Travel Story Rail travel: Tips for travelling by train in Italy

Here's how to take advantage of Italy's remarkably efficient and comfortable rail system. 

When we were planning our trip through Italy by rail, the idea that at least Mussolini made the trains run on time there was one we were hoping was still in evidence today.

While the well-known urban myth may be an example of the effectiveness of propaganda, luckily we found that the modern Italian train system is a remarkably efficient and comfortable way to travel throughout the country.

Train travel is a far more relaxing way to move from one town to the other than dealing with the eccentricities of Italian driving while navigating the unfamiliar road system.

For the visitor who wants to make the most of their trip to this beautiful and scenic country, travelling like a local on the train line will enable you to get just about anywhere quickly, in comfort and with very little fuss.

For the first-timer on the railways of Italy the following suggestions will help make your journey an enjoyable one.

Arrive early 

Italian trains are very regular and are on time. Ensure that you arrive at the station well before the departure time; this will ensure that you can take advantage of...

The stations

Many of the train stations in the major cities of Italy are worthy of being destinations themselves, the buildings are that grand and magnificent. The Stazione Centrale in Milan is a must-see even if you are not planning to travel by train.

Along with the beauty of the buildings, some of the stations are in splendid surroundings. The Santa Lucia station, on the Grand Canal in Venice, offers a panoramic view of the city, so arriving by train makes this the perfect starting point for a  visit.

Obtaining tickets

Trains run very regularly in Italy and there is no real need to book in advance as even the most popular routes rarely book out. Leaving the ticket purchase to the day before or even the day of your travel allows you a lot of flexibility in your travels.

Ticket machines are very easy to use, have English language options and allow you to easily purchase the tickets for your journey in one transaction, even when changing from national to regional lines.

Boarding the train

Platforms in Italy are very long and narrow with very little seating, so arrive at the platform well before the trains’ departure time but be aware you may need to stand while waiting.

The train does not wait beyond the scheduled departure time, so board as soon as the train arrives. If your position on the platform does not line up with your numbered carriage, to be on the safe side get on to whatever carriage is closest and walk through the train.

Announcements

Announcements of stations are made in Italian and English. These can be hard to make out due to the boisterous nature of Italians and the volume of the conversations that are being had around you.

Make sure to make your way to the carriage exit well before your station as the train will not delay long before departing, especially if there are few passengers boarding. This is important to remember if you have a number of bags.

Fast trains

There are a number of fast trains connecting major cities (the Italo and the Frecciarossa). These are a little more expensive than the regular services but the comfort level (premium second class is extremely good value) and feeling of travelling at 300km/h are well worth the extra few euros a ticket.

The fast trains have on-board buffet carriages where food and drinks can be purchased during your trip.

Seating/class of travel

In most cases, second class travel is more than adequate; all trains are clean and comfortable. As mentioned before, premium second class offers a very high level of comfort on the national lines.

National lines have carriages and seat numbers allocated when tickets are purchased.

Regional trains are generally all one class and have no allocated seat number, so you can select a seat on any carriage.

Sitting in comfort and enjoying the passing scenery is one of the best experiences a traveller can have when visiting a new country. 

Italy is an ideal place for train travel, with its excellent train services and spectacular variety of scenic landscapes to enjoy as you travel from city to city.

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