How to Navigate the Italian Train System

Laura

Italy’s train system is extensive, convenient, and (mostly) reliable—which is why it’s the top transportation choice for both visitors and locals. If you’re taking the train during your holiday in Italy, don’t worry, it’s easy to use once you’ve got the hang of it. Read our guide on how to successfully navigate the Italian train system and you’ll be a pro in no time.

The Difference Between High-Speed and Regional Trains

If you’re travelling between major cities in Italy, you’ll most likely be taking one of Italy’s high-speed trains. They can travel at speeds up to 220mph, getting you to your destination at least twice as fast as taking a regional train. These trains also offer business class seating, where you’ll get more space for yourself and your luggage, and on some trains, a complimentary drink and newspaper. Of course, tickets on high-speed trains in Italy cost more than ones on regional trains.

Regional trains are slower and stop more often than their high-speed counterparts, which is why their tickets cost less. For example, if you’d like to travel from Rome to Naples on a Saturday, you can take the high-speed Frecciarossa train, which gets you to Naples in 1 hour and ten minutes. There’s also an option to take the regional train, but it takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.

To get to smaller cities and towns in Italy, such as Siena or Viareggio, you’ll need to take a regional train, but when travelling between cities, I think the extra cost of booking a seat on a high-speed train is worth it—you’ll be more comfortable, enjoy a quieter environment, and you’ll have extra time for sightseeing once you get to your destination.

train ticket

Your Train Tickets

If you’ve booked your train tickets through Citalia, you’ll receive a PNR reference number in your departure documents. If you’re travelling on a high-speed train, all you need to do is show the conductor your reference number when on the train. If you’re travelling by regional train, be sure to pick up your tickets from a self-service ticket machine or ticket office, where you’ll be asked for your PNR reference and full name.

If you’re looking to book a last-minute train ticket, you can do so easily at a self service ticket vending machine, which take both cash and credit cards and has an English option. For a high speed train, purchasing a ticket will mean that you must travel on the chosen train and you’ll have a seat reserved. For regional trains, your ticket is valid for any regional train on that specific route for two months from issue—but once you’ve validated it, you have to complete your journey within six hours (keep reading to learn about validating your ticket—it’s important!)

At the station

Most major train stations will have signs in both Italian and English, but if you’ve stopped in a small town, it will be useful to know how to read the departures board and other important signs.

Some vocabulary to know:
Arrivi – arrivals
Partenze – departures
Binaro – track
Ritardo – delay

If you see the words cancellazione and variazione at the bottom of the departures board, there’s a good chance that you’re encountering a sciopero – train strike. Don’t panic though—these happen often in Italy, and if you’re travelling by high-speed train, you’ll most likely not be affected. If you’re travelling by regional train, just check with the information desk for the best way to get to your destination.

Validating your ticket

This is an important bit of information—don’t skip this section! If you’re travelling on a regional train, once you’ve picked up your ticket from the self-service machine, you’ll need to validate it correctly before you board the train you’d like to travel on.

You can validate your ticket using one of the yellow or green machines located near the platforms. The green ones look like this:

Italian Train Station Validation box

Forgetting to validate your ticket could result in a €50 fine—so don’t forget! If you’re having trouble finding a validation box, find a staff member or a local and just say “Convalida?” They’ll get the idea.

Getting on the Train

You’ve got your ticket, you’ve validated it, and now it’s almost time for your train to leave. To make sure you end up on the correct train, be sure to check which binario to go to. You can do this by finding your train on the departure board using the train number found on your ticket. Platform numbers often don’t appear until just a few minutes before departure, so don’t fret if time is running out and you still don’t have a platform number!

When you’re at the correct platform, check your ticket to see where your seat is. On non-regional trains, you’ll be assigned a carozza (car)—and once you’re in the right car, find your assigned posto (seat).

Once you’re in your correct posto and on your way, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the incredible views! Just be sure to keep your ticket somewhere easily accessible as a conductor may come around to check that you have it.

train station sign#

Getting off the train

If you’re on a high-speed train, it will be difficult to miss your stop—there are multiple screens in each car that indicate which stop you’ll be approaching next. On regional trains, it’s slightly different, just listen for announcements and keep an eye out for signs at the station you’re approaching- you’ll be able to hop off when you need to.

It may seem like a lot to remember, but print this guide off to use as reference if you need to. Once you’ve taken one or two Italian trains, it will be simple and you’ll know exactly what to do—I promise!

Find out more about travelling to, from and around Italy by train on our Italy by Rail blog post, or on our website

Photo credits: star5112 via Flickr, jayneandd via Flickr, Danilo Magri, permanently scatterbrained via Flickr