Updated: Jan 14, 2020
Without a doubt, the best way to get from city to city in Italy, and most of Europe, is by train. The train system is fairly easy once you learn the ins-and-outs of it, but until you get the hang of it, it can be pretty confusing.
Being from a rural area, we don't use trains to get around much here. So, learning the Italian train system was a double-whammy for me. We dipped our feet in the water a bit in New York, but when things are in a different language in an entirely different country, you want to make sure you know what you're doing, lest you miss your train. (Which, we did... once).
Without further ado, here are some tips for figuring out the Italian train system.
1. Check out https://www.trenitalia.com/ 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.) After finding the train number, locate it on the overhead screen to find out what platform you should 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.
4. 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.
5. If you 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 in the amazing country of Italy!
6. Be Prepared. You don't have to worry about traveling with luggage, 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 similar to this one 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 don't know what cities you want to visit, I suggest checking out this Discovery Italy Guide. I used it to plan my trip, and I think it may be helpful for you.
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