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Train Travel Advice

Somos of you may have read my previous posts. Based on some excellent suggestions I have modified our itinerary somewhat. We will be traveling by train between Rome-Florence, Florence-Venice, Venice-Milan, and possibly between Milan-Paris (on the TGV, not the Thello). My questions are:

1) How far in advance should I purchase the tickets?
2) Since we will be spending three weeks, we are bringing a big suitcase (one per person). Will these be a problem on the trains? We are planning hotels in the Rome Termini, Florece Santa Maria Novella and Milano Centrale areas, to avoid bringing luggage on the smaller trains.
3) Do train stations have a lot of stairs in Italy? The Paris Metro was bad with stairs and no elevator/escalator when we went.

Thanks in advance for any help.

Posted by
4531 posts

If you’d like to save money, you can book your discounted train tickets up to 120 days in advance.

You can book your tickets on Trenitalia.com but you’ll need to know the Italian name of the main stations such as:

  • Rome = Roma Termini
  • Florence = Firenze S.M.N.
  • Venice = Venezia Santa Lucia
  • Milan = Milano Centrale

Try to pack light as you’ll be the one lugging your suitcase onto and off the trains, up & down the stairs, etc...
Some train stations do have elevators and/or escalators.

Consider packing for a week, and plan to do laundry during your travels.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
6543 posts

I think that Trenitalia takes reservations up to 120 days out, and prices are cheaper when you buy early. The faster trains require reservations and the tickets on non-local trains are for a specific time. They're best not reserved for the day you arrive.
You can bring larger luggage on trains, and your real limitation is how strong you are. It's not enjoyable lugging bags on and off trains--up and down steep steps.
My wife and I travel with 21" swivel wheel ultra-light carry on bags, and we can travel indefinitely with one each. So can any traveler--following Rick Steves' packing list with minor changes.
Train stations everywhere have steps. Escalators and elevators are often seen in major city train stations, however.

Posted by
17088 posts

How big is "big"? It is not easy to get a large bag up the shallow, narrow steps onto a train. It is not always easy to find space for such a bag on the luggage rack, and in some carriages (I don't know about the Freccia trains you will be on) the luggage rack may be mid-way down the car, in which case you'll have to get the bag down the narrow train aisle.

I keep my bag under 24", and I travel for months at a time. Even at 23.5", I have a hard time managing the bag.

Posted by
245 posts

I'm going to Italy next month and have 5 train trips during my stay, so I am determined to keep my packing light -- it will be my first experiment travelling for more than a few days with just a carry-on size (21"). I know I'll have everything I need, even if I don't have everything I want, but I figure the train trips (and the stairs in some of the old buildings where I'm renting apartments) will make me glad I've limited myself that way. I haven't ruled out sending stuff home mid-trip, if I find something irresistible when I'm travelling (though I'm not a shopper, sometimes a piece of art or jewelry jumps up and slaps me between the eyes).

Posted by
7186 posts

Bring a moderate sized piece of luggage but definitely nothing enormous. Europe has laundromats just like here at home. They also have sinks in hotel rooms that can be used to wash a thing or two and hang it up to dry.

Yes there are stairs in some stations. All train carriages have luggage racks at the end and some carriages also have luggage racks in the middle and between-seat storage.

But your train tix as soon as you can. The prices begin very cheap and only escalate the longer you wait.

Posted by
1653 posts

I would not stay in the Milan Centrale and Roma Termini areas just for the sake of not carrying luggage around. Neither area is convenient to the key sights of their respective cities, especially in Milan.
Cabs are affordable if needed.

Posted by
14014 posts

In Rome and Milan, some metro stations have escalators to street level, many required at least one flight of stairs.

The historic center of Florence is level and the trains are at street level. You don't have to stay close to the train. Be aware that in Florence, some of the side streets have very narrow sidewalks and cobbled streets or streets with potholes.

Venice is the worst place to manage with a large suitcase. Avoid the main entrance to the train station - lots of stairs. There is a side entrance without stairs. But once you are out of the train station you have to choose very carefully to find a place that doesn't require crossing bridges with either steep inclines or stairs. Getting a suitcase on and off the vaporetto is much easier than on and off a train.

Posted by
3112 posts

Italo also runs high-speed trains on those routes, although with less frequency. The trains are very nice, prices are often slightly lower and they sometimes have discounted tickets available after Trenitalia's discounted tickets have sold out. Another option.

Posted by
70 posts

As all the others have stated Do Not take a big suit case. I travel for 3 weeks to month and I take a 21" suitcase and an overnight bag or back pack. Getting on and off trains and up to platforms is much easier this way. Large suitcases don't fit into the overhead compartment on the train. So pack light!!!!!

Posted by
1500 posts

hey hey tmalave
you've gotten good advice from the posters here, PACK LIGHT! don't know what "big suitcase" means to you. you will be in charge of it and it's not a pretty sight to be lugging around, pulling across cobblestone street and uneven pavement, up steps to train and down train steps to platforms with hope there's room in train since there will be others will large suitcases to store in small places. take a day away from sightseeing and find a laundromat to wash and dry, have lunch near it, relax and enjoy, carry small coins. we stay in apartments that have washers, take our own soap, hang to dry, not many places have dryers, or if hotel has laundry service take advantage of it and budget for it.
check your arrival times to hotels if they have luggage storage, some don't, you don't want to be stuck with them until checkin. been there done that. don't want to preach to the choir, you'll be so much happier with light luggage.
check your hotels if lifts/elevators, what floor you're on and carrying up steep stairs/steps, rooms are usually small in hotels without bumping into luggage.
you'll have a great and fun time, don't stress, more gray hairs. book your train ticket early for cheaper rates, keep an eye on it when it's available. i've used trainline.com, there may be a fee otherwise the country train company.
aloha

Posted by
885 posts

You've gotten great advice re. packing light and the issue of dealing with big suitcases on trains. However, just in case you all still decide to bring big suitcases, I'm going to respond to the question re. stairs in train stations (except re. Milan, where I have not been). All three of the other stations, Roma Termini, Firenze SMN, and Venezia SL are stations where all of the train platforms are on the same, ground, level. That means you won't need to lug your suitcases down and up stairs to reach your train platforms. In Roma Termini, you can exit directly to street level. You can exit the main front doors, and join the line for the OFFICIAL taxi rank, and take a taxi to a hotel anywhere in the city. In Florence, you may wander around a bit to figure out which door will take you to the OFFICIAL taxi rank. I believe it's straight ahead, from the platforms, though it may be the left exit. Just ask around. (I always walk to my hotel - on those very narrow sidewalks.) In Venice, there is one main exit, and when you go out the doors you will be facing a long set of stairs down to the sidewalk level. However, head to the right and there is a smooth ramp that will get you to the sidewalk level. Right there, in front of the train station, is the ticket office for vaporetto tickets. You can walk on and off the vaporettos without stairs. I suggest that you book a hotel that has no bridge between its closest vaporetto stop and the hotel itself. However, many wonderful Venetian hotels much discussed on this forum (like Pensione Guarrato and Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo) do not have elevators and you will be lugging your suitcases up and down stairs unless you pay more for a hotel with an elevator or unless you are assured of a room on "ground level" - not "first floor" which is up one flight from ground level. Same advice goes for hotels in Rome and Florence, though it will be easier to find more hotels with elevators in those cities. (Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo in Venice has at least 4 very nice rooms on the ground floor; I've stayed in two of them.)

Posted by
14014 posts

jamuldinuu - are you sure the ramp is on the left? I seem to remember (last time I was there a few years ago), that it was on the left as you face the canal and you exit the station

Posted by
4140 posts

So let me get this straight. You plan to take a large suitcase and, as a result, feel the need to stay near train stations. Train stations being the place in every city that is slightly seedy and inconvenient to sights. You plan to schlep into the sights each day and spend your evening in a less than desirable area.

Let me offer an alternative - take a smaller bag or take a taxi from the train station to your centrally located hotel. Your experience will be so much nicer.

For the life of me, I will never understand the idea that staying near a train station is a good idea. Spend 5 - 10 minutes in a taxi and you’ll improve your visit by 200%.

Posted by
23851 posts

In Venice there are two ramps to the Grand Canal from the Venezia Santa Lucia station.

The old ramp, all the way to the left at the station end of the leftmost platform - looking into the station with the mainland behind you - goes out the left side of the station and makes its way down to the left front of the station and ends near the canal. It isn't used much anymore.

The new ramp has been there several years now and is cut through the steps in front. As you exit the station and see the beautiful vista of the Grand Canal look to the right of the steps and the ramp gently starts down and across, zig zagging across the steps. The ramp was put in very sympathetically, is wide and smooth and well done.

Posted by
2334 posts

What’s a “big” suitcase? There’s no enforced limit, but something huge will cause trouble for you. One time when my kids were little I thought bringing one 29in suitcase to share was a better idea than a few normal suitcases. Not a good idea. It was very hard on the trains, didn’t fit in the hotel elevator, and was just hard to maneuver. I’d suggest limiting to maybe a 24 inch suitcase each. ESPECIALLY in Venice where you will have to carry it up and down stairs on nearly every bridge.

Posted by
1131 posts

I would also consider the weight of your suitcase. I bought a new lighter suitcase last year (21 inch) and was able to comfortably carry it up four flights of stairs to our air Bnb. I was gone for three weeks mixing pleasure with a conference (different clothes) and managed well with what I brought. We did have a washer in a couple of places which is what I would recommend as opposed to bringing a big suitcase.

I had brought the same amount of stuff the year before on another three week trip but with a older suitcase. I managed fine but the new lighter suitcase made everything so much easier.

Posted by
17088 posts

I tend to look for hotels near train stations myself, but Emily's right that--at least in the big cities--that tends to be not an especially nice area. And the hotels may be somewhat overpriced for their quality. Taking a taxi will probably be cheaper than the excess you'll pay to the hotel. The more nights you're staying, the truer that is.

Posted by
1623 posts

When is your trip? And how many people again? Would make a difference about the need for reservations. We have had no difficulty taking medium (airline overhead size) suitcases on trains.

Posted by
14014 posts

Thanks, Nigel. I guess it's time to start thinking about another trip to Venice, I don't remember such an obvious change, so it has obviously been too long.

Posted by
1133 posts

I'm just back from Italy yesterday, and was there two years ago.
This time, I noticed that trains no longer seem to have luggage racks by the doors.
All the trains we took looked fairly new.
We took FrecciaRossa, Regionale, and Local trains, and I did not see one luggage rack this year.
The only way to bring a "Big" suitcase with you on a train would be to stand with it in the space within carriages.
We took second class trains, so I can't speak for First Class carriages.
We had only carryon cases, so could lift them up into the TINY overhead racks, or slide them between back to back seats.
People boarding with giant suitcases were out of luck for any luggage space at all, and were getting frustrated.
Of course, it's not cool to take up two seats: one for you and one for your suitcase.
In any case, taking a train: try and board as soon as your train /platform is announced, to get at least somewhere to put stuff.
Smaller train stations have stairs between platforms, then you walk through an underpass to get up to the next platform.
I did notice more elevators this year, as I was walking with a cane for my bad knee.
If you want a good train experience, travel light!

Posted by
14014 posts

Thanks for the update, S J. Very good to know for future trips.

Posted by
1728 posts

You know, I don't know if I ascribe to the 'train stations in seedy areas' thing. We are considering taking a couple dear friends with us to Europe, and want to travel Munich-->Hall in Tirol (Austria)-->Verona-->Florence-->Rome, all by train, and if possible staying within walking distance of the stations.

Well, maybe not by Roma Termini, but I do think that area is fine, really funky with plenty of attractions (Baths of Diocletian right across the street), and truth is to go almost anywhere in Rome, you have to funnel through Termini anyway, which to me is a real rogue's gallery & great people-watching spot besides being a wonderful transportation hub. So that's a maybe. The Florence SMN area is fine, and I still have to research the others.

But to our friends I want to illustrate how efficient that kind of travel can be. The Hall to Verona leg is over 4 hours, but everything else is around 90 minutes. You walk to the station, ticket in hand, and you step on and grab your seat. No security, no jetway, easy peasy. When we've done this in the past--we did Paris to Salerno over 17 days--we scheduled our trains to leave late morning and arrive mid-afternoon, boom, a block or so walk, we're checking in to our hotel. Never felt rushed, treated the travel by rail as an adventure, packed a picnic each time, brought great reading material, dozed & looked out the window, and just enjoyed the hell out of it.

And oh yes--I would insist to our friends, as we've learned--not to have anything larger than a 21" spinner that can be hoisted & slid into an angled overhead rack on the train. Saw many examples of train riders struggling mightily with large suitcases--not worth it. As others have said, I could live indefinitely out of my 21" Samsonite.

Posted by
1133 posts

I agree with Jay.
In 16 years of going to Italy, I nearly always book apartments or hotels within easy walking distance of train stations.
I've never felt unsafe, and am often travelling alone.
So much easier to be near transport when you want to leave for the next place, or to take day trips.
We were pleasantly surprised by Napoli Centrale Station this trip.
It's been really cleaned up and modernized since I was there 6 years ago.
That all said, still keep your wits about you when in crowded places.

Posted by
1728 posts

SJ--

Looks pretty standard to me in Italy. Not only are the stairs high, the stairway is narrow.

I would hoist mine & wife's bag--identical Samsonite 21"s (weighing 23-24 lbs each) up to the landing, and then have her go in front of me stepping up the stairs. Carrying & stepping at the same time is a recipe for falling and breaking your arse, or worse.

And with a big'un, hoo boy...

Posted by
109 posts

To beat a dead horse... Jay and Caryn are spot on. If you can't pack it in your carry on - 21" - don't take it with you. We've gone on trips for three weeks or more and didn't need to check a bag at the airport. As I've said on this forum, the old adage "an ounce at home is a pound on the trail" rings so true when you get out and about.

Posted by
43 posts

Don't bring anything bigger than a 21 inch tall bag onto the trains. These will weigh 25-29 pounds which is a lot. You then will have to lift the thing up to the rack above your seat. The steps leading up from the platform are steep and hoisting your bag up and down those is taxing and you can get hurt. Then sometimes your platform number may require you to go downstairs through a tunnel and then back upstairs to get to your bin. Although I see you are using the major city train stations which may help somewhat in that regard. I helped a little japanese girl off-load her huge case and just about pulled a hernia.

Posted by
2484 posts

Think about dividing your belongings between two items: 1. a 20-21 inch wheeled case 2. a personal item sized backpack. I often travel solo so I am responsible for my own luggage. This way, you have the small backpack on your back and then you only have to lift the suitcase up the train steps or hotel steps. I have sufficient clothing for 7 days in my suitcase, and the 8th day I am wearing. I utilize hotel laundry services whenever I can so I don't lose time doing laundry. You can travel indefinitely in this way. Paying to have my laundry done is well worth the cost. Considering the cost of my vacation, it turns out to be very little for the convenience.

Posted by
95 posts

I hope you take the advice of others and limit your luggage to one 20-21 inch carry-on and one personal item. I purchased mine from this website - Rick Steves' Shop Online tab. I could not be happier! They are extremely well made, and I like to support his efforts since he provides this wonderful forum for us to get such great advice. As others have stated, you will most likely have to lift your luggage OVER your head to put in the overhead luggage, as well as up the steps to the train.

I used to take a full-sized piece of luggage even when I went on a 3 day business trip. I did great on a 3 week trip to Europe with the carry-on and personal item. I washed underwear out in the sink and did laundry once. See Adventures with Sarah for a packing list: https://adventureswithsarah.net/blog/packing-light-packing-list?rq=packing%20list - Sarah is a tour guide with Rick Steves and has online videos about the subject also.