train or car rental

My husband and I will be in Italy for a month. We want to travel to all around. What is the best way, and most cost effective way, to get from one place to another? Any tips on how to trade around? Thank you!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17789 posts

Liz, The answer depends on WHERE you're going in Italy. If you'll mainly be in cities, trains (especially high speed) are the most efficient and make the most sense. No worries about parking, traffic or ZTL fines, high fuel costs, tolls, CDW costs, vandalism or other issues. Trains are also faster and more efficient as the fast trains run at up to 300 kmH. If you're going to be roaming around hill towns with "limited" public transport, then a rental car is usually the best method. Using a combination of both types should cover everything. Note that for driving in Italy, EACH driver must have the compulsory International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. Failure to produce an I.D.P. if requested may result in fines on the spot! You'll also have to be VERY CAREFUL to avoid the dreaded Zona Traffico Limitato areas, or hefty fines will result. Happy travels!

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3351 posts

Trains (or buses) as much a u can. At least for intercity travel and to bigger towns. Limit rental car to countryside and small villages (for example Tuscany's countryside). Rental cars are costly because of mandatory insurance (rental rates are about $400 to $500 per week for a small economy car), so use them judiciously.

Posted by Liz
Camano Island, WA, USA
24 posts

Thank you for your replies. We plan on doing a lot of Italy. Rome, along Almalfi Coast, then north toward Tuscany, Venice, Florence areas. We will train as much as possible. Renting there, let alone driving there, worries me a bit. Thank for the info about the international drivers license too, never heard of that!

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

It's actually an International Drivers Permit, not a license. You get it from AAA. What it does is it translates your Washington drivers license into various languages. Although you may not get asked to produce it when you rent a car, you will be sorry to not have it if something happens. Every driver must have one. It's only $15 and you provide a passport sized photo. If you don't have a photo they will take one there for you. I think they charge $10 for that. Before driving in Italy be sure to look up the road signs to see what they mean. Particularly commit to memory what a ZTL sign looks like and avoid driving in one. You can do a search on this helpline and see what happens when you do. It's not pretty... That's why they are referred to as the Dreaded ZTL's.

Posted by Lisa
New York, USA
72 posts

I can't comment on the Amalfi coast but driving through the wine regions of Tuscany was relatively easy (be sure to have a GPS with the most current maps)and not really scary at all (just remember to pull over to allow any driver in a hurry to pass). We kept our driving to daylight hours though some say that the nighttime is easier because you can see headlights before you see the cars. Having a car allows you to see what the Italians call the panorama of the area that you won't see from a train. And its well worth seeing in my opinion. The beauty is breathtaking. And you can stop and take in a beautiful vista when you come across it (lots of pull-off areas available) though if you stop at every beautiful vista you won't get anywhere.
I think it depends on what excites you. We enjoyed touring a few of the historic Tuscan towns (Siena, Lucca, Volterra) but enjoyed as much the beauty of, for example, the Chianti Road. Driving through and stopping in the areas of the small villages where people really live and hang out was pretty great. Having a car allowed us to get away from the touristic stuff a little. Roberto, we rented a car for nine days through Auto Europe (Europcar) for $327 including all necessary insurance. Yes the gas was expensive but the Punto got great gas mileage. And for us the driving was part of the entertainment and not just a way of getting from Point A to B.

Posted by Lisa
New York, USA
72 posts

I also wanted to add that we did a fair amount of highway driving (autostrada/superstrada - never did figure out what was what) which was very easy and not at all scary. We drove from Lucca to the Cinque Terre and back and then from the outskirts of Florence to Varenna and than back to the Milan airport. It was no more nerve wracking than driving in any unfamiliar place. The scariest thing was the first time we pulled into a tollbooth because we weren't sure if we would understand what we owed etc. It was clearly marked and, as it turns out, most of them were "manned." Just be sure to have lots of coins and small banknotes.

Posted by Liz
Camano Island, WA, USA
24 posts

Wow, again, all your replies are so helpful! I am loving this and I haven't even left for Italy! Okay, to add to that...any thoughts on renting vespas or the sort? :)

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
75 posts

Choose based on your personal preference and pace. Your rental car goes when you want and will not leave without you. Sunrise or sunset on a hill top is easy with a car. Stop when you see a cool spot for photography, a walk about or for lunch. Research parking options and be prepared for tolls. Spend less on lodging for freedom to roam. Sometimes free parking is available with lodging - I was pleased and amazed to get that for our stay in Florence this summer part of a 23 day trip with a rental car for most of the time. And they are not mutually exclusive, we took the train into the city center in Milan and Amsterdam, took Eurostar from London. Enjoy the trip!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17789 posts

Liz, Regarding rental of Vespas or Motorinos, you may find it helpful to read the following comments from the excellent www.roninrome.com website: http://www.roninrome.com/%20transportation/riding-a-scooter-in-rome While the article covers Rome for the most part, many of the points would apply to other areas also. I can't remember what type of license is required to rent Motorinos in Italy but if it's like this area, you can rent vehicles up to 50 cc with a regular driver's license but above that you'd need a motorcycle license. Using the 50 cc machines at higher speed highway conditions is NOT going to happen, so you'd be limited to using them only with cities at low speed. My suggestion would be to forget the Motorinos. A combination of walking and public transit is usually the best method. Cheers!