Trains in Italy
Getting around Italy by train
www.italotreno.it (private high-speed line)
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Trains are the best way to travel in Italy. In Italy, the shortest (and cheapest) distance between two points is usually lined with railroad tracks. The train is the preferred mode of travel by everyone, from farmers and grannies to businesswomen and visitors. Italian trains run on time, are clean and comfortable, and have a vast network that covers almost every minor city.
This section covers in depth the Italian rail system, train tickets and railpasses, train stations, safety onboard Italian trains, the trick of taking overnight trains to save time and money, and tips for saving money on your rail travel.
You can click on those links above for detailed information on each subject, or just scan the quick take of top tips listed below, a collection of all the vital info you really need to know to ride the rails in Italy.
Top 10 train tips
- What's in a name?
To read Italian train schedules, it helps to know the Italian name for major cities and towns. Most are pretty obvious, but a few are a bit trickier (plus, in these big cities you need to known the name of the main central station), so in the interest of clarity:
Rome Roma Termini Florence Firenze Santa Maria Novella Venice Venezia Santa Lucia Milan Milano Centrale Genoa Genova Porta Principe Naples Napoli Centrale Leghorn Livorno Turin Torino Porta Nuova
- You do NOT need to book train tickets ahead of time. At least, not before you leave on your trip. Just buy as you go; it gives you more flexibility with your schedule. It is, however, sometimes useful to pop into the station and buy an ongoing tickets a day or two before you leave town, especially for high-speed trains that require a reservation, as these will occasionally sell out.
- 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 window, though lines can be long. » more
- 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%–30% increase in price.
- 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).
- 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. » more
- Railpasses can be useful if you'll be taking several long rides or exploring more of Europe beyond Italy. If you plan to work your way across Italy in small sprints from town to town, it will probably make more sense to buy tickets as you go. However, for the most typical trip—one that hits the major cities plus a few days exploring hilltowns—the Italy Rail n' Drive Pass might be perfect. Jot down your intended itinerary, do some quick calculations on prices using www.raileurope.com to research railpass options and www.trenitalia.com for point-to-point tickets, and see what will work best for your trip. If you use a railpass, be sure you purchase any seat reservation (indicated by an "R" on the schedule posters) and pay any high-speed supplement due. This will usually on the order of $10 or less each (long rides maybe up to $20). » more
- 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 €20–€30 ($30–$45) for one out of six fold-down bunks in a sleeping couchette, or €35–€50 ($50–$75) for one bunk out of 2 or 3 in a more private sleeper car. I consider taking an overnight train on any ride longer than five hours. It should be said, however, that this will not be the most comfortable night's sleep you'll ever have. You need to book a couchette in advance. (Technically, you can try your luck on finding an empty, unreserved couchette in which to sleep for free by folding down the seats, but if you loose this gamble you'll end up spending the night sitting up in a lighted cabin with seatmates.) For safety: Book the top bunk; always lock the compartment door; wear your moneybelt around your thigh; strap your bags to the railing of the overhead luggage bin. » more
- 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.
- Useful Italian phrases for train travel
Where is? Dov'é (doh-VAY) ...train station la ferroviaria (lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah) / la stazione (lah stat-zee-YO-nay) ticket un biglietto (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 (TRAY-no) 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) the bathroom il bagno (eel BAHN-yoh) thank you grazie (GRAT-tzee-yay) please per favore (pair fa-VOHR-ray) yes si (see) no no Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? (PAR-la een-GLAY-zay) I don't understand Non capisco (non ka-PEESK-koh) How much is it? Quanto costa? (KWAN-toh COST-ah)
- The Italian rail system
- Train tickets and reservations
- Train stations 101
- Safety onboard Italian trains
- Overnight trains
- Saving money on your rail travel
- Getting around in Italy
This material was last updated January 2011. All information was accurate at the time.
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