Italian Rail Advice

Italian Rail Advice: Riding Trains in Italy

Vernazza, Cinque Terra, Italy

Italian trains don’t have to be daunting. I was nervous beforehand, but once you get the hang of it, they are super easy. I’m jealous we don’t have such an impressive system in the United States. Here is some helpful Italian rail advice that will better prepare you and save you time when you’re actually in Italy.

  • Be wary of anyone who comes up to you and offers advice.
  • Only ask questions of someone in a uniform or working at the help booth.
  • Keep your purse zipped and watch your pockets.
  • Don’t let your bags out of your sight.
  • Don’t get too close to anyone or get distracted. Pick pockets and scammers prey on tourists who look confused and will offer wrong or unnecessary advice and then demand money.
  • Getting to the train station too early won’t serve any purpose. The platform number where you will board is typically not determined and announced until 15 minutes before your departure time. Find your train number on the electronic board and watch for the platform number to be displayed.
  • Fast trains have assigned seats and can sell out, whereas slow trains do not and there may be standing room only.
  • Trains are organized by train number, platform number, car number, and finally seat number if it’s a fast train. The ticket will provide all but the platform number, which you determine by looking at the board in the station 15 minutes or less before your departure.
  • Buying tickets for fast trains ahead of time can save money. If you know you’re on a set schedule, why not buy ahead and save a few bucks and have the comfort of knowing you have a seat? Usually the cheaper regional trains don’t cost any more or less to buy ahead, so those don’t matter.
  • If you plan to buy tickets at the station, use the Bigletti ticket machines. They are quick, easy, and you can select English. Much quicker than waiting in line at the ticket office.
  • Rail Passes are typically not cheaper if you’re just traveling in Italy. Point to point tickets are usually a better option.
  • Pay attention to your email confirmation after buying tickets online. They tell you whether or not you need to obtain a printed ticket at the rail station (from the Bigletti machine) or just provide the ticket number (PNR) to the conductor from your email. And yes, the conductors do come through and check.
  • Keep in mind that the trains are listed by final destination. You may not see your destination listed, but that’s because it is not the train’s final stop. Verify that the train number is correct.
  • Sometimes larger cities have multiple train stops. Know the exact name of the one you need, and don’t get off until you see the sign for that stop outside. Ask other riders to verify you are at the right stop.
  • Fast trains require a seat reservation, so pay attention to your car number and seat number. Two seats purchased together will face each other, not sit next to each other.
  • Regional or slow trains require validation because there is no seat assignment. Before boarding the train, stick the ticket into the little green meter to stamp it, otherwise face fines.
  • Know the names of Italian cities you are traveling to and from in Italian.
  • Know the train station terminology in Italian.

Train = treno
Ticket = biglietto
Station = stazione
Arrival = arrivo
Departure = partenza
Baggage check = deposito
Track/platform = binario
Delayed = ritardo
Coach/car = carrozza
Seat = posti
Time = ora

I had a hell of time figuring out the free wifi on the trains. The registering process is rather arduous. It asks for credit card information, which is really confusing because it says “Free” but never tells you if it will charge you or not. I finally learned it does not charge you, it’s just required when your phone number is not an Italian number. Lastly, you have to receive a code via SMS in order to complete registration, so I had to turn my cellular data back on to receive the text (with international roaming charges, of course). Every time I tried to register, I’d give up in frustration until the last few days of our trip when I finally followed through long enough to have it work. Don’t do that. Just figure it out on your first train ride.

monterosso beach, italy

Even with reading ahead, the entire train process was a learning experience for me. I hope my article on this can help better prepare you for a smooth Italian travel experience. You’ll be an expert in no time!

vernazza, cinque terre, italy

Finally, the website I recommend for buying Italian train tickets in advance is Italiariil. Everything is in English which was a lifesaver for me.

For further reading, I recommend my article: Two Week Italy Itinerary.

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