Trains to Siena and Beyond: The Basics of Trenitalia

Siena is connected well by Italy’s national train system, Trenitalia, even though the city is not on a major high-speed line. I have found Italy’s train system to be extensive, reliable, and relatively easy to use for those who prefer not to drive. Even in Siena, trains are numerous and frequent, unlike anything Americans are used to seeing in the States. Here are the basics of taking the train, to Siena and beyond.

Using the Trenitalia Schedule Finder

The English web site for Trenitalia is https://www.trenitalia.com/en.html . Or, just type in “trenitalia.it” and you will see language options in the upper right corner. The site is similar to airline web sites that allow you to search for any route, day, and time without being obligated to purchase tickets. Use this to plan trips in Italy (or around Siena) for either tomorrow or next month. Let’s look at a sample schedule below, pretending that we want to travel from Siena to Bologna.

  1. Enter the Italian names of your departure and arrival cities. For larger places, you will see a drop-down menu to choose from, as trains can make multiple stops in one city. Which to choose? Usually the main station will be indicated at the top of the list by the simple name of the city (e.g. “Siena”) or will include terms like “Centrale” (Central). Here are some of the major stations you might find useful. Remember, typing in “Rome” or “Venice” won’t work! These are English names for “Roma” and “Venezia” for instance. Sometimes they are the same in English and Italian (such as “Siena”) but not always.
    1. Bologna: “Bologna Centrale”.
    1. Rome: “Roma Termini”.
    1. Florence: “Firenze S.M. Novella”.
  2. Choose the departure date and earliest hour you might want to travel (such as 8:00 as indicated above). Remember, Italians and much of Europe label their dates as Day/Month/Year, opposite of the US. They also use the 24-hour clock, so 2:00pm is simply 14 (14:00), and so on.
  3. You can also indicate whether you want to search for one-way or round trip (a little check box), and for what type of train. Just stick with “all trains” for general searches.
  4. Click “search,” and a variety of options will appear (as in our sample case above). Given that all trains to/from Siena will require at least one connection (such as Empoli, Florence, or Chiusi), you should click “changes” in the third column (under “Duration”) to see details of these connections (similar to airline web sites once again).
  5. In this case, the 8:18 train makes its connection at Florence’s central station (Firenze Santa Maria Novella, or S.M.N.). You have a layover in Florence of 25 minutes before boarding the Frecciargento train for Bologna (Train #8416). See below for the differences between Regionale and Frecce trains. This is important! Beyond this, have fun playing around with potential train trips from/to Siena and Beyond.

The Difference between Regionale and Frecce Trains

There are two general types of trains in Italy: local or high-speed. Local, or slower trains are called Regional (Regionale), which make numerous station stops and require a bit longer travel time. Frecce trains are high-speed and only make a few major station stops. Two common subtypes include Frecciargento and Frecciarossa trains. They can come in a colorful variety of shapes and desgns, but anything “Frecce” is going to be higher-speed than the regionale trains. Sometimes there are “regionale veloce,” or fast regional trains.

Siena is on a “branch line” of Italy’s rail network, so the city is served only by regionale trains. These require diesel power and are not electrified like italy’s main-line, high-speed railroads. They are still quite fun to ride and watch (if you like trains), and they will connect you to other mainline hubs for connections elsewhere. Trains to and from Siena are frequent, leaving and arriving nearly every hour during much of the day for connections in either direction.

A “Frecce” (high-speed) train waiting at Platform 5 in Venice.

Purchasing and Handling Tickets: TOM’S TIPS

  1. Regionale Trains: Tickets for Regionale and Frecce trains are different. Regionale tickets are like regional bus tickets that can be used on any train within a reasonable amount of time (even several days or a week after purchase. There is no need (that I have found) to purchase these online. If you’re just doing day trips or short overnight trips to/from Siena, just buy these at the station on the day of travel or a day in advance if you want to plan more. Like bus tickets, YOU NEED TO VALIDATE THE TICKET BEFORE YOU BOARD THE TRAIN. All stations have validation (stamping) machines which are now colored GREEN at all Italian train stations. If you do not stamp your ticket in the machine within an hour or so of boarding, you risk being fined by railroad police (I have seen it happen to unsuspecting travelers, and it’s not fun). Sometimes they check, sometimes they don’t. Just don’t take the chance. Keep your validated ticket somewhere easily accessible during your travel. The nice thing: you can sit anywhere on the train. Just find a seat you like and enjoy.
  2. Frecce Trains: These normally require reserve seating, so it is wise to purchase these several hours or a day or more in advance (although I have done it within a half hour of departure when necessary). Your ticket will provide your carrocio (train car) number/letter and your seat. Look above the platform for big, number (or letter) boards that indicate where you should stand for your car. Longer trains can have upwards of 10 cars, so be sure you are where you need to be on the platform before the train arrives. (Yes, the Italians amazingly stop their trains precisely where they should! If you are under the sign for Car #4, or Car D, that is the car that will stop in front of you.) If you are elsewhere on the platform, you can still board the train, but you may need to slog through the interior from car to car to get to your seat. Not fun, with or without baggage! You do not need to validate your ticket in advance, as it already is stamped with the specific train, date, and seat that you have. Keep it handy, however, as they almost always check/scan tickets on these trains.

TOM’S TIP: Trips with Connections. Unless you are just going to Florence or Chiusi or regional towns along the way, you will need to purchase tickets for multiple segments of the journey (such as the example above). If you are staying more than a day in Siena or at another Italian city, it is recommended that you plan your trip a day in advance (using the Trenitalia site above), write out the trains and times that you want, and take that list with you to the station ticket agent. Doing this a day in advance (or even several hours) will reduce your stress and provide you with all of your tickets at once. I do not recommend “hopping” from station to station. Just buy all of your tickets at once and keep them in a safe place. Validate any ticket for regional trains before boarding them. Station agents appreciate it when English-speaking people (or non-Italian language speakers) give them written lists of the trains they want, as it makes the transaction much easier. I do this all the time, and there is always a smile on their face because I planned ahead to help them. Beyond this, it’s all about experience, so enjoy train travel in Italy and buon viaggio!  

One of the newer regionale trains serving Siena, this one just outside of the city.

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