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Save Money: Take the Bus

Pat Byrne

You can save quite a bit of money getting around in Italian cities by using the bus instead of taxis, whose minimum fare is often as much as three bus tickets.

Our vacation rental guests usually don’t have time to become deeply familiar with the bus systems, but there are methods to figure out the essentials without a great deal of effort.

Florence and Rome have route calculators online that are more or less in English that may or may not work for you; I often find that you have to know the exact spelling of the stop you want, kind of tricky. But, if you are game, here is Florence and Rome, look for the little British flag on the top right for the English version.

Italy Perfect’s Simple System for Getting Around in Rome and Florence by Bus

Here is our method for finding a bus that works. This appears to have many steps, but it really is just my being obsessively detailed; this is an easily understood and natural process:

  1. Have a good city map, so you can cross-reference names and also start with a sense of the general direction you need to go to determine which side of the street your stop will be on.
  2. Try to find out the Italian name of your destination, i.e. Coliseum = Colosseo, Spanish Steps = Piazza di Spagna, St. Peter’s Basilica = San Pietro, Florence Cathedral = Piazza del Duomo.
  3. Rome: There are lots of things to know and understand about the Roman bus system and a kind, careful and intelligent soul has put it all on this web page (with annoying popups). It is a handy reference to print out, BUT, our simple system answers most guests' needs, i.e. the next bus that will get you close to your destination.

    Florence: there are four small, electric bus routes (A, B, C, D) that travel throughout the city center, watch for those.
  4. Buy your tickets before you board; most busses don’t sell tickets onboard. The price is €1 and €1.2 in Florence per ticket. You can purchase at tobacconists (sign with big bold T), newsstands, bars and ticket windows. You can ask for “biglietto autobus” bee-glee-eh-to ah-oh-toe-boose, or the word “ticket” usually works. If you are arriving in Florence by train, there is a very helpful tourist office across the train station piazza that sells tickets and has a number of free publications including the helpful list of all the city-sponsored toilets.
  5. Write down or take a digital photo of the numbers of the busses that stop near your lodgings, so you’ll be able to easily identify a return bus. Keep in mind that the return bus might drop you off on an adjacent street, not the exact one where you caught the bus.
  6. Determine the general direction of your destination so you can find a bus going the same way.
  7. Go to a bus stop sign and stare at it a bit. Look for the name of the stop - in Rome, it is in a box and it is a black dot in Florence; that’s your current stop. Take note.
  8. Look to see if your destination is clearly named on the bus route. For example, if your destination is San Pietro, Colosseo, Piazza Venezia or Ponte Vecchio, then you’re set, get on the next bus with that number. See below for what to do when you are on the bus.
  9. Now look on the signs of the other busses that stop in the same place and see if any of them also go to the same destination. If so, you can choose the next of several busses.
  10. Many prominent locations may have bus stops just around the corner with a name that doesn’t say Pantheon, or Spanish Steps. For the latter, Piazza San Silvestro is a nearby bus hub. If you are an independent type, you can work back and forth between your map and the stops listed on the bus sign. OR, you can ask someone!
  11. Italy is the perfect place for friendly help. Italians, to the core, are gracious and helpful people. Be sure to ask someone who appears receptive, i.e. not a busy businessperson on a cell phone, but, my favorites are a well-dressed middle-aged woman or an older man (who might be retired, so has time). Single young people are also very helpful, but they might not know as much. So, approach your target and, with a smile, say, “Scusi signora, l’autobus per il Pantheon?” It would be “signore” if you are addressing a man. Point to the bus sign. Phonetically: skoo-see seen-yoh-rah, l’ahoh-toe-boose pear eel pahn-thee-on? If you get a shrug or head shake or puzzled look, they don’t know, often people just know their own route, or are strangers, too. Move along and ask someone else. The most likely response will be their pointing to the bus number and pronouncing the name of the stop. You could have your notepad and pen handy and show that they can write the number of the bus and the name of the stop. The question to ask which stop is “qualle fermata” kwal-lay fair-mah-tah
  12. You may end up in a friendly conversation and that is nice. Be sure to say grazie, thank you. The word is slightly different than the Spanish and is pronounced grah zee eh. But just knowing which bus to go on is enough.
  13. When your bus arrives, board in the front or rear, the center is for exiting – most of the time. Validate your ticket at one of the machines. Just watch the other passengers to see how or you can ask other passengers with gestures.
  14. Then, finding a similar “target” as above, ask them very nicely with a smile where you need to get off for your destination, “dove devo scendere per il Pantheon, perfavore?” doe-vay day-vo schehn-dare-ay pear. Having made the connection, you can use signs and facial expressions to check occasionally. They will probably push the stop signal for you, but you can gesture toward it if you want to check whether your stop is coming up.
    Rome busses are now equipped with video monitors that display the bus route and announce stops. But mostly the monitors display total junk and ads.

    In the small electric busses that run through the center of Florence and Rome, the drivers are accessible for directions and seem to speak some English.
  15. And if you miss it by a stop in one direction or another, don’t worry, as you probably noticed, stops aren’t far apart.
  16. More money savers:
    • The bus and, in Rome, subway and tram, tickets are interchangeable and are valid for 75 minutes, so you might be able to make several trips on one ticket. You don’t validate on the second, legal trip. In Florence, a ticket is valid for 75 minutes.
    • Children under the age of 10 travel free.
    • Rome has a pass for unlimited trips for 3 days for €11 Euros, called the BTI - Biglietto Turistico Integrato that goes so far as to cover interurban trains and the train to Viterbo. So, you have only to take 12 trips in a three day period to make this worthwhile.

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Italy Transportation Resources

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Author Notes

Pat Byrne lived in Italy in her youth and now travels there frequently for business and pleasure. She's helping others experience the joys of Italy at www.ItalyPerfect.com

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