Ferrovia dello Stato, or FS) is very good and usually on time in the northern part of the country. As you travel further south, or off the main lines, you can expect to experience some delays. Beware of the summer months when the trains can be overly crowded, and of course during rush hours in certain cities.
There are many different types of trains you must consider when traveling in Italy (from slowest to fastest)
Traveling by train in Italy is relatively inexpensive and has a certain romantic ambiance about it, so it is highly recommended between cities. Especially for long-distance travel. You can really see the Italian countryside and go to places that are tough to reach by car. The Italian train system (
- Interregionale (IR) and Regionale (REG) – also called locale - slowest of all the trains that stops at all the local stops (avoid this one if you can!) – Reservations not required.
- Diretto (DIR)- faster than a locale, with less stops, typically only 2nd class. Reservations are not required.
- Espresso (Expr) - stops just at the main towns. Food and drink service is available on some trains as indicated on schedules. Reservations are not required.
- Eurocity (EC)- will connect Italian cities to the major European cities. This is an express service.
- Inter City (IC) - express trains used in domestic service. All the cars are air-conditioned. Dining facilities are provided as indicated on the schedules.
- Eurostar (ES) - serves the main lines like Rome to Florence with few stops. Reservations are mandatory. High-speed, and modern air-conditioned cars. For more information view Eurostar Italia fares and schedules
Typically the shorter the distance you want to travel, the more likely you will be in the first few categories above. The longer the distance, the more likely you will want to use the EC, IC, or ES service. Some times you will not have a choice. Some times the your time schedule will determine which train you must take. Then you must also consider between first and second class. First class is worth the extra expense during peak times and during busy season.
Make sure you validate (stamp) your train ticket PRIOR to boarding the train. There is a little electronic, usually yellow, machine (picture left) in every station where you can validate your ticket. Failure to do so may result in a fine. The conductor will almost always check for validation once the train has departed.
Once you have a ticket, and you have it validated, you can head out to your train. In Italian, the tracks are called binari (plural for binario). On the arrival (arrivi) / departure (partenze) boards in the station you will see Bin. 2 to indicate track number 2. In smaller stations where the trains go through the station, you will have to use the under passage (sottopassagio) to get to a track that isn't the first track (Bin. 1) adjacent to the station.
Precautions to exercise while on Italian trains
Many train travelers are ripped off while they sleep. Those sleeping for free in regular cars should exercise extreme caution – consider upgrading to a sleep car (couchette or wagon lit) if you are traveling overnight. It is well worth the extra cost. You must book these in advance. Never leave your baggage unattended, as it may be more likely to get stolen. Also be aware of pick pockets as you are boarding the train. Many times, it always seems that Italians like to mob around the entrance to a train while it is time to board.
How to save time at an Italian train station
New rules regarding smoking
Surprisingly, Italy had become a country with a clean indoor act (no smoking!). This would have been unheard of even 20 years ago. Smoking is not allowed on trains in Italy. It is also prohibited in on trains in Austria, Ireland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden, or the United Kingdom and some other European countries.
Depending on how much train travel you intend to do, a Eurailpass will offer you significant discounts. There are also different types of passes that you can purchase that may beneficial to your situation.
Check out Italy Rail Passes for more information and great deals and enjoy the best way to travel throughout Italy.