This is a short story about my first experience solo traveling on Italian trains. Laugh it off, but please, dear god, don’t be this person… The best part about arriving at the train station in Florence early was knowing I had nothing to lose. I was there, and so was my high-speed train. It was a scene that made you feel like you were on platform 9 ¾—with everyone rushing to jump on the right train. I clutched my espresso, having no clue what the Italian train system had in store for me that day.
TRAIN #1: It Was Pure Magic Until It Wasn’t
I climbed aboard my first train—maybe the best of them all. I quickly settled into my seat in business class—just how I like it. 😉 While all the business passengers next to me were going to work, I was doing the opposite: going to roam around Verona, Italy, solo—just to see what would happen. I was ecstatic.
The empty chair across from me was soon filled with a dark-haired, petite girl. At first, you think it would be awkward since we were facing each other the entire ride. Except, when I asked her where the outlet was—she muttered in English. I thought, holy hell, her Italian is different. She laughed when I spoke back in English—of course, we were both confused.
An hour later, we sipped “free” champagne (that came with our business-class tickets!), brainstorming how we would spend the day—since she ironically was traveling from Canada, ready to roam around Italy, too. I couldn’t believe that a total stranger could be on the same life path as me in that very instant. It almost didn’t make sense… until it did.
We spent the day wandering the city aimlessly to see historical sites like Juliet’s House, Verona Arena, and pitstops for Aperol in between. It was magical to see where the quaint, cobblestone streets would lead next. We befriended servers, store owners, and had the chance to try Amarone. It didn’t feel real—I conversed with this same stranger like we had known each other for years.
“It was a day of pure magic— until I missed my first train.“
Tipsy, and trying to make it back to the station, I believed I had made it to the right train on time, but it was hard to tell. Next thing you know—the platform was so empty I thought I saw tumbleweed pass through. This isn’t okay, I thought. $70 bucks down the drain. I walked what felt like miles to get back to the Italian train system’s front desk.
I paid for a new ticket: fortunately, there was another train that connected through Bologna to get back to Florence. I waited at the platform until the train conductor for Train #2 would appear just like the guy at the front desk said he would. Except, when he emerged in plain sight, I was shocked to see he wasn’t who I expected.
TRAIN #2: Real Romance, or Fated Friendship?
The dark-haired train conductor and I were suddenly face-to-face. I couldn’t believe he worked for the Italian train system when he looked like an award-winning actor. I gulped—he stared. I let him know I needed a ticket, and I couldn’t help but smile and laugh after the chaos of Train #1. He was intrigued, and a slow smirk began to surface on his clean-cut face.
We had anything but a normal interaction since he could tell I wasn’t from around there. He decided to upgrade my ticket to first class for free (better than business class 😏)—although the train was stopping in Bologna before Florence. Another pit stop meant I might at well get ready for a late night, and not the kind of late night I wanted.
“The handsome conductor politely asked if we could have coffee together, and I coyly inquired, ‘Do you have any champagne?‘”
Once the train was on the fast track, he came to sit in my train car with me. It was like a scene out of a movie with me trying to charge my phone (portable charger wasn’t working 🥴) and him bringing out a German spritz beer a.k.a. German champagne. While he sparked a conversation between us—the reality was, he could’ve talked for hours and I would’ve been fine.
TRAIN #3: Better Not Be F**king Bologna
The deeper into this story we go, the crazier it gets. When I arrived in Bologna, I made the mistake of leaving the train station to grab food instead of waiting for my next train to Florence. While I scored some pretty epic carbonara from Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria, my departure time was near. I hauled ass to make it back to the station.
I returned to the station with a few moments to spare—feeling lost and confused. Suddenly, the Italian Train System didn’t seem as friendly as I thought it would be. I made it to the underground platform and my light-night train was leaving. What the flying fu… you’ve got to be kidding me, I thought—another $35 down the drain.
TRAIN #4: East to Westbound and Westbound to Where?
About to lose my cool, I stormed back to the front desk of the station—hoping this would be the last time I purchased a ticket tonight. The train workers told me there was one last local train, which was my only chance at getting back by midnight. I was sober at this point. Another attractive train worker (why are they all attractive?!) waved and pointed at a “specific platform”, but his instructions weren’t overtly clear.
“I’m just a tourist—I’d never been here before.”
I found a platform I thought was right, and waited another hour until the train was supposed to arrive. It didn’t. I stood there waiting even longer until I noticed my scheduled departing train was no longer on the screen. Apparently, my train had left from an entirely different platform on the opposite side of the building. My phone was dead, my carbonara was finished, and I was pissed the f**k off.
To spare you more dirty details, this is how I finally got home.
BUS #1: The Last Hope
It came down to the point where there were no trains left, and a Greyhound bus was my only resort. I guess I could’ve splurged on a million-dollar taxi, but my wallet was already crying. 😫 Fortunately, there was one bus left. ONE. I could not miss it or I was crashing in Bologna for the night. I quickly made it to the Greyhound station and immediately found my bus.
The rest is history. I made it home for the night by the miracle of a stranger’s phone charger, but that’s another story. Never again would I allow the Italian train system to wreak such havoc on me. Four Italian trains and one bus later, I’m still here to tell the tale. Keep scrolling for Italian train system tips. 🤌
Italian Train System Tips
Why Ride the Italian Train System?
Forget about the airport TSA lines or long road trips—the Italian train system is the way to go. Taking the train is not only stunning scenery filled with natural reserves and vineyards, but it’s low-budget, efficient, and eco-friendly. Whether you are going a few miles or many, you can get around Italy’s diverse terrain with high-speed, intercity, or regional trains.
Which Train Should I Take?
With lots of local options—not to fret: the answer is simple. If you’re looking to get somewhere in a hurry, the high-speed trains will be your best bet, although a little pricier. Intercity or regional trains, while not as glamorous, can still get you from Point A to B at a slower pace but for a more reasonable price.
The two main Italian train system companies offering services are Trenitalia and Italo. Trenitalia is the primary railway provider in Italy offering long-distance and high-speed trains, while newer company Italo only offers high-speed trains. It all depends on where you’re going of course and when, but ultimately both companies are equal in terms of comfort and service.
Pro Tip: If you happen to see ItaliaRail pop up during your web search, this company is just a ticket reseller for Trenitalia trains but not for Italo. Another third-party provider is Trainline, but be sure to take into account the extra service fees before buying.
How to Buy Tickets
While you can buy your tickets at the station, your best bet is booking in advance via the train companies website’s: Trenitalia and Italo. Another option is booking through Omio—a great search engine for weighing out your options, especially if you are booking international travel. You can either get your tickets electronically, print-at-home, or pick up at the station.
Each digital purchase is seamless: the confirmation sends you a ticket with the travel information and a digital bar code. Should you decide to book in person—you can grab your tickets at the counter or the machines—just know that availability and pricing are subject to change and you’ll want to arrive even earlier to take care of business.
Pro Tip: Have your digital or printed tickets ready as the conductor walks through the train at the beginning of the ride; he will scan the ticket to verify each passenger.
Things You Need to Know (and Things I Wish I Knew Before!)
- It’s better to book your tickets in advance once you know your game plan to increase your chances of getting them at a lower rate.
- You’ll find scammers roaming around at train stations, pretending to assist you at the ticket machines. Only work with this person if they are in proper train station attire!
- My biggest tip for you 🚨: While it depends on which type of train you are taking, arriving 40 minutes before your departure time is a good rule of thumb for high-speed trains.
- When you arrive at the station to depart, look for the sign that says, ‘Partenze’, which means ‘Departures’ in Italian. Don’t worry if you don’t see your train! They typically only show departing trains on the screen 10-20 minutes before.
- When you arrive, your best bet is to find your departing platform, and familiarize yourself with that section of the Italian train station.
- If you plan on grabbing cheaper tickets online, just know they are often non-refundable and can’t be changed! For another great train ride, consider taking the train in this country.
- No weight limits on luggage so pack it all (ok, not everything..) 😏Unlike the airport, you can carry as many items as you like.
- Like my story about ordering the carbonara, the reality was that late at night, the food options in the Italian train station are scarce. Be prepared to look for options outside of the station if needed, but I repeat, do not venture farther than time allows. 🚫
- Bonus Tip: You’re allowed to bring food and alcohol on the train, so treat yourself to an amazing ride with BYOB + BYOF.
Italian Train System is No Joke
There you have it! A crazy story and tips to help you not make the same dreaded mistakes that I did. If you can take a ride on the Italian train system successfully after reading this, then I’ve done my job as a travel blogger + storyteller. Best of luck out there, and when in doubt—take the high-speed train scenic route. 🙂
That One Nomad,