Recently, my family and I returned from a 32 day Euro trip. Along the way, we visited many countries and traveled by train, bus, car, and plane. In the US, we are not very experienced traveling by train cross-country. I have traveled within Italy/Europe multiple times and their train system is simple and pretty amazing.
Here are 7 things you should know about traveling by train in Italy
Buy your ticket online
Through multiple sites you can buy a train ticket – all you need to know is the train station (google where you need to get on and off – SO EASY) and figure out your timing. Here is the website I used: http://www.trenitalia.com
For example, if you are going to Florence, Italy from Rome – you need to go to Roma Termini and get off at Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. Please keep in mind everything is in the local language. Make sure you are looking at the times on your ticket to get a better idea of when you are supposed to get off. Sometimes they don't announce it clearly which stop is coming up.
These are the 16 most popular train stations in Italy according to Wikipedia:
There are plenty of ticket kiosks at the train station so you'll be able buy your tickets the same day. I always suggest to buy them ahead of time. Especially if you’re with your family, you won’t want to wait three hours until the next train to Milan leaves.
***Kids usually ride for half the price or free.
Photo cred: http://www.romewise.com/train-from-rome-to-florence.html)
Everything is in military time
Yes, they tell time like 13:50 and 21:00. So, when looking at your ticket, please don’t be the dumb American that can’t figure it out. Those train conductors will give you a fine if you are on the wrong train at the wrong time.
Most likely you have a reserved seat
This is very similar to a plane ride. You get a reserved seat and sometimes you aren’t sitting together. Most people are super flexible and will give up their seat so your family can sit together. There is a car number and then a seat number. Most of the train stations will have huge automated signs that tell you where the train car will be stopping. So if you are in car 6, look for the sign 6 on the platform
Expect layovers and train changes
Depending on where you are going, you may have to switch to another train and have a short stop. It will give you time to stop for lunch or a snack. Some trains will have a “bar” or push cart with food, but I suggest bringing your own food to save on costs.
Don’t assume everyone speaks English
Most train conductors will know basic English, but please have your ticket available (either on your phone or a paper version) or be prepared for an awkward interaction in their native language.
There are bathrooms and areas to store your luggage
Some bathrooms are nicer than others. Bring some baby wipes… you’ll be fine. Unlike an economy plane seat, you have more room to move around and the trays in front of you are so much easier to put up and down. Also, there are plugs to charge your cell phone. Always a plus.
Give yourself plenty of time to get settled
Some of those train stations are huge and you’ll need to figure out what platform the train is leaving from. It may take 10 minutes, or more, to walk there. Also, there may or may not be an elevator. Pack lightly.
The Italian train system is easy and affordable. I highly suggest using the train for transportation throughout Italy and Europe. If you have any questions, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org