train fast, easy, convenient and stress free.
Train stations are located right in the city centers, making access to accommodations and attractions easy; and always provide cheap, convenient baggage storage (if needed).
Sit down in your reserved seat, take in the scenery from your window, forget about traffic and enjoy your ride.
If you’d like help planning your transportation in Italy, please contact me here. I can make all arrangements for you and all you have to do is show up!