This blog post was updated on October 23, 2018.
Italy is a country where you don’t mind taking slow trains in order to catch views of crumbling ruined castles or rolling Tuscan hills out the window. Train travel is one of the most appealing ways for visitors to get around the boot shaped country in the Mediterranean, but it can also be one of the most confusing for first timers to the Italian train system. If you want to avoid a few fines or missed train connections, follow these tips to ensure you can enjoy those Italians views out the window without incident.
Know Key Train Station Italian Vocabulary: If you are traveling to smaller towns in Italy, you will want to study up on some train station vocabulary. Sometimes there will no be clear English translations telling you which board lists trains departing and which lists trains arriving. Binario denotes the platform. This is often a vital word to know as many trains are merely listed as leaving from “binario” and the number. Arrivi notes the trains arriving, while partenze notes the trains departing.
Arrive Early For Last Minute, Italian Style Changes: I would often arrive to the train station early while living in Italy for the sole reason that just as Italians can be unpredictable, so too can their train systems. Many times I would find my set platform to wait near, only to watch it change with just 4 minutes to departure. You need to allow enough time for these last minute changes. While smaller towns will just have one or two platforms, the bigger city stations can often make it a running game between catching one train from the next. You may have to head underground, up stairs or clear across the station to reach your platform. It is always best to have plenty of time for Italian unpredictability.
Know Your Stop Especially on Regional Trains: In true Italian fashion, train stops can occur with the blink of an eye. Next thing you know, you have missed your stop. Even if you are headed for Pisa and your ticket says Pisa, you train will probably make several stops in between. If you don’t know when you are getting off, you can find yourself in Genoa instead of Pisa. While announcements are made on occasion, they are either muffled or non-existent. Pay attention to the time of your arrival or score a good seat to see the signs at each stop so that you know where you are and when to get off.
Save money by going regional: If you want to save a lot of money and you have the time, consider buying regional tickets. You will often know these are regional as they take longer and they are always priced lower than the faster trains. If you are on a budget, this is one of the easiest ways to save. A journey between Florence and Rome might take double the time compared to the speedy trains, but your wallet won’t be so empty after the journey.
Always Validate Your Ticket: Train travel in Italy can be a nightmare if you don’t validate your ticket. You will find these validating machines, usually yellow, across station platforms. Sometimes they are not always down the tracks so you will need to validate when you see a machine. If you just jump on the train without validating your ticket, the conductor will come through and give you a mouthful. He might even demand you pay a fine if the clueless tourist card doesn’t work. In all of my times riding Italian trains, I never boarded a train where the conductor did not come by to check. Italians are on top of catching free riders.
Pack Light and Bring Snacks: Hauling a giant suitcase onto a train in Italy might be one of life’s hardest tasks. I once watched a woman attempt to do so with cigarette still in her mouth. If you are traveling at busy times, Italians might make a mad dash off and on trains. They don’t mind pushing and shoving to get to the front. If you have a giant bag, you will have trouble getting on the train and scoring a place for it. Also the food on board many Italian trains is generally mediocre and overpriced. If you are making a longer train trip, pack your own snacks.
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