Trains are a great mean of transport in Italy and not only for families. The railway network in Italy is extensive, the service reliable and, as first-time visitors often notice, usually on time! I have travelled around Italy extensively, by train, and I know that for foreigners the world of Italian railways can be confusing, so I thought of putting together answers to some of the most usual questions I get asked about train travel with children in Italy and specifically info about how to travel in Italy by train with babies or young children.
Italy by train for families with children: practical info
- BOOK your tickets in advance on www.trenitalia.it (official Italian railway website)
- LOOK for family seats (marked by mum+pram logo)
- PRINT your ticket
- STAMP your ticket at the station if you don’t have a reservation
Should you book train tickets in advance? How?
In short: yes. Trains get very busy in Italy and popular routes can get full very quickly. To give you an example, the journey from Rome to Florence is easy because the cities are connected with almost hourly trains, but even with this high number of carriers, I have been more than once forced to wait for a later train due to lack of space: not an experience I recommend with kids! Italian train stations, especially in bigger cities, are exceptionally crowded and in the summer very hot as, usually, do not have air conditioning: I would not recommend chancing getting there with a baby without having secured your ticket first.
Ticket counters and automatic ticket machines are available in all Italian stations, but I find many of them are tricky (you can never count on them accepting cards, for instance, or giving change) and the queues at the ticket counters are often long. The best way to get hold of a ticket is through the official site of the Italian railway network, www.trenitalia.it that has web pages in both Italian and English.
When booking, make sure you look at the different available rates for families and children: depending on the route and the age of your child, you might get some very good discounts, which will make a difference especially on the expensive, but fast, high-speed trains. babies and young children travel free on most trains and family train tickets are available for older kids and larger families.
Stamp your ticket
The rule that wants tickets stamped is of those Italian bylaws that drive even the locals crazy and one that people seem to resent even now, well over 10 years after its first introduction. The problem with it is not the stamping per se, but the fact that nobody tells you or reminds you: the stamping machines are inconspicuous and often broken (in which case you are expected to write the date on the ticket by pen) and there is no mercy for the unwilling non-compliant traveller. To make things worse, the rule doesn’t apply to all kinds of tickets but take it from me: unless you have a passion for studying complex, obscure and pointless Italian legislation, you might just want to avoid risks and stamp all you have or make sure your ticket has clearly indicated train, time and seat number you have reserved. Nobody will fine you for an extra stamp, but they will should you not have one.
How to stamp your ticket: when you approach your platform, look for the stamping machines. They are usually located at the entrance of the platform (in smaller stations) or at regular intervals along the platform in bigger ones, usually either yellow in colour or hold the logo of the Italian railway system. This may sound complicated but I promise: if you know they are there, you will see them! Insert your ticket in the provided slot, aligning it to the left of the machine, are you are done!
What are the trains like in Italy?
Standards of carriages
In Italy, there are many different types of trains: some are local and slow (treni regionali, treni locali) but others are very modern and fast, equipped with many comforts. One of the faster, better trains is LA FRECCIA ROSSA (‘The red arrow’, in the photo) which is the one we have booked for going from Rome to Florence: it is part of the fast-growing fleet of high-speed trains and offers a good level of comfort and reliable service.
When travelling by train with babies or children, I find high speed the trains the best option: booking is compulsory and it is possible to choose seats, so families can have the guarantee of travelling together. The standard of cleanliness and service is quite high and carriages are non-smoking: there is good leg room and all seats are equipped with small tables (plane style) and bottle holder, which make for easy snack time and travel games. Good to know: some trains have seats specifically designed for families who travel with children and do foresee space for an open buggy, so your child can stay sitting, or sleeping, comfortably. Not all trains offer this option but, when booking, look for the family friendly sign (usually a mum pushing a pram): should this seating option not be on offer, unfortunately, buggies and strollers will have to be folded.
Smaller, regional trains are cheaper and offer less comfort, the standard of those being less consistent. I got lovely air-conditioned trains from Rome to Fara Sabina ( a 30 min journey) and awful, overly hot trains connecting Milan Centrale with Rho (similar distance): with these connections, you really never know what you get, but the good news is that you won’t be on these trains if not for short distances, so you don’t have to endure their cold comforts for long.
Baby changing facilities on Italian trains
High-speed trains offer baby changing facilities in the form of a basic changing table inside the disabled toilets. Slower regional trains usually do not so it’s important to be prepared with changing mat, wipes and nappy bags (the bins are tiny!)
Space for luggage is available on the shelf above the seats or at the end of each carriage: buggies need to be folded in all but few selected high-speed trains but overall the storage provided is not bad: our last train journey in Italy happened before I mastered the art of traveling light with children and if I found the storage good with a buggy, a car seat and 4 bags, you can trust me it is!
Train food in Italy
Long distance and high-speed trains serve food on board: sometimes this comes in a form of a trolley with tea, coffee and snacks (for sale), some other times in the form of a dining carriage offering more food options, usually sandwiches and crisps.If travelling by train with children in Italy, it is advisable to bring food from home. As a rule of thumb, usually the trains called ‘freccie’ (freccia rossa, freccia argento, freccia bianca, have restaurant carriages while the fast train Italo has vending machines.
I hope this answered some of your questions! Our last time on an Italian train was when we went from Rome to Florence and we had a lovely journey: the train we took was a ‘freccia rossa’ and its impressive speed was a great hit with my son: for Christmas, 6 months after the trip, he asked Santa to bring him a freccia rossa toy train! Santa complied.