I have now been to Italy several times and each time have travelled around this fabulous country by train.
Once you get the hang of it, train travel in Italy is easy. It is also a great way to see the beautiful countryside on the way to your next destination.
I have travelled a couple of times using a rail pass, but the last couple of visits have just purchased tickets for each individual trip as we went.
That said, we often have purchased tickets a day or two in advance - particularly if the particular train requires a seat reservation, or if it is a busy time of year.
Purchasing a little in advance also means that you don't miss the train you want to catch due to a huuuuuge queue for tickets...
Last trip we used the automatic ticket machines at the stations and found them excellent.
Also, I have travelled both first and second class, and didn't really find much difference - travel second class and you can use the extra money to buy more wine/food etc
Just remember with all tickets that you need to validate them in the small yellow ticket machines before you board your train.
This is a mandatory thing to be done in Italy before getting up in the train.
The train tickets have a validity of 3 to 6 month from the acquisition date and in order to be used for a trip should be validate.
The validation machines are to be found all over the station (look like yellow boxes - see picture) and at the beginning of the platforms in the biggest stations.
There are now direct trains from Milan Malpensa airport to Milan Stazione Centrale, which makes life much easier if you are travelling onward by train or staying in the east of the city (or around Stazione Centrale itself).
Before this one trains from Malpensa went only to Milan Nord Cadorna station.
So...follow the airport signs to the trains, buy your tickets from the machines or the ticket office in the rather whizy new station foyer and go down the steps to the platforms (electronically signed, so you can't get on the wrong train unless you try very hard indeed).
Journey time is from around 30 minutes, fares from 7 euro depending on departure. It's a good idea to check out the time/fare for the trains you are most likely to catch after arrival here:
It's all in English. Search for 'Malpensa Aeroporto' and 'Milan'.
Remember to validate (date-stamp) your ticket before boarding the train; guards do check, and there are on-the-spot fines (and helpful reminders at the airport...see photos).
There is plenty of space in the trains for luggage, although there are a couple of steps up to the carriages.
Do allow extra time for your journey back: the train I'd planned to take had been cancelled. Luckily I had ample time to catch another one (departures are frequent) but it is not a good idea to cut things too fine.
With the help of the Internet site of the Italian Railway I perfectly planned my trips by train around Italy.
The site is offering detailed information about all the trains with the complete schedule and prices.
There is also the possibility to acquire the tickets on-line.
We did two day trips by train during our trip: One to Lugano and one to Stresa.
When we went to Lugano we just went to Stazione Centrale and bought a ticket at a ticket machine. This was an EC train and the ticket was around 20€ per person. This was more expensive than the regional train, but the journey was very comfortable. The EC train is very fast and has very nice compartments.
On our way back, we bought tickets at the ticket machine in Lugano and this time took the regional train, the cost was only about 12 or 13CHF (unfortunately I forgot to write down the exact price). The journey was not as convenient, though. Although the regional train was very comfortable and clean as well, it was much slower and did a lot more stops, and moreover, we had to change trains in Chiasso. This train does not go to Stazione Centrale, but to Milano Porta Garibaldi.
One day later, we took a regional train to Stresa and the same one back in the evening, a single ticket for this journey is 7,40€. Again, we bought the first ticket at the ticket machine in Stazione Centrale, and the ticket back at the ticket office in Stresa.
While the ticket of the EC train comes with seat reservations, we did not encounter any seat reservations on any regional trains. On the EC train, we were a little confused at first - the seats in the train do not indicate at all if the seat is reserved or not. You need to have a look at your ticket and just go to your seat, but contrary to Germany or the UK, there are no indications on the seat itself.
The ticket machines in Centrale are very easy to use. The instructions are displayed in several languages (you can choose one), and are easy to follow. You can either pay cash or by credit card. There are plenty of machines in the basement of the train station. There is also an information centre, but the queues there were so immensely long that I would avoid it if possible.
When you get to the platforms, there are two huge electronically information boards displaying the departing trains, the time, platform and destination, and all the stops the train will have on the way to the destination. Again, very easy to understand and very useful!
The ticketing machine or in Italian "sportello rapido" (rapid office) was my good "friend" during this trip to Milan.
Will the long, unfinished line at the ticketing desks buying a train ticket in due time was something like mission impossible.
Although at first sight, it may seem difficult to use, the menu is in six languages and very easy. More over, for the ones who did a previous research on Trenitalia (see the above tip) it's even easier because menus are identical.
"Sportello rapido" can be found in almost all the train stations around Italy and in Milan station are to be found both on the right and left side of the ticketing offices.
The machines are accepting all types of Euro banknotes and coins, just be sure that you choose the right one because there are also machines that are accepting only credit cards.
This was actually our second trip through the MIlan train station. The first was on the way to Venice and that was truly a blur in my mind as we did little more than move from one train to another. This time, however, Milan was our destination and we needed to take note of our surroundings.
This is a big place. Built on a grandiose scale in the early 20th century, it is one of the biggest train stations in Europe and I found it to be a bit intimidating. A very busy place and, it seemed to us, to lack a very intuitive pattern of egress. What seemed to contribute to the confusion is the main ticket hall's location which is at grade with the train platforms but 2-3 stories above street level. The prospect of carrying our luggage down a very long flight of stairs was daunting. Ultimately we located the escalator to the far left end of the gallery (when exiting the platforms). Taxi queues were located at the exit at the bottom.
The building itself is magnificent but sadly the concerns of transit took precedence over our quest for aesthetics.
Another great train station near Central Station (2km far).
In front of the station there is the BUS TERMINAL where you can find bus for the most important cities of Europe and Italy.
Under the station there is the underground station (GREEN LINE) and the other underground station for Malpensa's airport.
In the station there are a lot of shops, bar and three newspaper kiosks where you can buy the underground and city bus tickets.
The station is oriented from EAST to WEST.
Apart from Milano Centrale, there are several smaller train stations which you might to have to go through. One we encountered was Milano Porta Garibaldi (Milano G.P.) The first time was when we went back from Lugano and just bought a ticket for the regional train from Lugano to Milan. We had to change trains in Chiasso and only then found out that the regional train was not going to Centrale, but only to Porta Garibaldi. This was not a problem, though, as P.G. is also on the Metro network, and is only two stops from Centrale, so we just bought a single journey ticket for 1,50€ when we arrived and took the next Metro train to Centrale.
We also liked Porta Garibaldi because it has a big SPAR supermarket - as we did not find any other supermarket close to our accommodation, we were happy to find this one and stocked up on water and a few groceries both times we came through this train station.
Cadorna is another train station close to Castello Sforzesco and in the past was the main stop of the Malpensa Express, however, in the meantime this train service has been extended to Centrale, but it still stops here. Of course Cadorna is also on the Metro network, and we came through here several times, when we went to Santa Maria delle Grazie, and to Corso Magenta and the Castello on our last day.
In front of Cadorna there is a big public artwork which is very prominent with its colourful appearance. It is called "Needle, thread and knot" and was constructed by Claes Oldenburg, a Swedish pop art artist who also designed the dropped cone at the Neumarkt in Cologne, as I was surprised to learn! Isn't it wonderful when traveling teaches you more about your own home? :-)
Picture 1 shows the artwork, while Picture 2 shows a view of Cadorna station.
Milan has 5 important train stations: Stazione Centrale, Milano Lambrate, Cadorna, Rogoredo and Garibaldi.
Stazione Centrale is the main station, while Cadorna is the central-city destination for the shuttle train from Malpensa airport and the other three are used for regional links.
Beside the above mentioned train stations there are other smaller stations used for short distances rides, like Piazza Genova Train Station used for the links with the city of Alessandria.
I arrived at Milan Central Station on a Cisalpino tilting train from Spiez, Switzerland.
These trains go under the Swiss Alps through the new Lötschberg Basis-Tunnel, which was built from 1998 to 2006 and was opened for full-scale scheduled rail traffic in December 2007.
This new tunnel is about four hundred meters lower than the original Lötschberg tunnel from the year 1913, and it shortens the distance from Spiez to Brig by about ten kilometers.
The tilting train is the one on the left in the photo, and on the right is a conventional (non-tilting) Cisalpino train.
The advantage of the tilting trains is that they can lean into the curves and thus go faster through mountainous routes than conventional trains. But the downside is that some people start feeling queasy if the leaning is too severe.
Update: The Cisalpino company ceased operations in December 2009 because of numerous problems with maintenance and punctuality, and because people complained about feeling nauseous on the tilting trains. (I didn't have any of these problems, but a lot of other travelers did.)
Now the trains between Switzerland and Italy are again operated directly by the Swiss and Italian railways, mainly under the name "EuroCity", so in the timetable they are called EC instead of CIS. I haven't traveled this route since the change took place, so I can't say what effect it has had, if any, on punctuality and comfort.
In Como I used the station, Como Lago, which is served by LeNord. Trains from Como Lago station stops at Milan Codorna, which was the train station nearest to my hotel, so it was more convenient for me. The trains from Como Lago to Milan leaves about every half an hour and the ride takes an hour. The ticket was 3.60 Euro (February 2009).
There are faster trains between Como and Milan, but they leave from San Giovanni station in Como and arrive in Milan at Milan Centrale. The central station was further away from my hotel so it had not been more convenient for me to take a fast train.
It is from the central station, Stazione Centrale, the major domestic and international are leaving.
At the moment I took this photo we were just 263 days, 7 hours, 2 minutes and 48 seconds away from the opening of the new high-speed railway line between Milan and Bologna.
The construction of this new stretch of track began in November 2000 and is scheduled to be completed by December 15, 2008.
The new line will be 182 kilometers long, and for part of this distance the trains will be able to travel at up to 300 kilometers per hour.
A train trip from Milan to Bologna will then take exactly an hour, instead of the one hour and 42 minutes that it takes now.
Second photo: Milan's Central Station (Milano Centrale) with the high-speed (Alta Velocità) railroad countdown clock. Now it's only 261 days, 13 hours, 33 minutes and 2 seconds till the opening of the new line.
I took the Malpensa Express from Cadorna (Stazione Nord) to Malpensa Airport. The ticket office was just after the entrance to the station and the ticket was 11 Euro (February 2009). During the day the trains leave every half an hour and the ride takes 50 minutes. At Malpensa the train stops at terminal 1. My plane was leaving from terminal 2, which is not within walking distance from terminal 1, but there are free shuttle buses going between the two terminals. When I arrived to Milan I also took the Malpensa Express, but only to Sarrono (as I was going to Como). That ride took 20 minutes and it was 6 Euro.
From Malpensa there are also buses going to Milan Stazione Centrale. They take about an hour. And there are buses to Linate airport as well.
The Stazione Centrale is maybe not the best part of town (homeless people loitering about the bus station and park in front) but the building itself is impressive. It was opened in 1931 and is 207 meter wide and 36 meter high so the entrance is quite spectacular. We took a train to and back from Venice. We bought 2nd class Eurostar tickets at the Stazione Centrale the day before departure for 41 ?. It was not really easy to understand which line to get into to buy the tickets but we got the tickets at least. You can also buy tickets buy using a credit card and a ticket machine but we went for the manual method :-) It was easy to find out which train to get on at the platforms and soon we were on the train making our way to the classical destination of Venezia.