Updated: May 2
It's May 1st and the tourist season is in full swing here in Italy, so I thought I'd write up some useful information to help you navigate safely (and on time!) through the airports and train stations of Rome and Florence. If you're looking for a tour this year, see what we have available in 2023 on my new company's webiste! --> click here
You've just arrived at Rome's international "Fiumicino" airport, now what do you do? Whether you're headed to the city or looking to make a rail connection, you'll most likely take the Leonardo Express, a non-stop train to the central Roma Termini train station. It costs €14 and takes about 30 minutes, but discounts may be available for groups over four. If your hotel is far from Roma Termini and you have a lot of luggage, then of course you can just take a taxi.
The train station is right across from the airport terminal, so exit the station and follow the yellow signs for TRAINS. There's an escalator up to the departures but it's occasionally out of service, so follow signs for the elevator if you have heavy luggage.
Once inside, you can buy tickets at the machines (which take credit/debit cards and sometimes cash -- you will need your PIN code to use your credit or debit card, so make sure you know it!), on your phone via the Trenitalia website or other travel apps like Omio or The Trainline, or else from a friendly human at the counter. There are 3-4 departures per hour so look at the schedule ahead of time if you have a tight connection.
NOTE: the Rome airport has expanded recently and it's now quite big. You may even have to take a shuttle from the international terminal to the domestic area, and you also have to pass through immigration (if you're coming from outside of the European Union). There is a special lane for American passport holders (as well as Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, U.K., Korean, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Israeli and Japanese travelers) who have a chip in their passports, so that can help you "jump the queue" a bit. But definitely leave yourself enough time to get through the airport!
** There's talk that they're going to do away with the no-liquids-in-your-carry-on rule, so stay tuned! **
Once inside the Roma Termini train station you have to find the lane marked "uscita/exit" in green through the plexiglass panels separating the track area from the rest of the station. And if you're on your way TO a train you'll need to scan the QR code on your ticket (using your phone or a paper ticket), so have that handy.
If you want a bite to eat, head upstairs (escalators in the main hall) to a cool new food court, where you'll find pastries from Amalfi, pizza from Naples, sushi and poke bowls from Japan, as well as American burgers!
NOTE: Roma Termini is big and has 24 regular tracks, and the Leonardo Express comes in at #24, so give yourself plenty of time to navigate through the station. There are also platforms marked "est" (east), which are an extra ten-minute walk from the other tracks, so again, make sure you know which track is yours and give yourself plenty of time to get there.
HOW TO READ THE BIG BOARD:
* Train: along the left side you'll see what type of train it is. There are two companies offering high-speed trains: the nationally-owned Trenitalia (with its Frecciarossa and Frecciabianca) and the newer private company Italo. Regionals are marked Trenitalia while the Leonardo Express gets its own name.
* Train Number: be sure to check your train number as there may be multiple trains going to your destination and you don't want to get on the wrong one! Plus, you may not know the FINAL destination of your train. The AV means "alta velocita" (high speed) then you may see R for regional, RV for "regionale veloce", or IC for InterCity.
* Destination: This is the final destination of the train, so you may not see Florence up there if the train continues to Milan. You should see all intermediate stops in the scrolling text on the right side of the board. Note: the Leonardo Express to the airport has "Fiumicino A." as final destination.
* Time: they use the 24-hour clock so anything after noon will be 13:00, 14:00, etc.
* Ritardo/Delay: trains are often late in Italy so always check to see the latest information.
* Information: this tells you what the intermediate stops are, so make sure you see your destination here.
* Binario/Platform: the is the track number. Remember that if it says "1 est" that's the far-left track and takes an extra ten minutes. Same with the Florence train station if you have to go to track 17 or 18!
When in doubt, check the paper posters for more detailed information, although changes to the track number obviously wouldn't be here:
QUESTION: Italo vs. Trenitalia for your high-speed journey? The two companies use the same tracks and generally serve the same routes, and the prices are usually pretty similar. The Italo trains might be a bit nicer and the wifi usually works, so we'd lean slightly towards their side when booking tickets, but it really depends on what's most convenient for you. Check schedules and prices on their websites, which are available in English and are easy to use (you can pay by credit card or PayPal), or check The Trainline (website or app) which will bring up both companies for easy comparison.
** If you're looking for a restful journey, try to get a seat in the Quiet Car! **
QUESTION: when should you buy your train ticket??
They only release schedules three months out, so don't worry about booking WAY in advance. You can book regional tickets up to the last minute since there are no reserved seats and the prices don't go up, while high-speed train tickets start to go up around 2-4 weeks out (for example, you might be able to get a Rome-Florence ticket for €29 which could go up to €45 or even €60 if you get it last-minute). The problem with buying your tickets too early is that there is no refund if you miss it, so it's risky to get a ticket following a flight -- if your flight is late you lose the entire train ticket (while you CAN move a ticket UP if you find you're early).
Now you've arrived at the main Florence "Santa Maria Novella"train station (abbreviated Firenze SMN), where do you go? If you're heading into the city, definitely use the underpass that has recently been decorated with a super-cool LED display in one of the tunnels.
To access the tunnel, exit the train station via the left-side exit then turn right and go down the stairs into the underground shopping mall. Continue straight and you'll pass through this cool space before exiting above-ground by the Santa Maria Novella church. On the way you'll see a bunch of new eateries, including the city's first Starbucks! 😮 (and Poke' places are popping up all over in Italy now!)
If you're headed to (or coming from) the Florence Airport, you can take the tram. It goes from the square in front of the train station to the terminal in 22 minutes and costs just €1.50 (a taxi will be around €25). To get it from the airport exit the terminal and turn left. You can buy tickets at a machine (then be sure to stamp them in the little yellow box on board in case someone comes around to check tickets). The Florence Airport is MUCH smaller than Rome's so is a pretty relaxed place, although it has also undergone extensive renovations recently so it's about twice the size it used to be ten years ago!
PISA & BOLOGNA: the Pisa and Bologna Airports are great options if you're looking for low-cost flights around Europe or just alternative connections near Florence. The regional train to Pisa takes one hour and then you hop on the PisaMover monorail that takes you to the airport in five minutes. You can buy tickets at the airport or train station or get it together with your train ticket (just put "Pisa Aeroporto" as destination). Bologna is only 35 minutes from Florence by high-speed train, then they also have a monorail that goes to the airport. You can find a Bologna-Athens direct departure on RyanAir, for example, and from Pisa you can get to just about anywhere!
Wherever your travels take you, be safe, have fun, and let me know if you have any questions! I know it's a lot to take in.
I'm enjoying the springtime here in Tuscany, though it has been a bit strange this year. Cold nighttime temps, windy days, high humidity and threats of rain have kept me inside more than usual (plus some worrisome problems with my knees 🙁 ) but I'll be traveling again soon and starting an exciting Spring season (first up: Sardinia!). So exciting to be busy with my new company Wild Sage !!
Buon viaggio and see you out there! 😎