The Ultimate Guide to Public Transport for Travelers in Italy

#italy #travel Mar 04, 2024


Hi, I’m Estelle! World traveler, personal trainer, dog mom, and wife.  And in this post I’m going to be sharing everything you need to know about getting around in Italy without a car. 


My husband, Phillip, and I recently took a 2-week trip to Italy and traveled 100% via public transportation.  It was super easy (except for the end and I will tell you!) and a fun way to see the country!  It was my second trip to Italy.  On my first trip I traveled with my family who rented a car. Getting around was easy for me since I was not the one driving, but I could observe that it is stressful and confusing. So while you CAN rent a car, I recommend using public transportation as it’s relatively simple, easy, and you can see a good but of the country this way too.  Just from my perspective it actually seems like more of a nuisance to drive a car than to just use public transportation.  You need to worry about driving laws, accidentally entering a walled city, getting lost, fuel, where to park, etc.  Public transport is easy to use and in this article I’m going to explain how to use it. 


Arriving (at an airport)


Once you arrive, there will be taxis waiting outside to take you anywhere you need to go.  We flew in to Rome and had booked a car ahead of time to ensure we didn’t need to wait and could be taken straight to our apartment.  It cost a little more but was less stress for us.  Our Airbnb host was kind enough to book it for us so we didn’t need to lift a finger.  Typically Airbnb hosts and hotels are willing to do this for you so reach out to them ahead of time for this service.  He spoke a little English, took our bags and drove us straight to the apartment in Rome from the airport for 70 euros.  If you take a taxi should be around 50 to the city center, but we wanted to have everything set on our arrival since it was 3 flights to get there and had barely slept in the past 2 days. If you want to take a taxi instead of booking a car, you don’t really need to worry about being ripped off as it’s a very high penalty for them.  They should be able to take you where you need to go as long as you just show them the address.  There should also be rates written on the side (in Rome and I think Florence as well. I’m guessing they have it in other cities too but I didn’t see this in all cities we visited.) that show around how much it is to different destinations.




Traveling within Italy is incredibly easy.  We used trains and it was fantastic.  People will recommend various apps, but honestly just using was super easy.  It’s a railway line in Italy (kind of like “Southwest” or “Delta”).  The site is easy to navigate and trains are affordable.  The prices will vary though.  It’s kind of like planes where sometimes its more and sometimes its less.  If you use Trenitalia you can simply download the tickets on your phone and you don’t need to do anything when you arrive to the train station.


One thing you need to remember to do is check-in after 12am on the day of your trip.  You cannot check-in the day before, the button simply won’t work.  But it’s really easy.  You basically just follow the check-in prompts and you’re checked-in.  It’s basically just to confirm that you are traveling that day.  After that, you will be able to pull up your tickets and it will say “Valid for Travel.” You can view the ticket before check-in but it will say “not valid for travel.” Depending on the station and train you may need to scan the QR code/ticket to get in (I think this is only the case in Milan, Florence, and Rome), for others you will just walk on but at some point in your journey there will be an attendant going through to check you have your ticket and if you don’t the penalty is steep, so be sure to do it.


When you arrive to the departing station you will need to check the board for which platform you will be departing from (just like if you were to take a flight).  ALWAYS follow the train number and not the destination.  Your destination might just be one of the stops on the way to the final destination and it’s possible it will not be shown on the screen.  For this reason, look for your train number and the corresponding platform.  Next to the listed departure platorms you will also see if it is delayed or not.  Delated is “ritardo” or “rit” for short. If it is delayed it will be shown as “+3” or “+5”…whichever amount of minutes it is running behind.  Delayed trains are not super common, but it did happen for one out of the 8 trains we look while we were there.  For this reason, play careful attention to transfer times if you will be switching trains to get to your final destination. You can transfer in just a few minutes, but if the train is late you’ll be in a huge rush to make your next train if the transfer is short.  We had a 9 minute transfer once and the train was 5 minutes late.  I would have hated to have had only a 5 minute transfer which I saw a lot when searching for tickets.  If you're only seeing short transfers I recommend looking at the path the train is following.  For example, our 9 minute transfer was in Empoli.  We were coming from La Spezia and going to Siena.  If you’d rather have a longer transfer simply search for the tickets separately instead of together.  Ticket 1 Search: La Spezia - Empoli.  Ticket 2 Search: Empoli to Siena.  The downside is that you might end up having to wait a long time if you do it this way, but the risk-analysis is up to you.  Most train stations have cafes you can sit in and have an espresso or grab a sandwich while you wait.  They’re nothing fancy but they do the trick if you have time to kill.  There will also be bathrooms, but be aware you will need to pay for them.  From what I noticed it’s 1 euro to get in.  If you want to get around this I recommend just waiting until you get on the train as they have bathrooms on board.


Once you’re on the train, there will be bathrooms (not special) that you can use during the journey.  Fast trains might have service with snacks and water.  There should also be outlets for charging your devices on all trains and wifi on the fast trains.  There is a luggage limit but it doesn’t seem to ever be enforced and there is plenty of space to store your items above head.  I would definitely look in to this though because depending on the season there might be less room.  It was so roomy when Phillip and I traveled we simply kept our bags on the seats next to us.



Once you arrive at your final destination the concept is the same as if you arrived at the airport.  There will be taxis waiting (provided it is a reasonable time of day) and you can simply show them the address of where you want to go.


Getting Around the City


Taxis are easy enough to find in Rome.  You shouldn’t worry about being able to find one.  It seemed the same in other places we visited but of course this will depend on the time of day and the culture of that city.  We had a 10am train to catch when we were in Siena and were concerned about not getting a cab as not that many people are up early (8 is early for them), therefore less taxis.  You can call one to come pick you up (you need to speak Italian) but you cannot book it.  You need to call on the spot and then they come.  Be sure to call plenty early if this is what you choose to do.  Also keep in mind that the meter will start when they come to pick you up, not when you get in the car.  I also learned that in Rome (possibly other cities) there are special discounts after certain times of day for some people.  I believe it was after 10pm females alone get a 10% discount, and also elderly I believe.  I can’t remember all the details but there are discounts available to certain populations at certain times, none of which applied to Phillip or I, haha! I found taxis to be relatively inexpensive in comparison to the states.  We really only took one 3x while we were there (from the airport and to the train station) and 2x from our apt to the train station (distance) cost around 10-30 eros - not bad in my opinion.  I’m also not sure if this is always the case, but our driver in Rome spoke English nearly perfectly. Most people speak a few words or a basic level but he was nearly fluent.  Taxis can accept card as payment, but really don’t want to.  In fact, some of they will deny it depending on the circumstances so it’s best to carry cash on you.



Italian cities are fairly walkable depending on where you are staying, but you will get tired towards the end of the day which is why we opted for buses a few times.  Bus tickets are 1.5 euros and can be used for up to 100 minutes after first scanned.  So lets say you hop on the bus at 9:30, hop off at 10, you can still use that same bus ticket until 11:10 (as long as you scan it before then).  Please note that you MUST SCAN YOUR TICKET.  This is how you validate it.  If you do not validate it you will be charged a hefty fee if caught.  We spoke with a couple that thought they validated it, but didn’t, and were charged 50 (I think 56) something euros EACH for just a 10 minute bus ride.  If the scanner/machine to validate is not working take a pen and write the date and time on it.


Where do you get the tickets?  Nearly all tobacco shops sell the tickets and they are EVERYWHERE.  Just look for the sign “Tabacchi.”  If you want a ticket for the evening you’ll want to make sure you get it ahead of time as most tobacco shops close at 7pm at the latest. I went out at 6:45pm to buy some one evening and none of the shops were open. You do not need to get a ticket specifically for each bus, the one ticket works for all buses.  Simply get the number of ticket for the number of rides you need.  When I was there I just used apple maps for the buses (and everything else) and it worked great - except for the last day which I will talk about. It showed exactly which bus, where the stop was, and what time the next bus was arriving.  Google maps has it’s own version of this too but I have not used it so I cannot personally recommend it. There are also passes you can buy for the day, week, month, etc.  If you are going to be taking the bus a lot, I recommend this!  They even have ones that include the metro as well. You can get your pass HERE or in any metro station.



We only used the metro once while we were there and honestly I don’t recommend it.  I found it more confusing than the buses and not much faster. But again, depending on where your staying and where you are going, it might be great for you. You can check out the metro map HERE. When looking at the map please note that there are more lines than what are shown. The ones shown I believe are the ones that go underground, but there are connecting lines/trains that are above ground that are unsown. This is one thing that caused confusion while we were there.  You can buy your tickets for the metro (and for the bus) within the the metro station at machines which large screens that look like this.  As you can see, if you plan on using public transportation more often than not you might want to purchase a pass.



...but if they're not working there should be an operating desk where you can buy a ticket (or tickets or passes) from a person.



We primarily walked everywhere while we were there and it was GREAT.  Every day we would get 12-20k+ steps in.  We got to see so much of the city, enjoy more conversation, and take note of little shops/restaurants we wanted to go back to.  If you have the stamina and are in a decent location this is what I recommend doing.



Every single day we were there getting around was easy peasy lemon squeezy and I have ZERO complaints.  That is except for our last day there.  Here’s what happened…

On our last day there we were traveling from Siena to Rome and because our flight out the next morning was at 6am we decided to get an airbnb right next to the airport.  BAD DECISION.  It took 3 trains to get from Siena to Rome, which aside from the length was very smooth.  Once we got into the Rome it was a fiasco getting out to our Airbnb.  The reason for this being is that some areas of the metro are poorly marked and buses are extremely unreliable on Sundays AND the farther out of town you get.  If it was not for some extremely helpful girls and our Airbnb host finally coming to pick us up, we probably would have just slept at the airport.  I’m not kidding.  It should have taken us 45 mins to get to the airport from the train station but it took 5 hours and so much confusion.  If you need to get out to the airport on a weekend, just take a taxi.  Do yourself a favor, pay the 50 euros, and relax.  Really I wish this is what we had done but you don’t know until you know.  On the bright side, we ended up befriending a French couple and having a lovely conversation with them while stuck on a crowded bus in traffic for an hour or so.



Be sure to follow me on Instagram at @estellecfitness and come back to my blog as I will be releasing more posts on Italian travel: itineraries and places you can't miss, as well as PNW travel as that is where I'm based.



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