Traveling by Train in Italy: An Introduction

Travel between Italian cities is evermore convenient, as discount airlines spread and bus tours flourish. However, the traditional method of Italian train travel remains an exceptional and most frequently used option to tour the country. It is also a superb way to see the countryside, which changes dramatically with each region and of course, season. Like any long-distance public transportation, there are a few things that you might want to know before taking your first train trip on the peninsula.

Italian bullet train Freccia RossaA Freccia Rossa, one of Italy's fastest bullet trains, departing Milan's central station. © iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

There are different types of trains from which you can select when planning your journey. The Eurostar - known in Italy as Freccia Rossa, Freccia Argento e Freccia Bianca - are "bullet" trains which travel quickly between major European cities: they are the fastest and most expensive option. Intercity trains travel quickly between major Italian cities and are the next most expensive option. Trains labeled Regionale are intended for traveling short distances to nearby cities, and are the cheapest and least comfortable option. It is always a good idea to ask to reserve a seat and pay the fee if necessary. If you do not, you may end up standing for hours in a small hallway holding your suitcase without a seat. You also have the option to ride first or second class on Intercity trains, while the Freccie have four different levels of seating.

Many Italian travel agencies provide ticket-booking services, and certain tickets can be bought at www.trenitalia.com. In Italy, it is best to go directly to a train station and use either the electronic ticket kiosks or the biglietteria, which look like glass post office service windows. Have in mind the kind of train you would like to take and what time you would like to depart. Do not be afraid to ask questions, such as “Which train is fastest?” (“Qual'e’ il piu veloce?") or “Which train is cheaper?” or “I would like a seat reservation. Do you have a window/aisle seat?”

After this you must validate your ticket by stamping it before boarding the train or you risk receiving substantial fines. Once you have obtained the ticket, find a rectangular yellow box hanging at the end of the platforms in major stations, or near the entrance to the platforms in smaller stations. After validation, find your binario, or track number, and arrive about 15 minutes in advance. If you got a reserved seat (posto riservato), your ticket will also include a number for carrozza, or coach number, and posto, your seat.

There are some tips to follow to make your train ride more enjoyable:

  1. Bring food and drink. There is often a food/drink car or pushcart, but it might not pass your seat in the time you are on the train and the selection is often limited.
  2. If you are a woman and foresee having to use the restroom, bring your own Kleenex or toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Train restrooms are not always well-stocked and the water does not always run.
  3. Check the arrival time on your ticket and be awake and astute at least 30 minutes before. You might want to gather your belongings and move towards the exit 10 minutes before.
  4. Keep your validated ticket; a person will be coming by to check.
  5. People on trains are often friendly, so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with your new neighbors.

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