Getting around Italy by train.
Getting around Italy by train – 5 cities, in 5 nights. A few of my friends thought this was a very adventurous plan, one of whom is from Italy himself. They wondered if I’d be able to do it.
If you read the latest from my travel diary, you’ll know that I decided to completely change where I was going on my next solo adventure. If you haven’t, here’s a quick recap: I was originally heading to Venice for 5 days but decided it was too many to spend just there when I could include at least another city during the trip. Well, forget one, I decided to do five! After not much thought (if I’m honest), I decided to visit 5 cities – Pisa, Florence, Bologna, Verona and Venice – and in 5 nights!
If like me you’ve never done a city hop through Italy before, here are a few things to help you on your way if you decide to go by train.
How to decide where to go
When you start to look at your chosen cities as a whole, you realise it may not be as simple as you first thought. The route you think of going may not work out as well especially if you want to visit local towns. It’s all about the connections between each location that will determine the ease of planning. Well, it’s either that or you’ll end up like a human yo-yo!
Tip – forget looking at the map of Italy and just go straight for the train map instead if that’s your chosen mode of transport. It’s much easier to navigate getting to and from each city. Even if you don’t know where you want to go straight away, seeing all the connections laid out will help you decide and plan which order or route to go. You may even find that another city is easier to reach or that taking a coach may be possible. Doing this in the end, helped me with plan the order of my trip.
Where to book and train tickets
Italy’s rail network is brilliant and it’s easy to find and navigate train timetables online. If this is unknown territory for you, have a look at a few websites before choosing one to buy your tickets. Some will be more complicated to use than others so checking more than one will let you see which is best for you. Plus some may offer discounts others don’t, but usually prices are about the same. Most Italian trains have paperless options so you can show a code/ticket on your mobile. You can also opt to print your ticket off.
Tip – take a look at these websites to get you started. Trenitalia is Italy’s train network is operated by Trenitalia. You can also try Italiarail which may be slightly easier to navigate, Italo or Loco2 to book tickets. GoEuro is also a good place to search a number of operators for trains as well as coaches, in one go. Doing this first will give you an idea of how each booking website works and the timetables. I booked all my train tickets for Italy with Trenitalia but have used GoEuro for coach tickets for another trip.
Before booking your train, note there are two main types to choose from. You have the domestic high-speed and intercity trains which cover longer distances, and the regional trains.
- Long distance and high-speed
Frecciarossa (red arrow), Frecciargente (silver arrow) or Frecciabianca (white arrow) are all long distance, high-speed trains. They stop in most of the major cities in Italy. You need a reservation which is handy if you’re wanting to plan and sort your travel in advance. You can’t turn up at the station and catch one of these trains.
- InterCity trains
The InterCity trains are less expensive than the high-speed trains but still cover long distances – the major and minor cities. They are a lot slower than they three types above. In some cases, the InterCity trains will require reservations, but not all the time.
- Regional trains
The regional trains are event slower than the high-speed and intercity ones, since they tend to stop at most, if not all if the local train stations, even those along the coast. Usually taking a regional train is a lot cheaper than the others, and they don’t require you to buy in advance or make a reservation.
Remember Italian spelling
When you’re about to search for trains, remember to use the Italian spelling of each for the cities. For example, Firenze instead of Florence, Roma instead of Rome or Venezia instead of Venice. On some of the sites the calendar is also in Italian whether you choose English as the language or not.
Arrive early and know the last stop
This sounds obvious – you think it’s just the train station, how hard can it be. But when departure boards are in another language, there’s last minute changes to platforms or you’re trying to find your train but don’t know the last stop, you could waste a lot of time.
Tip – If you’ve never been to the city you’re visiting before, arrive at least 15-30 minutes before your train departs. If you’re picking up tickets from a designated machine, this will allow enough time for any queues. Keep in mind the final destination of your train. There’s a lot of info to read on the boards and there may well be two trains leaving at the same time. It may be that one is a high-speed, the other a regional one. Knowing the last stop could help you quickly get to the right platform.
Have you had any train nightmares in Italy or another country? Share your experience.