Italy - By Car or by Train?

Apr 17th, 2004, 06:10 PM
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Italy - By Car or by Train?

My husband and I are going to Italy for about 2 1/2 weeks in September. We don't know our exact itinerary yet, but we would like to visit the following places: Lake Como, Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence (day trip to Sienna), Rome and Sorrento. Is it easier to rent a car and drive around Italy, or get a rail pass and take the train?

Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thanks.
DominoD is offline  
Apr 17th, 2004, 06:17 PM
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For me there's not the slightest doubt that the train is much easier.
cmt is offline  
Apr 17th, 2004, 07:00 PM
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I've taken trains and driven in Italy but for the places you're going it's going to be easier to take trains.

There's no point to driving in cities like Florence and Rome. Siena is a walled city and you can't drive within the old town unless it's to drop off luggage at a hotel. Sorrento is easily accessible by train and you can see Amalfi Coast towns by bus (believe me you wouldn't want to drive there). Venice has no streets you can drive on so your car would be in a parking lot during your stay. I believe Cinque Terre only has one town you can drive into; you walk or take a train to the other 4. You also won't need a car in the Lake Como area as you can get to places on the ferry or hydrofoil very easily.

For the day trip to Siena you would take a bus rather than the train since the train station is not within walking distance of the old town but the bus let you off very close to where you want to be.

For 2.5 weeks I would probably drop Sorrento from this trip. It's about 3 hours from Rome plus train connection times so you'll be spending about 1/2 day traveling each way. You've listed 6 places to stay which gives you about 3 days in each place including travel time. That's really not a lot of time in each place, especially Rome, Venice, and Florence.

Before you buy a train pass check the prices for point-to-point tickets. The train pass may not be much of a savings.

You've chosen some lovely places. Have a great time!
adrienne is offline  
Apr 17th, 2004, 07:06 PM
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I have been to Italy many times as I am Italian and have only rented cars each time. Renting a car is great because you can go wherever, whenever you want. The signs on the freeways are labelled very well. And as you are driving you will see so many beautiful little villages and sights along the way that you'll want to drive and explore them. That being said I must also mention the badside of your own car. The autostrada can be very expensive as you seem to have to pay often. And they drive like maniacs over there. It seems like there are no rules when it comes to driving in the city. Many times I thought our lives were over. It is very fun but can be stressful at times and we are fairly experienced at it. So I think probably the safest and less stressful for first timers is the train or bus. Just my opinion. Europe is absolutely beautiful and I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time. PS: If you make it down to Sorrento, take the bus along the Amalfi Coast(Positano)for a few hours. The bus goes along the cliffs and it is breathtaking. Unless you have a weak heart. Enjoy
cdngirl is offline  
Apr 17th, 2004, 07:17 PM
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take the train is much safer and worry free...unless of course, you dont have seat reservations, especially if you travel during the summer months..

kismetchimera is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 03:41 AM
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I prefer the car - many more opportunites to explore exactly what you want - as you see it. You;re not stuck with someone else's schedules - or having to constantly deal with luggage through train stations and on and off trains.

Driving outside of the cities in Italy is very easy - and you can esaily avoid having to drive in city centers - pick up the car when you leave the first city (Venice?) and drop when you arrive at the last (Rome?). In between you simply garage when you don;t need the car - your hotel can organize this for you.
nytraveler is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 04:58 AM
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Two and a half weeks could be interpreted to mean as few as 16 nights (not counting your night in the air - - assuming that you are flying from North America) or as many as 19. This is a lot of moving around, even for 19 nights, and way too much for 16.

It seems very unlikely that you will want a rail pass but you will probably travel at least some by train. And I suspect that you will benefit from renting a car, either 1-2 days, or 3 or 5-7. It is hard to find a good deal on fewer than 3 car rental days, with one exception: the Rail'n'Drive pass from - - it's one of the few exceptions that might make sense to purchase a pass for this itinerary.

I would personally plan this trip as a clockwise "spiral", starting in Florence, then Cinque Terre (though I have never been there, and I am not sure of the pros and cons of car versus train to get to/from there), then Lake Como, Venice, Rome and south (unless you chop that off). Personally, I think you have too many "water destinations" if your time span is in late September, but maybe okay for Sep 1-19, for example. It is starting to get a little late in the fall to fully enjoy the coasts (though not visually, of course). Moreover, your three "non-city" targets are still very tourism-oriented "resort" destinations. I would urge you to build in at least two or three nights in "less-visited" (are there any left in Italy?) "agro-rural" areas, but maybe this is just projecting my own tastes on you (to do this would require dropping the Cinque Terre or Sorrento; other will disagree, perhaps even strongly). One other timing reminder, Lake Como gets a LOT of visitor overflow in connection with the Monza Grand Prix (essentially a suburb of Milan), and it can be challenging to get what you want in lodging. Second weekend in September, I think.

So, there is much to plan - - and the aggregate expertise/experience here exceeds mine a hundredfold. Welcome to Travel Talk; come back often with questions broad and specific, as your plans evolve.

Best wishes,

Rex Bickers
Floyds Knobs, Indiana
rex is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 05:03 AM
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Hi DD,

For what you are consdering, I would also recommend traveling by train and bus.

A railpass will probably not be necessary. Check with

Enter both travelers, because there are discounted passes for two persons. Be sure to click the "only if it saves me money" button.

You might want to consider dropping either Lake Como or Sorrento from your itinerary.
ira is online now  
Apr 18th, 2004, 07:23 AM
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With that much time, and a varied itinerary, the answer is both. The secret is to plan the sequence to optimize the logistics. I would start in Venice, have a car for the next 2 destinations, drop it in Florence and train after that. I am not sure you have time for Sorrento--it depends on your travel style. I prefer 3 nites per destination, so is it 15 nites or 18 nites--big difference.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 01:29 PM
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Thank you to everyone for your helpful advice!! We are planning to be in Italy for 18 or 19 nights, probably Sept 13 or 14 - Oct 2.

I'm pretty much convinced that it would be best to travel by train, at least for most of the trip. I will look into the Rail'n'Drive pass.

Thank you also for the intinerary advice! It sounds like we should drop a city from our itinerary - either Sorrento or Lake Como. Pompei is high on our list of things to see (we were planning to do a day trip from Sorrento) so I think we will drop Lake Como. Any other itinerary advice would be greatly appreciated. Does anyone have a favorite hotel that they would recommend?

Thanks again to everyone who responded to my question! I'm sure I will have many more questions as my plans evolve!
DominoD is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 01:58 PM
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A favorite hotel? Where? at what price? Search for the terms "Cesari" or "Senato" and you will you find dozens of threads on hotels in Rome, and almost all of them mention these two hotels that I happen to like.
rex is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 02:36 PM
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Where? Any of the cities that we are planning to visit (Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, Sorrento). We have a few guide books, of course, but it's also nice to get recommendations from people who have favorites.

At what price? We will probably splurge in one or two cities and go budget in the others. (Although I'm not sure yet which cities we will splurge in).

I will look up "Cesari" or "Senato" in Rome. Thanks!
DominoD is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 02:55 PM
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Hi Domino,

I think the decision to drive or train depends a lot on your preferences. I love train travel in Europe because I don't have to worry about traffic, navigating unfamiliar locales, and I am free to look at the scenery. I think it's so interesting watching the country pass by from the comfort of my train seat. Part of seeing a Country is seeing what's between the towns I visit. But you do lose the opportunity to stop spontaneously at a cafe or go to those little out of the way places.

I agree with your choice of leaving off Como. It is beautiful, but since you want to see Pompeii, Sorrento is lovely too. Hotels I have enjoyed include; Casci in Florence, and Hotel Aminta in Sorrento. In Siena I love Hotel Santa Caterina (in case you stay a night). In Rome I stayed in an apartment. Choose a good, central area.

Buon Viaggio!
Grasshopper is offline  
Apr 19th, 2004, 05:18 AM
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ira is online now  
Apr 19th, 2004, 05:56 AM
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Since you are very interested in seeing Pompeii, you might also like to visit Herculaneum, also easy to get to from Sorrento on the Circumvesuviana train.

Also, near Rome is Ostia Antica, quite a large Roman city that we enjoyed visiting. Easy to get to by metro and train.

I agree a combination of car and train would be ideal. Driving from Venice to Florence is a good idea, and then taking the train to Rome. We went in the other direction. Driving from Rome to Florence, and then Florence to Venice where we dropped our car.

Also recommend Hotel Casci in Florence. We liked the Santa Chiara in Rome. The Bellevue Syrene is our favorite in Sorrento. Check hotels and rants & raves here on Fodors. Should give you lots of info.
Giovanna is offline  
Apr 20th, 2004, 12:07 PM
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Just returned from 9 days in Italy. We picked up and returned our rental car at Milan airport. Defintely recommend driving since at allows you much more freedom to come and go - we started off by leaving Milan and stopping for lunch in Verona, spent two nights in Venice (left car in the parking lot at the dock), stopped for lunch in Ravenna on our way to spending one night in Bologna, two nights in Florence (our hotel had a valet service - 30E per day), lunch in Riomaggiore (near Cinque Terre), one night in Parma and two nights in Lake Como - couldn't have done it all by train! Parking can be expensive in the bigger cities and they do drive fast on the autostrada but for me, having traveled by train in the past and rented cars for my last three trips, I definitely prefer driving.
cookitheef is offline  
Apr 20th, 2004, 12:16 PM
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The poster immediately above very well COULD have done this very itinerary by train if they had wanted isn't as if these cities are impossible to visit traveling by rail.
Why have you decided to drop Lake Como?
Apr 21st, 2004, 11:10 AM
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for the trip you described a train will work great. If you ever get a chance to tour Tuscany, rent a car!
eroz is offline  

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