Getting around Trains, boats and ferries

Published on:  | Last updated: 24 April 2017

There's nothing in the Book of Rules that says you have to cycle every inch of the way. Italy has good public transport links and they provide a useful way to get to or from the starting point of your tour, visit different parts of the country, combine the mainland with one of the many islands, island-hop along the Venetian lagoon or simply avoid a dull detour.

Trains

The main train company in Italy is trenitalia (or Ferrovie Statale - FS). As for most rail networks in Europe, there's a difference between regional and long-distance train services.

Frecciarossa high speed train in Milano Centrale station

Frecciarossa high speed train in Milano Centrale station. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Regional trains

These normally have spaces for carrying an undis­mantled bike. On the older trains there is a large compartment behind the driver, on newer trains bike spaces are in the middle. Look for the big white on blue pictogram. Bikes hang on a hook with another holder for the back wheel which may be under­neath a folding bench seat. Sometimes, although the train officially has a bike compartment you may not see one - you should still be able to put the bike in the compartment (bagaglio) where the guard has a little desk.

Every station will have a big poster for Partenze (Departures). This show a bike pictogram next to the trains which have spaces for carrying bikes. The Partenze poster is always yellow while the Arrivi (arrivals) poster is always white. If you're in doubt about whether you can take your bike on a particular train then check the Partenze poster and look for the bike pictogram.

The 'regional' trains can in fact cover quite long distances - eg there's a regional train service between Verona Porta Nuove and Milano (or at least there was in March 2017 when I updated this. Hopefully I'm not tempting fate.

As well as trenitalia there are a number of local and regional train companies. For more about local and regional train services please go to my article: Getting around: local and regional train services

Long-distance services

For long-distance journeys there are:

  • the high-speed Frecciarossa and Frecciargento services. You can only take bikes on these trains in a bag - and even then luggage space is pretty restricted;
  • there are also other, slower, distance trains that are being replaced by the Frecciarossa. Again you have to carry your bike in a bag and even then you might find that space is limited;
  • sleeper trains. In addition to inter­na­tional services, there are sleeper trains to Puglia and Sicily. If you book a place in the compart­ments with four couchettes you should be able to put your bike under the lower bunk. However, bear in mind that there is usually very little luggage space in the couchette compart­ments. You should be OK with one bike, but if there's more than one of you it might be worth consid­ering getting a twin-birth compartment.

Luggage size restrictions on freccia high-speed services

The official size limit for bike bags is 110x80x40cms - see: trenitalia.com: In treno con la bici (I haven't found an English version of this page but Google Translate works pretty well) 

I've made several journeys with my bike in a Ground Effect Tardis which is very slightly over that size, without any problem. Provided you don't leave your bike bag where it's going to be in anyone's way, the capo di treno won't take any interest. If you can't find anywhere then it's a good idea to go in search of her and ask if there's somewhere where you can leave it.

It's worth knowing that trenitalia offer a next-day delivery service Bagaglio Facile (operated by TNT Italia). This costs 20€ for the first bag and 15€ for others. If you're in a group the price per bag is 9€. The service operates 7 days a week in the major cities and 5 days a week in other locations (see list of towns where the service is available). You can also download a flyer for the service.

You need to book at least 24 hours in advance by calling 800 923 924 - or you could try contacting TNT Italia via their website (tnt.it: contatteci online).

trenitalia.com: frecciarossa services and journey times

Rrecciarossa services and journey times. More inform­ation (in Italian): trenitalia.com: frecciarossa

Frecciargento services and journey times

Frecciargento services and journey times. More inform­ation (in Italian): trenitalia.com: frecciar­gento

Trenitalia.com: frecciabianca services and journey times

Frecciabianca services and journey times. More inform­ation (in Italian): trenitalia.com: frecciabianca

Other train operators

In addition to the trenitalia there are other train companies operating long-distance trains in Italy.

Italo are a new train operator offering high-speed train services in compet­ition with trenitalia. I've not travelled with Italo but their trains are built by Alstom who also build the French TGVs and the Freccierosse - and the internal layouts seem pretty similar. They don't have bike-carriage facil­ities. According to the English version of the FAQs:

“ Bicycles can only be carried if put away in bicycle bags and stored in the luggage compartment. ”

Italo also offer a door-to-door luggage service in collab­or­ation with DHL. The service costs a reasonable 25€ (with no limit on the number of bags) up to a total weight limit of 25kgs. Your bags are delivered within 'approx­im­ately' (my emphasis) 24 hours in mainland Italy and 48 hours in the islands. You need to book by 1pm on the day before departure (the DHL8 Contact Center is +39 199 199 345). Italo/​DHL luggage delivery service terms and condi­tions (in Italiano)  .

An Italo train in Bologna station

An Italo train in Bologna station. Photo: Petar Milošević. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another operator is a joint venture between trenitalia and the German and Austrian railways. It operates services between Munich, Innsbruck and a number of northern Italian cities including Bologna, Verona and Venice. This is an option that is well worth consid­ering even for travel within Italy, as there are some spaces for bikes. It costs 10€ to book these. According to the 2017 timetable leaflet   all of their services now have space for 16 bikes.

For more inform­ation your best bet it to go to the Eurocity pages of bahn.com. I've only ever managed to find this page in Italian so you may need to use Google Translate. There's also a dedicated site: megliointreno.it (better by train). It also only seems to be in Italian but does have the handy pdf versions of timetable (downloadable from the home page). You can check the eurocity times using the timetable search engine on bahn.com. (For the sake of completeness: ÖBB also has its own website for its services to and from Italy obb-italia.com).

DB-ÖBB Eurocity network map showing services between Munich, Innsbruck Verona, Venezia and other Italian cities

DB-ÖBB Eurocity network map

Boats

All of the larger lakes in Italy have boat and ferry services. These can be an extremely useful altern­ative in avoiding busy roads or simply cut out a dull road. If you are travelling in the Italian Lakes a boat-trip you really should take at least one ride on a vaporetto. In my exper­ience, the boats and ferries are bike-friendly, although carriage may be at the discretion of the captain and subject to the avail­ab­ility of space. There's plenty of space on car ferries but the space on boat services may be more limited. It's important to note that you cannot take bikes on most of the boat services around Venezia (there are a couple of excep­tions - see my article on island-hopping along the Venetian lagoon: from Chioggia to Punta Sabbioni).

Ferries

to follow .…

Get in touch

Please get in touch if you find any errors in the information, or if there’s anything, good or bad, that you’d want other cyclists to know.


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