Train Train, Rolling ‘Round the Bend

by Nancy Bestor

227786_5486My sister and her husband are headed to Italy for two and a half weeks this summer. She hasn’t ventured to Europe in over 20 years, and was asking my advice on navigating the trains. “When do you need a reservation,” she asked. “When and where do you need to validate your tickets?“ “What did I think of a longer night train vs. ‘wasting’ a day of vacation on riding a train for six hours.” These are all good questions, and frankly, although I like to think of myself an expert in all things (not just travel, I’m talking about EVERYTHING), I didn’t necessarily have the answers to all her questions. When we traveled by train throughout Italy a couple of years ago, we found that the information we believed to be true after doing research ahead of time didn’t always turn out to be the way things worked on every train. Sometimes we thought we didn’t need a reservation, and it turned out we did.

Other times we were sure we needed to get our rail pass validated for the day, and we couldn’t find anywhere to do it, then the conductor told us not to worry.

Nevertheless, the best way to prepare to use public transportation in Europe is to research, research, and research. Here are a few websites on Italian train travel that my sister has been browsing:

Rick Steves has a great website for many things, including train travel in Europe.

The official Italian rail site is another good one. This is where we purchased point-to-point tickets for a busy route from Venice to Milan. The US agency selling tickets is:

You should also look directly on the Italian rail site to see where tickets are cheaper.


In my opinion, the Rail Europe site is the best place to buy multi-day rail tickets for train travel in Europe. On our three-week Italy trip, we bought five-day rail passes that let us choose the five days that we wanted to travel within a 21-day period. We did not have to know those dates ahead of time either. Whenever we decided we wanted to use one of our days, we simply made sure we had our five-day passes validated for the date of travel. Then on that travel date, we could take as many Italian trains as we wanted. Rail Europe often has specials available, and you can buy multi-country passes as well.