Although our trips don’t include train travel as a rule, we often get asked about train travel in Italy. Many of our clients take trains from their arrival city to their destination, or during pre- and post- travel while in Italy. Others want to know how to take advantage of the rail system for day trips to various places of interest (more on that Wednesday!). But whatever your reason for taking the train in Italy, it’s an easy and convenient way to travel.
Here area few basics about the Italian train system. Most of the trains are state-run trains, operated as part of the “Ferrovie dello Stato” (FS), but there is a relatively new privately run line of Italo trains along major routes. If you are at a train station, tickets for these are sold at different kiosks, and they have different websites for checking schedules or advance purchase.
There are a lot of different types of trains, but basically 2 categories you need to worry about: “Regional” and “Everything else”. Regional trains have different rules:
- there is no need or advantage to pre-purchase your ticket
- your ticket is for the route (not a particular train) so there is no seat assignment
- you MUST validate (stamp) your ticket in one of the validation boxes at the end of the platform, or risk a fine
The regional trains stop more frequently and will take you, unsurprisingly, along regional routes.
The “Everything Else” category features the high-speed/long route trains. In Italy these are the “Frecce” (the “arrows”): Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, and Frecciabianca, as well as the InterCity trains. These routes have different rules:
- you must pre-purchase your ticket, and can sometimes save if you purchase early (although you generally cannot pre-purchase these more than 60 to 120 days in advance)
- your ticket will include a seat assignment
- you do not need to validate the ticket, as it is only valid for the specific day/train on the ticket
If you miss a prepurchased high-speed train? You’ll have to wait in line to get a new ticket, or simply eat the cost of the one you missed.
What about once you are at the station? There will be a large board saying which train is arriving or departing on which track (arrivi = arrivals and partenze = departures). It will also give the train number, the scheduled arrival time, etc. Note that the train you want might be going farther than your particular destination. For example, a train to Pisa might not list as “Pisa” on the board, but the final destination – Livorno. Or a train to “Roma” might show up as “Napoli” if that is the final stop. Check the train number to be sure you have the correct train, or ask one of the FS employees at the station for help.
When you know your track number (binario), simply make your way there, being sure to validate your ticket if necessary.
Purchasing tickets online: If you are purchasing them on the trenitalia.com website, you must use the Italian name of the rail station (Firenze SMN = Florence Santa Maria Novella station). If you want to purchase Italo tickets (serving Milan, Florence, Rome, Bologna, and Naples) you must use their website, italotreno.it. If you know you are only going to need tickets on a major ruote, check both sites for the best price.
On the train? Enjoy! Here are my husband and younger son enjoying a train ride on a regional train in Tuscany. Plenty of space to sit and relax. (Which brings up another tip: we find 2nd class tickets to be perfectly acceptable, and rarely splurge on 1st class.) On the high speed trains there are dining cars or a “bar” where you can purchase food and beverages, as well as a trolly that comes along with snacks and light fare. You can bring your own food and beverage (even alcohol) on the trains as well. Keep track of the time while you are on the train. The train will only stop for a couple of minutes at each station, so you need to be ready to disembark when you arrive.
Read more of our travel tips.
Check out also our tips on:
- Ordering Coffee in Italy
- Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica
- Dining out in Italy
- Taking a day trip to Pisa
While these are some good rules of thumb for dining out in Italy, you’ll learn even more about the food of a place and its customs with an Italy cooking vacation!
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