We found travelling between cities in Italy uniformly easy. However our experience of intra-city travel ranged from being super-easy and super-convenient to being one that would take some planning and effort.
Here’s how the system generally works. The metro / tram / bus tickets are sold at the ‘tabacchi’ – a shop where you get newspapers, magazines and sometimes other assorted small stuff. There are self-serve kiosks for tickets at the metro stations too. Very rarely (perhaps never) did we see such kiosks for buses or trams. When you take the metro, at the entry point into the station, you have to pass the ticket through the machine and collect it at the other end. When travelling on a bus or tram you have to validate the ticket by inserting it into the yellow machine inside the bus / tram. The date and time gets stamped on it. Usually the ticket is valid for 90 minutes.
Our first intra-city travel was at Milan. We landed at Milan Malpensa airport and took the Malpensa Express to Milano Centrale station. We hadn’t purchased the tickets in advance. It was quite easy to purchase the tickets. The price was fixed – I knew of it earlier thanks to my intense Internet research. There was a counter where we bought the tickets, went to the station, hopped on to the train and reached Milano Centrale station.
In Florence we were staying a little further away from the centre. And the connectivity and frequency wasn’t as good as Rome. So we had to plan a little around the bus schedules. In the centre we walked everywhere. So that wasn’t a problem at all. But when we had to return to our apartment after a day of walking around the centre we found it tricky since the buses were few and far between.
We reached Venice in the late afternoon. There transport is Venice is all done by ferry. There are no cars, buses or trains. As we walked out of the Venezia San Lucia station, we found ourselves on the banks of the canal. It was amazing – a railway station on one side and a canal on another. It was quite crowded. The ticket booth was right in front of us. But we discovered that there are different ticket booths for different routes. The routes are mentioned on the booths. You have to know the route in advance though. The ticket booths were quite close to each other. So that wasn’t a problem. We bought tickets and hopped on the ferry. The next morning we purchased a 24-hour pass. It was very convenient after that. We just checked routes (on Google maps) and took ferries wherever we wanted.
We even took the ferry, on the day pass, to Murano island. Here’s a view from the ferry on the way there.
All cities in Italy that we visited had local travel passes for 1, 2, 3 days or even a week. However we didn’t buy them except at Venice.
It was lovely to travel on the ferry. You can take a seat and enjoy the gentle sway of the ferry or you can stand near the railing and enjoy the breeze and people-watch. I prefer the latter option. I found it quite impressive how tiny kids easily boarded the ferry even as it swayed. I, for one, was very careful since I felt afraid of slipping and falling 🙂
In Naples we mostly took the metro and walked a lot. We also took the bus on a couple of occasions but I found travelling by metro easier. The metro was very easy to figure out. We loved walking in Naples. In fact, the traffic reminded us very much of our home town Pune, in India. There was honking, lane cutting, three people on a two-wheeler, not respecting the red signal… 🙂
In Naples we also had the pleasure of travelling on the funicolare. It is a great experience. Especially while coming down the hill.
One incident stands out in memory. We were leaving Naples for Rome on a Sunday. We had the ticket from Naples to Rome but we had to take the metro from our AirBnB accommodation to the Napoli Centrale / Piazza Garibaldi station and we didn’t have the ticket for it. We had planned to buy it on our way to our metro station from a tabacchi on our street or the one on the station. But apparently the country closes down on Sundays. Not a single tabacchi shop was open. There was nobody on the station except us and another couple. The tabacchi shop was closed. So we were perplexed as to where to buy the tickets. Then I spotted two kiosks. So we went towards them only to discover that they weren’t working! We had to reach the Garibaldi station soon since we had tickets to Rome and we didn’t want to miss that train. Just then I saw a man in a black uniform. He opened a closet near the kiosk and put back a bucket and mop that he was carrying. I went to him as through gestures and broken sentences told him of our predicament and asked him what we could do. He asked me where we wanted to go. When I said Garibaldi, he gestured that we should simple go without ticket. Even the turnstiles at the entry point weren’t working. They were open and we could just walk through. I thanked him but P and I hesitated. We stood around for a bit wondering if we should actually travel without ticket in a foreign country where we had seen prominent signs declaring that without-ticket travelers would have to pay a stiff fine. I think we could be fined up to Euro 250 for not buying a ticket worth Euro 1.50! But we had no option and decided to just do as told. We even planned how we would explain if caught. Thankfully everything worked out just alright and we boarded our train to Rome without incident.
I loved the transport system in Rome the most. Also, in Rome the bus and tram stop was exactly opposite our apartment. In Rome the frequency and coverage of the public transport is extensive. So we had it easy.
Yet, in Rome we had some interesting travel incidents. The very morning we reached, the Sunday, we were able to purchase a ticket outside the Roma Termini station since at least one tabacchi shop was open. This time we decided to preempt such situations in the future and bought a few more tickets than we needed. Then on the tram we tried to get the tickets validated but the machine wasn’t working. So here too we travelled without ticket!
On another day we were travelling by a tram that was jam-packed. Suddenly at one stop about 4/5 tickets checkers entered and suddenly there was a flurry of activity. About 7/8 people rushed to validate their tickets, the ticket checkers caught hold of about 5 and they had to pay heavy fines.
On another occasion, we were out all day. We must have walked at least about 10-12 kilometres that day. We were looking to go back to the apartment and crash. We checked the metro, tram and bus routes and schedules. There was a metro station 2 minutes away and the last metro for the night was leaving that station in 2 minutes! Had we missed that train we would have to walk 10 minutes to a bus station and take a longer route back. We were dead tired and our feet were aching but we ran like crazy to the station. En route, the strap of one of my sandals snapped but I kept running…we were that desperate! We managed to board the train exactly 2 seconds before it departed! How gladly we sank into the seats!
All in all, the intra-city transport systems in Italy are more or less (in our experience) easy to figure out and navigate. Also, P and I usually love to travel on public transport in any new city and we had fun doing that in Italy.