Italian Trains: 5 Essential Tips that No One Ever Tells You

Train station Termini in Rome

Termini train station

The number one mistake of the new Italian train passenger? Believing that the information out there is adequate preparation for their upcoming experience. Huddled over laptops, these novice travelers visit several sites posting detailed articles and reference guides, carefully taking notes on the “essentials” of train types, differences between the classes, and how to read a ticket. The day arrives little surprises begin to pop up from the woodwork (…or is it train tracks?), and all the meticulous preparation appears to have been in vain. Where were the tips necessary to decipher this chaotic world of Italian trains? Look no further, weary travelers: here you’ll find what you really need to know about riding the speedy tracks of the Belpaese.

1. Who’s Hungry?!

Train rides can be long, and unless you have a designated layover time, there isn’t time to exit for a bite to eat during stops. The Frecce and Intercity trains technically offer food in a designated car or pushcart, but whether the pusher of the cart is feeling sprightly enough to push it all the way to your car is a toss up in the air. General advice for food: bring your own. Pick something up from the train station before you leave and assure your satisfaction when your stomach starts to rumble. (Unless you are in Milan…)

2. The Necessary Precautions

Venice train station bathroom

Venice train station bathroom

American restrooms are pristine in comparison to European restrooms. If you’re easily disgusted by stateside lavatories in planes and busses, prepare yourself. In order to spare the gory details, let’s just say they’re not very clean…or well stocked. Clever travelers know to bring some spare toilet paper or tissue and have a bottle of hand sanitizer, just in case.

3. Check It Before You…Lug It All Over Town

Considering taking a trip from Rome to Milan, and stopping in a small town in between for the day? Think carefully…most medium-sized and small train stations do not have a place to put your luggage, and tourists are often forced to port their suitcases with them. Sure, lugging a 50-pound suitcase through narrow cobblestone streets can create enough angst to be prepared to fight like an Italian if the occasion arises, but unless you’re into self-torture, best to check if the station has a Deposito Bagagli beforehand.

4. Avoid the Exit Sprint

train station

Don’t sprint last minute get ready before

 First-time travelers on Italy’s trains will be astounded at the extraordinary ability of their fellow travelers to know the exact geographic location of the train in reference to their destination. This somehow magically allows them to take plenty of time gathering bags and heading towards the exit.  Maybe it’s something in the Italian blood. Those accustomed to stops being announced in anticipation, however, might not exhibit the same astuteness, and have been caught scrambling for the exit upon arrival. Assign the most punctual perfectionist of your group to keep an eye on the arrival time, arousing sleeping or chatty members 15 minutes before and heading towards the exit

5. Make New Amici

Your fellow passengers (usually) don’t bite. In fact, they are often eager to meet new people and, when Italian, even more excited to talk about themselves. Greet those around you with a buon giorno when taking your seat and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with your new neighbors. Language barriers are easily crossed – most Italians speak some English and with hand gestures being their expertise, you can literally get the picture.

Are you ready to take the train now? Let us know!

8 thoughts on “Italian Trains: 5 Essential Tips that No One Ever Tells You

  1. Loved taking the train all over Italy when my wife and I celebrated our anniversary in bella Italia for three weeks back in 2007. One of the things we wished we’d known, however, was that many of the train stations have stairs that go under the tracks. You exit your train and then have to schlep your luggage down the stairs and up the next set to get to the station building. We wished many times we’d packed lighter!

  2. Also make sure you are on the right train :) While visiting, my friend and I boarded a train we thought was the “express” between Florence and Rome. However, it was the wrong train and put us behind schedule by 2 to 3 hours. The mishap gave us an oppotunity to see the beauty of Italy’s countryside by train though.

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