Italy is my happy place and you will never hear me say a bad word about this fantastic country except when it involves train stations! I suppose the stress that comes with foreign train systems isn’t unique to Italy, but without a doubt trying to ride a train in a foreign country has to be in my top ten most stressful activities! That said, the trains in Italy (or all of Europe for that matter) are efficient, relaxing once you leave the platform, and a relatively affordable way to get around the country. I’ve laid out my best tips and tricks to run through before heading to the train station. Although this post is specific to Italy, I think a lot of the tips and reminders are useful for any sort of public transportation around the world!
When you arrive at the train station it can be stressful. The language is unfamiliar, signs are hard to read, the platforms can be confusing, and the ticketing booths can feel overwhelming. Take a deep breath and just take it one step at a time.
Secure your items
Prior to entering the station, make sure your luggage is secure and do your best to look like you know what you are doing to avoid unwanted attention.
Know the Italian name for the city you want to go to (i.e. Firenze is Florence, Venezia is Venice, Roma is Rome, etc.)
Buying your ticket
You can buy tickets ahead of time (often cheaper this way) or wait until you get to the station (this can offer more flexibility if you are running late or change your travel plans). We find it’s easier to buy your tickets from the ticket booth rather than the kiosks, if buying directly at the station.
Validate your ticket
Don’t forget to validate your train ticket to avoid the possibility of getting fined on the train. Validation boxes are typically located near the platforms.
Finding the platform
Check the bin number on your ticket (binario = platform in Italian), check the departure time, and check the train number listed on the ticket against what is listed on the train. Don’t rely on the destination stated on the platform as it could be the final destination (i.e. The train is scheduled to leave from Rome, stop in Florence, and end in Venice. The platform destination states Venice, but there will be a stop in Florence on the way).
Keep an eye on your luggage
Sit somewhere that you can keep your luggage within eyesight. Don’t let anyone offer to take your luggage on or off a train. They may try to bully you into tipping them or worse, take something.
Strikes are a real possibility in Italy. If you find your plans are forced to change due to a strike, stay positive and embrace the spontaneity of travel.
Renting a car
If you plan to explore Tuscany and the countryside, renting a car (or hiring a driver) is key to making the most of your trip. If you rent a car be sure to book in advance (especially if you need an automatic). Arrive at the rental car location as soon as they open to ensure you get the car you reserved.