We consider ourselves to be the furthest from experts in this area, but after spending 16 days of non-stop traveling and using numerous trains in order to tour the country, I have compiled our fail safe guide to train traveling in Italy.
This should present you with a small introduction to the Italian Rail System, which may seem complicated at first, but after you take your 10th train you will start feeling much more at ease.
1- You Can Go Anywhere
Train travel is one of the best ways to travel in Italy. They are relatively inexpensive, frequent and not always reliable due primarily to strikes. However, their extensive rail network connections make up for it with trains hitting just about every major city and some small ones as well.
2- Understating the Different Trains
Figuring out which train to catch can seem quite difficult at first, but once you start using them on a daily basis, it becomes much simpler.
High-speed trains such as Frecciarossa, Frecciargento and Frecciabianca are the fastest and most comfortable, with speeds sometimes over 300 km/hr. They serve major cities and their tickets are issued with a specific date, time and reserved seat.
InterCity trains are a little slower and cheaper in price. They will stop in cities and in large towns with most tickets being issued with a time, date and reserved seat as well.
The most economical are the Regional Trains, but they run mostly locally and seats are first come first serve.
3- Validate Your Ticket!
Keep in mind that high-velocity and most InterCity trains usually issue tickets with a specific date/time and do not require ticket validation before boarding.
When you purchase your ticket, if they entail a reservation, you do not need to validate it, however, for slower trains with open-ended tickets, it is important that you authenticate it a few minutes before boarding the train.
The stamping of tickets can be done by inserting it in either a yellow time-stamp machine or in the newer green and white ones. Both are located inside train stations or on platforms - Failure to validate your ticket may result in a fine.
4- Purchase in Advance
High-velocity and most InterCity train tickets can be purchased online and it is considered the best way to get the most for your money. Trenitalia has great discount fares when you purchase your tickets ahead of time on their website.
For instance, we never use first class, but our advanced ticket on Frecciargento was so cost effective, that we ended up purchasing first class tickets for our 4 hour train ride from Venice to Rome.
5- Use the Large Board
Many train stations in Italy have large electronic panels, like in airports to inform of your train arrival, departure and platform. However, what we found most useful were the large white paper boards scattered near the train platforms.
They will tell you all you need to know about your train itinerary: Your entire train route, its stops, the various times the train runs and most importantly, a note column with new schedule changes and other important information.
You will see yourself going to that board every time you catch a train!