Transport and Driving in Italy
Public transport in Italy is efficient and advanced. The extensive train system almost rules out the need for other modes of transport within and between major cities.
However, travelling by car is still a popular option among Italians, even though owning a car in a large city can be expensive and driving in Italy can be stressful.
Buses and ferries also provide efficient modes of transport between cities and towns and to islands off the Italian coast.
Public transport in Italy
The Italian public transport system is well-connected and varied. Expats will be able to choose to travel by road, rail, air or on water to locations all over the country.
Trains are the most efficient and cost-effective way to travel around Italy. The rail system in Italy is extensive and most destinations can be reached by train.
High-speed rail routes connect many of Italy's major cities such as Rome, Florence, Milan and Bologna. These routes are operated by Trenitalia and NTV and trains are colour-coded according to their speeds. Frecciarossa (Red) trains have speeds of 300km per hour, Frecciargento (Silver) trains go up to 250km per hour, and Frecciabianca (White) trains operate at a maximum of 200km per hour.
Regular trains run much more slowly but are also a much cheaper option and are perfect for shorter journeys within cities (if time isn't an issue) or for travelling between smaller towns. There are daytime services as well as night trains travelling along regional routes.
There are also trains that travel internationally into some of Italy's neighbouring countries including Austria, France, Slovenia, Switzerland, the Vatican City and San Marino.
It is possible to buy a rail pass or single tickets when travelling by train. Fares are reasonably priced, especially within major cities.
Intercity buses have urban (urbano) and suburban (extraurbano) routes. Though a cost-effective way to travel, getting around by bus can be slow. Travelling by bus in bigger cities can be especially painful as the traffic and narrow streets of the city centres can cause delays.
Tickets can be bought from bars, tobacconists, newsstands or station ticket machines. Most cities offer 24-hour tickets for tourists. The correct ticket must be validated on the bus or on-the-spot fines could apply.
There are seven cities with metro train systems in Italy, including Rome, Milan and Naples. Milan's is the most comprehensive, with a total of four lines and over a hundred stations.
This metro is a cheap, comfortable and effective way to navigate Italy’s major cities and is the preferred way to get around for most people.
Ferries are the ideal mode of transport between Italy and the islands off its coast. Navi are large ferries with services to Sicily and Sardinia, while traghetti are small ferries that service the smaller islands. There are also ferries owned by private companies that service most ports. Those with cars or motorcycles can take them onto the ferry and then use them on the islands.
Metered taxis are available throughout the country, but are more suitable for short trips within local areas. Expats should always insist that the driver turns on the meter. If the driver refuses or claims that the meter is broken, it is important to negotiate a flat fare before getting into the taxi.
Taxis can be found at official taxi ranks, and it's advisable that expats either catch a taxi only at these designated areas or order a taxi via phone from a reputable company.
Italian drivers are known for favouring speed over safety and taxi drivers are no exception, so passengers should be prepared for a hair-raising drive with little regard for speed limits or rules of the road.
Driving in Italy
Fast, well-maintained highways span the country’s landscape; however, many operate on a toll system which could become expensive if commuting every day.
When on a toll road, motorists will pass through an Alt Stazione (toll booth) where they collect a ticket. At the next exit drivers submit the ticket at another Alt Stazione and pay the appropriate toll charge. A Telepass is also available and allows drivers to pass through toll points without stopping.
The main highway linking the northern and southern parts of Italy is the Autostrada de Sole. Apart from this and the other main highways connecting the large cities, there are also strade statali: the system of state roads which can range from four-lane highways to slow, two-lane roads in the mountainous regions. Meanwhile, provincial roads (strade provinciali) connect rural villages and smaller local roads (strade locali) that are usually unpaved but can provide stunning views.
In the event of a breakdown or emergency, expats can call 116 from one of the emergency telephones that are situated every two kilometres along the highway. This will contact the Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI), Italy’s breakdown service. Expats need not be a member and can pay per incident.
It is possible for expats to ship their own cars to Italy, but foreign cars have to be adjusted to meet Italian requirements. Those with non-EU driver's licenses will have to apply for an International Driver's Permit.
Driving can be stressful and petrol is expensive. Lack of parking is also a big problem, especially within city centres. It is advisable to use public transport within the cities and use a car for country excursions or intercity trips. To rent a car in Italy, one must be 25 or older and have a credit card.
Those looking for a faster way to get around while saving on petrol should consider driving a motorcycle or Vespa. These are popular modes of transport in Italy, especially in the summer months. Motorcycles can be hired but the relevant license is necessary and the minimum age is 18 years.
Cycling in Italy
Like much of Europe, Italy is generally a cycle-friendly country. Most cities, especially major cities, have cycling infrastructure such as dedicated lanes or paths. Bike-sharing schemes are also common in the larger cities and can be a very convenient system. However, in the case of travelling on a road with cars, cyclists will need to keep their wits about them to steer clear of unpredictable local drivers.
Walking in Italy
It is generally safe to walk in Italy and it is a popular way to view tourist attractions in Rome and Milan – but expats should be aware of the possibility of pickpocketing and other petty crimes. Expats can make themselves less attractive targets by keeping expensive or flashy goods out of sight and by avoiding walking alone.