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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
Want the whole inside scoop on traveling Italy by train? Get my book: ITALY EXPLAINED: ITALIAN TRAINS on Amazon.com!
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:
And much more!
Get your tickets before you leave home from ItaliaRail, a US-based company that partners with Trenitalia to offer real-time connectivity to the Italian rail reservation system. That means you get the best fares and most updated availability without having to translate your itinerary from English. Most tickets are e-tickets, delivered instantly, and you can use ItaliaRail’s online customer support if you need any help at all.
Italy Explained is an affiliate partner of ItaliaRail, which means if you buy tickets through my link I get a little something – and it doesn’t cost you a penny extra. Thanks for your support.
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!
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