Taking the train in Italy is a reliable, easy, and fast way to get around and explore new places. However, it can also present challenges to those who are unfamiliar with how it works or come from a non-train taking culture.
Fear not! It’s actually really easy, once you break it down. Ready for un buon viaggio? Andiamo.
What You Need to Know – Train Companies
Within each region, there are also regional trains that typically run within that specific section of Italy.
On the whole, you can bet that if you’re crossing regions, you’re going to want to take a national train. If you’re staying in the same region, you can make do with a regional train.
OK, but now what do you do, how do you know which to take?
My recommendation is to go to TrenItalia’s website and plan your trip. Once you figure out the stations names, where you’re going etc, you can log into Italotreno and see if you can get a better rate for the national train section.
TrenItalia covers both regional and national travel, so it’s a great place to start because it shows both options. Italotreno instead shows just the national train stops.
Here are two hints:
— The websites can be viewed in English (although of course Cher and I would love it if you booked in Italian 🙂 )
— You need to know the station name, and the ITALIAN name of the city, for example, if you search Florence on TrenItalia, nothing comes up, if you search FIRENZE – bingo!
Alright! You’re on the site, you planned your trip, you’re ready to go!
Just pay and book ticket right through the website to avoid lines at the train station.
But, if for some reason that’s not possible, save the search, go to the station and buy tickets from the kiosk or directly from the teller using the info you already researched (warning: depending on the city, be prepared for lines).
What to Do on the Day of Your Trip
Your next step is the day of your actual travel. Some tickets require validation, and some don’t.
Validation means punching the ticket in the small validation boxes at the train station (it stamps the date and time).
A couple quick notes about validation:
— If you have a train ticket with seats, you likely DO NOT need to validate.
— Regional trains are more usual to require validation. The reason is because even if you selected a train time, at the kiosk or with the teller, the ticket is a general ticket, meaning it can be used anytime. Once you validate it, it stays valid for between 90 min and 4 hrs depending on the ticket type. If you bought a regional ticket online,, it has a time stamp already on it, and different rules for how long it’s valid. Just make sure to read the fine print.
— If you’re in doubt, validate anyways, the price for riding without a validated ticket can be over 100 euros in fines.
All aboard…but where do you go?
Ok your ticket is validated, you’re ready to go! Now what? Take a look at your biglietto.
Check the train number for the train on the partenze section of the arrivals / departures board, and then look for the binario or platform number.
Hint: I say check your train number on purpose because otherwise you can make a mistake. Sometimes the boards show the FINAL stop, which may or may not be your stop, so if you just look for the city, you might not find the right train!
For example, you’re going to Rome, your train might show up on the board as “Naples” because that’s the final stop (with a stop in Rome along the way). Checking the train number is the only way to be 100% sure you’re getting on the right train.
Now that you have your train figured out, make your way to the binario (platform) and be prepared if traveling on a national train line, you might have to show your ticket to an agent to pass through to the platforms.
Once you’re there, in front of your binario, take a look at your ticket again. If you’re traveling on a national train line, you will have an assigned seat and carriage.
Have a look at your ticket and find the word carrozza, that’s your carriage. The carriages are usually marked all along the platform with numbers overhead, make your way down the platform to your specific carrozza.
Once you are waiting under the correct carriage number, when the train comes, look at the train itself to understand which door to go in. Seats 1-x will be one side of the carriage while seats x to x will be on the other.
That’s it, you’re now on your way!
Just a couple more things to know…
— In general, the fast trains (national) are the best way to go long distances. If you take the national train from Florence to Rome for example, it’s only 1.5 hours, but in the car it takes over 3 AND you can run into traffic and parking issues.
— You can save money by going long distances on regional trains. Regional trains DO have to cross regions sometimes, but they stop about 400 times in between. So, if you want to save the most amount of money, you can take a regional train in about 6 hrs from Florence to Rome, for only 15 euro or so (vs. 29+ for the train that takes 1.5 hours).
— You can cross international borders on the trains, so if you feel like it, head north into other countries by train! You’ll still need your passport!
— If your train is significantly delayed, you’re entitled to a refund (partial or full). You can read about this in the fine print on your ticket.
— Watch out for gypsies or zingari. A train station is a great place for them to steal from your bag or pickpocket you because it’s busy, loud and distracting. Keep your belongings close the whole time, and don’t accept help from anyone who doesnt work for the train station or a railway company! One “trick” they like to do is offer to help with your bags, and then they refuse to give them back without payment. Decline any such offers for help if it’s not from a staff member (clearly marked with uniforms and badges).
What about you? Have you ever traveled by train in Italy? How did it go?