I just printed multiple train tickets on the eve of our Mom & Daughter trip. I haven’t been in travel mode for a while and this process made me remember how confusing all of the Italian public transport can be (even if some sites are in English) for anyone not in-the-know. When I was working with students, I constantly drafted guides to try and help make their transition easier and transport was a hot topic. I thought today would be an appropriate day to share that guide with a larger audience. Hopefully, it helps anyone heading to Italy this year!
In the City of Florence: Buses & Tram Lines
Walking and biking are the best ways to get around Florence, hands down. But sometimes, you may need to get somewhere quickly, or you have to carry luggage, or you’re just tired and it’s raining and it’s Monday. Regardless of the reason, it’s good to know how to get around using public transportation – even within the city limits.
City Bus Routes
City buses are run by ATAF or Azienda Trasporti Area Fiorentina (Italian transport company; Florence, Italy). There is a large number of city buses that wind their way through the cobblestone streets of Florence every day – some are electric mini-buses while others are larger, depending on their route. It is sometimes difficult to figure them out, but they can be very useful and allow you to broaden your view of Florence – and give you the possibility to discover more of the city!
Bus stops are set up a few different ways around the city:
Some major stops as shown in the photo to the right have a shelter and/or a digital sign showing the arriving buses. There is always the name of the stop on an orange sign as we see here: “Museo di San Marco.”
In the digital part of the sign, we see that bus 6B will arrive in 6 minutes, and bus 23N heading to Nuovo Pignone will arrive in 17 minutes.
Underneath the times, you can see each orange square has a number that shows what bus routes stop at this stop. And on the pole of the sign, you can see the complete timelines and routes for each bus that stops at Museo di San Marco.
Less Popular Stops
Smaller stops are usually only designated by a small sign on the side of the road. These signs still have the name of the stop at the top in orange – here you can see the bus stop is called Curtatone.
The signs also have the bus routes listed: here the buses that stop are the C3 and D. They also have the schedules on the pole just like at the major stops.
With these stops, you cannot see exactly when the bus will arrive. Because of this, I recommend downloading the ATAF app onto your phone. The app allows you to track buses with GPS so you will know if it will be late. I’d note that you need a bit of practice to understand it and it isn’t getting lovely ratings, but it functions most of the time and is definitely worth using.
City Tram Line
The Tram line is also run by ATAF. The city has just opened the line from the Peretola airport (very useful for visitors!) and another to the main Careggi hospital located outside the city center.
These tram lines all arrive and depart at the back and front of the Santa Maria Novella train station. One line continues through the Cascine, the largest park in Florence, and over the Arno river to a neighborhood called Isolotto and then continues onto Scandicci. The tram can be used to reach larger shopping centers in Scandicci and Novoli, as well as the Cascine where many go to the public pool in the summer.
Ticketing is important on all Italian public transport! Don’t get fined!
Tickets for the bus and the tram are the same. You can purchase them at the ATAF office located at the back of the SMN Train Station, at the automated machines near some tram stops, at any Tabaccheria – these are like newsstands and placed on almost every street all over Florence. They are designated with a sign with a big T on it. You can also purchase tickets by text or through the ATAF app on your phone. Weekly and monthly passes can also be purchased at the ATAF office if you’re staying longer.
The most important thing to remember is to validate your ticket as you board public transport. This is done by sticking your ticket into the slot in the yellow machine inside the bus or tram. You’ll know you’ve done it right when you hear a stamping noise. The date and time should now be printed on the top of your ticket, and it will be valid for 90 minutes from that time.
Again, these bus routes/tram lines are not actually necessary for everyday life in the city center. Florence is one of the most easily walkable/bikeable major cities in Italy. If you walk a straight line from one side of the old walls of Florence to the other, it’ll take under an hour and is only about 3.5k. It’s small, but don’t let that 45-minute walking block be the confines of your time in Florence. Get on the bus up to Fiesole (#7) or take your family up to Piazzale Michelangelo if it’s too hot to make the climb (#12 or #13)!
Even beyond the public transport of the city, there are regional lines that can take you further! There is so much beyond the old walls that many don’t discover because they’re afraid of using public transportation. From Florence, you can travel all around Tuscany and beyond with just a little knowledge of how to get there.
Outside of the City – Regional Bus Routes and Trains
Beyond the city, there are regional buses and trains that can take you all over Tuscany. From little hill towns to the base of hiking trails, up into the alps or down to beautiful beaches. Here’s a mini guide to regional transportation get you started so you don’t miss out!
The regional buses are run by BUSITALIA and generally leave from the station hidden within the neighborhood block behind the train station. The main entrance you can see on the map below. A ticket office where you can buy tickets is inside the station along with a waiting area.
Travel Tip: If you want to go somewhere on the regional buses, normally they do not call out the stops as you arrive at them, nor are there very good signs on the roads to signify a stop. The best bet is to make friends with the bus driver and ask him for the specific stop you’re going to. Ask politely and practice your Italian! Some of the best conversations can be had with an autista!
Once you get to the stop, make sure you know what time the buses return! They are not as frequent as inner-city buses.
Compared to the US, trains are an inexpensive and very popular way to travel around Italy and beyond. With a quick trip that is less than ten Euro, you can get to Pisa, Cinque Terre, and many of the surrounding towns in Tuscany. Take a fast train, and you’re in Milan, Rome, Venice, or Naples, in a few hours! There are two main companies that provide transport by train. There is no benefit to one or the other – just two competing companies. Make sure to check prices and times with both companies before choosing the best itinerary for you!
Italo is a private company that runs major routes on fast trains through Italy. Sometimes you can find very inexpensive tickets. Italo sometimes also goes to different train stations than Trenitalia as well. Trenitalia is government-run and has both fast trains and regional (slower with more “local” stops) trains. Trenitalia has routes all over Italy and is very easy to use.
Ticketing is Important! Don’t get Fined!
Tickets can be purchased inside the train station or online. The most important thing is to validate the ticket before getting on the train – instead of after boarding – like on the buses and tram. You will find the validation stations around the train station near the entrance to the train tracks, and are the colors of Trenitalia. Same thing – slide your ticket into the slot and wait to hear the printing noise. This makes your ticket valid for your travel.