Travelling to Italy

Travellers wishing to visit  Italy can use a bus, train, plane, ferry or cruise ship to get there. However, the most usual way from the US and Canada is by plane, often landing in Rome, Milan, or Venice.  A number of airlines fly to Italy, including Air Canada, Alitalia, Continental, US Airways, American Airlines, Delta, and many others through their European hubs. The best way to find out more about individual flight availability and schedules is to contact your local travel agent, access the airlines’ websites, or try one of the many airfare search engines, which are supposed to find the best possible airfare on sale at any given time. Some such engines are www.expedia.com, www.kayak.com, www.mobissimo.com, www.orbitz.com.

Obviously prices are affected by time of  year and from where one flies in the USA or Canada , so it is best to consult the above-mentioned websites or your travel agent for that kind of specific information. A rough estimate for flying from New York to Italy is perhaps $700 in the low season and $1200 in the high season.

Train travel is a great way to enter Italy from within Europe, unless you are pushed for time. Or you can get to Italy by coach. A bit uncomfortable perhaps (the trip can last a whole day or more, according to the starting point), but can be fun, and an excellent way to meet new people. The bus travels on the motorway with travellers eating and sleeping aboard. There are stops every so often to allow some stretching and buying of refreshments at service areas. Lavatory facilities are found on all coaches. Eurolines runs regular services between Great Britain , Belgium , France , Germany , Greece , Ireland , Italy , the Netherlands , Portugal , Scandinavia , Spain, Switzerland , and Eastern Europe . Their website is: www.eurolines.com . Ferries are another option with ferry routes connecting Italy with Greece , Turkey, Tunisia, Malta, Croatia, Albania, Egypt and Spain .  Information on all ferry services in the Mediterranean can be found on www.traghetti.com.

Travelling in Italy

Once in Italy, trains, automobiles, and to some extent coaches and buses, can be used to get around.

The railway system is good and inexpensive. Owned by the state, it’s called Ferrovie dello Stato (abbreviated FS), but trains are operated under the  brand name "Trenitalia". Most trains carry  first  and second class.  First class seats often recline, there are fewer seats per car, and there is more space for luggage. On some Premier Trains, the price of a first class ticket includes a meal. Second class accommodations are less expensive, but not as spacious, as there are more seats per car.  Seat reservation is now compulsory on faster trains (i.e. Eurostar, EuroStarCity, and InterCity).  On other, slower categories of trains (Regionale, Suburbano) it is not possible to reserve seats.  Purchase your train ticket before getting on the train, and stamp it before boarding at one of those small yellow machines on platforms.  Traveling without a ticket (or failure to stamp it) can result in a €50 fine (payable on the spot to the conductor by non-residents).   There are often long queues at the ticket office of the railway stations. To beat the crowds, you can buy your ticket at one of the ticket dispensing machines that can often be found in station halls or on platforms, or visit a travel agency -- most travel agencies in Italy sell train tickets, at no commission.  It is also possible to buy your tickets up to 2 months in advance of your trip, and if you travel on an Eurostar, EuroStarCity, and InterCity you can buy your e-ticket (referred to as "ticketless" mode) on line on http://www.trenitalia.com/en/index.html.  

To find information and the facility to buy on-line rail tickets in Italy, many visitors choose Rail Europe . Rail Europe are  long-established specialists on rail travel in Europe, and on their website you can find point-to-point rail tickets for single journeys from one destination to another in Italy, as well as tickets for Premier Trains and Passes. Their website address is: www.raileurope.com.  Rail Europe site serves North American residents only. Note, however, that you will  pay your ticket at a heavily marked-up price (because you are not buying from the rail company directly, but rather from a re-seller) and that their website does NOT list all trains on a given line. 

Buses are valuable for reaching destinations not serviced by trains, but a nationwide coach operator, like Britain's National Express, or America's Greyhound, simply does not exist in Italy.  Long distance coach service is available only on a few routes, and information is difficult to find. For example, www.senabus.it has coach services from Rome and Milan to Siena (actually, it is even possible to take their buses from Milan to Rome, with a change of bus in Siena). www.sadem.it has buses from Turin to Milan, Malpensa airport, and the Val d'Aosta, and www.savda.it connects Milan to the Val d'Aosta.  www.sitabus.it has regional services in various areas of Italy (notably from Florence to Siena) as well as  a few long distance links.  www.marinobus.it operates several long distance services between several cities in Northern Italy and the South. www.autostradale.it operates various (mostly seasonal) bus links between Milan and various resorts on the seaside and in the Dolomites.  www.sulga.it has services in central Italy, such as Ravenna/Rome, or Perugia/Milan, and others.

If you want to wander off the beaten track a bit more, hiring a car is an option. To hire a rental car there are agencies at every international airport, but it is best to arrange the rental with your travel agent at home or on-line through an agency. Some of the Italian rental agencies are affiliated with international agencies that you may be familiar with such as Hertz, Avis, Budget, Milan Car Hire, Sixt, Thrifty, or you can use a brokerage website.  Prices are similar to rentals in big cities in America . Make sure that the price quoted includes the Value Added Tax. Also, the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), that is optional in America where you have insurance, may not be optional in Italy , and for those who intend to begin and end in different cities, there are drop-off charges. Finally, Europeans usually drive cars with manual transmissions, and you will pay a premium price for the few automatics they keep for tourists.

Driving in Italy should best be done if you are willing to see it as an adventure, spend some time looking at maps, tolerate getting lost, and develop a different way of managing traffic. In Italy roads are good. Motorways or freeways are excellent (sometimes built on incredible systems of mountain tunnels and viaducts), but they are not always free.

Tip: On most motorways or autostrade (singular: autostrada) there is a toll to pay (cash or by credit card), but superstrade an other major national roads are free.  The main motorway is the A1, although Italians seldom identify their autostrade by numbers, but rather by their two terminals, like Firenze/Mare (Florence/Sea), or Turin/Milan, or by a nickname: 'autostrada del sole' is the A1 from Milan to Naples, 'autostrada dei fiori' is the A10 from Genoa the French border, etc. You'll find a lot of useful information about driving in Italy on the website of the largest  highway operator: www.autostrade.it .

When driving in Italy , especially in the busy cities, you really do need to keep your nerve about you. Italian driving can be disconcerting for foreign drivers as they tend to use their horns a lot and in true Italian style, gesticulate wildly at fellow motorists. Their style of driving can seem a little bit chaotic if you are not used to it, and you will not always be given much warning about what another driver intends to do before they do it.

Also, note that many cities have established limited access areas, usually in the most central districts (ZTL or zona a traffico limitato).  The signage at limits of those areas is not always adequate, but access is controlled by CCTV systems, and unauthorized access is  punished by heavy fines, often delivered to the home of the foreign driver a long time later. In some cities (such as Milan) access to the center is permissible upon payment of a 'pollution charge'  -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecopass