Top 12 train tips for Italy

Top 12 train tips, Italy, Italy (Photo by Andrew)

A cheat-sheet of the most important things to know when riding the Italian rails

  1. Booking in advance can save you big money. Waiting until the day or or day before travel to buy train tickets—especially on high-speed lines—entails paying a premium price. » more
  2. Most train stations in Italy now have automated ticketing machines. These use touch-screens, have an English-language option, are intuitive, make perusing all your options easy, and accept cash (euros) and credit cards. Failing that, there's always the ticket windows, though lines can be long.
  3. Always travel second class. The first class cars don't get there any faster; all they do is provide a teensy bit more seat padding—but at 20%–50% increase in price.
  4. Be sure you stamp one end of your ticket at one of the little yellow boxes usually located in the passageways leading to the tracks and strapped to a column at (or near) the head of each track. If you do not, the conductor may fine you (they sometimes give tourists a stern warning, but more and more they are simply imposing the fines regardless).
  5. Every station has two posters displaying, on one, all departures (partenze; on the yellow poster) and on the other, arrivals (arrivi; the white one). It will mention which binario (track) you need—though this can change (check the automated boards, and listen to announcements). The slot for each train on the poster lists all intermediate stops in tiny type and only the terminus station in bold; your train to Pisa might be headed, eventually, to Genova or even Paris, so keep that in mind. 
  6. Railpasses. If you plan to do a lot of train travel in Italy (or beyond it to other European countries), a rail pass can make a lot of sense.  » more
  7. Train or rental car? This is the big question. When is a rental car better than a train? A rental car will always give you more leeway to explore—but comes with extra expense and the headaches of driving and navigating. A single person will almost always find it cheaper to ride the rails. Two to three people, it about breaks even, cost-wise. For four people traveling together, a rental car will usually be cheaper overall—though if you are only planning on visiting a few major centers well-connected by rail, it might still be simpler just to take trains.  
  8. Keep your bags nearby. Never check luggage (bothersome and time-consuming), and avoid putting your bags in those luggage racks near the ends of the train cars. Stow them over your seat (or in your lap, if necessary), and take a second to snap one of the bag's straps around the storage area railing—to keep a potential thief from snatching your bag. If you pack light, your luggage will never be too big to stow at your seat.
  9. Overnight trains are a great way of saving both time and money: Covering vast distances without wasting precious daylight hours on sheer travel, and spending for your night's lodging only €35 ($42) to €41 ($49) per person for a bunk in a six-person shared sleeping couchette, or €70 ($83) to book the whole couchette. This will not be the most comfortable night's sleep you'll ever have, but it's a great time– and money-saver. » more
  10. Pack a picnic. Food on board Italian trains is overpriced and underwhelming. Same goes for the often uninspired grub available in the station—though a sandwich from a kiosk will still be better than what you can get on board, should you fail to arrive at the station with picnic pickings.
  11. Don't drink the water on trains, not even to rinse your mouth. It's greywater meant for hand washing only. This is a bit frustrating, since trains—especially overnight trains—dehydrate you quickly. So make sure you bring bottled water to sip throughout the ride and also to rinse out your mouth (and your toothbrush) after an overnight train ride.
  12. Discounts for kids, youths, and seniors. Italian train tickets are already discounted 50% to children aged 4 to 11 (kids under 4 are free). Anyone aged 12–27 or over 60 can buy a railcard that will get you anywhere from 25% to 60% (depending on how far in advance you book) off all train tickets for one year.  » more
  13. Use train time to plan. I usually start any train journey by catching up on my journal, but then I turn to the next stage of my trip and prepare for the next destination. I flip through my guidebooks and start ranking likely places to stay, working out what I want to see and do, and roughing out an itinerary.
  14. (Don't) hop on the bus, Gus. Explanative disclaimer: Buses do, indeed, have to do with train travel in that the trains are better. OK, that's a bit of specious reasoning, but this bit didn't fit well anywhere else and it is germane to the discussion of connecting the dots on a Italian itinerary. With rare exceptions, an inter-city coach is not going to be any cheaper than the train or a no-frills airline. It will only (a) take longer, and (b) be less comfortable. These are not bonus factors when considering your options. Coaches—in British English, a "bus" operates within a city, a "coach" between towns; use those terms to help avoid confusion in Europe as many Europeans learn a more British form of our lingo—are really only useful for getting to places where the trains don't go. Then again, these sorts of places—ones literally off the beaten (train) track—can make excellent destination. » more
Trains links
Travel comfort links
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for rail travel

English (inglese) Italian (italiano)  Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...train station la ferroviaria [or] la stazione lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah [or] lah stat-zee-YO-nay
ticket un biglietto oon beel-YET-toh
first class prima classe PREE-mah CLAH-say
second class seconda classe say-CONE-dah CLAH-say
one way solo andata SO-low ahn-DAHT-tah
round trip (return) andata e ritorno ahn-DAH-tah ay ree-TOUR-noh
Just the supplement Soltanto il supplemento soul-TAHN-toh eel sou-play-MEN-toh
Just a seat reservation Soltanto una prenotazione soal-TAHN-toh oo-nah pray-no-tah-tsee-YOH-nay
I have a Eurailpass Ho il Eurailpass oh eel YOO-rail-pahs
sleeping couchette una cucetta oo-nah koo-CHET-tah
berth in a sleeping car un posto nel vagone letto oon POH-sto nell vah-GOAN-nay LET-toh
track binario been-AR-ree-yoh
train treno TRE-no
car (carriage) carozza ka-RO-tza
seat posto PO-sto
departures partenze par-TEN-zay
arrivals arrivi ah-REE-vee
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay
left luggage deposito bagagli day-PO-zee-toh ba-GAHL-yee
punch your ticket timbrare il biglietto teem-BRA-ray eel beel-YET-toh
Is this the right platform for the Rome train? E questo il binario per il treno à Roma? ay KWAY-sto eel been-AR-ree-yo pair eel TRE-no ah RO-ma? 
delayed in retardo een ree-TAR-do
strike sciopero SHO-pair-oh
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
City / Train station names
English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Main station
Rome Roma Termini
Florence Firenze Santa Maria Novella
Venice Venezia Santa Lucia
Milan Milano Centrale
Genoa Genova Porta Principe
Naples Napoli Centrale
Leghorn Livorno Centrale
Turin Torino Porta Nuova

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).