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Train travel

My daughter is getting married in Florence in July!!! After the wedding my husband and I, 2 adult children and 2 yr. old grandson (yikes!) will be traveling for another week. We will train from Florence to the Cinque Terre (one night), to Nice (3 nights), on to Barcelona (2 nights), then train to Madrid and spend 1 night before flying out. I have spent a lot of time researching trains and am still confused. I really think that I should book and reserve the trains ahead of time since we have a very tightly booked schedule and are traveling with 5 people. I would love thoughts and input from anyone with experience or knowledge about this. I actually was looking on the Trenitalia website to check times and prices and several spots seemed to already be sold out. I guess that is my main concern. I know that with regional trains there should be lots of seats, but am nervous since all of the trips will be connecting to at least one more train and all 5 have to get aboard!
All help is very much appreciated :)

Posted by
1737 posts

All you have to do is go to the train station, check the schedule, buy tickets and figure out which track your train leaves from. You cannot reserve regional trains. If you travel lightly- (read that as CARRY ON size, not a 26" wheeled case) you will find boarding the train quicker and easier.

What we do sometimes is go to the train station the night before travel and purchase our tickets for the next day. That way we are not rushed at the station, and can study the times for a better choice. If you are really concerned about what to do, use the ticket office, and they should be able to explain any transfers you might need to do. (we use the automated machines- it's quicker)

There are NOT always a lot of seats on regional trains. We've been on a few where there was standing room only for a few stops...once we stood for almost an hour in the doorway.

The problem with reserving a train is - should you miss it for any reason, you are then out a ticket, no refunds.

I'm sure more readers will chime in here....

Posted by
11983 posts

You can certainly book ahead, if you are certain about the times of travel. (Pre-purchased discounted tickets aren't refundable)
Some portion on regional trains make no sense to book ahead.
The best savings are if you book ahead the Montpellier - Barcelona portion aboard the TGV high speed train (Montpellier is where you will need to change trains for sure coming from Nice), and the Barcelona to Madrid portion aboard the AVE high speed train.
Having said that, your travel plan stresses me just to read it.
Maybe you have not thought out carefully about the travel times.
From Florence to the Cinque Terre is a 3 hour trip on 3 trains.
From the Cinque Terre to Nice is at least a 7 hour trip on 2 to 3 trains.
From Nice to Barcelona is a 9-10 hour trip on 2 to 5 trains (depending on time of travel)
From Barcelona to Madrid is a 3 hour trip on one train (the only portion of your trip that is fast thanks to the AVE train).

Considering the short amount of time, I think your plan is absolutely crazy. 2 nights in Barcelona and only one in Madrid? Seriously? After all that train travel? What do you think you can see in just a few hours in Madrid?

In any case. To each his own. Assuming you want to stick to it, in your shoes I would at least fly from Nice to Barcelona instead of taking the train. The flight is only 45 min long (vs 9 hours by train) and EasyJet ( a low cost airline) flies between the two.
I would also consider adding a night to Barcelona and flying home from there without going to Madrid at all.

Posted by
2762 posts

One week for Cinque Terre, Nice, Barcelona, and Madrid? You will spending all your time on the train. Not good.

Do you already have tickets home from Madrid? Do you really want to see Spain? Then after 2 nights in Cinque Terre fly to Barcelona (maybe from Milan! I did not check airports). Spend 3 nights and take the fast train to Madrid (2.5 hours) for the rest of the time there.

You can save a lot on Spain tickets by purchasing now on Renfe.com.

Posted by
23983 posts

I shouldn't be critical because it is your vacation and you and your husband and your 2 adult children and your 2 year old grandson can do it any way you want to no matter how crazy it is, but I just wonder how that 2 year old will put up with 7 to 9 hour train trips where he has to stay in his seat or very close by, and more than that I pity the other passengers who have to put up with his upsettedness.

Posted by
7737 posts

Oh, dear. If you do go ahead with this itinerary, please do come back here after your trip and report how it went. (I'm assuming you already have your return flight tickets out of Madrid, so you're locked into that city at least.)

Posted by
16796 posts

You might want to fly from Nice to Barcelona or Madrid, or from Pisa to Barcelona (skipping Nice), since time is tight; see www.skyscanner.com.

Posted by
752 posts

Better to reserve First Class on a Fast train when available for all 5 of you. Families just like yours are all there. There is more room for people and luggage.

Especially with the baby/toddler, you will all need to sit down. First class reserves your seats. And the space helps make the trip more enjoyable. There just may Not be seats on a Regionale train. They fill up fast with locals, working people, students, soldiers, and lots of young travelers. Don't take the risk. Prepare ahead to reserve seats for all of you.

Generally First class has a suite of 4 seats around a table. Reserve seat 5 across the aisle. Have drinks and food with you for the little one.

I always travel First class with plenty of families, babies and toddlers on board. The extra space really helps the family spread out, walk the aisles, and food and drink helps satisfy the child. And sometimes they nap.

I think First class is better than reserved second class for a big family with a baby/toddler because of the space. Second class is tighter and fills up fast. Second class works better for singles and couples.

Posted by
56 posts

Thanks to all of you for your wonderful words of wisdom! I realize that this trip is INSANE. Unfortunately, my husband hates flying and insisted on flying back from Madrid since it is non-stop. I have been to Europe several times and know what we are missing. My husband picked this itinerary (it is his first and likely last time to go), so I went along with what he wants. Now that you understand that I understand how dumb the whole thing is, please let the flying option go and please chime back in if you have any other pearls of wisdom to add to get us through this ridiculous week. Thanks!

Posted by
607 posts

I would book all your train tix in advance and stick with all the high speed trains. Your group is not small and you should try to get your seats together. You are travelling a long way and you need to go as fast as possible.

We booked all our trains for a group of 6 two months in advance and on the day of travel our cars were almost full. We were on both Italo and Trenitalia 2nd class and they were fine.

I am going to suggest you drop Cinque Terre to save yourself some travel time and free up a day for Barcelona or Madrid. I have never been to Madrid, but I would suggest Nice 2, Barcelona 3 and Madrid 2. My 2 cents.

Good Luck

Posted by
3343 posts

Do you already have your lodging reservations in all the places you listed?

Posted by
3696 posts

I fear that he, you and the child will have a miserable time. Instead of just going along with the trip why not have him read the input from some of the experienced travelers here. I hate to be pessimistic, but if you do continue with this itinerary he will more than likely not want to return! Sorry. I just love Europe so much it is hard to see what might be such an exhausting waste of time and money!

Posted by
31076 posts

Melanie,

I have to agree with the others that this Itinerary is extremely ambitious (that's a kinder term than the one I was going to use), which I gather you realize. You're going to spend a lot of time during that week seeing Europe through the windows of a train, waiting in stations or travelling back and forth from station to hotel. Especially on the Regionale trains in Italy, July is likely going to be HOT & CROWDED, and not a pleasant experience, especially with a two-year-old.

A few thoughts and comments......

  • In order to sort out the rail journeys, I'd suggest looking at each journey and deciding on a departure time and which trains you'll use.
  • As July isn't far away, it's possible you won't be able to get many savings by pre-purchasing tickets for Italian trains, as all the cheaper ones may be sold out. That means you'll be stuck with Base fare tickets, which could easily be bought while in Italy.
  • If any of your rail trips will be via Regionale trains, those are best purchased in Italy either from a Kiosk or staffed ticket office. Note that locally purchased Regionale tickets MUST be validated prior to boarding the train on the day of travel, or you'll risk hefty fines which will be collected on the spot.
  • Also note that tickets for the "fast" trains in Italy such as Freccia and InterCity are specific to train, date and departure time, and can only be used on the ONE train listed on the ticket.
  • The number of rail trips you're taking with tickets bought at "the last minute" will likely add up quickly.
  • Many of the rail trips you'll be doing will involve one or more changes. It could be "challenging" to get your group and all luggage off trains quickly, down stairs to a transfer tunnel, up stairs and then to your next train.
  • As I'm sure you're aware, it's important to know which stations you'll be using for each rail trip.
  • If you haven't got a hotel booked for the Cinque Terre yet, it would be a good idea to get one SOON (it may already be too late). Which of the five towns are you planning to stay in.
  • My suggestion would be to reduce the number of destinations you're visiting, in order to allow for a more "pleasant" trip. Your husband needs to read the comments posted by the group here!

Regarding your rail journeys......

  • Florence to Cinque Terre - Using Monterosso as the destination, one of the easiest trips will be a departure from Firenze SMN at 10:28, arriving Monterosso at 12:52 (time 2H:24M, 1 change at Pisa Centrale). Pre-purchase the second segment on the InterCity train and buy the Regionale tickets locally for the first segment.
  • Cinque Terre to Nice - One of the easiest trips will be a departure at 10:46, arriving Nice Ville at 15:54 (time 5H:08M, 1 change at Genova Piazza Principe). Both trains require compulsory reservations so pre-purchasing would be good.
  • Nice to Barcelona - One of the easiest trips is a departure at 10:24, arriving Barcelona Sants at 19:28 (time 9H:04M, 1 change at Montpellier). Both trains require compulsory reservations, so pre-book.
  • Barcelona to Madrid - you might consider a departure from Barcelona Sants at 10:00, arriving Madrid Puerta de Atocha at 13:10 (time 3H:10M, direct via AVE high speed). Reservations compulsory so pre-book.

For buying tickets, you might try www.capitainetrain.com as their website is very user friendly and they sell tickets for Italy and France (not sure about Spain).

One other thought that occurred to me is that if you're not travelling with the parents of your grandson, you may require a notarized letter stating that you have permission to travel with him. Some of the Lawyers in the group here should be able to provide further information on that. Authorities in Europe are getting very strict about stuff like that.

Good luck!

Posted by
4539 posts

Melanie,

I realize that this trip is INSANE. Unfortunately, my husband hates flying and insisted on flying back from Madrid since it is non-stop.

As you already know, you will be on the trains more than enjoying the destinations your husband wants to visit...

I actually did this crazy whirlwind type of trip in reverse many years ago, with a couple of extra stops, but I had 2 weeks to work with & it was truly insane!

I'd probably skip Cinque Terre & only stay in Nice 1 night, then head to Barcelona for 3 nights then on to Madrid for another 3 nights.

This way you will have 2 full days in Barcelona & Madrid.

Check these websites to check train schedules:

Posted by
2762 posts

There are no reserved seats on the regional trains.

The regional trains serving the Cinque Terre can be uncomfortably crowded. We were unable to find seats and were stuffed into the open area by the door. I couldn't believe people kept boarding and this standing area became so crowded I feared our teenage daughter would faint from the heat and claustrophobic condition. It was an ordeal.

I suggest you skip that one night in Cinque Terre and book an InterCity train that gets you from Florence partway to Nice. You can go up the coast if you want---just check for where the intercity train from La Spezia to Genoa stops. But you will still be doing several trains on this route. A better idea would be Frecce or Italo train from Florence to Milan! and another fast train from there to Genoa for an overnight. Then you can travel along the coast from there to Nice.

Posted by
5721 posts

one night in a place gives you no days -- it takes two nights to get a full day. Two nights in a major destination with a 2 year old is going to be all about logistics and leave little time for being there. Especially traveling with a baby this is a killer itinerary with little time to see and enjoy the places you are traveling. With 7 nights, I'd sure make this two stops and have some time to enjoy those stops.

Posted by
3475 posts

Please, Please, Please, Fly from Nice to Barcelona on Easyjet!! The flight is only 1H30m and probably much cheaper than the train.

Or fly from Florence to Barcelona using Vueling. 1H35m. IMO Nice is not worth 1 night.

Posted by
2762 posts

She has repeatedly said flying is not an option.

But another way to simplify this would be to skip Nice and take a night train from Milan to Paris, after the Cinque Terre time. (Stay in Monterosso to avoid the regional trains). Then it would be

2 nights Monterosso

Night 3 on the train to Paris

Day 4 continue to Barcelona on the direct fast train ( 6 hours)

Nights 4, 5, 6 in Barcelona

Day 7 take the fast train to Madrid and fly home from there the next day.

Posted by
4539 posts

Melanie,

Unfortunately, my husband hates flying and insisted on flying back from Madrid since it is non-stop.

You admit that your itinerary is insane.... here is a thought...

Your DH takes the train(s) to Barcelona & the rest of your family fly and meet him there.

This way at least 4 of you will be sane...

Just wondering... what do your adult children think of all this?

Perhaps they want to fly to Barcelona...

Here is a compromise...

  • You already agreed with DH to fly back home from Madrid.
  • Now it's DH's turn to give in & fly to Barcelona from Italy or he can opt to take the train(s) & you and the rest of the family fly there...

This is a tough one!

Posted by
31076 posts

Melanie,

One other thought that occurred to me is that if you have a free day while in Florence, you could take a day trip to the Cinque Terre. It's a long day but certainly possible. That way you could eliminate that stop from your already "busy" Itinerary. It's probably going to be "challenging" to get a hotel booking in the Cinque Terre with such short notice. One other advantage of that is that you wouldn't have to haul around your whole group along with luggage. Only those that want to see the C.T. could go, and the others could have a relaxing day in Florence. When you leave Florence, go directly to Nice.

If you need suggestions on the day trip option, post another note.

Posted by
2762 posts

Ken---going straight to Nice from Florence is a brilliant idea! The journey has only one change in Milan if they take the right trains. Two fast trains with an overall journey time of 7 hours.

It is still a long haul from there to Barcelona by train! so they should carefully compare this option with the Paris night train I suggested above ( skipping Nice but not Cinque Terre).

Posted by
498 posts

First, Congratulations on your daughter's wedding.

Second, the posters above are right that the itinerary is insane. That said, even if you can't change where you fly in and out of, you must reduce the number of stops you are making.

Try this:

skip Cinque Terre
Nice 1 night
Barcelona 3 nights
Madrid 3 nights.

Or something. But otherwise assume you will be back. There's a lot of basic travel wisdom on this site, and in Rick's books, that has made people happy and savvy travelers. I would read it and learn it.

Posted by
56 posts

Again, thanks to all for taking your time to offer suggestions. I have already booked all the accommodations according to this itinerary that my husband requested long ago. I have also now booked almost all of the trains with the great help from all of you. I have only one last segment to book - from Florence to the Cinque Terre. I understand that people have advised that we wait to book the first part (regional train) until the morning of travel and just book the connecting train (Pisa to Monterosso). However, I would really like to book it all now since I feel like that morning will be crazy with getting us all out of the apartment as well as possibly tending to needs of departing wedding guests (wedding is night before and will likely go very late). So my actual question is: is anyone very familiar with the train station in Pisa? The trains I want to take (best times, least connections) only give 15 minutes to transfer trains in Pisa. Is this remotely possible with a 2 yr. old (with accompanying gear of car seat and stroller), plus 4 adults with luggage??
Thanks again to all for your help!

Posted by
31076 posts

Melanie,

It would help to know which of the five Cinque Terre towns you'll be staying in?

Regarding your question about buying tickets for the Regionale from Florence to Pisa, I'd suggest buying those the day prior to travel at Firenze Santa Maria Novella,* either from a Kiosk or a staffed ticket window. On the day of travel, simply validate them prior to boarding the train and you're all set.

A change time of 15 minutes should be adequate at Pisa Centrale (but don't stop for coffee). That's a "through" station so you will have to go down stairs to the transfer tunnel and then back up to the platform of your next departure. As I recall, there are Elevators on some of the platforms but I'm not sure if they're available on all platforms.

Posted by
752 posts

What do you mean by luggage? Many platforms/stations have NO elevators, and NO ramps.

So be sure that each adult packs only one carry-on luggage for his/her personal use. Check your airline website for allowed dimensions and weight. Check also airline bag/stroller allowances for baby/toddler.

It may be likely that you will have to navigate a series of down and up grand stairways at a given train station. So make it very easy on yourselves. One person manages the baby on the stairs, meaning that the others pick up that person's luggage and manage the baby's luggage/stroller too.

Posted by
56 posts

Thanks again for all the great advice. We are staying in Monterosso. Not clear on why I should wait to purchase the portion from Florence to Pisa rather than booking the entire trip if possible. I am just really concerned about leaving something for the last minute (or even day before) when my only concern at that point will be the wedding. We are leaving the morning after the wedding and will have events daily up to the Saturday evening ceremony.
Thanks again to all for your help!

Posted by
752 posts

Will the Internet allow you to buy Regionale train tickets online? I've never done it. I buy all my train tickets in Italy. But if you can do it online, you should do it if the website allows for that.

There are No reserved seats on Regionale trains; so you won't be reserving a seat. Even going First Class on a Regionale will just put you in the First Class car, and you choose seats after you enter the car. At least that was my experience with First Class on a Regionale train.

See what the website allows you to do and do that. If a Regionale provides for First Class, you know me, take that.

Posted by
31076 posts

Melanie,

Thanks for the information on which Cinque Terre town you're staying in. One of the easiest and shortest trips to Monterosso is a departure at 10:28, arriving 12:52 (time 2H:24M, 1 change at Pisa Centrale).

"Not clear on why I should wait to purchase the portion from Florence to Pisa rather than booking the entire trip if possible."

There are several reasons why it's best to wait to purchase the Florence - Pisa portion.....

  • Regionale tickets are only offered for sale online one week in advance of each trip.
  • Advance purchase Regionale tickets come with restrictions, such as they may have to be collected at a station in Italy (that means you'll still have to visit the station prior to the trip, so why not just buy the tickets there anyway). Advance tickets are pe-validated but have to be used within a set time from the booked time.
  • There are no price breaks for Regionale tickets.
  • AFAIK, it's not possible to purchase the entire route on one ticket, since different types of trains are used (Regionale / InterCity).
  • Most Regionale trains only have second class cars and there are no reserved seats.
  • It doesn't matter if you buy the tickets at "the last minute" as Regionale trains don't sell out (although if the train is really crowded, you may have to stand for part of the trip.

Did your hotel in Monterosso provide directions on reaching there from the train station? If you need any information on that, post another note or send me a PM.