Train Vs. Car In Italy: Which Is Actually Better To Use?


Comparison between a green train on the left and a white small car on the right

Trains and cars are the most popular ways to get around Italy. However, it can be tricky to decide which one you should use. You could end up spending a lot of money and time only for that single decision. But don’t worry, I’m here to help you find the best solution for you.

In most cases, traveling by train is a better option than driving a car in Italy. Trains usually have more affordable prices and are safer to use. Renting a car is only worth it if you are going to travel between small towns or tour the countryside.

There are many other factors to consider before you rent a car or take the train in Italy. So, I inspire you to keep reading if you want to know the difference between both.

What Aspects Should You Consider?

Both trains and cars have their own benefits and limitations. So, you should use the one that best suits your travel needs. There is no such thing as the perfect mean of transport to get around Italy.

However, I can give you some directions to help you make the best choice. It is more than just search for the lowest price. The way you get around can influence the overall experience of your trip. Here are some of the points that you should have in mind:

  • Prices
  • Safety
  • Speed and Efficiency
  • Comfort
  • Freedom and Flexibility
  • Usage Difficulty
  • Environment Contamination

These aspects are the most relevant to consider. But you should prioritize what is essential for you. For example, you may lose some comfort if you want to get the best price. So the real questions are: What are you willing to sacrifice? Which factor is a must-have for you? It is important to have clarity on what you are going to tolerate and not.  

What Should You Do Before Your Trip in Italy?

Before deciding to take the train or drive a car, you should have a plan in place. Everyone has different needs when traveling. So, it is best to have an idea of how you will spend your time in Italy. Here are some things that can affect your choice:

  1. Number of travelers and their age
  2. Duration of your journey
  3. Amount of places that you want to visit
  4. Type of places that you intend to visit (urban vs. rural areas)
  5. Amount of luggage 
  6. Personal travel preferences and travel style
  7. Budget

Planning ahead of time will not only save you money and time. But it will also prevent any inconvenience and stress. Make sure to create a detailed schedule and decide what things you want to do. If you are going to travel with other people, ask what they think as well.

When you are creating your itinerary, make sure to be realistic. You should consider the time it takes to travel from one place to another. Italy is not a relatively small country.

Prices

Most of the time, you will get lower prices with trains than car rentals. The costs of the tickets depend on the seasonality and the class you choose. You won’t have to pay any additional charge other than the ticket itself.

On the other hand, car rental prices may vary from company to company. There are more extra costs involved other than renting the car. You will have to pay for tollways, fuel, parking lots, taxes, and more. Also, some services are not included in the price, such as insurance and GPS maps.

With trains, you may have to take another public transport method. For example, you will have to catch a bus or a taxi to get to your hotel. But it will be cheaper than all the hidden and extra costs of renting a car.

Which One Is Best For Last-Minute Travel Plans?

You should always book train tickets and hire cars in advance. Usually, the best way to do so is to pay online. You won’t get a great deal if you make last-minute decisions in both cases. So, make sure to compare all the options available. But remember that the lowest price is often not the best. 

However, you have the option to get a Rail Pass if you travel by train. If you buy one, you will be able to make last-minute travel plans without spending a lot of money. They are very convenient if you are going to use the train regularly. 

Which is More Convenient If You Are Traveling As A Group?

Renting a car is an excellent option if you travel as a group. The cost of the trip splits up for each person in the vehicle. If you are going to travel to Italy alone, hiring a car would be a waste of money. This is considering all costs, such as fuel and tolls.

So, does it mean that you can fill up your car with as many people as you want? Well, it is not that simple. If you travel in a large group, you will have to hire a bigger car such as an SUV or a VAN. Often they are more expensive to rent and consume more fuel.

You will get the lowest price if you are traveling as a nuclear family (two parents and two children). The costs may increase a little bit if you go with more than four people. This rule may don’t apply to places like Tuscany. If you don’t want to rent a car, trains offer family packages.

Safety

Usually, trains are more reliable to use than driving a car in Italy. You won’t have to worry about driving in a foreign country. You just sit down and let the railroad engineer do his work. So, you should consider it if you aren’t a skilled driver or you feel anxiety on the road.

However, you are unlikely to face any problem with trains and cars. Just use your common sense and apply all usual safety precautions. There isn’t a huge difference with other countries like the United States.

Accidents

When it comes to accidents, trains are more secure than cars. It is unlikely to see a collision between two trains. The Italian Annual Rail Safety 2018 Report says that 71% of accidents occur due to the inappropriate presence of pedestrians. And 17% were because of maintenance issues on vehicles and infrastructure.

The report also says that there were 109 serious accidents. In those disasters, only 6 were due to collisions with other vehicles and obstacles. Also, there were accidents due to derailments. 

Road accidents occur more frequently than railways ones. According to the ISTAT-ACI report, there were 172,344 accidents in 2018. There were 3,325 victims, including 1,420 drivers and passengers of cars.

White linear chart with a red and a blue line

Health Risks

Both trains and car rentals have to respect strict hygiene rules. However, you should take some precautions. Remember that many people use them every day. It can happen to find a dirty spot somewhere, but if it is quite rare.

Due to the Coronavirus, companies like Trenitalia and Hertz are adopting more safety measures. You will find hand sanitizers on their trains and cars. They are focusing more on high-risk areas to avoid the spread of it. Overall, it is safer to travel by car when it comes to avoiding viral diseases. You won’t have to share your space with strange people as it happens with trains. It is best to stay alert and listen to the local authorities.

It is a good idea to get travel insurance if you are going to visit Italy. Some people see insurance as an unnecessary expense, but having one can save your life. You can get World Nomads for an affordable price through this link. It is trusted by Lonely Planet as well. 

Scams

There is a high risk of getting scammed when renting a car. So, you should only trust reliable companies such as Europcar, Hertz, Avis, etc. But remember to always review the terms before making the deal.

Often you will see local car renters in small towns. They usually have very low prices, but you should be very aware of them. In most cases, the terms are not clear, and the cars may not be in good condition.

What About Theft?

You don’t have to worry about getting scammed with trains. However, you should be very aware of pickpockets. Don’t let anyone help you when you are using ticket machines. They will try to distract you while someone else takes away your wallet.

Probably, car theft is one of the major safety issues in Italy. According to the State Police and Viasa Report95,403 cars were stolen in 2019. And only 36% of the vehicles were found again. So, never leave expensive stuff in your car. 

Speed And Efficiency

In terms of speed, trains outrank all means of land transport. The high-speed trains are called “Frecciarossa” in Italy. They have an average travel speed of 250km/h, but some trains can reach up to 400 km/h.

Travel by train is usually the most time-efficient way to get around Italy. You can move from city to city in a little more than an hour. However, trains only take you to the center of the town. If it’s not a problem for you, you will be able to visit many places in a very short time.

When I travel from Bari to Milan, I prefer to use the train rather than a car. It takes me less than 8 hours to travel 489 miles. With a car, it would take 8 hours and 24 minutes to cover the same distance without traffic. You can use the Via Michelin online tool to see how long it takes to reach your destination and the costs.

What About Stops And Delays?

The delay time depends on the type of train and destination. But on average, trains take 7.5 minutes longer to arrive than expected. Once I had to spend more than 15 minutes waiting for the train.

You will have to make some stops if you travel by train. But it doesn’t take too long to start moving again. Most of the time, you will have to wait for just a few minutes.

If you decide to drive a car, you will have to deal with the traffic. The roads are very congested, and you may spend several hours stuck in the same place. Also, you will waste more time if a police officer stops you. 

Comfort

If you really want to travel comfortably, you should consider getting a car. No other means of transport will give you the same level of comfort. You will be able to reach your stuff easily and settle as you wish. Also, you will have control over the radio and air conditioner.

Obviously, the level of comfort you get depends on how much you pay. For example, you will get a more relaxing seat with first class. And the same happens with cars, but here you have the choice to pick your ideal vehicle.

However, you won’t be able to do certain things in a car. Trains give you the chance to sleep, read a book, or have a family lunch without worries. Plus, you will have access to bathrooms and power outlets to charge your devices. Remember to get a plug adapter before going to Italy.

What Do Children Prefer?

Most children prefer to travel by train instead of getting bored in a car. They have enough space to move around or view the landscape. But you should bring a toy or do something to entertain your kid. Children under 4 years travel for free if they do not occupy a seat.

In most cases, long trips can be stressful for children. So, make sure to don’t travel with heavy baggage. Having a car allows you to schedule regular stops and get some air.

Freedom And Flexibility

The main reason why people tend to rent a car is the freedom to move. You won’t have to follow strict schedules or timetables. You are free to create a plan and explore the country at your own pace.

If you are going to visit the countryside or travel between small towns, renting a car makes a lot of sense. You will be able to see many rural landscapes and hidden spots. Plus, it is a great opportunity to get in touch with the local culture. For example, you won’t have an incredible experience if you don’t have a car in Tuscany.

Sometimes it is necessary to get a car to visit certain places. Some cities don’t have a reliable railway system or they just don’t have one. Also, there might be no network of public transportation like buses. Many areas are not reachable on foot as well.

There is a small town called” Avetrana” which I like to visit during the summer. The only way to get there is by using a car or taking the bus. You will need to drive if you want to go to the beach or visit areas like Torre Colimena. 

When Should You Take The Train Instead of Renting a Car?

You don’t need a car if you are only going to visit tourist attractions. In fact, it is useless to get one for large cities such as Rome, Venice, Florence, or Milan. You will be able to reach most destinations by foot or by using public transport. Trains will leave you in the areas with most people density.

There are restricted areas known as “Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL).” You can’t enter those zones with a car if you don’t have permission. But if you do, you will get a fine that you will never forget. Also, traffic and parking lots can be a problem in big cities.

If you want to avoid parking fines in Italy, make sure to check out this post. You will find all the rules that you must know before driving a car.

Which Is Better To Visit Other European Countries?

You should take the train if you are going to travel outside Italy. It is not fun to spend all your vacation behind the wheel. If you really need a car, it is best to get one after you arrive at your destination.

Usually, trains are the best option for very long trips. They allow you to cover great distances and move from European cities to another in a short time. You will be able to sleep on night trains and save a lot of money from hotels and stops.

Some rental car services may limit the mileage that you can travel. So, make sure to check if there is any restriction in the contract. Also, many luxury cars can’t enter specific places in the European Union. 

Can You Use A Combination Of Both?

Often it is a good idea to combine car rentals with public transport. However, you should have an idea of when to use each one. For instance, you won’t need a car to see the Colosseum of Rome or the Cathedral of Milan. But you may need to get one if you are going to visit Siena or Vieste. 

The key idea is to don’t have a car when the destination doesn’t require it. 

Usage Difficulty

Traveling by train in Italy is not as difficult as you may think. Quite the oppositive, the Italian railway system is one of the best in the world. You are unlikely to face problems even if you are a foreigner. Almost all signs, maps, and announcements are in English. But you should study a little bit about how to use public transport.

You will have to learn the basic transit rules if you decide to drive a car in Italy. If you already have some experience, you won’t have any issues at all. But you will have to get used to the local driving customs. Just know that Italian drivers will overtake you. Don’t get a car if you don’t feel confident on the roads of your country.

Remember that you can’t share a rented car with other people. So, one person will have to sacrifice during the entire trip. Driving fatigue is an important factor to consider.

Which Is Better For Traveling With Luggage?

It is not a big deal to travel with luggage on trains. Most of the time, you will find enough space to put your suitcases. But remember that there is no one to help lift your baggage. It is best to don’t travel with too heavy luggage and bring only two per person. There is no one working to lift your luggage.

On the other hand, it is easier to travel with luggage a car. You will only have to throw your suitcases in the trunk of the vehicle. So, make sure to get a car with enough baggage capacity.

Still, don’t be afraid of taking luggage on trains. My family and I travel with 8 heavy suitcases, and we rarely have problems. It is not a decisive factor to make you change your final decision. Make sure to check out this post if you want to learn how to travel with luggage in Italy.

Which Is Better For Traveling With Pets?

Most big car rental companies such as Hertz and Avis allow you to carry your pet. You can put your domestic animal in the car seats or trunk. But you are accountable for any damage to the vehicle. Also, car rentals will charge you a fee if you return the car dirty or with hair. Pets must not interrupt the driver at any moment.

Trains allow you to bring small pets for free in carriers no larger than 70x30x50. As for large animals, you will have to pay 50% of a standard train ticket cost. Also, it will need to wear a leash and muzzle until you arrive. You will need to have a certificate and a health book.

Renting a car is usually the easiest way to travel with pets. However, you should be very clear about your travel plans. You shouldn’t get a car in places that you can’t use it. Also, remember to verify if your destinations accept animals or not. 

Environmental Impact

Trains are always more eco-friendly to use than cars. So, you will save a lot of CO2 emissions by using the railway system. The increase in carbon dioxide can harm the atmosphere and the environment. Electric vehicles don’t work with polluting fuels such as diesel and petrol.

According to Ecopassenger, a train releases 21.7kg of CO2 when traveling from Bari to Rome. But a car would emit 51kg of CO2 to make the same trip (1,5 passengers).

Bar chart with three columns
Source: Ecopassenger (Trip from Bari to Rome)

You could also rent an electric car if you want. It will emit so much less CO2 than a normal vehicle. Some cities like Rome allow electric cars to enter ZTLs. However, make sure to check if the Municipality permits it. I still recommend you take the train instead of using electric cars in big cities. Also, you may not find rechargeable spots in some small towns.

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