In Italy, trains are an excellent way to travel, whether it be for a weekend trip to Florence, or simply getting to work in the morning. They are a lot more reliable, practical and faster than, say, busses or trams are – and may sometimes be cheaper! However, if there is one thing that they aren’t, its simple and self-explanatory. Follow these tips and tricks to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the city (or country!) and ease your travels the next time you take the train in Italy.
Buying Tickets Online
When travelling from city to city, we highly recommend buying tickets ahead of time online. Even just buying them a day or two in advance can cut your cost by, sometimes, half – or at the very least a considerable margin. Buying them online also helps you avoid long lines at the ticket machines (made longer by confused foreigners or first-timers trying to figure out how they work). Making matters more difficult, ticket-machines have a tendency to break or partially break, meaning that at a sudden notice three out of the four ticket machines stop accepting cards or cash, which can be very frustrating if you came to the train station with only one payment option in mind.
There is a plethora of ticket-purchasing websites out there, so you must be careful to choose one that is not going to charge you twice as much as it should. For the best, reliable prices try Italotreno.it, Trenitalia.it, or Italiarail.com. In my experiences, they have all proven to be reliable, though it is never a bad idea to compare their packages and prices with one another. Another great part about buying tickets online is that an electronic ticket is sent to your E-mail, so you don’t have to worry about having your whole trip ruined by the loss of a solitary piece of paper. When the ticketer comes around and asks to see your ticket, just show them the E-mail and they will be on their way. However, you usually cannot buy tickets for the regional train online, and that is when you must use the ticket machines.
Buying Tickets at the Station
Naples (Napoli Centrale) Train Station
Luckily, ticket machines can be switched to English, but even then they can still prove confusing. When you are searching destinations on the machines, you must include the entire name of the train station. For example, when you search “Trastevere” (which is a popular Roman neighbourhood), nothing will come up, which can give quite the scare to a first-time train user. However, if you type in “Roma Trastevere”, it will! Just be patient and do not get frustrated, lots of people have trouble with the machines, so anyone waiting behind you is sure to understand.
It is important to bear in mind that you can only use your ticket on the day it was purchased for, meaning that if you buy one for the 23rd of August, you will be fined if you are caught using it to travel on any other day. Moreover, when paying, be it with card, paper money, or coins, you must wait until the slots where you enter the money light up green. Your change, should you have any, and ticket will fall into the compartment below. If, after all this, you are still stumped, we strongly advise you to find an official employee to help you. While there are likely to be many non-officials offering assistance in exchange for tips, many of them are unfortunately pickpockets. So, always be aware of your possessions and try to find official employees to assist you.
Finding Your Train
Finding your Train
Finding your train can prove challenging for first-timers. When buying your ticket, take note of what time the train leaves and/or the train number. (You might even consider taking a picture of the screen in order to remember it.) This step is especially crucial when you purchase a regional ticket as these are valid for a whole day (not simply for one train) and there will not be a train number printed on it.
Next, you must find the departures and arrivals boards, which are very large and clear in every train station, and draw your attention to the departures. Look for the train that departs from the station the same time that yours does, and if you would like to be extra-sure, look at the train number and see if it matches the one from the machine. If you forgot to take a picture of the number and time and cannot remember them, you can always look at the list of stops for each destination and see if you can find yours. This, of course, is if your stop is not an end destination.
After you’ve found your train on the departures board, look at the left column to find the corresponding platform or, in Italian, “binario”, and follow the signs to find it. Usually, every platform will have its own small board with the final destination of the next train coming, the number of the train, the time it is set to arrive and a list of its stops. If you are sure that you are at the right platform, yet your train is not on its screen, bear in mind that you may be a little early and that there might be another train coming before it. Also, when riding national trains, which do not come and go as frequently as regional trains, your train may not arrive until ten minutes before it departs.
Ticket stamping machine at Roma Termini Station
Before boarding your train, it is crucial that you stamp your ticket.Stamping machines (pictured above) are either fastened to the wall or stand alone in every station. Enter your ticket into the slot and wait until you hear a beep, and remove it. You can then check to make sure that it has printed something on it. You can be fined up to €100 if your ticket is not stamped, even if you have just bought it, for the ticketer can assume that you have just been using one ticket to make multiple trips, which is illegal.
A Note on Pickpockets
Boarding and descending trains is the perfect time for pickpockets to strike, because you may be distracted and be more focused on getting on your train than you are on your valuables, making it easier for them to grab what they wish and slip through the train doors right before they close. Always be aware of your surroundings and your possessions. Keep your hand on your purse, or right on your pocket where your phone is, and try not to show off any money or expensive technology you have.
Naples (Napoli Centrale) Train Station
When you google “Night Trains Italy” you will be met with a cacophony of pros, cons, horror stories, and testimonies. Here is what you need to know. On night trains you can buy tickets to bunks in a compartment, which typically has four to six bunks and are co-ed. To be safe, it is a good idea to rent out a whole compartment with whomever you are travelling with so that you can lock it. Of course, you could also do this by yourself, but it would be very expensive. If you are travelling with only one or two other people and cannot rent out a whole compartment, take shifts sleeping so that one of you is awake at all times in order to keep an eye on your belongings. Thievery is a problem on these trains since almost everyone is asleep, so you must really take every precaution when it comes to keeping your stuff from being stolen. Of course, it is especially unadvisable for young women to travel alone on night trains. However, if you are forced to do so, see if you can book an all-women compartment. This is not to deter you from taking the night train completely, but is simply to warn you about the risks and advise you to be extra-cautious. Nonetheless, when you are careful, the night train can be a fantastic option! It allows you to spend a whole day in a new city, without wasting a day travelling, and it saves a night of hotel costs. Although it may be pricier than a regular train, when you factor in the money you would have spent on a hotel, you may even save yourself some cash!
What a Life Tours
No matter its flaws, Italy’s train system gets you where you need to be on time (usually) and in one piece. Just remember to be aware, be patient, and enjoy your travels around Italy!
Happy travels, from What A Life Tours!
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