Updated: Oct 22, 2022
Italy is famous for its trains. I lived by them when I worked in Florence back in 2009. Yes, the trains aren’t always reliable but neither is life. There was an occasional strike that halted the train system every so often. But they always publicized it before it happened. That’s when it helps when you know Italian. But nowadays the Trenitalia website can be changed to English that excuse of not knowing the language doesn’t work.
That being said, I also used the bus system in Florence. The buses seemed to always be on time as opposed to what others would say. I used the buses almost every single day towards the end of my residency in Florence. I enjoyed the buses actually. Sometimes I would run into a friend on it, end up talking to the kind bus driver. The summers are where it was hard to get used to. Tourists getting on and off popular bus routes but in the end, it worked out. I knew the quickest way to get on and off a bus by then. When you are trying to get on or off the bus you have to say loudly either “scusi” (excuse me)or “permesso” (you need to pass through). Now when you see that the bus is overcrowded I wouldn’t get on and just wait until the next one comes.
I never used a car until my now-husband was kind enough to pick me up from work and sometimes take me to work. Driving in Italy is both a convenience and pain in the ass. Parking in big cities can be a pain in the neck. But if the countryside is your destination, it is perfect. You can drive up into the hills of Tuscany and stop along the way to take pictures. Perhaps there is a vineyard you see coming up, you can easily stop and explore. That is probably the best thing about having a car, each day can be a flexible experience through Italy.
If you are traveling to Italy for the first time, my vote is to use public transportation. Buses, trains, taxis, etc, will save you money and time. Also, it will be a great experience to see the cities you are visiting through the eyes of the locals. Perhaps you meet a nice Italian nonna on the bus, connecting to another person in another language is amazing!
Walking is great in Rome/Florence but by the time you got to the main attractions in Rome on a hot day in July, you will need a taxi/bus to get you back home. Walking is extremely tiring especially if you are conditioned for it.
What is more important is that you are safe and are always aware of your surroundings when you are on a bus, train, or metro. If you feel unsafe change cars or get off at the next stop.
In my experience, I have only felt unsafe on a bus once. The bus was so crowded and I felt a man up against my seat. I just moved and then got off the bus. There is nothing to be alarmed about when traveling with public transit. All I ask is that you stay aware of who is sitting next to you or around you and if you feel unsafe, move or get off.
Hope this helps!
A presto, Kate