Tag Archives: car hire

Get a hire car in Venice? Surely not!

Surely, when it comes to considering whether or not to get a hire car, it doesn’t get more obvious than Venice?

Well, actually, we happen to think that getting a hire car in Venice is an extremely good idea.

Why get a hire car in Venice?

  • Dolomites — quite simply there is so much more beyond Venice than canals and gondolas, and the Dolomites in particular are absolutely stunning. Whether you want to go hiking, skiing or climbing, a hire car is going to make everything much easier.
    If you head up the A27 autopista to Ponte nelle Alpi, you will then find the Dolomiti Bellunesi national park on your left and the Dolomiti Friulane national park on your right. Further to the northwest, you can also visit the Pale di San Martino natural park.
  • Slovenia – with a hire car, you can easily pop across into neighbouring Slovenia and explore the Triglav National Park. Given how bad public transport is at the top end of the Adriatic, continuing in to Croatia isn’t such a bad idea either – although one-way rentals will cost you.
  • City tour — architecture pundits will also want to visit cities like Padua and Mantua. Mantua in particular has notable works by Alberti, and is rated as one of the most “liveable” cities in Italy.
    Although these can be done by train, a car gives the flexibility to enjoy the cities and landscapes and villages between them.
  • Beaches — there are plenty of great beaches around Venice, and a hire car is good for getting around here to.
  • Easy hire car access — Venice Marco Polo airport is a short ferry journey from the city, so it is easy to combine a trip into Venice itself with getting a hire car for the rest of your stay. Alternatively, hire cars are also available near to Santa Lucia station, or at Mestre station, the first mainland stop.
    Check about picking up in one place and dropping off somewhere else, it may well just be cheaper to pickup and drop-off your hire car at the airport.
  • Plan B – Venice is one of those cities that everyone should visit at least once, but at the wrong time of year it can be quite literally overloaded with people, or sometimes Venice quite literally stinks! Whilst Venice is too good to miss, even if you are then heading on somewhere else, it is worth having other options available in case you get fed up after being there for a couple of days. In this respect, it is at least worth having a hire car as an option.

Why not? Venice without a car:

  • Obvious isn’t it? Venice is a city of canals and narrow back streets. It goes without saying that as there is no room in Venice for cars, then if you are only planning on staying within the city itself, there is of course no need to even contemplate getting one.
  • Getting around – Although a gondola ride will set you back a good few euros (haggle hard), getting around Venice is actually surprisingly easy, whether by water bus (vaporetto) or simply on foot. If it is gimmicks that you are after, you can evn take a ride on the Venice People Mover, which connects Tronchetto Island with Piazzale Roma.
  • Lido – Venice isn’t just about the Grand Canal and St Mark’s Square, you may also want to get out and explore around the Lido. Many of these islands are also car free, so you are still best off without one.
  • Central Train – any visitors arriving in Venice by train will appreciate that they are already in the heart of the city when they disembark at Santa Lucia station. Simply walk through the station concourse and you exit straight onto the Grand Canal. It doesn’t get better than that! For anyone with an interest in modern aswell as classical architecture, take a brief detour to the right and there you will see the highly controversial Constitution Bridge. This was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, altough its simple arch structure is a lot less flamboyant than many of this other works.
  • Tour by train — you can easily visit nearby towns and cities by train, and you can also combine a visit to Venice with other major northern Italian city such as Milan and Florence. Those three cities make a nice triangle.
  • Adriatic by boat or bus – you can take ferries to various points in Croatia from Venice, or you can take bus connections via Trieste. Although these are nothing like as convenient as having a hire car, you can at least travel along the coast in one direction, so you might get to see a lot more. Depending on your itinerary, you could head towards fantastic Dubrovnik via Split, or perhaps end up in the stunning Plitvice Lakes, and head out via the Croatian capital Zagreb.

Conclusionto enjoy the numerous attractions which are within the hinterland of Venice itself, a hire car is an extremely good idea.

Verdict — yes

Note — although Venice is not a major intercontinental hub airport, a good network of flights to Venice is available from across Europe. Some budget flights will use Venice Treviso airport, which is around 30 km to the north. If you are getting a hire car anyway, it won’t make that much difference which airport you are using, but for a short break in Venice itself without getting a hire car, it is much easier to use Marco Polo airport

Cardiff Car Hire Advice – yes or no?

Why hire a car in Cardiff?

  • Flexibility – As with any other city, a hire car will give you the flexibility to explore beyond the built-up areas in your own time. Whilst Cardiff is attractive enough, it lacks the same level of big-ticket tourist attractions that visitors to other capitals within the British Isles might be used to.
    Yes, Cardiff does have a castle, but is it really in the same league as Edinburgh Castle? On the other hand, there are plenty of really superb scenic drives and walking opportunities which can be taken by heading into the valleys out of Cardiff.
  • Gower peninsular – in my opinion, the most attractive landscapes in southern Wales are around the spectacular Gower Peninsula which is just to the west of Swansea.
    Although it is perfectly easy to cycle out to the Gower peninsula from Swansea, busses around this area are less regular, so a car is certainly a much more versatile option.
  • Welsh countryside – needless to say, beyond the valleys which are easy to reach from Cardiff is plenty of superb countryside, for which a car is almost, but not quite, essential. For mid-wales, please see our Birmingham car hire advice page and for North Wales, we also have suggestions for public transport options from Liverpool.

Why not? Visiting Cardiff and Wales without a car:

  • Valley Railways — the southern Welsh valleys can also be explored by train using the famous Valley lines, and these provide ample access for walking and cycling in these areas. However, they are all fingers branching out from the centre of Cardiff, so they don’t have the ‘up and over’ flexibility that a hire car will give you, unless you take the train up one valley and back down another.
  • Swansea, Newport and Bristol — it is easy to add on a visit to the cities of Swansea, Newport or Bristol by train from Cardiff, without needing to consider getting a hire car.
    See our Bristol car hire advice for more details about visiting the south-west of England with or without a car.

Conclusion – there are numerous British cities where I think public transport provides a perfectly workable alternative to a hire car for getting around. Whilst the Welsh Valley railway lines might appeal to some, I really think it is much better to pick up a hire car so you have the flexibility to go well beyond the ends of the railway lines to appreciate central Wales at its best.

Verdict – yes

  • Note for passengers taking flights to Cardiff — although Cardiff airport does technically have a railway station in its name, services only operate once each hour, and you still need to allow for transfer between the terminal building and the station platform. Cardiff Rhoose (Airport) station really is just that, a basic platform with no other facilities.
  • For these reasons, if you have heavy baggage or if the weather is less than perfect, and you don’t plan on getting a hire car, you might find it just as easy to take a bus direct from the airport terminal into Cardiff city centre.
  • A much wider choice of flights is available into nearby Bristol Airport.
  • Cardiff is also served by regular direct trains from London Paddington, with a typical journey time of around two hours.

Nice Car Hire Advice – yes or no?

When you hire a car in Nice, the chances are that you’ll be wanting to explore so much more than just the city of Nice itself and its immediate environs, but can you still get around this beautiful part of the world without one?

 Why hire a car in Nice?

  • Superb Scenery — as soon as you hit the roads outside Nice airport, you are in stunningly scenic terrain, whether you head east or west along the Cote d’Azur (Azur blue Coast), north into Provence or even north-east into neighbouring Italy. The cliff-hugging villages in the area immediately behind Nice is are a personal favourite.
  • Gorges De Verdon — of all the many wonderful scenic areas you can explore from Nice, the absolute must visit is the truly spectacular Gorges De Verdon, which is France’s answer to the Grand Canyon. You really cannot get there by public transport.
  • Limited public transport — if you just want to visit the major resorts along the Cote d’Azur, then you should have no problem getting around by train, but your options are much more limited if you want to head inland. We think that no visit to Nice is complete without going inland, and although there is one superb railway line running to Digne-les-Bains, away from this route your mobility is seriously restricted if you don’t have a hire car.
  • Great driving roads — this part of the world doesn’t just offer stunning scenery; the roads themselves are great works of civil engineering, especially the main motorway which runs along the coast, and offers drivers and alternating mix of viaducts and tunnels.
  • Monaco — there are lots of great and glamorous ways of getting to Monaco, but if you really want to feel like Britain’s suavest secret agent, you will at least want to pick up a BMW 302i convertible at Nice airport. Monaco is easy to drive to and around, with its own famous network of winding roads and tunnels, although be prepared to pay heavily for the privilege of parking your car.
  • No airport rail link — this might not look like a big deal, but we believe in starting as you mean to go on. Despite Nice airport being the busiest in France outside Paris, and despite the main Marseille to Nice / Monaco / Genoa railway line running right outside the airport perimeter, there is no direct train from either of the Nice airport terminals. As a general rule, if it is easy to get from the airport to the city centre by train, it is usually easier still to travel around the area by train, but in Nice, this is clearly not the case.
    Those who do want to use the train from near Nice Airport should travel light,and allow around 15 minutes to walk to Nice St Augustin suburban train station for onward connections towards Nice or St Laurant Du Var for onward connections towards Marseilles. Once at Nice Ville station, you still have to change again to a different station (Nice CP) to use the line to Digne. Naturally, for train buffs, none of this presents much of a problem, but for anyone who is thinking about whether or not to get a hire car in Nice, this swings the pendulum a little bit more towards doing so.

Why not? Nice without a car:

  • Cote D’Azur — there are plenty of trains trundling along the Cote d’Azur, with a mixture of long-distance (usually TGV, but using conventional lines) trains stopping at the major towns and slower regional services which stop everywhere. Not only are services extremely frequent, but the train also hugs some sections of the coast which are much harder to get to in a car. Heading west from Nice you can easily visit Antibes, genteel Cannes (when the film festival has moved on), plush St Tropez (bus connection from Frejus) and Toulon. Heading east from Nice you can visit Monaco and the Italian border town of Ventimiglia.
  • Monaco — if you want to save your car hire money for a flutter in the famous Casino De Monte Carlo, then you can do a lot worse than arriving in Monaco by train, in what is surely one of the world’s nicest underground stations. Train geeks can revel in the novelty factor that Monaco is the only territory in the world with just one (underground) station!
  • Walk It — Nice is one of those few cities where the airport is right on the edge of town, or, quite literally, at the end of the main street.The walk into town from the airport heads past a few of the usual airport commercial units before the Promenade Des Anglais proper starts. To reach the city centre will take around an hour, as the 4 mile / 6 km walk is flat all the way. The city itself is a delight to walk around, with a number of pedestrianised areas, whilst many streets have wide pavements. Beyond the sea front, Nice gets quite hilly, but this landscape can also provide easy access to walking areas just beyond the city. Alternatively, you can use local buses to access nearby villages and go hiking from there.
  • Bike it — this part of the world really does have some of Europe’s finest cycling territory, and this is where Lance Armstrong trained before winning his epic seven Tours De France in a row! To get the best out of these roads you will need a racing bike – Cycle Cote D’Azur in Nice will fix you up with one of these or take you on one of their tours, or you could bring your own. For more relaxed cycling in Nice itself, a public bike hire scheme is available, operating under the appropriate “Velo Blue” name, and having hire stations operating in the centre, and also along the Promenade D’Anglais. There is even a bike hire location right outside the airport, but you will need to find a location that takes card payments first – bizarely, not all terminals do this!
  • Monaco by Helicopter — these days, there might be plenty of budget flights to Nice, but the short run from Nice airport to Monaco heliport is also one of the busiest helicopter routes in the world. You might think this is all expensively glamorous, but as with any service, book well ahead, and you can travel from €110 for a one way flight.  Naturally, you will enjoy some stunningly spectacular views as you will fly over the city of Nice and the wonderful Cap Ferrat before landing in Monaco’s dramatic harbour. Seven minutes of pure indulgence! You can hire a car anywhere, but few places offer such wide availability of scheduled helicopter flights. From Monaco, you can easily continue your travels using any of the various means listed above and below.
  • Ferries — Nice is a major ferry port, and an ideal starting point to continue onwards towards Corsica, or even Sardinia below it. This sort of onward journey is much better to do without a hire car, as you then have the flexibility to continue as you please, whereas you would usually have to return a hire car to the same territory from which you picked it up, i.e. mainland France, and not Corsica or Italy.
  • Local boats — another option if you just want to stay local to Nice is to take one of the various boat services which operate around the Cote d’Azur.
  • Marseille — in the rush to hit the beautiful beaches of the Cote d’Azur, many people overlook Marseille, France’s gritty but still fascinating third city. You can easily visit Marseille in a day trip from anywhere on the Cote d’Azur, and going by train is ideal to explore everything the city itself has to offer. Allow around two hours to travel between Nice and Marseille.
    Marseille is of particular interest to architecture pundits, being the home of the groundbreaking Unite D’Habitation development by Le Corbusier — a building which shows that in the right environment and with proper upkeep, brutal concrete structures can still be remarkably appealing! See our Marseille car hire advice page for more suggestions.
  • Digne — if you can work around changing between the different stations in Nice and the relatively infrequent scheduling, then the single track excursion to Digne is highly recommended. This will give you a good introduction to the stunning scenery that this area has to offer, and you may also be able to continue onwards by exploring various hiking trails, or on a bike. However, heading this way may also have you wishing you had picked up a hire car in Nice instead, so you have been warned!
  • Cost — if you are holidaying in Nice for the first time and are more used to hiring cars in places like Malaga, Alicante and Faro, then you will find that hiring a car in Nice will be quite a bit more expensive, so you may want to weigh up the costs against the costs of using other forms of transport. Relative to elsewhere in France, car hire in Nice is generally good value.
  • Slow and fast — there is more than enough mixture of slow-paced beach life all along the Cote d’Azur for which you really won’t need a hire car, or high adrenaline activities further inland, where you can usually expect transport to be provided.
  • Cinque Terre (near Pisa, Italy) — this might initially look like a bit of a long shot from Nice, but if you are planning on travelling around a bit, then we would highly recommend continuing along the coast railway through Genoa and then on as far as Pisa. This will take you through the fantastic Cinque Terre National Park, which features five spectacular clifftop villages, which are virtually inaccessible by road. This is somewhere that is ideal to explore by train, although any journey to these villages might mean travelling to La Spezia first, and then doubling back. The most northerly village is Monterosso, with Riomaggiore being the furthest south. Allow around 6 hours to reach any of these villages, although I would suggest a few hours in historic Geno as well.
  • Fly out of Pisa – You can easily combine an outward flight to Nice with return flight home from Pisa, or vice versa. This would allow you to see some of the best coastal landscapes and cities that France and Italy have to offer. See also our Florence and Pisa car guides

Conclusion: Can you get by without a hire car in Nice? Of course you can – and I did so quite happily on my first visit, but not when I went back with a friend and we wanted to visit more of the interior.

However, the opportunities to explore this area by road are too good to be ignored, whereas public transport just isn’t that good, unless you only want ahead along the coast. I think that the scenic areas around Nice are already well enough documented, but the interior is much less celebrated.

That is where you really should go to get the best out of this part of the world, and in these areas a car is almost essential. An even better option is to take advantage of the wonderful cycling opportunities Nice presents, but if that isn’t for you, then a hire car is an acceptable second best!

Verdict – yes

Geneva Car Hire Advice – yes or no?

Switzerland has a reputation for outstanding public transport, and there are clearly innumerable fantastic train rides which can be taken out of Zürich. However, Geneva is surrounded on three sides by French territory, and is also the gateway for many French ski resorts. So, are the trains as good as they are further east, or are you better off with a hire car?

Why hire a car in Geneva?

  • French connection — Geneva is mostly surrounded by French territory, but there is only one main rail line heading out of Geneva’s Cornavin station into France, so you will find it much easier to get around in a hire car. Note — there is an additional line to Annemasse, but you will have to cross over to the Eaux-Vives station to use this (a project is under way to link the two stations).
  • Changes, changes — even if train services are available to a number of French ski resorts, you often have to transfer at least three times to get there. If you are carrying equipment, this is simply too much hassle.
  • Cost — it might be much easier to find cheap flights to Geneva compared to Zürich, but Geneva is some distance away from many major Swiss ski resorts. This can make train transfers expensive if you don’t have a discounted ticket (see below).
  • Walking — for walking holidays when resort transfer services are not so widely available, a car can often be a better option, although it is also just as easy to take a train, bus or cable car to the start of a walking route, and then to take similar public transport back from the end of your walk, allowing you to continue in one direction, rather than in a loop back to your car.

 Why visit Geneva without a car?

  • Value – with a Swiss Rail Pass, you don’t have to worry about your mileage, just sit back and enjoy the view. See our Zurich page for more advice on getting the best value out of Swiss trains.
  • Scenic routes — heading east out of Geneva, you can enjoy great views of Lake Geneva, all the way to Montreux. From here, you can continue across to Gstaad, and then on to either Bern or Interlaken, and the route is classed as scenic virtually all the way. Heading to any of the resorts above the Rhône valley, including Diablerets, Chamonix Mont Blanc, Verbier (bus from Martigny), and Crans-Montana, will also mean taking a scenic route virtually all the way.
  • Lowlands – even when out heading into the Alps, you can still take the scenic route to Basel via Neuchâtel (one of my personal favourite scenic spots).
  • Lake Geneva — if you have an unlimited pass, any of the ferries on Lake Geneva are included in the price.
  • Direct trains — trains heading east to Lausanne and on to Bern and Zürich start at Geneva airport, so no change is needed. For other destinations, regular trains are available between Geneva airport and the main Cornavin station..
  • Scenic French routes — heading west from Geneva, venture south at Bellegarde for a range of scenic routes around Chambery. Even if you just want to get to the French ski resorts, the train will take you right up Val D’Isere to Bourg St Maurice for a mountain train transfer to Les Arcs.
  • Mont Blanc circuit — there are two ways of reaching Chamonix for Mont Blanc – or for just enjoying a superbly scenic train journey across two countries. The Swiss route runs clockwise around Lake Geneva before dropping south from Montreux to Martigny. From here, the Chamonix line climbs sharply up the valley before heading south west via Vallorcine. At Chamonix, you can take the mount on line to Montenvers. From Chamonix, head to La Roche sur Foron and change for a local train back to Geneva Eaux-Vives.
  • Resort shuttle transfers are also available as well is trains, and these will almost certainly work out better value compared to driving.

Summary — there are plenty of excellent train journeys which can be taken from Geneva, although much of the best stuff is further east, as listed on our Bern, Basel and Zürich pages. Someone who spent a long weekend traversing the rail routes around Geneva might come back saying they saw some interesting things, but they are never going to reach for the same superlatives that a visitor doing the same thing around Zürich or south of Bern might say. Maybe we are simply too spoilt for choice around Zürich, and even more so around Bern. So, when it comes to Geneva, we just revert back to the usual cliche that a hire car will give you more freedom and flexibility to enjoy the scenery at your own pace.

 Verdict — yes

San Francisco Car Hire Guide (yes or no?)

Are you going to San Francisco? We’re not so interested in how you get there (but we’re assuming you’ll be flying in), the question is — how will you get around once you are there?

 Why hire a car in San Francisco?

  • Pacific Highway — whether you drive Northwest or Southeast toward Los Angeles, the Pacific Highway (Highway 1) is one of the great driving roads of the USA.
  • Redwoods — carry on up the Pacific Highway towards the border with Oregon, and you can visit the dramatic redwoods National Park, where you will encounter the tallest trees in the world.
  • Wine country — drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit the superb wine country which sits just to the north of San Francisco. Visit the famous Napa Valley or the slightly more laid-back Sonoma Valley. However, you can still get to this wine region by bus and then take a guided tour from there, and this area is also great for cycling (although the wine might make your pedalling a bit wobbly).
  • Yosemite — head directly east from San Francisco for a couple of hours and you will hit the world-famous Yosemite National Park. You can continue even further east towards the border with Nevada, where you will find White Mountain Peak, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.
  • One-way rental — you can easily start your trip to California by picking up a hire car in San Francisco and then dropping it off later in Los Angeles. You can also drop it off in Portland or Seattle to the north, or in Las Vegas.
    Generally, if you pick the right rental car company, you should be able to arrange a one-way rental to any of these relatively nearby cities without paying an extra fee.
  • Lombard Street — although there is really no need to have a hire car just to visit downtown San Francisco on its own, if you already have a car, then take a drive down the famous Lombard Street, the movie directors’ favourite venue for car scenes.
  • Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park — these two national parks sit on top of each other, and are around a three-hour drive from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. A natural one-way tour of these eastern Californian natural wonders, if starting from San Francisco, might head to Yosemite first, then Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and then further east to Death Valley for a much drier, starker experience. From Death Valley you could easily continue south west to Los Angeles, straight down to San Diego or back through the Big Sur to San Francisco.

Why visit San Francisco without a car?

  • City of San Francisco — whilst San Francisco itself needs no introduction, the city structure is vastly different from fellow Californian mega-city Los Angeles, where we strongly recommend getting a hire car. This is because San Francisco has a large and very clearly defined central area, and this very much follows the traditional tightly packed European urban model.
  • Alcatraz Ferry — San Francisco’s world famous former prison is obviously somewhere you don’t need a car to get to.
  • San Francisco cable cars — although the naming might be slightly confusing, as in most other cities these would be referred to as trams, the San Francisco cable cars are legitimately named as such because they run on a pulley system, with traction provided by cables running underneath the street.
    These delightful streetcars are as much an icon of San Francisco as the red Routemaster bus is of London, except that the poor Routemaster has been retired from all but one or two ceremonial routes!
  • BART — originating in the late 70s and long before Simpsons, BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, the ultramodern underground system that provides easy transport through the San Francisco Bay region. BART is also supplemented by the “Muni”, a system of trams which also runs underground through the city centre, in a tunnel just above the BART line.
  • Just keep walking — of all the American cities I have visited, San Francisco has to be one of the most delightful just to enjoy walking around. Apart from downtown San Francisco itself, the other obvious area to head towards is Golden Gate Park, and then through the simple grid pattern of Richmond to the Presidio and right up to Fort Point, for close-up views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Golden Gate Bridge — although the bridge is most naturally associated with cars, it is possible to walk or cycle across it, and this is undoubtedly the best way to take in the breathtaking views of and from the bridge. If you only take one walk in the San Francisco area, then make it this one, and take advantage of being able to take pictures of the scene directly, rather than from a moving car or bus. Access varies by time of day, with pedestrians generally using the eastern (Bay) side, whilst only cyclists can use the western (Pacific) side.
  • Ferries — numerous ferries shunt back and forth across the Bay Area, supplementing the bus network which uses the main bridges, and the rail network, which includes tunnels for BART.
  • California Academy of Sciences — If there is one new building that is a must-see above all others, it is the California Academy of Sciences, designed by Italian “Starchitect” Renzo Piano. This facility, with its massive living green roof is situated in Golden Gate Park, so it is easy to get to using public transport. You can even make a night time visit on a Thursday, providing you are aged 21 or over, as drinks are served.
  • Marin County cycling — the area immediately to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge is renowned for cycling, and this from where the famous Marin bikes brand takes its name. You should have no problem arranging bike hire for the day or longer, often including van pickups.
  • Marin County Civic Center — as featured in the film Gattaca, Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael is one of the most famous Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Although it would be just as easy to pop in here in a rental car, this prominent public building is also easy to reach using Golden Gate transit buses.
  • Pacific coast by rail — Highway 1 makes a great drive, but you can also head along a similar alignment by taking the train south to Los Angeles. Amtrak Viewliner coaches all have massive panorama windows, and there’s no need for any arguments about who does the driving.
    Another amazing, but much longer, rail trip is to head east from San Francisco towards Denver, heading through the breathtaking Rocky Mountains.
  • Open jaw trips — these days it is easy to visit two or more different cities and to return home from a different location. Whilst low-cost airlines will let you book individual single trips anyway, if you are flying in to California from Europe or Asia, your best bet is to travel with an airline that serves both the cities you want to fly in/out from/to. United Airlines has a hub operation in Los Angeles as well San Francisco, so they might be ideal. From the UK, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operate flights from London to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, giving plenty of options for open jaw ticketing.

Conclusion – Whilst there is certainly no need for a hire car within San Francisco itself, there are clearly many other places outside the Bay Area which can also be visited by using public transport, or even by bike, especially as California is one of the more progressive states with regard to cycling infrastructure.

Verdict – no

St Kitts car hire advice

This advice covers both island of St Kitts and Nevis, although it assumes you are arriving on flights to St Kitts (Basseterre).

Why get a hire car in St Kitts or Nevis?

  • Explore at your leisure — with so much stunning scenery, a car is ideal for visiting both islands.
  • Poor public transport — buses congregate around the seafront in Basseterre, but they tend to leave when they are full, and there is no set timetable or interval.
    Also, there is no bus service out to Frigate Bay where the main Marriott resort is, nor are there any buses serving the peninsula. It is assumed that all villa users will have their own transport, but this is often not the case.
  • Sea Bridge — you can take the Sea Bridge ferry across to neighbouring Nevis and explore the island at your own leisure. Alternatively, you can park in Basseterre and use the passenger ferry – a hire car gives you the flexibility to use either option, whereas there is no public transport serving the Sea Bridge on the St Kitts site.
    Whether you get a hire car or not, an excursion to Nevis is highly recommended – see options for visiting Nevis without a car below.
  • Plantation Inns — both St Kitts and Nevis have a number of plantation inns which tend to be situated away from the bus routes. Wherever you are staying, these plantations are always good to visit for a meal or a very genteel afternoon tea.

Why not? St Kitts and Nevis without a car:

  • Car hire cost — in our survey of car hire prices around the world for cities featured on Carornocar.com, the cost of renting a car in St Kitts is amongst the highest in the world.
  • Taxis are widely available, and are usually reasonably priced, with fixed rates to and from major locations such as the ports and airports. Always agree the price in advance, and confirm whether the quote is in local (EC) dollars or US$.
    You can charter a taxi with driver for the day, although this will be considerably more expensive than getting a hire car or just making individual taxi trips.
  • Limited road space — a car might be fine for a day tour around the island, and an additional day on Nevis, but after that you might well find that you don’t need to go that far anyway, or that you’re doing other activities which don’t need a car.
  • Local driving licence — in order to drive a car in St Kitts or in Nevis, you need to pay for local driving licence, which costs US $20. Considering that a hire car in St Kitts is expensive enough as it is, this is just an unwelcome extra cost.
  • Sugar train — step outside Robert Bradshaw airport and it almost looks like there is a station right on-site. In fact, Basseterre has the curious distinction of being the only city with a station next to the airport, but no train service to the city centre.
    This is because the sugar train is very much setup as a scenic attraction, rather than a functional line, and if you can get a booking, this really is a great ride to take, and the only one of its kind in the Caribbean (outside Cuba).
    I would like to say that the St Kitts sugar train alone is a reason not to bother with a hire car, but unfortunately despite having made several trips to the island, I’ve never yet managed to go on it.
    Running patterns are determined more by the arrival of cruise ships than by any kind of regular schedule, and then the service tends to sell out quickly to block bookings from the cruise companies, so check ahead to see if you can get on board.
  • Buses — despite local buses not running to a European style schedule, they are still a great way of getting around either island.
    All the major settlements are served, and circular trips can be done from either Basseterre in St Kitts or Charlestown in Nevis.
    Buses usually have their names in emblazoned on the front, and they can stop anywhere on the route. Payment is usually around $3 EC per trip, made at the end of the journey.
  • Town ferry — whereas the Sea Bridge is mainly a vehicle ferry, a slower but far more scenic ferry operates between Basseterre and Charlestown, catering for pedestrian traffic. This makes it easy to travel both between and around the islands by a combination of bus and ferry.
  • Cycling – despite its compact size, Nevis has established itself as a leading destination in the Caribbean for cycling, and it even hosts an annual triathlon which attracts top competitors from around the world.
    Bikes can be hired from Ouallie Beach in Nevis. You can also hire a bike and explore both islands, using either the Sea Bridge or the town ferry.
  • Walkability — the islands are generally pleasant to walk around, and there are several reasonable hotels within the town of Basseterre. Any of the sea level hotels in Nevis are easy to get to by bus.
    Real cheapskates (we know, not usually an expression you associate with travel around the Caribbean, but there are a few of us) can even walk from Robert Bradshaw airport into Basseterre.

Conclusion: – To get the best out of both islands, a hire car is extremely useful to have. In any other destination we would say that the hire car costs are exorbitant, but nothing in the Caribbean comes cheap, so if you’re spent a fortune getting here and you want to keep things simple, a hire car is a good idea.

Verdict — yes.

Note: Very few car hire companies actually have representation at Robert Bradshaw airport in Basseterre, and there is no on-site car hire facility at Vance Amory airport in Nevis. Avis have an office in Basseterre, which is only five minutes’ drive from the airport, so it should be fairly straightforward to arrange a pickup.

Belfast Car Hire Advice – do I need a car here?

The Northern Ireland peace process has brought about a significant rise in the number of tourists visiting Belfast. As with most European cities, the main attractions in Belfast itself are easy to walk to, so what about places to visit beyond the city?

Why hire a car in Belfast?

  • Limited railway lines — look at any major city in England or central Scotland, and you will usually see a network of rail lines fanning out, including local and long-distance services. There are only four railway lines heading out of Belfast, two of which only provide suburban connections to Larne and Bangor respectively. A regional service operates as far as Derry (Londonderry), whereas the Enterprise service continues down to Dublin Needless to say, you can head out of Belfast in any direction you want in a hire car. This network, branded as Translink, is not just short on routes, frequencies outside the Belfast area are also extremely poor. For example, trains to Derry depart roughly every two hours, considerably less often than might be expected on an equivalent inter-city service elsewhere in the UK.
  • Giant’s Causeway — this is surely the most impressive natural feature on the Emerald Isle, and is only a short drive from Belfast.
    However, scheduled (from Belfast, Coleraine or Portrush) or guided bus trips are available, so there is no need to get a hire car just to visit Giant’s Causeway.
  • Inland — the railway routes in Northern Ireland generally stay close to the coast, so to go anywhere inland, especially to visit the various points of interest around Lough Neah, you will need a rental car, or you will have to rely on slow bus services.
  • Blue Stack mountains — head across into Co Donegal for some superb scenery on Ireland’s northwest coast.
  • Poor public transport — although Northern Ireland has seen a lot of investment in recent years, little of this has gone on to noticeable public transport infrastructure, although the Translink fleet itself has been upgraded. No new lines have been built, and unlike many comparable cities in central or northern England, there is no form of tram in Belfast. The city remains car dependent, and it has relatively few good routes to explore by bike.

Why not? Belfast without a car:

  • Coastal trains — what Northern Ireland lacks in quantity is more than made up for in quality. The train hugs the coast in many areas, offering some excellent scenic views, especially between Coleraine and Derry, along Lough Foyle, and south of Newry most of the way to Dublin.
    My personal favourite is the train journey into Belfast from Larne Harbour.
  • Celtic cousins — instead of just visiting Northern Ireland, why not combine a trip to Belfast with a visit to Glasgow, or even tack on Edinburgh and Dublin at each end? This is an easy rail trip, with plenty of flights available from throughout Europe at either end if you extend to the Scottish and Irish capitals. The train south of Ayr towards Stranraer is particularly scenic, and you also get to include a short ferry crossing on the Irish Sea, although this now needs a bus link from Cairnryan harbour to Stranraer station.
  • Ramble by bus – you can take “Rambler” buses along designated scenic routes, giving you access to the Mourne Mountains to the south of Belfast, or the Sperrins to the west. A Rambler bus service also operates along the coastline near Giant’s Causeway. Other buses run directly in to scenic areas, such as the Davagh Forest country park.
  • Boat trips – from Ballycastle, you can take a boat to Rathlin Island, with its nature reserve. Further west and into the Republic of Ireland, you could take a boat from Burtonport to Arranmore Island. The outings themselves are car-free, however, although you can reach both ports by bus, it is still easier to get to these places in a hire car.

Conclusion — despite some useful bus connections to supplement the handful of railway routes which are on offer, public transport options in and around Belfast are still relatively limited, and the best attractions in the region are landscapes rather than cities.

This makes our verdict lean heavily towards recommending getting a hire car.

Verdict — yes (strong)

Note — it is easy to pick up a hire car at either Belfast International or Belfast George Best city airport. If you don’t plan on getting a hire car, you’re better off flying into Belfast city airport, which is much closer to central Belfast. You can even take a short shuttle bus journey to nearby Sydenham station to start onward rail journeys within Northern Ireland, although for just getting to the city centre, it is quicker to take a taxi or shuttle bus. Belfast City airport has a wider network of domestic flights from the rest of the UK, whereas Belfast International has more flights from mainland Europe.

Belfast and Northern Ireland  Local transport links:

Pisa

The compact city of Pisa might well be world famous for its dodgy engineering, but any visitor to the region is obviously going to want to see a lot more than this, and there is certainly plenty to see within Pisa itself and nearby, without having to travel particularly far. When it comes to transport, Pisa Galileo Galilei airport is actually the main airport serving not just Pisa, but also Florence, the Tuscany region and many other cities between Milan and Rome.

We’re basing this advice on the assumption that you are arriving on a flight into Pisa airport, and that you are considering hiring a car for your stay. In contrast, our Florence car hire guide assumes you are arriving there by train (as there are few flights to Florence Airport) and not considering getting a hire car, so these two guides are very much interchangeable.

Why rent a car in Pisa?

  • Tuscany — the famous rolling hills and vineyards of Tuscany are a natural opportunity for a driving tour, and Pisa is the main gateway for this. However, this kind of road trip is fairly obvious. If you were planning on doing this, there isn’t really much we could add!
  • Flexibility — as with anywhere, a hire car will let you see the places you want to visit at your own space.
  • North and East — don’t forget that there is a lot more to Pisa than just heading south into Tuscany. However, some of these places are much better to reach by train, as explained below.

Why not? – Visiting Pisa without a car:

  • Cinque Terre – the stunningly scenic Cinque Terre National Park area is often overlooked in the rush to get to the big guns in Pisa and Florence, but this really is a completely unique place to visit. I will have to confess that despite running travel websites now for over 10 years, I only found out about the Cinque Terre within the last 3-4 years, and I kicked myself for leaving it off my last Italian trip, which finished in Pisa. Maybe the Cinque Terre are not as famous as they should be because they have only recently been declared a national park, but either way, this collection of five villages which are all built into steep coastal terrain should be as much of a must see as anywhere else in this region.
    There are many famous villages in the world which are no-go areas for the private car due to their compact historic streets or inaccessible terrain, but there are very few which are so accessible by main-line train. In the case of the Cinque Terre, they are all linked as part of the train route between La Spezia and Genoa, making this one of the great rail journeys of Europe.
    You can also travel between the villages via a network of (chargeable) hiking trails or by boat. As villages go, it doesn’t get any less car dependent than this!
    For these reasons alone, I suggest you should include at least two days into your Pisa trip without a car – although by the time you have added a day in Pisa itself, a couple of days in Florence and a tour around Tuscany by bus or coach, and a day just relaxing, a week is easily up.
  • Pisa city — Pisa is home to a number of renaissance landmarks, particularly around the leaning tower itself, and even if the leaning Tower takes all the glory, you can easily include a day on foot within Pisa.
  • Coast and beaches — don’t forget that around Pisa are a number of beach resort areas, and this is where you will find most of the night-time activity. Plenty of buses supplement local train services around this region.
  • Florence — the natural tendency for people arriving on flights to Pisa is to head to Florence and to spend a few days there. Of course, we must advise you in the strongest possible terms to visit the Cinque Terre aswell, but it is easy to spend several days soaking up the art and architecture of Florence without seeing anywhere near all of it. Regular trains to Florence run from Pisa airport, also calling at Pisa Centrale station. See our Florence car hire guide for more on this.
  • Compact connections — when I visited Pisa in 2009, the first train I planned to catch from Florence was cancelled, so I was running a little short on time. I asked a taxi driver how much he would charge to take me to the airport, and he said €50. This was one of the most blatant taxi rip-offs I had ever heard, as I knew the airport was only about a mile from the Central Station, which in turn was only another mile from the Leaning Tower. As it happened, a bus turned up a few minutes later and the journey only took 10 minutes. You can also start your rail journey around north-west Italy at Pisa airport, which is only 2-3 minutes by train from Centrale station. From here, the airport train continues to Florence, whereas other connections are available to Genoa via La Spezia and the Cinque Terre, and to Bologna.

Conclusion: If your main intention is to drive around Tuscany and other scenic regions and you only want to make very brief visits into the city centres, then we would advise getting a hire car as you may well have originally planned to do, but for any other itinerary, it is clear that a hire car is not necessary.

Verdict — no

Marseille

“Fifth gear in Provence?”

Marseille is one of those places that is a perfectly interesting destination in its own right, whilst also being a gateway to a number of popular rural areas, the most prominent being of course the region of Provence.

To advise on whether or not to get a hire car in Marseille we would naturally ask whether or not potential car hirers were visiting just the city and surrounding areas, or heading into deeper Provence. Unsurprisingly, the city areas and nearby coastal stretches lean more towards not needing a hire car, whereas one would naturally associate getting around the rolling hills of Provence with having the flexibility of a hire car.

 Why hire a car in Marseille?

  • Provence — fairly obviously, this beautiful but rural region needs a hire car to do it justice.
  • Coastal regions — you do not have to travel far from Marseille, whether east or west, to find superb coastlines and great beaches. Again, these areas are always easier to explore with a hire car.
  • Public transport limitations — as you will read below, you certainly can travel between the major cities in this region by train, but the system is not very well integrated. For example, there is no railway station at Marseille airport, despite it being one of the busiest in France outside Paris. Instead, you will have to take a shuttle bus and then a slow local train.
    Marseille might be the southern end of France’s trunk TGV route, but this is only really useful if you want to head back towards Paris.
    Even for relatively local journeys such as to Avignon or Aix, the TGV only stops infrequently and it will not take you into the city centres. There are even fewer options for heading inwards to Provence, as the main railway line that serves this region (the Digne line) leaves from Nice, not Marseille.
  • Pont Du Gard — I will admit that I visited the world-famous Roman aqueduct at Pont Du Gard in the summer of 2008, and I did so without a car. I had flown in to Marseille that morning, and was continuing through to Perpignan where I was meeting family. The first stretch of my journey involved a short coach ride and then a brief hop on the TGV between Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. From there, I had to catch a bus into town and then another bus out to Pont Du Gard — so far so good — a little bit of a complicated journey, but it all ran to plan. Having spent a couple of hours at Pont Du Gard, there was no sign of the bus to take me onwards to Nimes. After waiting around half an hour, I called the helpline, and was told it would be along shortly. Eventually, the bus turned up, but it would have been difficult to have known where you stood if you don’t speak workable French. The onward train from Nimes was also heavily delayed. This is all a great deal of hassle to go through, even if the bridge itself is well worth the effort!

Why not? – Marseille and Provence without a car:

  • City of Marseille — Marseille is often overlooked by tourists who are heading towards Provence and other areas inland, which conform to the more traditional picture postcard definition of scenic. Instead, Marseille offers a truly lively city with a huge range of different cuisines, as well as some spectacular modern architecture. All of this can easily be done using the excellent public transport that the city has to offer, including a small metro system. By far and away the most important modern building in the city is Le Corbusier’s “Unite D’habitation” — love it or hate it, this is what skyscraping accommodation blocks and streets in the sky were supposed to be like. Another modern classic is the “Big Blue” county hall building, designed by the British architect Will Alsop.
  • Calanques – this superb area of cliff trails is one of the few national parks in the world you can quite literally walk to from within the city limits. Note that this area is closed during the hottest summer months (July and August) due to the fire risk.
  • Multiple city tour — basing yourself in Marseille, you can easily visit the former papal headquarters of Avignon and the Roman city of Nimes by train.
  • Coastline — the railway line between Marseille and Ventimiglia in Italy has some absolutely superb coastal stretches, whilst also taking in world-famous resorts like St Tropez and Cannes before passing through Nice and then Monaco. See our Nice page for more about this.
  • Bike it — there is no doubt that, as mentioned above, the area around Marseille offers some superb opportunities for touring by car, but this is also top-notch cycling territory, and many world-famous cyclists and triathletes train in this area. As many of the roads around here are steep and unforgiving, you will need to either hire a decent road bike or bring your own.
  • Train from London — if you want to head somewhere on the Mediterranean but also would rather get there by train, then Marseille is naturally your first port of call. You can do this journey with a simple change in Lille, or you can travel via Paris and take in a few city sights on the way. Allow around six hours to reach Marseille from London, or just over three hours for the fastest TGV trains from Paris to Marseille. If you are already arriving by train, then you will be near the city centre and you may well want to continue onwards by train.
    However, if you do want to get a hire car, be prepared to pay significantly more in Marseille city centre. In fact, based on price alone, you may well find it cheaper to alight at Avignon or Aix-en-Provence station instead. Note that Eurostar do also offer weekly trains to Avignon during the summer — these arrive in the city centre, not the cathedral like TGV station.
  • Boat trips and ferries – several options are available for taking boat trips from Marseille, including for excellent views of the Calanques. Marseille is also a gateway port for destinations further afield, including Corsica.
  • Cost — car hire in France is relatively expensive when compared with other European countries, especially if you’re used to hiring cars in Spain, and hiring a car in Marseille is no cheaper than anywhere else – in fact, expect to pay around 30% more than for comparable car hire at Nice airport.

Conclusion: We started with the expectation that if you are flying into Marseille and then carrying on in to Provence, then there isn’t really much argument to say you could get by in this region without a hire car.

However, that should be reasonably obvious anyway, so it isn’t really worth basing our verdict on that kind of trip.

If on the other hand you want to fly into Marseille and actually base yourself in the city, then there should be more than enough places that you can easily get to without needing a hire car, including some great scenery which is close to the city itself.

For these reasons, our verdict for Marseille itself is a firm no.

Overall verdict – no

Note — despite launching with a big fanfare, the budget “mp2″ terminal at Marseille airport has only managed to sustain a limited number of low-cost routes from outside France, so you might also want to consider flights to Avignon or even to nearby Nimes or Montpellier. Alternatively, a much wider choice of flights to Nice is available from most UK regional airports. Nice also offers relatively easy access to the interior, as well as the Cote D’Azur region. See our Nice car hire advice page for more details.

Bergen

It is a while since I actually visited Bergen, but oddly enough, the scenery hasn’t changed much, and nor has the infrastructure.

Back then, you could take your own car on the DFDS ferry between Newcastle and Bergen. This is no longer an option (DFDS canned the route in 2008), so assuming you arrive on flights to Bergen instead, what’s the best way to get around?

So, the obvious suggestion would be that a rental car is the best way to explore this very scenic, but sparsely populated part of the world. But the costs are astronomical – Bergen tops the list of cities I’ve looked at, with car hire prices starting at over £300 per week.

For this reason, I think it is worth thinking again:

Why get a hire car in Bergen?

  • Explore: For all the obvious reasons – this is a land of stunning scenery, and the only way to do it justice is in a hire car.
  • Hardanger Fjord – not only this this perhaps the most famous of Norway’s fjords, but it might have been one to reach by rail, had the Granvin line been kept open. Note: Google maps shows Granvin station as being open, when this is not the case.
  • Expensive trains too! – car hire in Bergen (or in Norway generally) might be expensive, but the trains are too. The price of car hire in Norway is more of a reflection of the generally high cost of living, rather than of motoring costs.

Reasons not to hire a car in Bergen:

  • Cost - whether due to the high costs in Norway or not, car hire in Bergen is still ridiculously expensive, and more so than any other city we have looked at for Car Or No Car. For this reason alone, it is very difficult to advise hiring a car here!
  • Stunning rail trips: The Bergen to Oslo railway is rare amongst inter-city lines in that it is rated as scenic for virtually its entire length.
  • Flåm Railway – this route is one of the most famous scenic routes in Europe, if not one of the great railway journeys of the world. The line branches off the Bergen to Oslo railway line, itself also incredibly scenic, but is much closer to Bergen than it is to Oslo.
  • Boats: Whether you take advantage of organised trips, or use the ferries (combined with buses), the fjords are at their most impressive when reflected in all their glory from the water. Taking your car onto the ferries is an additional expense on top of already exorbitant Bergen car hire prices!
  • Walk it: The other ‘classic’ view of the fjords is from the top, but the best spots are rarely accessible directly by car, so you will have to plan to do some walking. Whereas many other scenic parts of the world can be visited by a ‘road trip’, the car in this part of the world is only going to take you to and from the start of a walk.
  • Outdoor Activities – there are many excellent opportunities for guided outdoor activities, and these may well come with transport provided, in which case a hire car won’t be needed.

Conclusion – you would naturally expect that a hire car in Bergen will give you the most flexibility, but there clearly are other options. As car hire in Norway is more expensive than anywhere else I have seen, I have to suggest thinking twice before booking.

Verdict – no (based on cost)

What about car hire in Haugesund or Stavanger?

  • Bergen is more of a gateway to the fjords, although it may be tempting to look at Ryanair’s flights to Haugesund. However, Haugesund is nowhere near a station, so it is harder to get around without a car, and there are no scenic rail routes to enjoy. If it is a case of enjoying the area around Bergen without a car, or flying into Haugesund and renting, one, then those ‘cheap’ flights could end up being very expensive indeed!