According to the Schengen Agreement, citizens of EU member states and holders of passports from some 50 nations do not need a visa for stays of 90 days or less. These include Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, the USA and, very likely, the post-Brexit UK.
Theoretically, all foreigners are required to register their presence with the police within eight days of their arrival in the country, but in practice few people bother; in any case, your hotel will take your passport and residence details for this exact purpose. Be aware, however, that if you are a non-EU citizen and get in a jam with the police, they can take your failure to report your arrival as evidence that you have already overstayed the legal period.
EU citizens can stay beyond 90 days if they have employment, sufficient resources, or an approved course of study. Even so, it will require filling out a form at the local police station or anagrafe (registry office). Non-EU family members will need to apply for a residence permit, a permesso di soggiorno. After five years, EU citizens and family members have the right to a permanent residence card.
For citizens of non-EU countries, extending your stay in Italy beyond 90 days can be rather difficult; you’ll need to come with an entry visa, before applying for a permesso di soggiorno through the provincial Questura (state police office). An entry visa is based on study, work and elective residence, few of which are entirely clear in their regulations or what’s required in order to secure one. Whichever you need, expect the rules to be infernally complex, onerous and confusing. See the websites of the Polizia di Stato and the Foreign Ministry, although their information is often contradictory.
Bologna is the main gateway to the region, with flights from 92 destinations around Europe and North Africa (all listed on the airport’s website). There are no direct flights from North America (the nearest airports with direct connections are Milan and Venice) or from Australia or New Zealand, although the daily direct flights on Air Emirates via Dubai make it the most direct route to the region.
From the UK, take the Eurostar across the Channel and connect with a fast train; if you’re lucky, a journey from London St Pancras to Bologna can take as little as 12 hours, changing in Paris (Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon) and Turin. Trenitalia (892021) operates much of Italy’s domestic rail network.
Note that all the high-speed Freccia (‘arrow’) trains (Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, etc) require a reservation, though these come with the ticket. Some city-centre agencies sell Trenitalia tickets, and you can also buy e-tickets online or from the machines at the stations. Trenitalia’s competition, Italo (892020), operates state-of-the-art high-speed trains, with stations in Bologna, Reggio Emilia and Ferrara; trains zip from Milan to Bologna in 53 minutes.
A number of coach companies operate services from various European countries to Emilia-Romagna. Check out Bus Web for information on services including times, prices and booking options.
It’s 1,340km from Calais to Bologna by way of Grenoble, the Mont Blanc Tunnel and Milan, and costs €152 in tolls. It’s much cheaper (tolls €20), if slightly longer, to travel instead via the A61 and A2 (Brussels, Cologne, Basel, Lugano and Milan). Italy has an excellent network of toll motorways (autostrade). For a useful journey planner, visit the autostrade website.
Emilia-Romagna has excellent public transport, and you really can see its great art cities and towns by riding its frequent and affordable trains or buses without the expensive headache of finding a place to park and/or dealing with the limited traffic regulations in most historic centres.
Trenitalia, still often called by its old name, the Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), operates much of the country’s rail network. Tickets can be purchased up to three months in advance – your best chance to bag a discount. Economy fares and family fares are available if you purchase the ticket at least two days in advance. If you change your mind about the date, you have up until 23.59 on the day before travel to change it one time only.
Italo is Trenitalia’s state-of-the-art high-speed competitor. At present, it serves Bologna, Reggio Emilia and Ferrara. There is a variety of tickets available at the stations or online: low-cost, purchased up to three days in advance; economy, which allows you to change times and dates up to 3 minutes before departure, and offers 60% refund if you cancel; and Flex, similar to economy with an 80% refund if you cancel.
Italian bus services are excellent: modern, clean, frequent, punctual and inexpensive, generally cheaper to travel on than trains. Four firms serve the region: SETA (840 000216) for the provinces of Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Modena); Tep (0521 2141) for Parma; TPER (051 290290) for Bologna and Ferrara; and StartRomagna (199 115577) for Ravenna, Forlì–Cesena and Rimini.
A new service, Mi Muovo Multibus (800 388988) allows you to travel all through Emilia-Romagna with a single €15 bus pass on all the region’s bus lines; good for twelve 75-minute journeys, in any combination (three people, for instance, can make four journeys). Pick up tickets at any of the local offices. Also check schedules with Baltour (0861 199 1900), a low-cost bus line that serves parts of Emilia-Romagna.
Driving can be fun and fast on the autostrade but slow and frustrating elsewhere. Every city and town centre is enclosed in a pedestrian zone, or ZTL (zona traffico limitata); trying to tour them with a car will only make you miserable. The only place where you’ll really wish you had one is in the Apennines, where connections between villages aren’t always convenient. Petrol stations are generally open 07.00–12.30 and 15.30–19.00 Monday to Saturday. There are 24-hour stations along the autostrade.
Car-hire companies are the same you would expect to find anywhere else in Italy: Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Sixt and Maggiore. Most have branches in the major cities, at Bologna and Rimini airports and at the main train stations; most domestic one-way rentals carry no surcharge. You must be at least 18 (age may vary by car category) and have held your licence for at least a year. Some companies will only rent to drivers aged 21 and over; drivers under 25 may incur a surcharge. There is no maximum age.