why am i doing such a specific post on this? well, for one thing, i was completely bewildered by the italian train system when i first came to the country for my exchange. and i took such a long time figuring out how to even navigate the trenitalia website and the different train options available. it was totally mind-boggling and exasperating for me, and i hope that this post would help you to understand it better! (:
this is going to be a wordy post without many pictures, but i hope it helps! it’s mostly my experiences and anecdotes which might be useful for you to know and be mentally prepared for! (:
so, random things that you need to know about the italian train system…
firstly: type of trains. there are SO MANY varieties with different pricing structures that it is so confusing -.-
Frecciarossa/frecciabianca/frecciargento are the high speed trains. they’ll take you from Rome to Milan in around 3hrs? they’re the fastest but also usually the most expensive. buy early and the super economy prices can be REALLY affordable though! like from €20+! (: but as the cheaper tickets get sold out closer to the travel date, the prices just get more and more expensive!
Intercity trains in contrast, are the oldest and slowest trains ever. they are usually in pretty terrible condition and are honestly not very nice to be in. but they’re cheap (can start from <€10). if you take an overnight train, it would be an Intercity Notte train. and honestly, i would tell you NOT to ever put yourself through such torture. i tried it ONCE and i’m never going to do it ever again. it was worse than sleeping overnight in the airport (which is the second worst ordeal haha) because it is just absolutely claustrophobic in the small cabin, and the train c…r…a…w…l…s…which is really unbearable and exasperating if you are already feeling so uncomfortable. if you are traveling in a group with multiples of 4, you might want to consider the type of cabin with beds (couchettes), but i’m not sure how different it is since i’ve never tried it. they only allow you to book the whole cabin though, so if you have a group of <4pax, it wouldn't be worth it anymore.
Regionale Veloce trains are the in-between trains that are the most convenient in my opinion! ;) no need to buy tickets in advance actually, because the price doesn’t change, and there are usually quite regular timings available. even if you want to buy tickets in advance, they are only purchasable within 7 days before the travel date. no assigned seats for this, just purchase the tickets from the ticket machine and they can be used within a few hours from the purchase/the day itself (something like that, check the tickets for the validity)
secondly: to search for the trains, you need to know the italian names of the cities. here are some common ones and their most central stations:
Milan = milano (milano centrale)
Rome = roma (roma termini)
Florence = firenze (firenze santa maria novella)
Venice = venezia (venezia santa lucia)
Naples = napoli (napoli centrale)
thirdly: always remember to validate your tickets at the ticket machine before boarding the train!!! even for tickets which have specific timings written on them, you might still have to validate them (if i remember correctly). for regionale tickets, you DEFINITELY have to. only after doing so, they are considered “valid” (duh :p) for the ride. otherwise when the train conductor checks and you didn’t validate the tickets, you might be fined anyway, even after paying for the tickets! :O ridiculous, i know. but that’s how it works.
fourthly: the trenitalia website allows you to book international trains as well, e.g. trains from italy to switzerland or france etc. but my advice is NOT to book from the trenitalia website. especially when going to more stable/efficient countries (*ahem*) like switzerland, get your tickets from their train companies instead! if things go wrong, it’s much more likely that you can get your problem solved by them, rather than the lousy and unfriendly italian train station people who wouldn’t lift a finger to help.
one thing you need to be prepared for is the unreliability of the italian train system.
#1: they can go on strike anytime. apparently they give a warning on the website, but still, most people are caught unaware.
#2: they can change the train schedule for all sorts of random reasons, such as a public holiday, even after you’ve bought tickets for the train that was supposedly operating -.- (and if you were to board another train, you would have to pay much more to buy that ticket from the train conductor on the train itself).
#3: the ticket printing machines don’t always work. ridiculous, but it does happen. and if you don’t speak italian, the italian train staff very conveniently don’t help you with your problem. (my advice: just board the train anyway, with whatever confirmation slip you have and try to explain it to the conductor. it might work. no promises though.)
#4: trains can be delayed. severely. and if you have a connecting train that is within 10mins from the time your first train is supposed to reach the station, it’s pretty hard for you to catch it. (my advice: don’t arrange connecting trains with such a short interval in between!!! always expect the unexpected)
because trenitalia has been the monopoly for years, that’s how all these inefficiencies came about. a competitor, italo is giving it a run for its money with newer high speed trains! they might be a little more expensive and don’t travel to many cities (or the major train stations), but they’re worth a try! especially since their trains are newer ;)
haha idk whether i sound like i’m complaining about the italian train system :p but it’s really not very user-friendly :p makes me appreciate singapore much more!!! <3 haha.