Road networks are extensive and well maintained in Italy, as is the public transport system. Given the efficient and modern train and bus systems, expats can reach most of Italy by public transport. Despite this, travelling by car is still a popular option among Italians, even though owning a car in a large city can be expensive and driving can be stressful. Options for getting around in Italy are broad.
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 the 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 which is also known as .italo. Trains are colour-coded according to their speeds. Frecciarossa (red) trains have a regular speed of 186 miles per hour (300km per hour), Frecciargento (silver) trains go up to 155 miles per hour (250km per hour), and Frecciabianca (white) trains operate at a maximum of 124 miles per hour (200km per hour).
Regular trains run much slower but are a cheaper option, 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. Some trains 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. Tickets are bought at train stations or online.
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 and online options are often available too. 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 100 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. Tickets can be purchased at the metro stations from ticket machines or booths.
Trams are a convenient overland form of rail travel and help people get around in a city, but they aren't as common as other forms of transport as their routes are not as extensive. Still, expats can make use of trams in several Italian cities, including Milan and Rome.
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.
Taxis in Italy
Metered taxis are available throughout the country but are more suitable for short trips within local areas. Expats should always insist that the driver turn 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. 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.
Ridesharing in Italy
Alternatively, rideshare apps such as MyTaxi, Welcome Pickups and, for scooter-specific trips, Scooterino operate in the city. Uber also operates in Italy, but only their more exclusive services are available, most of which are more expensive than taxi services. Many expats prefer using taxi apps as it gives them more control over routes and service prices while diminishing language barrier issues.
Mainly for intercity travel, apps like BlaBlaCar connects those driving in a particular direction with those wishing to travel the same way and vice versa. Many expats find it to be a unique way to meet people while carpooling is a more environmentally-friendly option than driving solo.
Driving in Italy
Driving in Italy can be stressful as the Italian driving culture may be more aggressive than expats may be used to. Lack of parking is also a concern, especially within city centres. For this reason, as well as petrol expenses, most expats use public transport within the cities and use a car for country excursions or intercity trips.
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.
Fast, well-maintained highways span the country’s landscape, but 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.
Payment methods include cash, credit card, and prepaid cards, for example through Telepass. Telepass is an electronic tolling system. It allows drivers to pass through toll points without stopping, either paying a flat rate or a rate dependent on distance.
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.
Expats can ship their cars to Italy, but foreign cars must be adjusted to meet Italian requirements. The costs may be dependent on the vehicle’s characteristics as well as the shipping company.
Foreign expats can drive in Italy although those with non-EU driver's licenses will have to apply for an International Driver's Permit. This permit is not a license, merely a translation. Expats may be able to apply for this permit before leaving by checking their respective embassy website. Alongside these items, expats should also be aware that they should carry proof of liability insurance in their vehicle.
Cycling in Italy
Like much of Europe, Italy is generally a bike-friendly country. Most major cities have cycling networks such as dedicated lanes or paths. Bike-sharing schemes are also common in the larger cities and can be a very convenient system. That said, 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
The cheapest way to get around in Italy is walking. As Italy is a safe country full of beautiful things to see, walking is an easy and pleasant way to navigate oneself while getting some exercise. Whether it's in the city centre or small cities, going for strolls or walking to get somewhere are common.
►For more on expat accommodation in Italy, read more here.
"While many complain about the public buses, I have found that they are always on time with only the rare exception." Read some of Sarah's top tips on getting around in Bologna.
"The best way to get around is by car, but driving here can be rather dangerous. Insurance is also pricey." Amy has a different opinion living in Puglia, Italy. Read about her experiences.
Are you an expat living in Italy?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Italy. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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