My family and I were ending a European holiday and took a train from Florence to Milan, intending to leave from Malpensa airport the next morning. While my wife and daughter went to get a taxi, to avoid the hustlers offering their taxis to take us to our hotel close to Malpensa (an hour or so away), I stayed with the luggage and my other daughter. My wife and daughter came with a taxi, and we began loading the luggage into the taxi (actually the taxi driver was very helpful and was actually loading it into his taxi). I had a backpack and took it off and set it next to the front passenger door, to put it in the front seat, where I would be sitting. I took literally 15-20 seconds to ensure that the luggage was all loaded into the taxi, and as I turned around to get into the taxi, found that my backpack was not there. It had been stolen in a matter of 20 seconds! Passports, laptop, iPad, camera, sunglasses and other items were in it. Had to go the central police station to file a complaint, and it appeared that the Italian police were used to this, treating it more like an administrative chore, than a brazen theft.
My warning to all traveling there, is to either avoid it, or make sure that you do it during the daylight hours, and watch your personal possessions EACH AND EVERY SECOND. I have been around the world and this was the worst I have ever experienced. Shame on the police and local authorities, for not doing more to monitor this third-world behavior in the middle of Europe.
Everything I wrote in the 2011 tip below still applies. There is NO need to be scared but there is still every need to stay alert and aware.
The 'helpful' chaps still lurk by the ticket machines, offering to guide you through the process. As the machines are very easy to use, and have English language versions anyway (and other languages too) it's very unlikely that you'll need any help at all. If you accept it, they'll want you to pay for it. so just say 'No, grazie' very firmly and ignore them. They won't hurt you or attack you or anything: they're just a bit of a pain.
A new trick (for me) is to hang around on the platforms themselves and offer to help with bags. In fact, one chap actually grabbed hold of my bag in an attempt to 'help' me with it. Again, use commonsense. If you accept the help you'll be expected to pay for it. Or you can, as I did, just say 'Nonononono, no grazie' and keep walking firmly onwards. No need to be frightened; just be very firm. They won't persist because they don't want a row.
You'll find young and older women hanging around some of the entrances to Milano Centrale (particularly the one which leads to the airport buses) and begging. It's up to you whether you give them anything. Just remember that, in common with all EU countries,Italy has at least adequate welfare benefits for its residents.
There are a lot of homeless in and around Milano Centrale. Large railway stations always attract such people because they offer warmth, shelter, food (from bins) and the chance to make some money. I never give money (as above, there are welfare benefits for those who choose to take them up) but I will buy and give food.
Really, there is nothing to be afraid of. There is always a police presence at the station and people know exactly what will and what will not be tolerated. As a solo middle-aged female traveller I have always been far, far more wary when using railway stations in the USA than when using any railway station anywhere in Europe.
All you need to do is stay alert and use city commonsense.
Be careful: Groups of pickpockets are constantly positioned around the metro ticket vending machines at the main station (Centrale). As soon as a person starts a ticket demand process they arrange themselfs around this person and start to grab your change, not afraid to attack you physically. The security vanishes immediately. This is well known for years and the city of Milan is obviously not fighting it. You better get your ticket in advance or at the ticket office.
I've had to travel through Milan quite a few times now. I've been to Italy many times, I know the level of criminality is high but I've noticed Milano Centrale seems to attract so many criminals.
I came off my train and went to buy a snack in one of the shops inside the station, i had my laptop bag with me. After a couple minutes in the queue i started to notice various eyes on me and my bag. Once i stepped out of the shop a little kid (maybe around 13 years old) asked me for the time, i immediately noticed another kid behind me and another older man observing the situation. I said i didn't have the time and then the other guy came to me and said i should show some respect to Italian kids.
I went away, outside to wait for the bus, as i was paying for my ticket, the change fell out into the little container in the machine, before i could even get them a woman goes by and gets them, and runs away.
Just a warning, try not to hang around this area too long.
I was actually on board a CE train from Milan to Bern. My 'carry on' bag was immediately above me. I went to get some reading matter from the case and it was "gone" As I exited the train to the platform a conductor/train manager walked past. As I was not speaking Italian he said he would not speak to me. I found the police office. One policeman spoke English. Told me to get back on the train and report it when I reached my final destination .... Germany ... 11 hours away. No one did anything to help.
I arrived at Milano centrale around noon with my wife and two kids. We had arrived couple of hrs ahead of our train. We were coming directly from a Mediterranean cruise so were feeling relaxed. My wife went to look at couple of shops and I was checking trains on the ipad. Suddenly saw a white guy in his 20s gesticulating near a first aid cabinet. He was showing his phone and gesticulating. I did not pay much attention. My elder son who had gone to the restroom came back and said where is the computer bag! To my dismay I realized that the bag with about a lot of money, a computer, old passports and a lot of other stuff was gone. Went in search of the police, was told to go to 2nd floor. I saw a huge que of all people who had lost wallets, suitcases, bags and so on. Anyway got the complaint registered. Since I still had a lot of time, I just roamed around on the station. I could very easily see a lot of suspicious character everywhere, near the ticket vending machines, near benches, toilets etc etc. Later read many reviews of people who had been robbed at this station. To me it was very simple if the police really want to make this station safe. These characters stand out like sore thumbs but then maybe the police really does not want to get this done!!! I really wonder why!!!!
My advice - do not go there more than 15 minutes ahead of your train. Go straight to your platform. Do not look at or talk to anyone.
Having read so many horror stories about Stazione Centrale Milan I think it's a good idea to make a tip about it.
Context: I am a solo middle-aged female traveller. I am European.
Milan Centrale is no more and no less 'dangerous' than any similar-sized station anywhere in Europe. The only 'danger' is of pickpocketing and petty opportunistic theft. It is your responsibility to be aware of your surroundings and to stay alert. All the following apply to all large, busy places anywhere in Europe (and elsewhere):
Do not make eye contact with beggars, touts or hawkers. Ignore people who approach you for whatever reason and keep walking (distraction whilst someone picks your pockets).
Ignore anyone who offers to 'help' with ticket machines (happened to me twice, seems to be a common ploy): a firm 'No!' will soon send them on their way. You don't need any help at all: ticket machines for overground trains and Metro all have English language options.
Keep your baggage close, and your valuables inside your clothing. Do *not* use a bum-bag/fanny-pack....this makes you an obvious tourist (no-one in Europe uses them apart from cyclists) and an obvious target..
Do not assume that you can tell a pickpocket/petty thief by the way he/she looks. You can't. If it was that easy they would not still be on the streets. Pickpockets and petty thieves are extremely skilled at their jobs. Appearances are deceptive.
There is a police/security presence at Milan Centrale. You need not be concerned that you will encounter any physically threatening situation.
Do not be disturbed by the sight of streetpeople nearby, or sleeping at the side of the station. They are sad souls who deserve your pity (not your money)...they pose no threat to you.
Above all, stop worrying. This is not a 'dangerous' place in any way, shape or form. It's just a large, very busy and crowded area which offers lots of opportunities for pickpocketing and theft.
And enjoy Stazione Centrale itself...it's a magnificent example of 'wedding-cake' architecture, with some superb frescoes, sculptures and murals...
Don't bank on the trains departing according to the schedule!
*** I was sure it would, thus enabling me to catch my connecting bus to Bratto that only had a 5 minute slot between the changes. However, that was not to be!!!
The train departed 10 minutes late, causing me to miss my Bratto bus. Of course, there was a half-baked option: taking a bus to Clusone, and then walking the 11 miles to Bratto! This is something I had to do, but, the story takes a lovely twist and ends on a pleasant note.
To learn more, read my tip on Clusone!
Italian ... (sorry to say) are not very polite ppl especially when they talk with tourist. They dont smile, they like to throw a things to you either money or ticket, sometimes they can shout to you. I have many exp. at train station here (coz I travel every wkd). There are one old staff sitting inside the information booth, but when I want to ask him, he show me with his fingers (sign like NO), and he shout non parlo inglese! and then he show me to go another side. Its very rude for us, Asian ppl but maybe for European its normal (but not when I travel to Norway or Holland!?)If he cant speak English, he not supposed to sit in info booth. Normally, I can see many travellers found a problems to find a correct train. Ex: if you travel to one city, the train shown at info booths only show the last destination! If you plan to go to Verona, you can find that your train heading to Vicenza, but actually thats is your train! bcoz Verona is middle btw Milan and Venice. So, they only show last destination in a board. What you have to do is:
1. check your departure time at departure timetables. this schedule you can find in all train station in Italy. (departure in yellow, arrival in white)
2. check your train number and try to find it from schedule board (you easily can find it based on time).
3. then, you can found terminal number (write as BIN, in italian).
4. The good things in Italy is, all train following the schedule and BIN. Unless, the are mark at signboard, sometimes they can change the BIN. BUt with all these, you will not miss your train.
5. After you find departure time, train number, BIN number... you can see the last destination of your train. Also what a first stop, 2nd stop, your stop and last stop.
Beware of anyone who approaches you at the ticket machines in central station - especially in the metro. They do things like steal your change and tickets from the dispensing slot. Not serious, but highly irritating.
Bring a few sheets of your own toilet tissue, kleenex, or napkins with you just in case. If you use the restroom in the train station, they charge you for the toilet paper. (or at least they used to when I was last there back in 2002)
Another nightmare when you are in a hurry to catch the train! No matter which station I've been to (Milan, Turin, Genoa, Vicenza), there where very long lines to the ticketing offices.
And long lines in this case means more than 20-30 persons and even an hour or more in line.
Luckily the ticketing machine was invented and in most of the stations are at least a couple of these wonderful discoveries. (see my Transportation tips)