Bus Travel in Italy: What You Need to Know

I am an unabashed fan of Italian train travel. I will almost always opt for the train between two places, all things being relatively equal, but in some cases the bus is really the better choice. This is especially true if you’re staying in one region, and buses often provide a cheaper alternative if you’re on a really tight budget. There are some challenges with taking the bus to get around Italy, however, so don’t assume you’ll be taking all buses (or all trains, for that matter) until you do a little bit of research.

Which starts right here.

Generally speaking, if your Italy itinerary consists mainly of big cities, or is limited to the northern half of the country, chances are good you’ll be taking trains most of the time. There are plenty of towns in the countryside between the big metropolitan centers, though, that either don’t have train service at all or are simply better served by buses. The main thing to understand when you’re learning about getting around Italy by bus is that there’s no national bus network. Trenitalia operates on the same network no matter what region it’s in, but the vast majority of Italian buses are only regional. This is fine if you’re limiting your trip to one region, but can make things extraordinarily complicated if you’re crossing regional borders.

Bus Travel Within One Region in Italy

Bus terminal in Rome | creative commons photo by ludovic

Bus terminal in Rome || creative commons photo by ludovic

This? This is the sweet spot when it comes to bus travel in Italy. This is when buses come into their own, getting you outside the main tourist centers and into smaller towns where the trains don’t go. (Yes, cars will do this, too, but if you don’t want to drive in Italy then at least the bus driver will handle that part for you.) There are sometimes multiple companies serving one region, and bus terminals are often near the train station in major cities, but sometimes they’re harder to find. Ask around to find the local bus station, and then you can find out your bus options from that city to the one you want to visit.

I would tell you to do some of this research online before you go, but many of the Italian bus companies don’t even have websites (or they’re rarely updated, or they’re only in Italian). This site (only in Italian) is dreadfully designed, but it does seem to have some good information on bus schedules for every region in Italy (click on “Orari Autobus” to get a list of regions), plus bus schedules for the buses that only go back and forth between cities and their airports. The Bus Station site (English) covers way more than just Italy, but it’s got a pretty extensive list of bus and coach services in cities and regions throughout the country.

On the whole, if you’re planning to take buses whenever possible, I would recommend making time to find the bus station and do your route research well before you’re actually planning to get on the next bus. This gives you time to figure out your options and plan your next move without the stress of doing it all in five minutes while the bus idles outside the station.

Bus Travel from One Italian Region to Another

SITA bus in Tuscany | creative commons photo by Chris Sampson

SITA bus in Tuscany || creative commons photo by Chris Sampson

As mentioned, there’s no over-arching bus network that connects all twenty regions of Italy, where you can book travel through one system. There are some methods of travel-hacking you can employ if you’ve got the time and the adventurous inclination, where you’ll cobble together a cross-country route – it involves figuring out where you’ll do a DIY transfer at each regional border – but on the whole, traveling from one region to another in Italy is still more easily accomplished by train.

Having said that, there are some bus companies in Italy that serve more than one region, and a few that have a very limited number of what could even be called national routes:

  • SENA Autolinee (English option) – SENA is a Tuscan bus comapny that has partnered with Baltour, another Italian bus company. Together, they’ve also partnered with Eurolines (a European coach network – more about them in the next section). They’re the closest thing to a national bus network Italy has, and you can actually search bus schedules on their site for 17 of Italy’s 20 regions. They also offer a couple of bus discount passes – the ItalyBus Card, a €30 card that grants you 15% off tickets in the SENA/Baltour network; and the Italy Pass, which is like a Eurail Pass for SENA/Baltour buses. Plus, they sometimes offer spectacular €1 ticket prices if you book online in advance. All that said, their network doesn’t cover the country, and sometimes there’s only one city served within a region. So this is definitely an option worth considering if you’re on a budget and you can book tickets ahead of time for a whopping €1, but I’d suggest checking all your potential routes on their site beforehand to make sure SENA/Baltour go where you need them to go.
  • SAIS Autolinee (site only in Italian) – In addition to operating the city buses in one Sicilian town and regional buses throughout Sicily, this company also has some national routes. Cities connected via SAIS Autolinee include Palermo, Agrigento, Pescara, Ancona, Urbino, Perugia, Florence, Pisa, La Spezia, Genoa, Siena, Bologna, Parma, Piacenza, Milan, Turin, Padua, Venice, and Verona. The schedule is limited, so if this is your transport of choice be absolutely sure you know when and where to catch the bus.
  • SAIS Trasporti (English option) – Not to be confused with SAIS Autolinee, SAIS Trasporti has its own set of national bus routes in Italy. (The logos are similar. There’s probably a connection. But this is Italy – one never knows.) This company also has a Sicilian concentration of destinations, and many of their routes are a combination of train travel and bus travel (although you buy both in one transaction). Still, some are all buses and reasonably priced.

Bus Travel Between Italy and Another Country

Eurolines bus | creative commons photo by Sludge G

Eurolines bus || creative commons photo by Sludge G

You’ve probably heard of Eurail passes, right? Those train ticket substitutes that backpack-wielding teenagers and twenty-somethings have been toting around Europe for decades? Well, there are bus companies that act sort of like European trains in that regard, ferrying backpackers around the continent in an oversized hop-on/hop-off tour. Companies like Eurolines and Busabout offer organized tours or simply long-haul coach (bus) transit from one major European city to another. These options may include multiple stops in Italy, so if you’re on a trip through several countries in Europe this is one option that could get you from one Italian region to another by bus. It isn’t, however, an Italian bus network.

Bus Travel Within Italian Cities

City bus in Florence | creative commons photo by Chris Sampson

City bus in Florence || creative commons photo by Chris Sampson

Many Italian cities have city buses that are excellent options for getting around. Some of the city bus networks are listed on the Bus Station website (discussed earlier), but you may also need to stop in at the tourist information office when you arrive to find out the best way to get around. Tickets for city buses are often sold at tabacco shops (they’re indicated by a big T hanging outside the door) and newsstands, but not usually on the buses themselves. And don’t forget to validate your ticket when you first get on the bus – in some places, not doing so can result in hefty fines.

16 responses to “Bus Travel in Italy: What You Need to Know”

  1. Rick says:

    Hi — great info on your site. I’m in an out of the way place, and am going to try to pick up a bus on a road (not close to any station). Can you buy a ticket on the bus? And, it looks like from the Italian bus website that you have to pay 7 Euros each time you transfer…in your experience, is that correct?

    • Jessica says:

      Hi, Rick: Yes, you can usually buy a ticket on the bus. It’s best if you have small bills so you can make exact change in that case. And I haven’t heard of paying for a transfer – what you might be paying for is a new ticket with a different company, since they wouldn’t have the same tickets or share revenue.

  2. TOY says:

    Hi!! So glad that I came across your site! Have been researching about the Italy Pass but there isn’t much info about their routes and how it works etc etc.. So if you’d be so kind to help me solve my problems here:
    1) How does the Italy Pass work? Can I use it on any SENA/Baltour bus, anytime without limit?
    2) Does the pass allow me to go from regions to regions any easier, by any chance?
    3) would you recommend buying the Italy Pass, Interrail Pass or simply reserving tickets from point to point? FYI, we’ll be travelling to Italy this summer for about 2 weeks, and we’re hoping to cover every corner of Italy, at least most of it.. 😀

    • Jessica says:

      Do you know, I’d never even heard of a pass for bus travel in Italy! Most bus tickets are inexpensive enough, it didn’t even seem like something to look up. I see one that covers a number of bus lines within Italy, including SENA and Baltour, which it sounds like is the one you were looking at. As with a rail pass, however, I’d suggest looking up actual bus ticket prices on the routes you’d be traveling, add them up, & compare that to the price of the bus pass. It may offer some savings, but it may not – sometimes buying individual train tickets is much cheaper than a rail pass.

      As for the ease of movement from region to region, I wouldn’t think so – it’s the same bus network you’d be using, just with a pass instead of tickets. The pass doesn’t change inter-regional bus travel.

      Now, when you ask about buying this bus pas or an Interrail Pass, I’m confused – Interrail is train travel. If you’re asking whether you should travel by train or bus, my suggestion is train nearly all of the time. Some trips are easier/better with a bus, but most of the time the train wins in my book (no pun intended, although I did literally write a book on Italian train travel).

      I hope that helps!

  3. Mick Shorthose says:

    Thank for the information on your site,wish I had found it earlier,However you might be able to help with one question.We have found the bus service we want(autolinee marino)with a return trip from Naples to Matera.We have emailed the service with a couple of questions and have had a response but we cannot seem to get a response to this one.Do they have toilets on the coach or stop at a predesignated place for the toilet.The journey we want to book is about 4.5 hours so you can see the reason for the question,I am sure we are not the only ones asking.Thanks.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the note, Mick! The Marino website has a page about their bus fleet, which lists all of the amenities on board – including toilets. 🙂

      • Mick Shorthose says:

        Thanks Jessica,That was quick.It`s knowing where to look for the information you need,That`s the problem.Anyway thanks again,there will be no damaged bladders on our trip!!

        • Jessica says:

          Haha! Sometimes it takes a little creative searching… Finding not where you might put information, but where someone else might store it. I’m glad I could help!

  4. Hi I am just wondering the best way to get to Pescheria Del Garda from Bergamo Airport.

    As I will not be driving can anybody advise please.

    Thanks Aine

  5. Adam says:

    Love your site, as this is my first time going to Italy.
    Is there a kind of bus and train card that is valid for 6 days?(Im staying there for 1 week) I need a card that works on both busses and trains.
    Where do I buy that and how much does it cost me?

  6. zack says:

    hi. i want to book bus in italy (online). suddenly, i found website. when i try to book online, webssite jump to website. this is scammer or trusted? because ticket price very cheap. if trusted, this is agent or bus company?

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the question, Zack. I’m not familiar with either of those sites, but they look similar. I don’t know where you were trying to book, but it’s possible that you were transferred to another site because the latter is the official ticket site for that particular city or region.

  7. Max says:

    Sena is the worst bus company you can take, overpriced tickets, lack of support, credit cards or any payment online often having issues on their website, delays delays delays, unapologetic staff, though it’s the only one that serves some routes which otherwise would take 2-3 times the time by train, guess why it’s only them? Yes you can say it’s fishy.

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