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Traveling by Train in Italy: The Basics

Heather Dowd
Posted by Heather Dowd on Jul 7, 2018 10:31:35 AM
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Many of our guests take advantage of their time in Italy and plan to visit other destinations before or after one of our cycling or hiking tours. While driving and even low-cost air are viable options to get to your next destination, the most popular way to go is by train, and for good reason.

Train travel in Italy is comfortable and economical and the train network is vast. Plus (besides riding a bike!) is there any better way to experience the countryside than watching it from out the window of a train?

Here are some tips, based on my own experiences, for making train travel in Italy even easier.

From the Airport: When You First Arrive

Some cities’ airports are connected by train and others are not. Those that aren’t might offer a bus service to the main train station or you’ll have to take a taxi.  If you’re not sure you can always ask us or check out the site https://www.rome2rio.com/ to find the best way to get from the airport to the train.

Two Types of Train to Know: Regional and High-Speed

There are many categories of trains in Italy, but all you really need to know to start is the difference between regional (regionale) and high-speed (alta velocità).

Regional Trains

  • have many stops
  • connect provincial cities and smaller towns
  • are slower
  • can be booked same day at the station (no need to book in advance)
  • must be validated before getting on the train*
  • don’t have assigned seats*

High-speed Trains

  • have fewer stops
  • connect major cities
  • are fast (over 300km/hr)
  • should be booked in advance
  • don’t need to be validated before getting on the train
  • do have assigned seats
* Some faster, regional trains will have assigned seating and won’t need to be validated. Check your ticket.

train_italo                                                An Italo Train in Milano Centrale Station

Validating your Ticket

Tickets bought in Italy for Regionale and Regionale Veloce trains are not marked for any particular time or train and become valid only when timestamped at a validation machine. Without this validation, train operators assume the rider is trying to avoid the fair since the ticket could be reused. For this reason, validation is essential before boarding. There are several small boxes located in the station or near the platform to validate your ticket. If you can’t locate one, just ask someone. If you still cannot find it, if it does not work, or if you are boarding in a rush, go look for the conductor on the train right away and get it validated (they will hand write the date on your ticket). 

IMG_8443-982438-edited                                                  Don't forget to validate your ticket!

Train Companies

There are two main operators: Treni Italia (formerly Ferrovie dello Stato or FS) and Italo.

  • Treni Italia runs both regional trains and high-speed trains (called Frecciarossa).
  • Italo runs high-speed trains.
  • Both companies have websites that can be viewed in English, however, you’ll still have to know the Italian name of a city or town to search for schedules on the sites.
  • Many cities have more than one station. If you’re not sure which one, choose the option that says “Tutte le stazioni” (all stations).
  • To see all the trains for a given day, make sure the date you choose is just one day ahead of the current day. If you search for the current day and it’s already 5PM, you’ll see only the schedule for that time onward.
  • Most regions of Italy have a local train line that services the region and is separate from the regional train service run by Treni Italia. The Treni Italia site will usually show the train schedules for these local lines but at the station you will have to buy tickets to these destinations separately. When looking up the schedule online you might see “non acquistabile  next to a destination.  That means it is not available to buy online through Treni Italia or at their kiosks at the station. Once you arrive at the station, you can ask where to buy these regional tickets.

At the Station

  • If buying your ticket at the station, you can do so at the counter (if open) or at a ticket machine.
  • Sometimes foreign credit cards are not accepted (I’ve never been able to get mine to work at the machines), so it’s a good idea to have cash handy.
  • All trains in Italy have a number and you can find that number on your ticket. Look for the corresponding number on the departure board. Going by the train number and not by your destination can be much easier, since trains on the departure board usually show the final destination. Also, quite often trains will leave within minutes of each other for the same destination, or for different stations within the same city.
  • The platform number is often not listed until very shortly before the train is due to leave, particularly if you're getting on at a destination in the middle of a long journey.
  • Information about the train number, its final destination and when it's due can be found on the platform itself; look out for the black sign hanging at the start or in the middle of the platform.

IMG_8444-943697-edited          Many stations will have paper schedules posted in addition to an electronic board.


treno - train

partenze - departures

arrivi - arrivals

in ritardo - late/delayed

binario - track

marciapiede - platform

convalidare - to validate (train ticket)

vagone/carozza - rail car

posto - seat

biglietto - ticket

prenotazione - reservation

sciopero - strike

controllore - conductor

capo treno - train captain/driver

Like this post?  Then check out Useful Phrases for an Active Tour in Italy for more travel tips.

Topics: Useful Info: Italy, Useful Info: Travel

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