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Train or Rent a Car for Travel in Italy and Switzerland?

Me and my boyfriend, are college students on a budget and are planning a 2 and a half week trip in Northern Italy and Switzerland. We are starting in Venice and want to go to florence, Cinque terra, then to the lake district and possible one other city in Switzerland and then to Milan. But we are not sure if it would be more economical to rent a car or take the busses and trains?

Posted by
2297 posts

We had a visa card that covered all our insurance needs for the rental car in Italy without deductible at no extra cost to us - and yes, we did scrape the car in a tight street and everything got covered. It was economical for us since we shared it with FOUR people.

And we NEEDED it because we stayed in rural places that were hard to get to by public transportation (e.g. a full week in an agriturismo in Tuscany instead of a hotel in Florence).

In Switzerland, we decided to rent a very cheap and large vacation appartment in Emmental at $15 per person/per day. It allowed us to save a lot of money and we got tons of travel advice from the owner who lived below. But the location was very rural and very non-touristy (one of the two hotels in the village was closed for staff vacations in JULY!). That meant only accessible by car which in our case worked out cheaper than staying in more accessible urban centres and taking the train. It is a different type of vacation, though!

Your case:
- you share the cost of the rental, gas and tolls with only TWO people
- all places you mention that you'd like to visit are cities that are very easy to get to by train

Your itinerary doesn't look like it would benefit from renting a car. Just the opposite: nobody would want to have a car in a place like Venice or Cinque Terre.

Posted by
7209 posts

If you are college students on a budget you probably want to consider...can you afford to pay for an auto accident that totals your rental car? Can you pay for the auto if it is stolen? Yes, you can purchase insurance, but it will more than likely come with a BIG deductible even into the thousands of Euros (not dollars). Even if you don't end up in that worst case scenario can you afford toll roads out the wazoo (Italy), high gasoline costs, high costs for parking, driving vignette that you'll have to purchase to drive into Switzerland? And all of that is on TOP of your rental car and insurance costs.

Trains sound much better in my opinion.

Posted by
521 posts

To add to what Tim has said, the trains can get you around in these areas, and sometimes are even preferrable (Cinque Terre) to driving. Trains in Italy are also very inexpensive, and very reasonable in Switzerland.

Posted by
345 posts

Hi Sara, Considering you can't use a car in Venice, Florence, or the CT, and you will ride ferries and water taxis on the lake you have one of the worst possible itineraries for a car. Remember you will need to find parking on the outskirts of cities and towns and pay to park your car while you're not using it.

I definitely recommend picking up a good guide book for travel planning. It will save you lots of money. You can find good deals on RS books on

Have a great trip.

Posted by
6898 posts

Linda is correct. Florence is one of the worst places to drive a rental car. Almost the whole city is one large restricted zone. $150 tickets by the time you see the ticket a year later. Search for ZTL on this site. In the CT, tourist cars are not permitted in the towns. No cars are permitted in Venice. In Switzerland, a car could be useful unless you want to visit Wengen, Gimmelwald or Muerren. Again, tourist cars are not permitted. Economics is one thing but trying to drive where you can't or shouldn't is another.

Posted by
668 posts

I agree you are better off with trains. Something else to consider is your age. What age do you need to be for the rental companies to rent to you? Some are 25. Are you old enough?

Posted by
32109 posts


I definitely concur with the others in that travel by train would be the best choice. Car rental can be expensive, especially for two people and is not necessary to visit the places you listed.

Due to the fact that you're "on a budget" it would be a good idea to plan your rail trips carefully. On shorter trips, using second class or regional trains will be much less expensive, especially in Italy. The fast trains (EuroStar Italia, etc.) will be more expensive and will include a compulsory reservation charge.

For "one other city in Switzerland", you might consider the Berner Oberland region around Interlaken. It's beautiful!

Happy travels!