The Italian train system: a labyrinth of tracks, convenience, particularities, and beautiful scenery. It’s an everyday reality for millions of Italian natives and a handy option for visiting tourists who do not wish to brave the perils (or art, depending on who you ask) of Italian driving tactics. But there are things you need to know before embarking on that idyllic Italian rail journey – what do you need to know before embarking on an Italian rail journey? Several things, actually. And that’s why we are going to lay it out for you in this blog: here’s what you need to consider when planning your Italian train travel.
1. Know Your Limits
First thing’s first: is train travel right for you? The Italian train system is extensive and yes, it does run frequently, but if you want to visit that long last family in the tiny town in the middle of Calabria, chances are they don’t have a train station. Do your research (or ask an expert) before deciding to structure your trip completely dependent on trains. Only interested in visiting the major cities of Milan, Venice, Rome? You’re good to go. Really want to visit Antinori’s cantina in Chiani or Tasca’s Tascante on Sicily’s famous volcano, Mt. Etna? No trains run past these places, and a rental car or private transfer are your best options.
2. Choices, Choices
Although Trenitalia used to hold a complete monopoly on the Italian train system, there’s a newcomer in town. Italo is another operator that has introduced the first actual competition to the aforementioned train giant on the Italian tracks. Before buying your ticket, decide whether you would like to travel with Trenitalia or Italo- one is not necessarily better than the other, but they are different. As a long-standing ruler of the rails, Trenitalia has more extensive travel options. Italo travels only to and from the major cities of Milan, Bologna, Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples, but its trains are brand spanking new and its service is impeccable. The two types of trains also have different classes of service: Trenitalia has first and second while Italo has Club, Prima, and Smart.
3. A Classy Affair
Once you choose your train type, you’re going to need to choose which class of service that you would like to travel in. Besides the obvious comforts of first-class – such as food and beverage service, electrical outlets, and more legroom – there is one deciding factor that we always bring up with Italian travelers: Traveling with luggage? Go first class. You’ll thank us. No luggage or a simple carry-on? Second works. Several Italians do second daily, but they don’t have to figure out where to fit that oversize suitcase stuffed with precious memories and bottles of wine from recent adventures precariously tucked away amidst the softest of your clothes. And when I say oversized, I mean by Italian standards… Which tend to favor the smaller side of the situation.
4. Mangia, mangia!
Besides something that your old Italian grandmother might have said to you while heaping mounds of pasta onto your plate as a child, this phrase, meaning, “eat, eat!” in Italian might become a mantra of wishful thinking if you’re on a long Italian train ride and someone who is at all picky about their food or likes to eat at regular hours. Never fear, however – train stations have been undergoing a makeover as of late and culinary delights are available at many of the new and improved restaurants. Grab yourself a panino made with tomato and the freshest of mozzarella or one of the many delectable pastries before voiding and you’ll avoid those pangs of hunger before reaching your destination. If you don’t have time to stock up or fall into the category of being a fan of airplane food, you do always have the fallback of eating on the fast train’s restaurant car (and Italo Prima and Club classes give free Eataly snacks!)
5. Squeaky Clean
On the fast trains, both Trenitalia and Italo try to keep the bathrooms as clean as they can be on a moving vehicle, but let’s be honest, that’s not always up to standards. As many people also do on long bus trips or planes, we suggest carrying tissues and hand sanitizer around with you, in order to avoid any unpleasant situations that you might encounter while traveling.
What other advice have you found useful in your Italian train travels?