How to use the Italian railway system
Italy is extremely well connected by its railway system, so there is truly no reason why any traveler would go through the hassle of renting a car and dealing with the inevitable migraine-inducing traffic jams, poor street signs, and scarce parking. Unfortunately there are still areas, especially in the mountains and countryside, where trains cannot get to. Still, trains should be the first option for independent travelers, especially when connecting between major city centers. To make sure you choose the right type of train to reach your destination, review the following guidelines and you'll be on your way to an easy and stress-free ride.
TYPES OF TRAINS:
EUROSTAR (also marked as AV for "Alta Velocita'", Italian for high-speed): If you're connecting between major cities such as Florence, Rome, Venice, Milan, Naples, Bologna, among others, you may want to consider booking a "Eurostar" also called by the names Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, and Freccia Bianca. This is a high-speed train that makes only the main stops, travels up to 200 miles an hour, and is considered more luxurious than other commuter trains. Eurostars have a cafe’, bathrooms, wifi, and yes, air conditioning.
To give you an example, driving from Rome to Florence would take close to 4 hours and with a regular "Regionale" train, close to 6! The Eurostar will get you there in less than 90 minutes and you don't have to deal with impatient Italian drivers. If you decide to go with this option, it is advisable that you purchase your tickets ahead of time. Once you have your ticket, you will also have a reservation for a specific seat on the train, whereas for other trains, there is no assigned seat.
Intercity/Eurocity (also marked as IC and EC) – These trains stop in all the major cities, but not every single town - it's a less expensive, slower, and less fancy option than the Eurostar.
Espresso (E), Diretto (D), Regionale (R), and Interregionale (IR) – These trains make ALL the stops, will get you to the small towns and big towns. The slowest, but these trains are also the cheapest. They are more similar to a light-rail type of transportation for commuters and students.
IMPORTANT: If you purchase a ticket on trains OTHER than the Eurostar, you MUST stamp your ticket prior to getting on the train in one of the YELLOW machines within the train station. Don't forget as failing to do this will ensure an expensive penalty by the onboard ticket agent! Purchasing a ticket for the Eurostar includes a reservation and assigned seat, while seats on other trains are on a first-come first-served basis.
PURCHASING YOUR TRAIN TICKETS:
STEP 1: Know your train station names.
Know your train station name before purchasing your ticket.
The main train station in Florence is called Firenze Santa Maria Novella (also marked as Firenze S.M.N.), the one in Venice is Venezia Santa Lucia (also marked as Ve S.L.), the one in Rome is called Roma Termini (also marked as Roma TE), the one in Milan is Milano Centrale (also Milano C.le), and the Naples train station is called Napoli Centrale (also marked as Napoli C.le). These major cities are connected by the Eurostar – the fastest train in Europe. You can also take other types of trains, as the ones listed above, but they can be very crowded with commuters and students during certain times of the day, and sometimes there can be pickpockets onboard, so pay extra attention to your belongings. Use the local trains only to get from one small town to another, where the Eurostar does not stop. Local trains make many stops and there are many running all day long, you don’t need a reservation, and you can just buy the ticket at the last minute, stamp it, and hop on.
STEP 2: Choose your train and purchase your ticket.
You can purchase tickets directly at the train station through the automatic machines (just like ATMs), which can operate in several languages and accept credit cards, but the best way is to purchase your ticket online ahead of time on the official Italian railway system's website: TRENITALIA.com (online payment is by credit card). Click on the British flag for an English version of the page (the link provided above already directs you to the English version). Now enter your departure and arrival cities (again, make sure the train station name is correct).
Enter the date and hour you'd like to travel, and number of passengers. Select the option that fits your schedule, first or second class, and follow the instructions to complete your purchase. Now, print your ticket and review that the information is correct. Make sure to keep the ticket code (PNR) with you as you will need to show this to the onboard ticket agent.
When you purchase your Eurostar ticket, you’ll have a reservation for a specific train as well as assigned seats. If you don’t have access to a printer, you can simply take note of the TRAIN NUMBER (marked as Treno ES Italia AV + the number), the Departure Time, the Coach (or Carrozza in Italian), the Seat Number (or Posti in Italian), and the PNR or Ticket Code.
Venice to Florence = 2.5 hours by Eurostar/Frecciarossa.
Florence to Rome = 90 minutes by Eurostar/Frecciabianca.
Rome to Venice = 3 hours and 45 minutes by Eurostar/Frecciargento.
To check train schedules and purchase your tickets ahead of time: <http://trenitalia.com/homepage_en.html>
STEP 3: Get on the right train!
PAY ATTENTION! When you are looking for your train, be sure to look at the electronic timetable (PARTENZE – departures) and search for the train number and the time it is scheduled to leave. DO NOT LOOK AT THE DESTINATION! The destination indicated on the timetable for a certain train may NOT necessarily match your final destination. Your train may be directed to Naples, but your destination may be a stop along the way, like Rome. So make sure to get on the right train! Also, you will need to look for the correct binario (BIN) which is the track where the train is stationed. Then, look at your ticket and look for the number next to the word CARROZZA (that is the train car number you want to board). Next, you want to look for your seat number, marked on the ticket after the word POSTI.
A word of caution: Train stations are usually crowded, so watch your belongings as there can be pick-pockets and pan-handlers.
If you happen to miss the train or need to change a reservation, don’t worry, just go to the ticket office (Biglietteria) and they will issue a new one for you. Or, you can also change your reservation on the Eurostar online if you have an account.
There are no porters in the train stations so make sure to pack light as you’ll be the one carrying your luggage, getting it on and off the train. There is usually a common storage area at the beginning of every car where you can stow your luggage on the train itself. Just keep an eye on it periodically when the train stops in the stations.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Un biglietto di sola andata – one way ticket
Un biglietto di andata e ritorno – round trip ticket.
Vorrei un biglietto per... Roma – I would like a ticket to....Rome.
Quanto costa? = How much is it?
Ci sono posti liberi? = Are there seats available?
Quanto tempo ci vuole per arrivare a.... Venezia? = How long does it take to get to.... Venice?
A che ora parte il treno per... Firenze? = What time does the train to Florence leave?
A che ora parte il prossimo treno? = What time does the next train leave?
Che tipo di treno e’ questo? = What type of train is this?
Io vorrei prendere un.... Eurostar = I would like to take a.... Eurostar.
Dove posso comprare i biglietti per.... il treno/autobus? = Where can I buy tickets for...the train/bus?
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