Navigating public transportation in Italy can be tricky.
Rule #1: This phrase, in its many incarnations, will become your best friend:
“Buongiorno. Potrei avere un biglietto unico/ di ritorno per … per favore?”
(“Hello. Can I have a single/ return ticket for … please?”)
Even if you learn no other Italian during your trip around the country, this at least will stand you in good stead in stations across the land.
Buses are a cheap and easy way to get around cities and regions within Italy, but the ticketing system can leave many confused. Generally the rule is that you must buy your bus ticket before boarding the bus, rather than from the driver once you’re on it (although this can vary depending on where you are, so check the guidebook or ask for advice from locals as you go).
You can buy bus tickets either from a central bus station, or from one of the many tabacchi that line the streets (they look like newsstands or newsagents selling cigarettes and magazines etc, and are marked with a big ‘T’). Once you’re on the bus, you have to validate the ticket by stamping it in one of the big yellow machines. People caught traveling without a correctly validated ticket can face big fines if caught, so don’t forget!
Unfortunately, Italy doesn’t have a nationwide equivalent to Greyhound, National Express on Megabus, so long-distance coach travel is not always an option if you want to travel between regions. However, Eurolines run a fairly comprehensive service between big cities as well as to and from neighbouring countries, and also offer a budget-friendly Italy Pass that allows unlimited travel across their Italian network within a 7, 15 or 30 day period.
You should also always Google specific route options between different destinations to see whether there is a coach service running between the two – this is usually the case between the bigger tourist hotspots, especially in high season.
You have to buy your ticket in the train station beforehand, either from a person or using one of the electronic machines, which offer an English language option. If your ticket is for a specific train (i.e. it has a time and train number printed on it) then you don’t need to worry about validating it, but if it’s open then you have to validate it before you get on the train. This involves stamping it in one of the bright yellow machines that line the platforms. You’ll get in a lot of trouble with the ticket conductor for riding with an unvalidated ticket, so try to make a habit out of this. If you’re unsure whether or not your ticket needs validating or not, validate it just to be on the safe side.
Trains are a great option for traveling around the country as they’re fast and can be great value. You can plan journeys and book tickets in advance through Tren Italia, which allows you to browse times and ticket prices and so is the best way to find a good deal.
If you want to travel the country by train, then an Interrail Italy Pass can offer the best value, allowing a fixed number of days spent traveling within a certain timeframe.
As these passes do not offer unlimited travel, it pays to plan in advance the journeys you’re going to use your pass for: often you can save money by using it on days when you’re going to travel long distances or multiple times, and just buy cheap day tickets for any other days you might be travelling. Additional charges for seat reservations or overnight cabins still apply.
Italy is not really so big a country that you need to fly around it, but that doesn’t mean you need to write it off as an option entirely: with Europe’s wealth of budget airline options, it can sometimes work out as the quickest and cheapest choice, especially if you want to get from one side of the country to the other, or travel in to or out of another European country. Alitalia offer a range of domestic flights, as do Ryanair and Easyjet. Wizz Air also have some great links with the rest of the continent, especially Eastern Europe.
If you want to pre-book an airport bus, then check out the Terravision site, as well as the airport website.
Venice, being a city of canals, has its own transport system. The train is the most spectacular way to reach the city, as you get amazing views as you cross the water connecting it from the mainland – simply travel from Venezia Mestre to Venezia Santa Lucia. You can also get a bus across from the mainland – but from then on there are no more roads, simply canals and bridges packed with pedestrians.
Although Venice is small enough to traverse on foot, the vaporetti (the water bus) are a fun way to explore, as they are big boats that cruise up and down the Grand Canal letting tourists hop on and off every few hundred feet or so. Tourist Travel Cards usually offer the best value if you plan on using them a lot over a few days, as the single tickets are quite expensive on their own. Normal rules apply: buy the ticket first, and validate it before you get on!
If you only want to get to the other side of the river, you can also hop on a traghetto, which ferry you across to the other side for less than a euro.
If you want to splash your cash, you can also ride in your own private water taxi – great if you want to feel like you’re Angelina Jolie on your way to Johnny Depp in The Tourist – and of course there are always the traditional gondola rides. Although some find the prospect cheesy, they’re certainly a great way to explore the city and learn about its history in a unique way!