Tips for Using Italy's Train System
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
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Italy's train system is a quick and easy way to get from city to city or even to another country in Europe. It's fairly simple once you get acquainted to it, but if you come from rural USA like I do, you might not be familiar with this mode of transportation. For our first time, we handled it with only one qualm: missing the train to Pompeii on day three. From there on, everything went smoothly. Here's some tips to help you succeed.
Secure your Ticket
Hit the world wide web to pre-book train tickets or view upcoming departures. Trenitalia is the main train line in Italy and runs the most frequently. In the busier months, I recommend booking train tickets online in advance. In slower months and the off-season, you can book tickets easily using self-service kiosks located throughout each train station. After buying a ticket, you must verify it by stamping it at a machine, which are usually green and located close to the platforms. It is very important that you stamp your ticket, because an attendant will visit your seat during your trip to make sure you did. I'm not sure what happens if they catch somebody who hasn't, but I'm also not sure I want to find out.
Locate your Station & Train
Find out what train station you want to go to by finding out which one is closest to your hotel/destination. This step is fairly simple. I just googled "Which train station is closest to Hotel Picasso in Rome" and a map popped up easily. You can also download the Rome2Rio app for assistance in this.
The train number isn't always listed on the ticket. In fact, most of the time, it isn't. You must remember what time you booked and to what train station. Sometimes, your destination isn't the final stop, which is what the overhead screens show. Personally, I would google the information to find the train number (i. e.: 10:45 train from Roma Termini to Firenze Santa Maria Novella). The train number will pop up on the search, which allows you to locate it on the overhead screen. Once you find the number on the screen, you can identify which platform you need to be at. Usually, your train number can be verified by looking at the scrolling list on the screen to make sure it stops at your desired destination.
Prepare yourself to Run
Platforms may not be announced until 10 minutes before departure, and they might be pretty far away. Sometimes, you get lucky and your platform is up on the screen an hour before you leave. Other times, you and other people anxious to get aboard a train huddle together before a screen looking to find out which platform to be at up to 10 minutes before you're supposed to be there. Depending on which train station you're at, platforms can be on a different floor or off to the side of the main trains, causing quite the hustle to make it in time. My tip for this is to be sure to follow all the posted signs, and be prepared to run when necessary.
If you do miss a train, don't worry too much. You can usually exchange your train ticket for no extra cost at a Trenitalia information booth, and since trains are frequent, it will not be a much later time. Although it's stressful, don't let a missed train ruin your day.
Be Wary of Thieves
Luckily, traveling with luggage is simple, because there is plenty of room in the overhead compartments or under your seat to store your stuff. Something you do have to worry about, however, is pickpockets. One thing I did is get a small bag that stays in front of you, so you can see your valuables at all times. It zips, and you can even tuck it inside your shirt for extra security.
I hope this guide was able to somewhat help you nail down the trains in Italy. Don't let any of the negatives fool you—this is 100 percent the best way to get around in this country, and once you figure it out, it is also the easiest way. If you still need an itinerary, we cover how to spend two weeks in Italy.