During 1.5 years in the country, I traveled all over the Italy by train — mainly by cheap regional trains. I was in Tuscany and on the south in Naples as well. In this article I will tell you what you need to know about traveling by trains in Italy and how to plan such a trips, if you are a beginner.
Decide About Traveling by Train
— Traveling by train in Italy is a pleasure.
The railway system is one of the best in Europe and covers the entire Apennine peninsula. You can travel between both major cities and to get to distant villages. Especially in autumn, traveling in Italy in principle more comfortable: the flow of tourists and the heat subside.
Of course, you can rent a car instead of trains, but do you have driving license? And if you do, it may be exhausting to drive all the time. Another option is to take buses, but regular routes operate only within the same region like in Dolomites. And at prices buses often lose out to trains. Not speaking about, the trains are sooo romantic!
In my opinion, trains = Italy, and Italy = trains.
Choose the Right Train Type
There are three main types of trains in Italy: they differ in speed and routes.
Hight-speed trains (Frecce) are trains of the French company Eurostar. You will immediately recognize them — they are painted in white, red and grey colors. Traveling on them is two or three times faster and more comfortable than on others. These trains reach speeds from 180 to 360 km/h and pierce Italy like arrows, (frecce in Italian means arrow), so you will quickly overcome the long distances between major cities.
Intercity trains are simpler and cheaper, running between small and close towns. There are two types: daytime and night (Intercity Notte). There are either four beds or six seats in the compartment.
Regional (Regionale) trains are the most simple, cheap and slow trains. They can be used to travel between small cities and towns, where the distance from one city to another does not exceed 300 km. Trains are quite comfortable too, but not like Eurostar.
I’ve traveled on trains of all kinds. The high-speed Eurostar drove me from Padua to Naples (700 km) in five hours. Even my ears laid out like in an airplane. I took the Intercity train back, from Naples to Padua, with a six-seat transfer in Rome. The compartment was full, and the train at night was very exhausted, because there wasn’t enough room between the chairs, it was uncomfortable to sit and sleep.
If you want to get to your destination quickly and are willing to spend some money, you can take the high-speed train. When you buy a long-distance ticket, choose sleeping accommodation for the night and sitting accommodation for the day.
High-speed trains save you time, but alas, not a budget. Fast and comfortable trains can be more than three times more expensive. For example, at the time of the writing of this article (October 2017) on the route Milan — Venice high-speed train were more expensive by 14 euros, that regular trains, and train from Rome to Naples — the price was 27 euros higher.
Milan to Venice train, 270 km
Frecce — 2 hours 25 minutes, 40 euros; Intercity / Regionale: 3 hours 23 minutes, 20 euros.
Venice to Florence train, 270 km
Frecce — 2 hours 5 minutes, 40 euros; Intercity / Regionale: 4 hours 8 minutes, 20 euros.
Florence to Rome tran, 350 km
Frecce — 1 hour 32 minutes, 40 euros; Intercity / Regionale: 5 hours 20 minutes, 30 euros.
Rome to Naples train, 275 km
Frecce — 1 hour 10 minutes, 40 euros, Intercity / Regionale: 2 hours 44 minutes, 12 euros.
Naples to Palermo train, 718 km
There are no direct train, Intercity / Regional: 9 hours 16 minutes, 66 euros.
Find Out the Schedule and Buy a Tickets
Usually I look for the timetable on Trenitalia.com (English version available) or on the electronic board directly at the station. The stands with the timetable are also installed on the platforms, with the train numbers and stops.
Where to Buy a Ticket
I buy tickets on the same website Trenitalia.com, just keep in mind that it is possible to do it up to two months before the departure date. If you click the box next to “All trains”, the search engine will give you all possible options from expensive to budget tickets and offer the fastest route. If you want to save money, I advise you to choose regional trains — “Regionale” at once.
At Trenitalia.com you can choose the type of train, specify dates, number of passengers and type of ticket: one-way or round trip.
You can also buy your ticket at the train station vending machine. The menu is in English, you can pay for the ticket in cash, including coins, and bank cards. But be careful. A couple of times these machines have let me down. Some of them didn’t accept any change (and I didn’t want to pay with a card), others didn’t accept paper money (there was no change), and some of them didn’t work at all, even though there was only one vending machine at the station — it happens at small stations. So be prepared for such a turn. If something goes wrong, contact the Trenitalia staff, they speak usually English: when I haven’t spoken Italian yet, I have no problem asking questions in English and getting detailed and intelligible answers.
What are the Benefits and Discount Cards
Special offers are constantly appearing on the Trenitalia website. You can also ask about discounts at the ticket office at the station. For example:
- A child under 4 years old can travel free of charge, taking one bed with an adult, and children from 4 to 12 years are entitled to a 30 % discount.
- Passengers under 26 years of age can use the “Green Card” (Carta verde) — this is a preferential travel card for 26 €, on which you can buy train tickets at a 15 % discount during the year. There are discounts also for those over 60.
- The “Family” pass (Italian kilometric ticket) costs 117–181 € and gives a discount on trips of up to 3000 km for 20 transfers.
- The Amicotreno Card for travel throughout Italy costs 50 € and gives a 50 % discount on Regionale trains and 10-20% discount on Intercity trains.
- It can be special offer like: ticket for three for the price of two, and other similar.
I’m not specifically looking for discounts and promotions, but once a train ticket from Padua to Naples cost me 50 € instead of 100. We bought tickets with a company of 12 people and we were given a group discount of 50%.
What are the Tickets
Some tickets for Italian trains are valid only on travel dates, others are 90 days from the date of purchase. Before boarding, such a ticket must be computed in the vending machine so that the date appears on it.
If you did not have time to buy a ticket at the station or in a hurry forgot to compile it, go straight to the inspector and explain the situation. Tell him or she that this is your very first time in Italy and you was in a terrible hurry. So you won’t be considered a person without ticket, who didn’t but ticket on purpose (in Russian we say: hare) or fined.
What to Do If You Travel Like a Hare and Run Into a Supervisor
- Do not give away your passport, driver’s license and other documents. They will be definitely taken away from you, and you can return them only at the police station after paying a fine of several hundred euros.
- Pretend you don’t understand anything. Use phrases like: “This is the first time in Italy”, “I didn’t get my tickets”, “I was in a hurry — I didn’t have time to buy them”.
- Speak broken English. And even your mother tongue! For example, Russian tourists are loved in Italy — they bring the country a significant income.
- Be friendly. As a last resort, say you’ll get off at the next stop, buy a ticket and take the other train.
I went to trains like a hare a couple of times, but I gave up the practice after talking to the supervisor, who questioned me for an hour or so. Even if you don’t meet the supervisor, you’ll probably be nervous all the way instead of enjoying the trip.
Spend Time During the Transfer
During the day’s transfer, I leave my things in the locker and walk around the city. It’s true that sometimes there’s no storage on Italian train stations room or it’s too expensive.
If the storage room is expensive or there is not at all, look for alternative places also at bus terminals, which are usually close to the station. The more popular the city is, the more likely it is that you will be able to find a place to store your belongings — once again, the Internet to help.
I once wanted to leave my backpack at Santa Lucia Train Station in Venice — five hours cost 6 €. For comparison: in Helsinki, several bags can be left for just 4 € per day in train station. I immediately Googled the problem and found an improvised hotel storage service nearby and much cheaper than at the train station. Do the same.
If I have a ticket with a long night shift, I’ll book a hotel, Airbnb apartment or hostel. Big stations are open 24 hours a day, there are a lot of cafes and shops, but it saves a couple of hours — you can’t stay up all night. But in small towns the stations are closed for the night, so the question of a roof over your head is acute.
Don’t Miss Your Train
The main thing is to take a good look at the transfer time: you may only have 7–10 minutes to orientate yourself at the new station and run to the right platform. I’ve never been late for a train, on the contrary — trains late. In Italy, trains are often delayed or sometimes not at all — the reason may be technical faults or strikes.
In my practice, the biggest breakdown happened in Padua and took three hours. All this time, the other passengers and I were waiting in the coach. Several times the departure was postponed, which was announced on speakerphone — of course, in Italian. I managed to keep the situation under control only because I know a bit of language.
Do not worry, even if you do not speak Italian or English, you will not be left in trouble. Italians are a sociable and noisy people. They react emotionally to any misunderstanding, so if the whole train gets up to its ears, you will guess that you have to go somewhere.
What to Do If You Missed the Transfer
- Wait for the next train, if time permits.
- See the train schedule from nearby cities and take the bus there. Bus stops are often close to the train station.
- Ask for a ride to the next town. You can find the driver through the BlaBlaCar application. Communication will take some time, but it’s still better than nothing.
- Hitchhike in an old pre-apps way, but be careful: don’t go to a car of people, who look strange, etc.
Find the Forgotten Things in Train
I have a funny story: on the very first trip on the Italian train I forgot my bag in the car. I had three of them and one was left lying on the top shelf. There was a laptop with all of my writings before Italian trip in 2013! When I realized that the bag was missing, the train had already left. Fortunately, I managed to return the bag after a couple of days in another city. So if you ever get into this situation, don’t rush to put your hands down and say goodbye to things forever. Do like I did:
- Make a note of the departure and arrival stations and train number. You can find it on the platform’s timetable stand.
- Indicate how long it’s been since you left the train.
- With this information, please contact the police station, the lost and foundry room or the duty officer.
If it hasn’t been more than two hours since the loss, there’s a chance that things are still on the train. The police will call the driver and ask the inspector to go through the train to look for the lost items. If the goods are found, they can be picked up within two to three days or arranged to be handed over to you in the city where the train will arrive. At least, in my only case of missing things I was happy to have it like this.
Remember From the Article
- There are three types of trains in Italy: high-speed and expensive (Frecce), middle-speed and middle priced (Intecity) and slow and cheap (Regional).
- You can buy a ticket at Trenitalia.com, at ticket machines at the station or at the ticket offices.
- Things can be left in the locker at the station, but as a rule it is expensive — it is better to find other options on the Internet.
- If you have a long night shift, book a hotel or hostel in advance.
- If you missed the train, wait for the next one. You can also go by bus or car with the BlaBlaCar app.
- You can try to return things you have forgotten on the train by contacting the police station, the ticket office or the duty officer.
Cover photo from participant of our creative hiking in Dolomites in September 2018.
This original article in Russian was published in the blog of one of the largest Russian travel online-service Ostrovok.ru («Островок») — something like Booking.com in Russia, on October 6, 2017.