The cheapest way to make your way around Italy is by bus. However, it might be a bit intimidating if you are not used to the language, the process, and procedure of the Florentine bus system. It is simple and should not worry you as long as you follow these tips.
First things first
The first thing you want to do is find a map of the bus lines that will be running along the routes you want to take. For the Florence area, this can easily be found online. The bus system is called ATAF (Azienda Transporti Area Fiorentina). The website has an Italian version as well as an English version, making it easy for a foreign visitor to navigate. The good news about the buses in Florence is that they run frequently throughout the day: from about 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
One thing to keep in mind before you go on your trip, especially to European countries, is that they often have public transportation strikes, which might affect your travel plans. The good news is, however, that strikes are not last minute decisions. Strikes are always planned. You can check the ATAF website to make sure there are no days when the buses might be shut down while you are visiting.
If you are visiting Florence, chances are you will be exploring the city center. There are four bus lines, C1, C2, C3 and D, that stay within the city center near the big name attractions. You cannot go wrong taking one of these buses to get from one attraction to the next. And you do not have to worry that you will be taken too far off course if you take the wrong bus, since these four bus lines stay within the city center.
How to purchase a bus ticket
There are several ways to buy bus tickets that are hassle free and fairly quick. The first is to find a Tabacchi shop or a bar that sells cigarettes. Most of these shops are easily found near bus stops. The tabacchi shop is easily located by a giant “T” outside the establishment. Tickets can also be purchased at most newsstands, the train station, and often times, bars. If you want to make sure an establishment sells tickets, look for an ATAF sign in the shop’s windows.
You don’t need to worry if you don’t speak Italian. Most proprietors speak enough English to help you buy a bus ticket.
There are a few different options when it comes to buying a ticket. You can buy a single ticket that can be used for one ride. At the time of writing this article, one bus ticket cost 1.20 EUR (1.32 USD). If you are planning on being in Florence for several days and if you are traveling with more than one person, one of the better tickets you can buy is called a “quattro corse”, a four course ticket. This ticket can be used for 4 different rides. Or one ride for four people. The cost of the four course ticket is 4.70 EUR (5.19 USD).
There are other tickets that can be purchased for tourists visiting Florence, but these two types of tickets are used the most.
You might hear of another way to purchase bus tickets is by using your cell phone. However, this service is only available if your cell phone carrier is TIM, Vodafone, Wind, or 3 Italia. In other words, ATAF is not yet set up to use carriers outside of the country.
You can buy a bus ticket from the bus driver for 2 EUR (2.21 USD). However, I’ve seen several tourists try this and the drivers are not always cooperative or simply don’t have tickets to sell. To save you time and frustration, I recommend purchasing your ticket before getting on the bus.
Another option is to purchase a Firenze Card, a special museum card that allows you into 72 museums and is good for 72 hours. You are also given a card to ride the bus that is valid for 72 hours from the first time you validate it. Remember to carry this validated ticket with you for the duration of your stay just in case any officials ask to see your bus ticket.
Once you have your ticket
There is a system to boarding a bus in Florence. On the big buses, you enter from the front and back doors and you exit from the middle. This is important to keep in mind as it’s helpful to other passengers and helps you assimilate. On the smaller buses, you board at the front doors and exit through the middle or rear door, depending on where the second door is located.
Once you’ve boarded, you need to locate the ticket validation machine and stamp your ticket. The drivers do not check tickets nor do they validate them. They just drive the bus.
The ticket validation machines are located in the front of the small buses and in the front and back of the bigger buses. The ticket machine is bright yellow, so it’s hard to miss.
You insert your ticket as shown in the picture, the machine will then stamp your ticket with the date and time. Your ticket is now valid for 90 minutes, so you an take as many buses as you wish within that time.
Some will tell you that they just jump on and off buses and take their chances without purchasing a ticket. I would not suggest this at all. As a tourist, the officials who assess the passengers on the buses are more apt to check your ticket first. It’s not fair, but that’s how things sometimes go. Better safe than sorry.
Where’s the bus?
Most bus stops in Florence now have electronic signs which are very handy. They tell you what bus runs on the route and how many minutes until the next bus arrives.
Once you are on the bus, at the front, an LED display board announces the next stop the bus will make with the words “Prossima fermata”, next stop. If you want to signal that you want to get off at the next stop, find a call button, usually on every other bar or on the walls of the bus, and press the button to announce you would like the next stop.
Remember to exit from the middle on the big buses and from the second door (middle or rear) on the small buses.
Sit back and relax
Don’t let the bus system in Florence intimidate you. It’s a very streamlined system that has run well for the locals for years. There are plenty of friendly people who can help point you in the right direction if you need it.
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