Italy is a country most people of dream of visiting. Whether it's the aquatic streets of Venice, the busy metropolis of Rome, or the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany, there's something for everyone. Who wouldn't want to visit? If you're like me, you want to maximize your time and see as much as possible. Thanks to the Italian train system, we got to see Milan, Venice, Rome, and Florence in the span of a week.
When we booked our trip to Italy, we had six people total. Right away, we knew we didn't want to mess with finding and renting a vehicle big enough to accommodate all of us plus our luggage. My answer was to take the famed European railway. But it wasn't that easy. There was a lack of information about the Italian train system and what was out there was unwieldy and overwhelming to sift through.
The most important thing to remember before using the train system in Italy is how nice people are. If you have difficulty, you can ask an employee of the rail system. They will go out of their way to help you and explain exactly what you need to do and where to go. My hope is to create an easy to read, simple, but thorough guide to using the trains in Italy. And yes, there are pictures!
Italian Train Tickets and Ticket Validation
If you're trying to book tickets prior to arriving in Italy, it's daunting. The website is overwhelming with options and it's hard to determine your starting and ending destinations. Many towns and cities have multiple train stops. Also, depending on the day you are looking to travel, tickets to Venice might cost more than tickets to Rome. It's not always easy, but some searching can lead you to all your stops, while still saving some money.
There are a couple of ways to get train tickets once you arrive in Italy. First of call, you can go to the tobacconist, or tabacchi, and buy local train tickets. They're generic tickets with no time specified, so the key is to get them validated. More on that in a minute... At the major city train stations, there are also ticket offices for the high speed trains as well as kiosks for self-service. We started at the ticket office where a lovely Italo Train employee helped us figure out the best days to visit Venice and Rome. The other agents helping passengers were equally as lovely and friendly, even taking the time to help us use the self-service kiosk. Teach a man to fish and all...
Ticket validation was a new concept for us. This applies primarily to local journeys since high speed trains are not as frequent and require a seat purchase. For local trains, just because you have purchased a ticket, doesn't mean you have a seat or even a time for your train. Despite being able to choose your departure and arrival stations at the kiosk, you still have to validate your ticket for your trip. Be warned: serious fines are issued if you're caught on a train with an un-validated ticket.
Knowing Your Train Stop
When looking to travel by train in Italy, be open to using different train stops. As an example, in Rome, the high speed trains stop at the Termini station and the Tiburtini station. We saved about 40 Euro per person by stopping at Tiburtini station and then taking the metro to the Colosseum. However, we never would have known that's an option had we not talked to one of the High Speed Train ticketing agents at the Florence train station. Also, it's important to know what time of day you're trying to travel. Some areas have more stops in the morning and/or evening as people commute to and from work, so it can take longer to get where you're going.
High Speed or Local Trains
Almost anywhere you go in Italy, you'll be able to get there via train. That being said, you can often take high speed trains with fewer stops to major cities. We took the high speed train to Rome and Venice from Florence. While we didn't have time, we could have also gone down to Naples or to Milan. The majority of the high speed trains are equipped with wifi so you're able to entertain yourself while traveling. The high speed trains also make their announcements in both Italian and English, so it's fairly easy to know where you are at any given time.
Local trains go nearly everywhere in Italy, but are much slower, stop in more places, and are less comfortable. They are nicer than a subway train, but similar in terms of hard plastic seats and more people in the cars. Local trains may or may not have wifi and if they do, you usually have to pay 1 Euro to access the network. Also, on local trains, the voice announcements are mostly in Italian and sometimes the equipment to broadcast the announcements goes down, so you have to be very alert as you near your stop.
Italy is an amazing country and relatively easy to travel throughout, even without a car. In fact, it's preferable to not have a car because it forces you to explore and get around in different ways. Not to mention, parking can be a nightmare in the small towns of Italy. The train system is reliable and a relaxing way to travel between the major cities.
The best part of the Italian train system is how friendly the agents are. Every employee is willing to help if you have questions or if you get stuck using the ticketing kiosks. While most of the trains run on time, delays happen. If you're needing to get somewhere by a specific time, hire a driver or a taxi to get you where you need to go, or to get you to the nearest major train station.