Thanks everyone for your previous help (How many countries in 21 days?). Plans now look much more organized, meaningful and doable. One option is to fly to Naples, rent a car for a week and drive up to Venice - possible stops Rome, Siena, Florence, La Spezia, Bologna and whatever else is on the way, time permitting of course. Does anyone have ideas about avoiding driving in major cities - mainly, Rome and Florence. We could drive down the previous night, stay on the outskirts - hotels or B&B and leave the car there - and take public transport for sightseeing. Alternatively, how much would it cost to park in the city for the day (and do sightseeing on public transport/walk.)? Thanks.
Jayant ,Let me start by saying that I find most travelers tend to hold dichotomous points of view about whether to travel by car or rail , I'm not of that mind . On my trips I use the mode of transportation which is best suited to the dictates of my itinerary. Some places scream out for a car ( the English countryside for example ) Other places ( like major cities ) a car is a costly , useless nuisance . I'm not afraid to drive in a big city ( I drive in Manhattan all the time and don't give it a thought ) . Having said all that , given your plan for Italy , why bother with a car ? All the places you list are conveniently strung together by the Italian Rail system . For instance , you can go from downtown Naples to the center of Rome in an hour and a half ( and lodging right in the heart of the city ) without dealing with commuting into town , parking costs , wasted time , and worst of all , the negative aspects of bringing a car into a ZTL ( restricted traffic area ) . Read some of the archived posts about this and consider going by rail , I think you'll have a more enjoyable experience in Italy .
Thanks, Steven. ONLY REASON being I have heard that trains are not as reliable in Italy (buses are better, so I figured car would be more expedient and flexible.)
Don't believe it . We found the trains in Italy to be wonderful ! I did use a car for four days ; after we spent our time in Rome , we took the train to Orvieto and picked up a car which enabled us to explore some hill towns and the Tuscan countryside . When we arrived in Siena , I had booked a hotel just outside the restricted zone , left the car in their lot and took a local bus into the center ( ten minutes ) We dropped the car at Florence airport and went back to using the trains. I have always liked to drive ,and I'll do it anywhere , but the trains were great , punctual , clean , relaxing and well run . As I commented , some places are better with a car ( like the Tuscan hills ) others ( like Florence ) no way ! In Italy , I'm a train fan !!
Jayant, Whoever told you that the trains in Italy are unreliable and the Buses are better is sadly mistaken. Unless there's a strike happening at that time (which are usually short-lived), the trains are the quickest and most efficient way to get around, especially the high speed trains which travel at up to 300 kmH. I agree with the previous comments that the method of travel to use will depend on the circumstances. If you're wandering through hill towns in Tuscany which don't have regular transit, a car is useful. For travel to the major cities, where parking, ZTL areas, vandalism or theft will be an issue, having a car is a darn nuisance. Travel by car will use more of your valuable holiday time just getting from one location to another. Especially for longer routes (ie: Rome to Florence), Freccia fast trains are a MUCH better choice! The trip will also be more relaxing and you'll be able to enjoy the scenery. There are some caveats with trains in Italy. Tickets for Regionale trains MUST be validated prior to boarding the train, or you'll risk hefty fines, which will be collected on the spot! Also, the fast trains have compulsory reservations, so you MUST have a reservation and board ONLY the train specified on the ticket or again, hefty fines. Rental cars also have caveats. EACH driver will require the compulsory International Driver's Permit and you'll have to be extremely vigilant to avoid the dreaded Zona Traffico Limitato areas, which are becoming increasingly common in many towns in Italy (heavy fines for EACH infraction, which you won't know about until several months after you return home). There are tolls on the motorways, so be sure to budget for that. Good luck and happy travels!
Just to agree with the other replies, if your desire in Italy is to see "Naples, Rome, Siena, Florence, La Spezia, Bologna, and Venice" then you DO NOT WANT a car! On the other hand, if you want to see small towns and countryside, a car works best. I also agree that I've never had any problems with Italian trains, except one day when there was a strike. When they're not on strike, they've always been on time or very close. I'm wondering how La Spezia got on that list. I've never been, but I've also never read anything positive about it. It's usually used as a springboard for the Cinque Terre, but in the sense of parking the car or changing trains, not actually stopping there to see things or stay overnight. Finally, if you only have a week in Italy, you will have to pare down your list to 2 or 3 places, regardless of your method of travel.
Well, you (all) have convinced me - trains, no car, if I am not driving around the countryside. A little more detail about the trip - it is actually 3 weeks long ending in Venice for one week cruise to see Greek Islands and ruins (Athens) plus a couple of days to see Venice itself. (In other words, relaxation and ruins will be covered at leisure.) Part of the first week may be 3 days in Sicily (to visit Mt Etna, beaches, ruins, and more.) Hence trying to hit some key cities/attractions like they do on day trips (say, from Rome to Florence or Naples) without relying on train schedules. We can skip Vesuvius if we already saw Mt Etna, OR skip Roman Ruins in favor of Greek Ruins, etc. On the flip side, if we need extra time in Florence, we could skip Siena/Bologna even though they are on our way. Car would make that last minute planning much easier. We won't necessarily overnight in big cities but drive part way to the next stop. Hope that helps clarify... P.S. Would you recommend renting a car in Sicily (CTA)?
Same rules about renting cars in Italy apply to Sicily. If you want to visit only the cities (for example Palermo), you don't need (or even want) a car. If you visit places in the countryside or smaller towns, where public transportation is not as frequent, then a car is a more efficient way to travel. The best is a mix. Rent a car after visiting the city, visit the small places, then return it as soon as you arrive to the next big city. Picking up a car at airports is more expensive. Where you drop off, does not matter.