If you’re planning on visiting Italy one day, one essential way to see all the majestic cities is by train. The railroad tracks link just about every city in Italy, making it easy to get to all the beautiful sites and historical monuments. In Italy, traveling by train is the most preferred method for traveling. It the fastest, most convenient and lets not forget that driving and parking in Italian cities is a nightmare. Spending the last two weeks in Italy, we have traveled to Tuscany, Rome, Orvieto, Positano, Sorrento, Naples, and now getting ready to end our journey in Florence. In total we have stepped onto eight different Italian trains in the past three weeks!
Traveling by train or treno (trey-no) in Italy is relatively different than the United States, so there are few things you need to know before you start your journey through Italy. Ironically, I’m sitting on a high-speed train, traveling back to Arezzo from Sorrento, as we speak! During my journey, I have became an expert and gained some key tips on traveling by train that will be essential as you begin your own journey.
Types of Trains
When traveling by train in Italy you will most likely be using a Regionale (regional) or InterCity train to travel shorter distances between cities or a high-speed train to shoot directly to different main cities of the country.
1.) Regionale (regional) Trains
- Regionale trains operate all over Italy. No seat reservations are required for these trains and fares are relativley inexpensive. Tickets can be bought directly at the stations from the fast ticket machines. These trains come in all different shapes and sizes.
2.) InterCity Trains
- InterCity trains also operate all over Italy and connect key cities like Rome, Milan, Venice and Florence. They are relatively fast and make fewer stops than Regionale trains….and a little more comfy with movable head rests for all sizes. You may not have a choice when it comes to picking from Regionale or InterCity trains, as they both run in the same direction and travel to the same stations. In this matter I recommend choosing the cheaper cost whether it be either a Regionale or InterCity.
3.) High-speed Trains
- High-speed trains are comfortable fast trains that get you to all of the popular Italian cities. All trains have: air-conditioning, large luggage racks, power sockets for electronic devices, complimentary refreshments and usually a resturant/bar car. The three types of high-speed trains Frecciarossa (Red Arrows), Frecciabianca (White Arrows) and Frecciargento (Silver Arrows) travel up to 200-300 km/h (125-186 mph). Being the fastest trains on the Italian train links, one of these high-speed trains will get you to your final destination in a blink of an eye!
*Travel Guide Tips: Wherever you are planning to travel and what ever train you might end up on, keep your items and luggage safe. Every train you travel on has compartments above your seats for book bags and medium-sized suitcases. You can store your luggage directly above your head with easy accessibility to all of your items. When traveling on Regionale or InterCity trains with larger luggage, such as a suitcase, your bags will have to go on the floor in front of you (leaving you little amount of leg room). If you have larger luggage on one of Italy’s high-speed trains, there are designated suitcases spots at the ends of every cart where you can leave your suitcase.
Now you’re ready to jump on board! Here are the next three steps you need to know in order to start your train journey through Italy!
1.) Buying Your Ticket
Whether you are traveling city-to-city by a Regionale train or you are traveling far and jump on one of Italy’s High-speed trains, the very first step is to purchase your ticket. There are three different ways you can do this!
- Online – The official website for the Italian Railways is trenitalia.com. Here you can visit the site and book your train tickets even before entering Italy. The website itself is very easy to navigate through, especially if you know where it is you would like to go. In the top left hand corner of the website there is a button to change the language to English. I highly recommend changing the website language in assurance that you will end up exactly where you want to go. Also you can use the website to just check times and fares for all Italian routes, if you wish to plan out your trip before the actual purchase.
Here is some additional information on a step-by-step process of how to navigate through the site.
- Fast Ticket Machines – Trains in Italy hardly ever sell out. If they do they will have multiple options on getting you to your official destination. At every train station you will find a multitude of “fast ticket” machines. These touchscreen machines are easy to use and have the first popup option to change the language to English (or any other language). These machines take both cash and credit cards and sell both regional and long-distance tickets.
The video below features Coastal Carolina University’s faculty member, Claudia Dominguez demonstrating how to use a fast ticket machine with instructions. If you want further information or want to become a pro at working on of these machines before you travel, here’s a step-by-step guide that illustrates how to work one.
*Travel Guide Tips: Traveling a lot these past three weeks, I would recommend ordering your ticket by the fast ticket machines. With this option you can use either cash of credit and not have to worry about the currency conversion rate (which sometimes gets very confusing). Also you do not need to worry about printing your ticket out online or trying to find a printer while you’re in another country. If you have trouble with either of these two options you can always go to the ticket window at the train station and ask for help. Just remember that the person behind the counter may not speak English very well and it may be hard to translate exactly what you want.
2.) Ticket Validation
One thing that you may not be use to, but is one of the most important steps, is validating your ticket. You only need to validate tickets for regional trains.You can do this by walking up to any small green or yellow machines and slide your ticket in. Usually these machines are located right next to the fast ticket machines or at the entrance to every train platform. InterCity and High-speed trains do not need to be validated since you get assigned seats.
If you fail to validate your ticket you can possibly get charged a fee close to €50, or worse you can get kicked off the train at the nearest stop. If you forget to validate your ticket and wish to avoid these penalties, I recommend going directly to one of the conductors and letting them know you did not have time to validate your ticket.
*Travel Guide Tips: If you do enter your InterCity or High-speed train and someone is in your seat, all you need to do is simply ask him or her to move. Notify them they are in your seat by saying “posto prenotato” (post-oh prey-no-tot-toe), translated “I have that seat reserved”.
3.) Reading The Destination Board
The first thing you need to remember when reading the destination board is that Italy uses a 24 hour clock, so a train leaving at 4 in the afternoon will be shown departing at 15:00.
For tourist that are traveling in Italy, the important part of the entire board will be on the left hand side, or the departing/partenze (par-ten-zeh) side.When you look at this side of the board you will see a list of different ending destinations, with three columns next to it.
- The first column will read either cat. or treno, telling you the category of the train with the trains identification number. Usually the high-speed trains will be shown with red icons making them easier to identify.
- The next row will read ore and will tell you the time the train will depart! This is one of the most important columns. If you know what time your train is leaving from the station, simply find the time and look at your destination. If both match up then that is your row of information! REMEMBER…it states the time your train is departing from the station you are currently at, not the time you are arriving at your destination.
- Lastly, the bn. or binario (bin-are-ee-oh) will tell you the track number it will be on. Some stations are smaller, such as Arezzo, where it is easier to navigate among only 3 tracks, compared to a larger station with up to 23 different tracks, like Milan’s station in the picture below. Know what track you need to be standing at and at what time. I recommend getting to your track ten minutes before your train arrives….just don’t jump across the tracks as it is both dangerous and illegal! There are stairs that go underneath the tracks or signs that will clearly direct you to your designated spot.
*Travel Guide Tip: Trains may run a couple minutes late, and if the train is running late it will be indicated on the destination board under il ritardo (re-tar-doe). Though no train ever shows up earlier than it is suppose to. In some instances, if your train is running ahead of schedule, it may stop slowly on the tracks in a tunnel or over a bridge with a nice view. So if your train stops, don’t panic, its just a little early!
Know Before You Go!
Riding the train to and from different cities of Italy can be stressful for first time travelers, trust me it happened to us. Depending on where you are going you can be traveling for 4 hours and take 2-3 different trains. Have no fear! Below are some common “train talk” phrases in Italian, and some tips for making your journey the most relaxing possible.
- Il treno (trey-no)- train
- Il posto (post-oh)- seat
- Lo sportello (spoor-tell-oh)- ticket window
- L’andata e ritorno (lan-dot-tah ee ritt-torn-oh)- round trip
- Timbrare il biglietto (team-bra-raye eel big-lee-eh-toe)- to stamp, validate a ticket
- Quando Scendo (Kwan-doe Shen-doe)?- When do I get off?
- Dove Scendo (Doe-vey Shen-doe)?- Where do I get off?
- Fermata del treno (Furr-mott-tah dell trey-no)- train stop
- Carrello (Kah-ray-low)- Train cart/carriage
Here’s Three More Tips Based On My Train Experience:
- Keep Track Of When To Get Off –Taking a nap on these smooth train rides is both very calming and common, but missing your stop would be a horrible experience. I suggest setting your alarm. If you know your arrival time (indicated on your ticket), set your alarm 10-5 minutes before the stop to wake you up. This will give you the perfect amount of time to get everything together before stepping off the train!
- Eat! – You may want to grab food before starting your travel, you dont want to be hungry the entire trip especially if you are traveling far. If you are traveling far pack some snacks and drinks in your bag to hold you over till your destination. Be aware, the fast trains do have food and drinks but you may not want to pay the expensive prices for them.
- Language Barriers – First time travelers (like myself) might think that it is hard to travel especially if you are not an expert in the Italian language. Im here to tell you to go for it, its not hard at all! Mostly all signs are in English as well as many other languages. If in some cases they are not, there are easy to follow picture-grams that can help get you anywhere. Lastly, in high tourists spots there are many people that speak English and will be more than happy to help if you ask nicely.
Now Your All Aboard! If you can grab a seat next to a window, I highly recommend it. My favorite thing to do on these train rides is to easily get distracted from life for awhile as Italy’s beautiful scenery pulls you in. On these rides, I have met both tourist and local friends, as we’ve shared where we are going, where we have came from, and unforgettable stories of one another’s lives. For example, I recently met a couple when traveling to Sorrento who were on their way to find a small village in Abruzzo (Ah-brewts-soh), Italy, where their mother was originally from. I instantly smiled and explained that was where my grandparents were from as well. The conversations and the two hour train ride flew by before we even knew it. So now just sit back, relax and take in all that Italy has to offer. Just don’t forget where you put your ticket!