Italy a travel guide | How to get there & explore

Train to Pisa
Train to Pisa
train ferry Messina
Leaving Sicily on the ferry train

Why visit Italy

So you’ve read some of our posts and you’ve decided you would like to visit Italy.  In this guide we will give you some advice on how to get there and some travel options once you’re there.

Italy has something for everyone from spectacular mountains, glorious countryside, beautiful beaches, stunning lakes and historical sites to rival any country in the world.  It really is a dream destination and should be at the top, or very near the top, of everyones must visit list, and the food you can’t forget the food.

It’s perfect for a city break, the skiing is amazing, backpacking is relatively easy, it’s generally safe for all travellers. The locals are friendly and helpful.  If thats got your juices flowing then read on for some helpful tips and advice. I promise you won’t regret it.

Travel restrictions

With the way things are at the moment you should always check the travel rules for the country your travelling to and the country your traveling from. If your a UK resident you can check out the current advice for travel to Italy here.  Visitors from all countries should make sure they are permitted to travel before booking any trip.

Getting there

There are three main travel options when thinking about how to start your trip into Italy.  The easiest of these and probably the cheapest is to fly.  There are other options however, you could drive down through Europe or you could take the train or a combination of all three.

Fly

Flying is by far the easiest way to get into Italy from the UK with over seventy five airports across the country linking with all the major airports in the uk.  Over a dozen different airlines have direct flights into Italy from the uk with all the major UK airports supported.  The key here is to shop around and consider using different airports.  Do your homework early; booking in advance is usually the cheapest way to go, last minute deals for flights don’t really work out cheaper in fact they tend to be the most expensive as flights prices are dictated by demand.  I’d start looking at least three to four months in advance if you can.

Catania
Ferry Naples to Catania
aeolian island ferry andiamo amigos
The ferry to the Aeolian islands

By rail

Travelling into Italy by train from the UK will probably not be your first choice but can be a great option if you don’t like to fly or if you wish to visit other countries on your way.  This option will usually work out to be more expensive and a little harder to plan but can be very enjoyable with more of a chance to meet and chat to other travellers.  All trains from the UK tend to go through London via the Channel Tunnel via Eurostar although you can use the the ferry and train from various other ports around the UK.

There are no direct train routes into Italy, having said that you can be there in less than a day and you avoid all the hassle of the airport.  Your first port of call will be Paris which has direct links to Milan and Turin, from there you can reach all the major tourist destinations.  Train travel is a very relaxed and a mainly comfortable way to travel; sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy the trip. You can find a very useful Interactive Travel Map here.

Another option could be to buy a European Rail Pass.  These are available for individual countries or the whole of Europe.  They don’t always work out cheaper than buying a ticket in advance but do offer the greatest amount of flexibility.  Even with the pass some types of trains will need to be booked in advance and may incur a booking fee on top of the price of the pass.  Check carefully before you buy and make sure it’s the right option for your trip.

By road

If, like us you have a camper van or motor home, you will more often than not want to drive down.  We usually make the crossing from Dover to Calais but there are other options from various ports around the UK.  Driving can be a very enjoyable way to get to Italy and you can take as long as you like or can be there in a day if you share the driving.

There are things to take into consideration when planning a road trip however.  Cost. It can be quite expensive; ferry, fuel and toll road charges all push the cost up and don’t forget, you will need international breakdown cover and insurance.  On the plus side you will have your own transport when you get there which can be a big plus if you are planning to move around a lot.  I would strongly recommend that you avoid city centres when driving it’s much better to park up make camp and use public transport to get into town trying to negotiate the Italian cities in a camper van is just not worth the stress.

Our view

Here at Andiamo Amigos we think variety is the spice of life and recommend you try all three options if you can at least once.  Each transport option has its own pros and cons.  Flying if your close to one of the UK airports will probably be most peoples first choice to actually get to Italy as it’s cheap, convenient and comparatively quick.  Book as early as you can to get the cheapest prices and consider using the smaller regional airports which can be less popular so quieter and cheaper.  Always shop round to get the best price.

Consider using the train as most towns and cities in the UK have a train station.  It will feel a lot more of an adventure if you go by train and you actually feel the journey and get a sense of achievement when you arrive which is all part of the independent travellers experience.

Finally if your an experienced camper van owner or have bought one during lockdown as an alternative to package holidays abroad consider taking it further afield it can be a lot of fun and makes for an adventure you will remember for a very long time.

getting to naples
Bus from the airport into Naples
Cinque Terre
Monterosso Train Station

Getting around

So you’ve got yourselves to Italy and are ready for an adventure, but what next, how to you get from place to place, how do you make the most of your time in this beautiful country.  As in most things in life time is your most precious commodity and you don’t want to be sat in an airport in Rome when you could have hopped on a train.  On the other hand if your limited to just a few weeks holiday you do’t want to be making to many lengthy train journeys.  If you’re in your camper van, do you really want to be moving your van every other day looking for new places to explore?  The answer is usually a compromise to make the most of your hard earned trip, you will more than likely need to use a combination of all modes of transport.

By Rail

Italy has an extensive, cheap and very easy to use rail network. You can buy tickets on the day at the station or in advance via various websites, we usually use Italiarail.com when booking in advance.  If you are doing a lot of train journeys it can be cheaper to book a single country rail pass such as this one here, but remember some trips have to be booked in advance even with the pass and can incur a booking fee on top of the price of the pass.  These passes are really only worth the cost if you don’t have much of a plan as to where you want to go.  If like us you make a loose plan of the area you want to be in and how and when you are going to travel between each destination it makes sense to book the individual train journeys in advance. Booking on the day, at the station might  work out to be quite a lot more expensive for the longer journeys.

If you are travelling from Sicily to the Italian main land you get the amazing experience of riding the train onto the ferry a must do journey for all you train buffs.

By air

With over seventy five airports across the country using internal flights can be a good choice for longer journeys.  If booked well in advance they are relatively cost affective.  You will however have to remember that you need to take all your belongings with you so unless you are travelling very light you will need to book hold luggage which can push up the cost.  If time is your biggest restraint then flying can save you precious exploring hours.  We have always found though, that a travel day is just that and it usually takes up most of the day no matter which form of transport you use.

Airports can be quite stressful and not much quicker by the time you add on all the waiting time getting there and the transit from the destination Airport once you arrive.  We always consider flying as a last resort as nearly all the other modes of transport give you a better experience and become part of the adventure. 

rome to Palermo ferry
Arriving at Palermo by Ferry
Catania
Great restaurant on the ferry

By Sea

Ferries are a fantastic way to get around Italy and in some cases the only way. There are some great island hopping adventures to be had around the Italian coast as well as longer journeys that can be done overnight such as Rome to Palermo or Naples to Catania.  Doing it this way will offset the cost of the journey against the cost of an extra nights accommodation if you choose to fly instead.  The biggest advantage by far though in our opinion is the sense that you are travelling it’s an adventure and it will add to the quality of your experience.

One tip I would give you if travelling overnight, book a cabin as sitting all night in a chair and trying to get some sleep is not good.  Getting a cabin means you get a great nights sleep, have your own toilet and shower facilities and  you’ll wake up refreshed and ready for the day when you arrive.

Bus

We tend to only use the bus for local journeys short ones to get around town where buses can be the best option to get from one attraction to the next.  I don’t really like to use the bus for long journeys they never seem to be comfortable and theres very little option for moving around and stretching your legs.  For journeys longer than and hour I would always use the train where possible or the metro in bigger cities that have the facility such as Rome and Naples.

By road

If you are in your own transport such as a car, motorhome or camper van you will more likely than not do most of your longer distance travelling by road.  Or if you are without your own vehicle hiring a car can be a good option especially if you have flown in and you can hire the car form the airport when you land.  We have hired cars in Italy a number of times and have never had a problem apart from the odd puncture.

The roads in Italy are mainly well maintained there are tolls on the bigger roads and fuel prices are quite high when compared to the UK but if you are planning to explore rural Italy and get off the beaten track a car will give you the most amount of freedom.  One thing to remember if you like a drink and a long Italian lunch for example, is that the driver will have to abstain as Italy have very similar drink drive laws as the UK. This can be a big drawback if food and wine are a major part of your travelling experience.

Our view

I our opinion the best way to do any journey is the way the suits your needs at the time. Travelling in Italy can be very enjoyable and the trick is to embrace it and make it part of your experience.  Use the travel options to enhance your journey and don’t just think of it as a way of getting from A to B.  We sometimes play a game and try to use as many different forms of transport as we can on our trips.

Time is a massive factor if you’re only there for a few days and you don’t want to spend all your precious holiday sat on a train or in an airport.  Make a loose plan of where you want to visit and book in advance where you can.  Most of all have fun.  Italy is an amazing country and we guarantee you’ll want to keep coming back. 

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