Studying in Italy definitely has its benefits, I mean you’re in the place to be for history junkies. The best country to be living and experiencing history. Spanning from the Prehistoric Ages through the Middle Ages, to the birth of the Renaissance Era. Italy has everything to offer to whomever. The country is rather big and long; and everything interesting (museums, ancient sites/grounds, monuments, cities, and towns) seems to be pretty spread around. This may seem daunting to people who want to see it ‘all’ (or as much as they can). Rest assured, for it is I to quell your confusion of getting around Italy.
Visiting Italy by Train
Let us start! Trains are your best friend. The trains in Italy and in general Europe, are one of the best public transit systems I’ve ever been on and read about. They work like clockwork, but the many options and companies running these trains confuses the heck out of people, including me when I first came to Europe/Italy.
Italian Train Companies
The National Rail Service, formed in 2000 by the Italian government. Trenitalia runs along all corners of Italy, connecting the smallest town to the biggest city. Offering 1st and 2nd class cabins on all train lines. And have recently added four class levels on their high-speed trains (Frecciarossa) to compete with Italo’s 4 ambiances. These classes are Standard, Premium, Business, and Executive.
A private company that only runs high-speed trains. Operating since 2012, connecting only major cities/towns: Turin, Milan, Venice, Padua, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Salerno. Offering 4 classes (Italo calls them ambiances), these 4 ‘ambiances’ are Club Executive, Prima, Comfort, and Smart.
*These companies offer competitive prices, so its best to look at both when choosing to book a train for a trip*
Types of Trains
Trenitalia: Runs 5 different types of trains:
- Frecciarossa Is their fastest and most expensive line. Takes you to most Popular cities (except Venice). And offers 4 different services: Executive, Business, Premium, and Standard
- Frecciargento Uses a mixture of high-speed and traditional lines. Are less faster than Frecciarossa trains. These take you to major cities including Venice (except Milan and Turin). Offers 1st and 2nd class cabins.
- Frecciabianca Only uses traditional lines. Stops at all medium-sized and big cities. This is the slowest of the ‘Frecce’ line. Offers 1st and 2nd class cabins.
- Intercity (IC) Connect over 200 cities from the North to the South. IC is slower than all Frecce trains since they stop at many train stations. Offers 1st and 2nd class cabins.
- Regionale Trains take you to almost all the small cities/towns. They run only within that region or two bordering regions. By far the cheapest way to get around in a region. Offers only a single class on board.
- Runs a single line of high-speed trains. Has 4 ambiances: Club Executive, Prima, Comfort, and Smart.
Trenitalia: Offers only 2 classes on most of their trains (excluding some Frecciarossa trains which have 4 classes and Regional trains which only offers a single class)
- First class: Usually quieter, less crowded, bigger seats than 2nd class, upgraded seats to enhance comfort, and more leg room.
- Second class: More passengers, smaller seats, less leg room, and a bit louder.
- From personal experience, I’ve been on both 1st and 2nd class carts. The main difference is the number of people and the noise from 2nd to 1st class. 2nd class seats are still very comfortable and roomy compared to airplane seats. The only reason I would pay for 1st class is if I wanted to have a quiet ride.
Trenitalia: Frecciarossa 4 classes
- Executive: (premium 1st class) The highest standard of quality and priced accordingly. Usually, you’ll see business/government workers on these carts. Will be serviced by the class’ own stewardess, a free welcome drink, and a cold food tray (or snacks for shorter rides).
- Business: (1st class) High standards and also priced accordingly (usually the same price as of 1st class on other trains that only offer 1st and 2nd class). Significant elbow room, roomy seats, welcome drink. If you are on a budget I don’t recommend this class for its cost is still pricey.
- Premium: (premium 2nd class) Identical to the standard class; having the same amount of leg and elbow room as in standard. With the exception of it having leather seats. Also offers a welcome drink.
- Standard: (2nd class) The same amount of leg and elbow room as the premium class with the exception of fabric seats. No welcome drink, but you do have access to the cafe (as do all classes).
Executive class*Each class offers a lot of luggage space and an electrical socket at each seat to charge laptops/phones*
Italo: 4 ambiances (classes)
- Club Executive: Extra-wide chairs for comfort, dedicated catering offering espresso and a selection of sandwiches, newspaper/magazine choices, free Wi-Fi, and offers a personal screen for entertainment.
- Prima: Roomy seats, welcome drink, reclining leather seats, free Wi-Fi, also a selection of newspapers/magazines.
- Comfort: Still a good deal of space, free Wi-Fi onboard, reclining leather seats.
- Smart: Cinema coach, free Wi-Fi, reclining leather chairs.
*There are a number of vending machines/coffee machines at the ends of some of the cart*
Booking online or in person
You are allowed to book your trip in advance (online) or at the ticket counter in the station. I personally recommend booking online. For a number of reasons
- You don’t have to be hit with the surprise that all seats on the train are fully booked and reserved causing you to be stranded at the station till the next train.
- If traveling with friends/partners you will be allowed the opportunity to be seated next to each other when reserving seats online.
- You don’t have to wait in line at the station.
- Electronic tickets are allowed as a form of proof that you have bought a ticket #GoingGreen. Just show them the pdf with the QR code sent to your email when you booked the ticket.
When arriving at the train station
Now that you have a train ticket, the next step is getting on the train. And if this is your first time, you might think it’s going to be difficult. When in reality, it’s not at all. Train stations and knowing the platform to board your train is one of the easiest things you’ll ever do. If this is your first time at this train station or it is a particularly big station, I recommend showing up 30 minutes before departure to ensure you get on the correct train. Let’s start!
You enter the train station, you will need to know a few things. First, look at your ticket. Check for train number and departure time on the ticket. Then go to the departure board, usually where most people are gathered with their heads looking up. Now look for the train number on the board (on the left side), found it? Great! (If you don’t, don’t panic! You may be early. It only shows the soonest departures on the board.) Slide your head across to check the departure time, a way to double check that it is, in fact, your train (also to check if your train is going to be delayed). Next you need to find the platform number (right side of the board), usually under the column saying “BIN” or “Binario” (platform). After finding the platform, head over to the platform. And enjoy the ride! Remember don’t just slump once on the train. Look out the window at the beautiful landscapes and mountains Italy offers, you can’t get views like this on airplanes or in cars!
Oh man, when I had my first transfer I had like a 10-15 minute gap. It was going to be my first time at the station, and I was expecting to miss it. But man was I worried for no reason. Train stations are so efficiently designed, hats off to the people that design them!
Just be prompt, do the steps as listed above. Check the train number and departure time and hurry along to the departure board. Find the platform (under “BIN”/”Binario”) and off to the platform to board the train.
Just make sure to not leave the station or you may have to wait in line and go through security when entering the platforms. If you are still worried you will miss the train, google the train station’s map to get an understanding of where the platforms and departure board is.
Safety tips while at the train station and on the train
Be alert of your surroundings! Trains stations are notorious for pickpockets and stolen items. Once you find something missing, you might already be a few hundred miles away.
Be cautious of extra friendly riders, they might be very helpful. But only to distract you from your belongings. Not everyone is a pickpocketer, just never hurts to be alert. Some people are just friendly, don’t suspect everyone that’s just trying to conversate. Be aware of your surroundings! (can’t say this enough!)
Don’t lose your ticket or face a stiff-fine.
Just be cautious and alert. Put bags within reach, with your eye on them. I’ve been on so many train rides in Europe and luckily have never been pickpocketed or had anything stolen *knocks on wood*. As long as you are aware and safe you will be good. Have fun at your destination! And know the journey is part of the experience!
Links to Buy Tickets Online
Third-party Vendor: https://www.thetrainline.com/
Trenitalia Vendor: https://www.trenitalia.com/
Italo Vendor: https://www.italotreno.it/en