Train stations in Italy

Roma Termini train station, Train stations, Italy, Italy (Photo by Ingolf)
Roma Termini train station

Like the trains themselves, Italian train stations tend to be clean and user-friendly—with tourist info, hotel booking service, left luggage lockers or offices, and decent snack bars (in case you forget to pick up train picnic supplies in town)

Italian rail stations are much more than just place to hop a train.

They have ATMshotel booking services, photo booths, baggage storage lockers (or a left luggage office), cafes, tourist info offices, newsstands (which, alongside the newspapers, is also the best place to find city maps, local bus tickets, and postal stamps), restrooms, and in bigger cities, often plenty of shops and 24-hour pharmacies.

If you know how to use the train station for all it's worth, you can spend 20 minutes there when you first arrive in a city and come out of it well-oriented and fully armed for your visit.

Arriving in town

  1. Stop by the station's ATM or bank for a bit of local cash (not too much; a downtown branch might have better exchange rates).
  2. Hit the tourist board kiosk or desk and milk it for all the free info, maps, and brochures you can get.
  3. Visit a newsstand to see whether the city maps for sale are better than the free one from the tourist office (usually the answer is yes, and the investment is worth it). Pick up a phone card (if you don't have a mobile you can use), grab a few city bus tickets to get you started, and buy the local information/events magazine.
  4. Now that you have some pocket change, you may want to dump your main bag in a locker or left luggage office for $2 to $10 a day and keep just your daypack. If you're just dropping by town for a half-day visit, the bags will stay there. If you're spending the night, go hotel hunting without your pack, and you'll have more stamina and bargaining leverage to get the best deal.
  5. Head to the phones and call around for a hotel, or use the station's hotel booking service.
  6. Before you exit the station upon arrival, check out your train options for leaving town a few days down the line (as well as for any day trips you plan to make). That way, you can swing by a day or two before you leave to buy your tickets and reserve seats or couchettes rather than wait until the last minute when the lengthy ticket lines may thwart your precision-timed plans.

Leaving town

The rail information desk—not to be confused with the city tourist board's desk, because the two won't answer each other's questions—usually has a long line, and the staff was born harried. Use the do-it-yourself information sources as much as possible. 

Modern stations in big cities often have computerized rail information kiosks and automatic ticketing machines, but both can be on the fritz (or feature lines as long as those queuing to talk to a flesh-and-blood ticket agent).

In smaller towns, the tiny station bar may double as the ticket office, but most stations have banks of ticket windows. Try to figure out which window you need before getting in the invariably long lines. The bulk of windows will be for purchasing regular tickets; a few windows will be for people who just need reservations on top of a railpass. A few windows may be for international or special high-speed trains only. 

Almost all stations have schedule posters that list the full timetables and regular track numbers for all trains that pass through. Usually, but not always, arrivi (arrivals) are on a white poster and partenze (departures) are on a yellow poster. These posters show how many trains a day go where you want to go, when precisely they leave, whether you need a reservation (marked by a prominent "R" in the column detailing the train's car options—1-2 class or just 2 class, sleepers available, bikes allowed, etc.).

The poster also shows you what the ultimate destination on that train will be. For example, you may want to get from Rome to Pisa, but the train will be marked to Paris; Pisa is merely a stop along the way (and these posters do list all the major stops along the way, including what time the train arrives at each).

Finding your train (sometimes trickier than it sounds)

Track assignments may change on a daily basis, or even at the last minute (listen to the loudspeaker announcements). In larger stations, check those big electronically updated departure boards—but realize that those, too, can occasionally be wrong. Then seek out a conductor on the indicated platform and blurt out your destination in a questioning voice while pointing at the waiting train for reconfirmation before boarding.

Make sure you get on the right car, not just the right train

Each car may very well be splitting off down the line, uncoupled from the rest of the train at some junction station and then joined up to another train headed to an entirely different destination. Yes, this has happened to me before. (Actually, that's a big part of my job: screwing up so you can learn from my mistakes and do it right the first time.)

At any rate, getting on the right car is especially important when you're getting on a night train (if you have a reserved spot, you needn't worry). It's not hard to find the right car, though. Each car has its own destination placard, posted either in the window on the doors (as in the picture on the left), or slipped into a display plaque on the wall of the little entry/exit vestibule where the doors are.

There might be another kind of informative poster once you get to the train track itself. It shows you the composition of each train that regularly uses this track, including the locations of its numbered cars. A few seconds' perusal will give you have a sense of (a) where on the platform to wait for the car with your seat reservation, or more importantly (b) where the couchette cars are if you're planning to crash for free. 

Once on board, I also triple-check with passengers who look like they take this train every day. You may look like an obsessive compulsive dweeb, but at least you won't end up on a train bound for Palermo when you meant to go to Pisa.

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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.).