Train travel in Italy is excellent and often is one of the best ways to travel around. I have taken trains over most of the country from the south to the north and east to west. It is affordable and quite easy. The high speed trains take only about an hour and a half from Rome to Florence, about 3 hours from Florence to Venice and about 3 hours from Venice to Rome.
The local train system is Trenitalia. These trains are older and very crowded during peak times however once again we found them to be good. The train stations are usually close to or in the centre of the town or village so once again making travel in Italy quite easy.
I have also hired cars and driven but cannot fault the trains. My first few trips I travelled first class by train as recommended by friends however I have since learned that travel in 2nd class is fine. Both classes have assigned seats on the major train connections between big cities. The train system can sometimes be frustrating due to delays and sometimes cancellations however I have not personally experienced any problems.
I would recommend wherever possible to purchase your tickets beforehand, possibly the day before particularly if you are in any of the big cities, eg Rome, Florence etc. When we were to take the train from Rome to Sorrento, the line up to purchase tickets was so long and so slow that we missed our train and then we had a long wait till the next train. After that we learned to always purchase our tickets earlier. In another instance we had a terrible time communicating with the ticket seller in a regional town which took a very long time to make ourselves understood however fortunately we were purchasing our tickets the day before otherwise we would have most certainly missed our train. We did purchase tickets from a travel agent in another regional area but they did add a commission to the tickets. In this instance we were purchasing several tickets for a few sectors and train changes and the agent was most helpful so paying the extra this time was worth it. Mostly though, I have not experienced much trouble with the purchasing of train tickets. Another option is to purchase your tickets from the machines at the station. If travelling from small towns I have never had a problem purchasing my tickets from the machine or at the window a few minutes before the train arrives. Often, you can purchase your tickets at the newsstand at or near the station. When purchasing your ticket from a ticket window or even stand, it will certainly help to have the name of your destination written on a piece of paper which you can show to the seller. If the seller only speaks Italian which is quite often the case, then they can read where you wish to go. Include on the paper, how many people are travelling, where you are traveling from, what date you wish to travel and your destination. Always try to write the city names using the Italian word, eg Roma for Rome, Firenze for Florence etc
Travel by train can seem to be daunting but it is quite basic and a lot of fun. Always remember to validate your ticket at the yellow validating machine on the platform before getting on to the train or you could be fined. The train conductors very rarely have a sense of humour for those who have not validated, even if you are a tourist.
Another tip, is to take your own “picnic” whenever you have long trips. It is easier enough to pick up nice sandwiches, snacks and drinks at the train station or preferable on the way to the train station which is usually cheaper. The food on the train is not always what you would like at the time and there have been instances when they have run out of mostly everything before they get to you. At the very least always travel with your own bottled water and snacks. I have noticed that the locals usually bring along their packed lunches or meals.
I must add, it is not always easy to travel by train with luggage – particularly if you are travelling alone. The step up from the platform to the train is very high. Also, many of the train stations do not have elevators which mean that you may have several sets of stairs to go up or down, which is hard work when also carrying suitcases. When getting on to the trains, if there are 2 or more of you traveling, the trick is one person gets onto the train and then the others hand up the luggage to that person. It makes it so much easier, quicker and less stressful. Of course repeat this process when leaving the train. Another trick is, only travel with 1 suitcase as not only is it hard work getting the luggage onto the train but there is usually very limited space to stow your luggage. When traveling alone I always find there is someone close by who will help me but I can never depend on it or expect it.
Always remember, you must validate your ticket at the orange boxes which are located on every platform. You can look for routes, locations, times and fares at http://www.trenitalia.com
I have found it relatively easy to get around Italy using the train system however you will find it easier to have a rental car for the countryside areas. If you are travelling in a group, the cost of a rental car and the costs to run it can work out to cost less when shared. Of course you must take in to consideration the cost of petrol and tolls. Another site worth looking at when planning to rent a car is http://www.viamichelin.com.
Whatever your mode of transport; bus, train, walking, bicycle, it is very important that you always carry a map with you. Maps do not cost much and are available from train stations, tabacchi stores, airports etc.
It is imperative to always memorise and or carry the address of where you are staying.
All photos in this post are from Google images