Italy Roundtable: 6 Reasons You Should Travel by Train in Italy


I probably don’t really need to tell you that I love traveling Italy by train. I wrote a book about it, after all. But this month’s Italy Roundtable topic is PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. I couldn’t help myself.

While it’s true that I am not eager to drive in Italy and I think train travel is usually the most logical way to get around, my affection for train travel goes beyond logic. I get to train stations much earlier than I need to on a regular basis just to get more time in them. It feels like a throwback to when European travel was dignified and travel itself could be described as magical. It’s often sleek and modern today, but train travel in Italy still brings to mind the word “romantic.”

But hey, I know not everyone gets as excited about trains as I do. So here are six completely logical reasons why you should go by train when you travel through Italy.

Oh, and read all the way to the bottom for a special Roundtable announcement!

Milano Centrale || creative commons photo by Sharon Mollerus

Milano Centrale || creative commons photo by Sharon Mollerus

Cover More Ground

Italy’s high-speed trains often make the trip between cities much faster than a car could. Flying might seem faster, but when you factor in all the time spent getting to the airport ahead of time, going through security, checking bags… Well, flight speed becomes a moot point. With train travel, you can get to the station a few short minutes before your train departs.

Plus, high-speed trains get you from one city to another in what feels like no time at all. For instance, Florence, Naples, and even Milan aren’t unreasonable day trips from Rome by high-speed train, which is almost an invitation to explore more. (As if you really needed one.)

I’m not the kind of person who can sleep well on an overnight train, but if you can, that’s another way to cover more ground by taking the train. Sleep as you’re trundled across great distances, waking up ready to explore a new city.

Skip the Hassle of Driving

Italian drivers have a long-standing (and not un-justified) reputation of considering things like traffic signs, road rules, and parking boundaries as mere suggestions. That’s all fine if you’re accustomed to it, but leads to stress if you’re not – and foreign visitors are usually not.

When your itinerary is primarily Italian cities, you’ll avoid the hassles of navigating narrow streets and deciphering complex parking laws simply by relying on the country’s robust rail network instead. I mean, it’s stressful enough crossing the street in Italy, right? Why compound the stress by trying to drive on those roads?


Y’know that feeling of relief when you finally sit down in your seat on the plane, when all the last-minute rushing around and stress of trip planning is gone because there’s nothing else you can do but get there? That’s exactly what happens when you sink into your seat on an Italian train.

Your responsibilities disappear. You don’t need to navigate, figure out where to stop for gas, or wonder where to eat en route. Your only job is to relax, enjoy the fantastic scenery, nap or read or write postcards if you feel like it, and get excited about the next stop on your Italian trip. And, if you’re anything like me and are always go-go-go when you travel, it might be the only time you get to truly relax. Enjoy it.

Keep Moving

Once you get on the train, you don’t need to think about stopping until you get to your destination when the train keeps going while your needs are met right on board.

There’s no need to find an exit when someone needs to use the toilet. And if you’re on a high-speed train and you didn’t have a chance to grab snacks before boarding, there’s no need to stop your progress to find a place to eat – just wander to the cafe car for a snack. It’s like you’re multi-tasking without the need to actually multi-task (which, sidebar, humans don’t do at all well, anyway).

Get Comfy

We’re all familiar with the indignities of economy class on an airplane, not least of which is the cramped seating. Italy’s high-speed trains offer a luxurious amount of legroom, and even the slower trains allow passengers to get much more comfortable than coach class in the air.

There are also no size restrictions on luggage. So while it’s still smart to pack light (you’ve still got to get the bags on and off the trains), you can usually stow a large bag in a cubby at one end of most trains without needing to hoist it uncomfortably into a shelf over your head.

Sure, if you don’t get a reservation on a slower train and the train is full you may end up standing, but high-speed trains require reservations – and even in second class you’ll have a comfy seat.

Visit Train Stations

When I asked my 10-year-old step-daughter what her favorite thing about taking the train in Italy was, one of her replies was how the train stations had “all kinds of shops that were really resourceful.” My favorite thing about train stations in Italy is usually the big departures and arrivals signs. Big bonus points when it’s one of the old-school signs that makes clackity-clacking noises when it updates.

But the kid’s right, there are great shops and restaurants in train stations – excellent food can be had in a train station in Italy, ideal for bringing on board for a moving picnic – and some of the stations are awfully pretty (Milan’s Centrale comes to mind).

Plus, the people-watching is top-notch – train travel is the way everyone gets around in Italy, so you get to see a fascinating cross-section of personalities both Italian and foreign. It’s a pretty nice side benefit of simply traveling from place to place.

And for some reason, despite their similarities, I find train stations much more interesting and pleasant than airports. How about you?

Italy Explained: Italian Trains

Italy Explained: Italian TrainsWant the whole inside scoop on traveling Italy by train? Get my book: ITALY EXPLAINED: ITALIAN TRAINS on!

Italy may look like a small country when compared to the rest of the planet, but getting around can still be a challenge if you aren’t prepared to deal with the vagaries of the Italian rail system. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to make your Italian train adventure a smooth experience – from questions you already have to questions you don’t even know you should be asking – including:

  • The difference between train tickets and reservations, and when you’ll need both
  • How to decide whether to buy a Rail Pass or point-to-point tickets
  • How to read an Italian train schedule
  • How to buy train tickets and reservations, either before you leave home or once you’re in Italy
  • How to deal with Italian train strikes

And much more!

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

What forms of public transportation are my cohorts talking about? Click along with me through to the following links to read each of their posts – including our brand-new member of the Roundtable, Laura of Ciao Amalfi! We’re thrilled to have her on board, and we think you will be, too. Please welcome her to our little group!

Are we connected?

Have you LIKED us on Facebook? Are you following us on Twitter? Please drop by and say hello, we’re quite friendly. And we’re always taking suggestions on future topics for the Italy Blogging Roundtable! Drop us a note on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a comment on one of our posts.


10 responses to “Italy Roundtable: 6 Reasons You Should Travel by Train in Italy”

  1. I also like those old train schedule signs that go clickety-clack. They seem so logical yet really fascinating in an odd way. I agree with you regarding airports vs. train stations. While airports are usually more comfortable in that there are always free bathrooms readily available, train stations have more personality. Thus said, the train stations in Calabria, where I spent a good bit of time while living there for 4 years without a car, are quite grim, most without a ticket booth even. And the beautiful high speed trains do not exist…

    • Jessica says:

      Some of the Frecce trains now get into Calabria and Puglia! Progress, piano piano. 🙂 And I’m so glad I’m not the only one who prefers train stations to airports.

  2. Amen, Jessica! We avoid planes if at all possible and revel in the trains throughout Europe.

  3. lee says:

    Trains in Italy are #1, particularly when you can not tell the bus driver where you are going………..was the last person on the bus and the driver got off to go to lunch………………..never again………
    Can you also suggest web sites for the regional trains that only have routes within a particular area? ie Puglia, Umbria are two I know about but what about the other regions? Have been told they are only once or twice a day, but that is fine

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the note, Lee! I know there are some regional train services, but I don’t know of websites for all of them. I’ll have to look into that, though, because it’s a good question, especially if you’re planning to concentrate on one or two regions during a trip. Thanks for the idea!

  4. Great points about the high speed Freccia trains. They are sooo comfortable. I easily took a day trip from Milan to Florence and back my last trip with my children just so they could see Michaelangelo’s David.

  5. Thanks for the very kind welcome to the Italy Roundtable, Jessica! I love taking the train in Italy – such a great way to get around. Thanks for the great tips!

  6. Cristina says:

    I get bus and carsick, unless I’m the one driving, so I have been loving the Italian trains since I was 11! Depending on where you are planning to go, especially in central and northern Italia, I really don’t think most people need to rent a car. I mostly go to Puglia, so it is more of a pain to be senza macchina , I’m also usually solo, so renting a car is very expensive. I love looking at the countryside from the train window. Buon viaggio Cristina

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