There are lots of ways to get around Italy. Here are some tips on which types of transportation to use on your Italian vacation, and how to go about doing it.
Italy's trains are generally cheap to ride. Trains on the top routes, especially regional trains, can be very crowded. Since trains are subsidized for underpaid workers, fewer trains run on Sundays.
On the other hand, the train gets you right into most city centers. Some exceptions are hill towns where trains can't make the steep grades up the hill, as in Perugia or Siena. There will be connecting buses from the train stations in such cases.
Learn all about train travel and ticketing: Italy by Train.
Learn all about Italy Rail Passes, and why I have just started recommending them (Hint: the fast trains are more expensive, but short stays are enhanced by their use, so rail passes can save a bundle if you plan right).
Don't know how to read that departure board (it's in Italian, of course)? Well, see our interactive departure board to become an expert on Italian train travel before you even go to Italy.
Italy Train Travel (Don't forget to validate that ticket!)
If Italy is so cheap to see by train, why do some people want to go by car? Well, there's all those little places Wandering Italy touts--some quite unlikely to have train stations. And there's that scenery and little white roads so narrow you wonder what's going to happen if you have to pass someone.
Gas is expensive. Rent a Diesel if you want to save a little money (although prices for Diesel fuel are rising, and almost at parity with gasoline). If you're going for a long time, I recommend a buy back lease from our partner Auto Europe. You get a brand new car, great insurance, and you don't have to go through the hassle of filling it up on your way outta Italy. You don't pay more for an extra driver, either. They're our top pick for car rentals in Italy as well; their price includes insurance with no add-ons when you pick it up or drop it off.
Increasingly we're seeing rental car companies shoring up their bottom lines with monster charges for door dings and other absurdities. That's why I recommend: Buy Back Leases for Long Term Travelers to Europe.
You'll probably use the Autostrada, Italy's excellent but expensive toll roads. We have a map and information on getting the most out of the experience with our Interactive Autostrada Map. If you've never experienced paying on the autostrada, perhaps you'd like to watch this short video.
Sure, the slow road is better, but the Belle Paese's slow roads have gotten slower as Italy cracks down on the zippy driving Italians are known for. I find myself taking the autostrada more and more these days.
Can you get around Italy by bus? The qualified answer is yes, there are long distance bus companies--but no national bus network. In small villages and rural areas there's almost always a local bus to get you to bigger city services than you might find in a small village, but the limited scheduled times are for locals and are often inconvenient for travelers. The train is almost always your best option in Italy.
Flying onto the transportation scene by the droves are the Budget Air Lines. You don't want to take a plane for something that's an hour away by train because of the lag time--those two hours you're going to have to allow before your flight, and the half hour it's going to take you to get to the airport. But if you're going from Venice to Sicily, or Rome to Sardinia, you'll want to take a plane because it's probably more expensive to take anything slower. See our Low Cost Airlines resources for more.
Need a shuttle from the airport into a city? Like to have that done in advance? Try Select Italy's Airport Shuttles.
Where are Italy's Airports? See our Italian Airports Map.
Just a couple of notes on other ways to get around. A suspended cable car that takes you to great heights is called a "funivia" in Italian. If instead the car that take you to great heights is on rails, it is called a "funicular" in Italian. Orvieto has a funicular that takes you to the old city center. The funivia takes you to the interesting Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro (1559) on a mountainside over Rapallo; we captured it in a video.