One of the most rewarding parts about studying abroad is the chance you’ll have to explore not only your host city, but your host country. If you’re studying abroad somewhere in Italy, there are so many amazing places to visit – from the canals of Venice to the ruins of Pompeii – but it might seem a bit daunting and expensive to get around. Guess what? It actually couldn’t be easier. Using Italy’s rail network is a cheap, efficient way to get yourself all over the country and will really help you to make the most out of your study abroad experience. Here’s everything you need to know about taking the train in Italy.
Buying your ticket online
First, head to Trenitalia.com. In the search box on the left, enter the required information – just like searching for a flight. Keep in mind that English versions of city names won’t be recognized; for example, you’ll need to type “Firenze” instead of “Florence.”
All the options for your selected date and time frame will show up with departure and arrival times, duration, train type, and price (see below). When you find one that fits, simply click “Select” next to the price.
Once you’ve chosen your price, the rest is easy – just seat selection and payment. You’ll receive an email with a PDF attachment of your ticket. You can show the conductor the PDF pulled up on your phone or a printed out version for validation. Easy!
If you want to buy your tickets online in your own currency (so you don’t get whacked with a currency conversion charge), buy your Italy train tickets on RailEurope.
Buying your ticket in the station
If you’re feeling a bit more spontaneous, buying a ticket in the station couldn’t be easier. Locate the ticket area in the station (follow signs for “Biglietti”) and find a ticket machine. You’ll be prompted to enter your destination station. A list of departures, arrival times, durations, and prices will show up, just like on the website. Simply follow the prompts to choose the one that works for you, pick a seat, and pay.
At the station
So, you’re at the station with your ticket, now what? All large stations will have enormous “Arrivals” and “Departures” screens hanging around. Look here to find your platform. Remember, only the last stop is listed, so if your stop is somewhere in between, you won’t see it up there. Instead, match the train number (“TRENO XXXX” on the ticket) with the same number on the board and use the departure time to double check.
On the train
Conductors usually come around at some point to check tickets, so whether it’s on your phone or in paper form, keep it handy.
On a high-speed train, your stop will be announced and you’ll see it on one of the screens. Be ready to hop off – they don’t wait at the platforms for too long! If you’re on a regional train, it’s very unlikely you’ll hear any announcement so you need to keep your eyes open for signs.
Some More things that are just good to know…
The difference between high-speed and regional trains:
Like states in the U.S., Italy is divided into regions. If your destination city is in a different region, like Milan to Florence (Lombardy region to Tuscany region) you’ll be taking a high-speed Frecciarossa or Frecciabianca train. A specific date, departure time, coach number, and seat will be included in your ticket. The ticket below shows that the Frecciabianca train 9809 departed from Milan Central Station on December 14 at 10:35 and arrived at Bologna Central Station on December 14 at 12:38. I sat in the aisle seat 18B in coach 004.
If your destination city is in the same region, you’ll be on a slower (but cheaper!) regional train. None of the above information is included on a regional ticket – you can use it once on whatever day and time you want, and you can sit anywhere. The ticket below was good for a journey from Varenna to Milan anywhere between October 9, 2013 to December 8, 2013 (Utilizzabile dal… on the top).
Validating your regional ticket
To ensure people don’t cheat the system and use regional tickets over and over, the conductor will check for validation on your ticket. Make sure you get your ticket validated before you board, or you risk a €50 fine! Look for one of the green or yellow stamp machines (located in front of every platform) to have your ticket validated.
Buying return tickets
You certainly don’t need to buy a return ticket at the same time – sometimes on a spontaneous weekend trip, you don’t know when you’ll want to leave! However, it is really important to remember that while ticket machines are plentiful in big, main stations, this is not always the case in smaller towns. Some stations in small towns literally consist of just a platform! If you suspect your destination town might have a tiny station, get your return ticket in your home station. A good rule of thumb is if you’re taking a regional train to get there, you should probably have a return ticket ready to go. If you’re visiting a large, major city, don’t worry about it.
Getting a last minute ticket
If you find yourself scrambling to get on the last train home and you’re told the seats are sold out, don’t panic. You can still be on the train – you just might have to stand. Your ticket will say “Posto non garantito,” (seat not guaranteed). Get on anyway and once the train starts moving you can look around for an open seat. Keep in mind it might belong to someone getting on at another stop, but it’s always worth a try.
It may seem like there are a million things to remember, but once you get the hang of the system, you’ll be so glad you did. Italy is known for its vast rail system and once you understand it, your travel options are practically limitless! Just keep these tips in mind and you’ll be bopping around Italy in no time.
Do you have any questions about how the Italian train system works? Ask in the comments and we’ll answer it!
Photo sources: Emily Bisbach, Paolo Pino via Flickr