Hilton London Metropole, England – Hotel Review

Hilton London Metropole, England – Hotel Review

Below is my hotel review for the Hilton London Metropole.  This hotel was well located, accessible, modern, clean and luxurious.  Everything you would expect from a Hilton hotel.  I booked my reservation 3 months prior to arrival using Hilton Honors points.

 

Hilton London Metropole – Hotel Review

225 Edgware Road, London W2 1JU, United Kingdom

 

Review:

My 3 night stay at Hilton London Metropole was during the summer month of August.  This hotel has more of an international “business-y” feel and was busy and bustling during my stay.

My hotel room was clean, beautiful and overlooked Edgware Road.  There was not any outside noise that could be heard despite the Edgware Road location which is on a busy, trafficked street.  The room amenities are modern as is the whole hotel.  My favorite part of staying at this hotel was the Walker Shortbread cookies that were part of the complimentary coffee/tea offering.  Every day those Walkers were replenished and I just couldn’t resist.

Downstairs, there is a café where you can buy coffee, pastries, snacks, etc.  This was very useful and convenient.  There are some good grab and go options for breakfast in case you don’t want to sit down at the hotel restaurant or need something quick.

Onsite, there is a gym, pool, restaurant and complimentary wi-fi.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try them out.

Nearby is shopping, restaurants and retail.  Marks and Spencer is across the street from the hotel.  You can’t miss it if you are walking from the metro station.  As well, along Edgware Road, there are a lot of different ethnic restaurants, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, a pharmacy, etc.  One of my meals was Middle Eastern/ kebabs from Halal Restaurant on Edgware Road.  I would recommend this restaurant.

 

Getting to/from:

Hilton London Metropole is located at the Edgware stop on the brown/Bakerloo line, the pink/Hammersmith & City line, the yellow/Circle line and green/District line for the Underground/metro (in zone 1).   From the underground stations, the hotel is a short walk away.

Because there are so many different underground station options, getting into the center of London (or anywhere) is very convenient and easy.  Also, there are many city buses that pass on Edgware Road.  I used to take the bus along Edgware to get a sense of the neighborhood and see what different shops were around.

If you are coming from Heathrow airport, you can also take the Heathrow Express train and get off at Paddington stop (brown line).  From there, you can walk or take the metro one stop over to Hilton Metropole.

 

Other:

For my 3 night reservation, I used Hilton points.  At the time, there was a promotion with Hilton Hotels to stay for 3 nights using Hilton points and get the 4th night free/complimentary.  Sounded good to me!  For this stay, 25,000 Hilton points were needed per night.  Thus, 75,000 Hilton points total for the stay.

I wasn’t charged a “city-tax” like my Italy Hilton stays – or other incidental fees.

To check how many points you will need for your stay, go to Hilton.  Since my stay, the Hilton points need for this hotel have increased a lot.  However, the British pound is now almost at par with the US dollar versus when I visited.   It was 2 USD for 1 pound when I was there.  This means you can now book this hotel for 50% off just based on currency.

 

Recommend (Y/N): Yes

I would stay here again and recommend this hotel.

 

**Feature photo by William Santos.

 

 

Is the London Pass worth it?

Is the London Pass worth it?

The London Pass is an awesome, time-saving, efficient and valuable resource when planning your trip and time in London.

 

What is London Pass?

London Pass is a sightseeing city pass that you pre-pay ahead of your arrival.  This Pass allows you to fast-track entry at many of London’s top attractions while giving you a discount to entrance prices.  You can choose a 1 day, 2 day, 3 day, 6 day or 10 day pass depending on the length of time you will spend sightseeing in London.  As well, there’s the option to add on a Travel pass or Oyster pass (good for transportation around London).

I bought a 3 day London Pass when I visited London for the first time and it was so efficient and easy.  That’s the best part of this pass – it makes your sightseeing and vacation so effortless.  Every city should have a similar Pass that is so smooth and efficient.  Also, if you buy your pass online, you can start planning out your itinerary (at home) based on time so you’ll know exactly which attractions you want to see when.

Note: for Royal fans, Buckingham Palace isn’t included in London Pass.

You have to go to the Royal Collection website to buy a separate ticket.  As well, Buckingham Palace state rooms is only open during summer (July & August) for viewing.  I highly recommend buying your tickets online ahead of time (especially during summer months).

 

Is it worth it?

So the price for a few days for 1 adult London Pass can give you sticker shock when you first happen upon it.  But if you dig a little deeper and take a look at the prices for key attractions (that you will definitely want to visit), then you will see the savings.

Let’s take a look at the normal entrance prices for top visited London attractions:

Westiminster Abbey – £20

Tower of London – £22.5

London Bridge Experience – £26.50

Kensington Garden – £16.3

Windsor Castle – £20

Hampton Court – £19

Thames River Cruise – £18

Hop on Hop off Bus – £25

From this list, you can see that if you visit 3 attractions per day, then the pass does help you to save.  For a 2 day adult London Pass, you pay £75.  If you see 3 major attractions each day at an average of £20 per attraction, then the pass is really valued at (3attractions X 2 days X £20 average) £120 (versus the £75 you paid).

Thus, it may be helpful to look at what attractions you want to visit, how many days you have in London and even an estimate of how long you will spend at each attraction.  Ie. Is it 1 day and you’ve been to London before OR is it 5 days and you’ve never been to London?  Depending on your answer, a 1 day adult London Pass may or may not be worth it depending on what you see.

 

Two Scenarios:

1.  If you see Hampton Court, Kensington Gardens and the Thames River Cruise (total regular admission price = £53.3), then the £65 1 day adult London Pass may not make sense.

2.  If you see Westminster Abbey, London Bridge Experience, Tower of London and use the Hop on Hop off Bus (total regular admission price = £93.5), then the £65 1 day adult London Pass makes total sense!  And yes, you could complete that in 1 day if you start early and crank it.

As you can see, the London Pass value comes down to what you want to see in the time you have.

When I visited London, I crammed as much as I possibly could into my 4 days.  I left a day for Buckingham Palace only and some of the other squares like Piccadilly or Covent Garden.  I would advise that both Windsor Castle and Hampton Court are half-day attractions.  This is because of the travel time it takes to get to both destinations.  Hampton Court also has beautiful gardens that you’ll want to explore.  Windsor Castle also has the town of Windsor to explore.

Overall, I highly recommend getting the London Pass.  It really helped me plan my vacation and I felt like I got a lot of value from the Pass rather than buying individual attraction tickets.

 

Note the Closing Times while Planning

Another thing to note about the London Pass is that the majority of attractions close around 4-5pm.  Westminster Abbey closes at 3:30p and Hampton at 6pm in summer only.  With Hampton, even though the Hampton Court building closes at 6pm, the gardens remain open a bit longer as I remember us lingering there for a while.  We eventually got shooed out of there because someone was having a gala at Hampton in the evening and there needed to be preparations.

Consider opening and closing times for major attractions:

Westiminster Abbey – 9:30am – 3:30p

Tower of London –9am – 5:30p

London Bridge Experience –10:30am – 5 pm (weekday)

Kensington Garden -10am – 6pm (summer)

Windsor Castle -9:30am – 4:15pm

Hampton Court –10am – 6pm

Thames River Cruise -10am – closes ?

Hop on Hop off Bus -8:30am – 4:30p

*Times are approximate; check the individual attractions for changes based on time of year.

What this means is that in order for you take advantage of your pass, you’ll have to get going early.  Try to get out to Windsor Castle early so that you are there when it opens.  Hampton you can do in the afternoon as well as the Thames River Cruise.  In the summer, you can take the Thames River Cruise all the way to Hampton Court like a Royal!  Or vice versa – take it back to London.  But you have to check the times of operation.

 

Flexibility

For me the best feature of this pass is that you have complete flexibility.  In other words, you can plan out your itinerary (on paper and your mind).  But you don’t have to commit to any attraction until you are there at the door.  Therefore, you can switch it up if you want to see something different or if you feel like you will not have enough time to travel over to an attraction and there is one closer that you prefer.  It’s all up to you – and what you want to do.  You can see completely different attractions than the one I list above as well.

For example, after visiting Tower of London, my family and I decided to take the train out to Hampton Court.  This wasn’t planned but we had the time and so we just did it.

 

Ease of Use

When you arrive at your selected destination/attraction, you present your London pass.  Then, it’s checked or stamped and you enter the attraction.  I was there in August/ summer and I don’t remember having to line up in any long lines to enter anything.  Very organized and seamless.  I wish all travel could be that smooth.  I believe the website calls this, Fast Track Entry – and that would be correct.

 

Customer Reviews

On the London Pass website, it showcases a 94% customer approval and positive review rate.  I consider this to be a testament to the value and ease of the pass.  You can read the reviews online yourself for ideas and validation.  On their site, they also list out itineraries which I recommend to consider.  Go to www.londonpass.com

 

Finally, please note: I am not a travel affiliate with London Pass and receive no income from mentioning them on my blog or from any links.

How to travel on an Italian vacation for free (almost!)

How to travel on an Italian vacation for free (almost!)

How to travel, fly and stay on an Italian vacation for free (almost!)

If you have Italy on your bucket list of places you’re dreaming about but think it’s out of your budget, then read this article.

In it, I share how I travelled to Italy and back and how I stayed at top of the line hotels – all for next to nothing.  If I can do it, so can you.  And once you read through this recount, you’ll see how easy it can be with a little planning and perseverance.

So how do you achieve an Italian vacation for free?  By using air and hotel loyalty programs to your advantage.  You don’t have to compromise on quality at all.  In fact, you’ll have some of the best lodging and flight options if you plan out how to achieve your goal – which is free travel to Italy!

Note: I am not an affiliate for any of these loyalty programs or credit cards – and don’t make any money for mentioning their name or for any links.  I am just sharing how I travelled for free and which specific companies I used to do so.

Now, on to the good stuff…

 

Award Ticket Reservation/ Flight

I flew on American Airlines from Ft. Lauderdale to Rome (connection in Charlotte) and returned from Venice to Ft. Lauderdale (connection in Philly).  Flying into one airport and flying out of another is called an “open-jaw”.  And yes, that’s possible with an award ticket.  To do this, you have to have one airport in common – ie. Ft. Lauderdale.  This is helpful in that you can start at one point and travel to another point – and not have to backtrack to your original point to fly back home.  Open jaws are perfectly viable “round-trips”.

Another example of open jaw is FLL to FCO/Rome and FCO/Rome to NYC – here the common airport is FCO.  But since you are leaving from US, then it would make sense to have a common airport in US.

I secured an Award Ticket for my trip using 45,000 AAdvantage miles and paid $60 in taxes.  So, the flight was essentially free except for the taxes.  The 45K miles (MileSsaver award) represent a non-peak travel time.  For a peak travel time, the amount of miles need for award ticket will be more.  When going to Italy, I recommend a non-peak time anyways to avoid the crowds and to get more availability in hotels and flights.

If I had purchased my ticket outright (ahead of time), that airline ticket would have cost $600+ round-trip.  Early May is when I travelled and that’s really getting close to peak time over in Italy as it’s nearing the summer.

 

How did I get miles for an Award Ticket?

To get a bulk of miles, you would have to either fly a lot (ie. every weekend) – or get an airline credit card.  In this case, I recommend getting a credit card.  The one for signed up for is Citi Platinum Select AA card.  This card has a $0 annual fee for the first year and 30,000 bonus miles if you spend $3K in the first 3 months.  I was able to get this card on a promotion – so it was 60,000 miles for $3,000 spend in 3 months and $0 annual fee in year 1.  That’s double the bonus miles for the same activity!

Timing when you get a credit card is also beneficial.  The 60,000 offer appeared in Oct – Dec when credit card companies are trying to make their card acquisition numbers.  I still see this card offer in market to certain select customers.  I don’t see this promotional offer on the AA website but I get this offer in the mail often (at 50,000 bonus miles).  Look out for it online or in the mail as it’s more than worth it to get this card for double the bonus miles.

Therefore, you will accumulate 63,000 miles total.  60,000 from the promotional bonus and 3,000 miles after $3,000 spend (ie. 1 mile per $1 spent).  You will have more than enough miles for a round-trip (or open-jaw) award flight to Europe during a non-peak time (and/or a peak time frame).

I travelled with my family members and they each had enough miles in their own AA accounts – some from past travel and some from getting an AA card also.

 

Hotel Accommodation – Award Reservation

During my vacation in Italy, I stayed at American hotels using hotel points because I wanted a more luxury hotel and more modern amenities.  These hotels were not in the center of town.  If there were hotels available using points in the center of town, they would require a lot more points.

Here’s where I stayed and their equivalent points today (note: I had to use less IHG points for Rome but more Hilton points for Florence & Venice when I went there – but it’s all good):

Rome – Crowne Plaza – 30,000 IHG points per night (my 3 night stay = 90,000 IHG points)

Verona – Crowne Plaza – 20,000 IHG points per night (1 night stay)

Florence – Hilton Garden Inn – 14,000 points non-peak per night (my 2 night stay = 32,000)

Venice – Hilton Garden Inn – 16,000 points non-peak per night (my 2 night stay = 32,000)

There’s not as much seasonality for hotel rooms as there are for airline award reservations.  Thus, there is more likely to be availability for hotel rooms closer in to your arrival date than there will be award flights closer in to your travel date.  In short, book your flight award ticket as early as possible.  But you have a little more wiggle room on the hotel bookings (in case you are waiting for points to post to your account).

If I had booked these rooms without points, here’s what the cost would have been (May timeframe):

Rome – Crowne Plaza – $136 per night (3 nights=$408)

Verona – Crowne Plaza – $118 per night (1 night=$118)

Florence – Hilton Garden Inn – $129 per night (2 nights=$258)

Venice – Hilton Garden Inn – $204 per night (2 nights=$408)

Total saved by using award reservations: $1,192.  Prices for hotels are variable so in peak or busy times of year, the prices may be higher and in some cases during lull times, it may be lower.  But in general, at these hotels, I would expect no lower than the $118 per night at any American hotel chain.  In fact, for that hotel, even $118 is a steal.

Whoever says that loyalty programs don’t provide value or that they are difficult to use are missing out on major savings.

I will share that I did have city-taxes (read more about this in my review of each Italian hotel) that occurred despite my reservation with points.  However, that pales in comparison to the value I received.  I’m still not a fan of the city-tax but it’s better than paying $1,192 to stay at some very, very nice hotels.

 

How did I get the hotel points for a hotel Award Reservation?

Once again, I have to share that I got the bulk of my points from credit card sign ups.  I signed up for an IHG credit card that offered 100,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in 3 months with a $0 annual fee in first year.  I no longer see this promotional offer from IHG but that doesn’t mean it won’t resurface.  IHG recently changed their loyalty program in late 2016 so that may be part of the reason for the holdout on high bonus promotions on their credit card (or not).

Right now IHG credit card has a 60,000 bonus point offer after $3,000 spend in 3 months.  Also, there is a 5,000 bonus point kicker if you add an authorized card user as well as 10% point rebate on award redemption.  This means is that if you have the IHG credit card and redeem 30,000 points for a hotel night, you will get back 10% or 3,000 points into your account.  Thus, the points needed in effect is only 27,000 points for the hotel night.

My travel companions (ie. my family members) at the same time signed up for the Hilton Visa Signature credit card.  Today, this card carries a 75,000 bonus point offer after $2,000 spend and no annual fee.  One person getting this card would cover the 64,000 points needed for 2 nights in Florence and 2 nights in Vencie. There’s even enough for an additional night using points and $ (or if you spend a bit more to get to 14,000 points).

If travelling with a travel companion or family member, you can tackle the accumulation of miles and points together.  That means double the points or miles in some cases if you both get credit cards.

Card Considerations:

An additional plus for both of these cards is no foreign transaction fees!  Also, if you have to pay city-taxes at the hotel, use your respective cards to get 5X IHG points or 6X times the Hilton points.  The card language says 5X IHG points or 6X HHonors points on hotel stays.  But what this means is any charge at the hotel property (ie. dining, city taxes, room charges) qualifies because IHG or Hilton is the hotel merchant.  It all adds up and can be used for a future trip.

Getting these cards by pre-planning ahead of time is not that difficult.  You don’t have to carry a revolving balance to incur additional interest and fees.  With planning, you can be diligent and organized about what you spend ($3,000 and $2,000 respectively for the IHG & Hilton cards) so that you don’t go overboard and incur additional cost.  We’re trying to get our points for free travel, remember.  You can even space out your card acquisition so that you are working on one at a time.

As well, you may incur a minor ding on your credit or you may not.  However, that ding will go away as you pay off your balance in full monthly for both of these cards.  If you feel like you can’t pay off balance in full for each of these cards, then I would advise to not do it.  You have to be responsible about miles and points and how to obtain them for free!

 

What would this have cost out of pocket?

By adding up the cost of flight and hotels, I saved $1,792 from using airline miles and points.  Keep in mind that if you’re travelling with other people in your group, you’ll save the hotel $ portion for them as well because you can share a hotel room.

That’s money back in my pocket to spend during my trip on sights, food, shopping, etc.  Or I could just pocket it for other uses.

 

You can have an Italian vacation for free!

Hopefully, by detailing out my travel to Italy using miles and points, I have illustrated how attainable this can be.  If you’ve never used a loyalty program or credit card in this way, start out small or one at a time.  You’ll start to see how the programs work and become more confident.  Then, once you take your first trip with miles and points, you’ll be hooked (as so many of us are J)

Travelling doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.  You can manage your budget and in this case loyalty programs to maximize value on your trips.

Good luck and let me know if you end up taking a trip using miles and points.

 

*Featured photo by Ruthie at Unsplash.

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How to get around London? Travel Card or Oyster Card?

How to get around London? Travel Card or Oyster Card?

How to get around London?

 

Figuring out how to get around London may seem daunting at first.  London’s transportation infrastructure appears extensive and comprehensive. Luckily, it is also very organized.  And once you get the hang of it, it will not seem so intimidating.

During your visit, you’ll find no shortage of transport options. It all depends on where you want to go and how much time you have to get there. Your main transport will include the Tube and/or local city buses. Let’s take a look at what you have to work with:

 

The Tube

The Underground, also known as the Tube, is London’s extensive subway system.  To start, take a look at this color-coded route map to get your bearings. The map includes tube stations in, around and outside London as well National Rail lines (train). To find the nearest station in walking distance, there is also a map pdf that shows walking times between stations. Check out the Transport for London site for more details.

I found the Tube to be very useful if you want to go across large areas. However, remember that you are underground and the view is better above ground.  While I was in London during August/summer, some of the subway cars didn’t have a/c and during certain times of the day, it was very, very crowded. That said, if you want to get out to Windsor or Hampton Court, it’s much faster to use the Tube.

Tube pricing is variable meaning that you pay more for longer distances travelled (ie. Zone 1 through zone 9 travel). For Tube fares, check this link.  As of Jan 2, 2017, tube pricing for single one way (pay as you go) and single paper tickets are frozen until 2020.  Note: not all Tube pricing is frozen.

For more information on taking the tube, check out the other tab, Travel Card or Oyster Card?

City Bus

These are the iconic red double-decker buses that you’ll see all over London. The bus operator company is Transport for London. I loved travelling around on these buses and much prefer them to the Tube. At various points during my vacation, I would just get on the bus, head to the top deck, and see the different neighborhoods where the route travelled.  For various routes, click here.

You can’t use cash to pay for your bus fare. Therefore, you’ll have to get a paper single day ticket, a Travel Card or an Oyster Card (click on next tab for more info). A single one way fare is £1.50. For bus fares, check this link. As of Jan 2, 2017, bus pricing is frozen until 2020. There can be a £20 fine if you are without your ticket.

 

Rail

National Rail is a fast, efficient and easy option to travel out to other towns in England. There may be a connection depending on where you’re headed (or maybe not). Although rail is more expensive than taking the bus, it is faster. The bus will take longer but will be more scenic.

 

River

Travelling in London by the River Thames is one of the most relaxing and beautiful journeys – and I highly recommend it.  You can even take the River cruise from central London all the way to Hampton Court (summer only) which is probably how the Royal court did it back in the day.  Although it is a lengthy journey.  Click over for a route map and fares.

 

Taxi/Uber

Taxis are always an option but this is a very expensive option. If travelling with multiple people, then this could work out in a more economical way.

 

Car Rental

I would advise against renting a car for use while in London as there are so many options available within the city. As a tourist, there is really no need unless you are heading out to the countryside. And even with that, I would advise the rail option or bus (the former is faster but the latter more scenic). Also, there may even be some type of fee associated with car parking in London but I’m not 100% sure.

 

Overall

In conclusion, I think you’ll find that transportation in and around London is numerous, efficient and for all budgets. With a little pre-planning, you will get around London like a local.  My recommendation for tourists is bus, tube/metro, river cruise and rail to airport or outlying towns.  It’s easier, faster and lets you spend more time at the destination rather than in getting to the destination.

Featured Photo by Josh Wilburne.

Travel Card or Oyster Card?

 

A Travel Card is a paper ticket and an Oyster Card is a plastic smartcard. The Travel Card is for 1 day or 7 days and you purchase based on which zones you plan to travel. With the Oyster Card, you add money and use as needed as you travel.

Whether you should get the Travel Card or Oyster Card depends on how long you’re staying in London, how frequently you’ll be using public transport and which zone your hotel/accomodation is located. Transport pricing is variable and based on zone and time (peak vs. non-peak). Make sure to make a note of what you plan to see, how early/late you plan to travel and where you’ll be travelling to/from.

The Oyster Card is for UK residents but visitors can buy a Visitor Oyster Card from Gatwick airport, Stanstead airport or the London Pass website while in the UK.  You cannot purchase a Visitor Oyster Card in London.  However, you can purchase them in advance, online and have it mailed to your home.  These can be purchased online at The Oyster Visitor shop, VisitBritainshop.com, the London Pass website or Superbreak website. When used, Oyster Cards give a 50% discount on Tube rides.

The 1 day Travel Card can be purchased from the Underground stations in London – and also online.  However, you cannot buy a paper 7 Day Travel Card from Underground stations in London – it can only be bought in advance. If you try to buy a 7 day Travel Card from Underground stations in London, it will be loaded onto an Oyster Card and you will have to pay an additional £5 fee.

 

Example of Pricing:

Type of Travel                                   Travel Card                          Oyster Card

A Single journey, zone 1-6:                     £6                                        £3.10 non-peak/ £5.10 peak

Single day, zone 1-4 anytime:             £12.30                                  £9.50 (capped)

Single day, zone 1-9 non-peak:          £12.30                                  £12.10 non-peak/ £17.20 peak (capped)

 

My take:

Firstly, check out this chart (scroll down on page) to determine which option makes sense for you. Keep in mind that the majority of “touristy” sights are condensed in zone 1. Some exceptions include: Hampton Court (zone 6), Kew Gardens, Windsor Castle and Heathrow airport (zone 6).  It seems that with some of the Travel Cards, you’ll pay for zones that you will not use.   Although you pay £3 to activate an Oyster Card, it may make more sense (or cents lol) to choose this option. Thus, check the chart for your specific situation.

 

Where to buy?

For where to purchase tickets, click here.

Also, a nice thing about the Oyster Card is that you can get a refund of any remaining £ credit by using a ticket machine, visiting a London Visitor Centre, or posting your card to Transport for London.

 

Airport Travel:

As it relates to airports, you can take the Piccadilly line zone 6 to Heathrow from London.

For Gatwick airport, while you can’t use the Tube, you can use your Oyster Card to pay for your rail travel on Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express trains.

  • Thameslink / Southern trains: £14 peak, £8 off-peak
  • Gatwick Express trains: £19.80

 

Revisit this Checklist to make your selection:

1. How long will you be in London?

2. Where is your hotel located (which zone?)?

3. What do you want to see (which zone?)?

 

Then, check the chart for your best selection.

Click here for more information on how to get around London.

Discover Italian train travel

Discover Italian train travel

Planning a trip to Italy and considering taking an Italian train?  Well you’ve come to the right place.  I traveled all over Italy using the Trenitalia trains and want to share how easy, convenient and yes, affordable Italian train travel can be.

To learn more about Italy travel, check out my posts on How to travel to Italy for free (almost!) and Take an unforgettable Italian vacation.

Featured photo by Seth Doyle.

 

Italian Trains aka. The “Frecc”

There are 3 different types of Italian trains:

  1. Frecciarossa is a high speed line going up to 300 km/h, the fastest train of the 3 types of trains.  The Frecciarossa 1000 can get up to 400Km/h.  The new Frecciarossa 1000 is the first high-speed train to have obtained the certification of environmental impact (EPD).  Featuring 4 levels of service onboard: Executive, Business, Premium, Standard.  All levels except Standard have a welcome drink and morning newspaper.  There is food service onboard at your seat.  In Business, there is a bistro section as well if you want to sit and eat.  Disabled seating (2) onboard.
  2. Frecciargento trains run on both high speed and traditional train lines and can get up to 250 km/h.  This line connects Rome to many cities in the North, Northeast and South.  Disabled seating (2) onboard. There are 2 levels of service: First Class and Standard. There is a bar/bistro in the middle wagon/car.  First class passengers get a welcome drink + morning newspaper.
  3. Frecciabianca trains run on the traditional train lines. Seating for Disabled available.  Train magazine at seat. Restaurant service at the Corner Bar.  This line is the slowest of the 3 types.  While booking, you may notice this train as “Regionale”.

 

Booking your Italian train ticket:

Go to trenitalia.it and select the English language option in the upper right (it will have a British flag image for English).

While booking your tickets, select your seat assignments. After payment, Trenitalia sends you an email confirmation with your ticket info (names of passengers, date & time of departure and arrival, city of embarkment and disembarkment, cost, seat selections).  Keep a printed copy of this when you travel on the train. I don’t recall there being a processing fee for the online ticket purchase. Once you get to the station for your departure, have your printed itinerary ready, check that you are boarding the right train, get on and go to your seats. So easy and convenient. No need to join a long line to purchase tickets, just head right onboard.

I advise to purchase a train ticket ahead of time to get a discounted price. Train pricing is similar to airline in that there are discounted fares in advance.  When those are sold out, the availability is less and then your only option is a more expensive fare.  In your planning, it’s better to snag a cheaper fare earlier. The conductor does make his way around to check your tickets – even for a short hop like Florence to Pisa. If you are on the train without a ticket, you will either have to buy one then and there (which most likely to be more expensive) or possibly pay a fine.

 

‘Specials’:

Check the Trenitalia site for specials. When I traveled, I got a 2 for 1 special on my ticket from Florence to Verona.  Currently, I see specials online for Mother’s and Father’s Day 2 for 1 pricing.  Keep checking but if you see a cheap fare don’t hesitate to snag it. I recommend checking the site 2-3 months ahead of your arrival day for availability.  Trenitalia doesn’t release seats a year ahead like the airlines. They do so about 2-3 months out so make sure you’re on the site looking.

 

Pre-board:

All the major Italian train stations also have food and shopping that you can partake if you have a connection or if you arrive at the station early. Florence and Venice in particular have really built out their retail options at the station (food, shopping).  I was at Rome’s station so early in the morning I didn’t even notice.  But since Rome is such a large city, I would expect they also have many options.  I was able to buy coffee and snacks at SMN (Santa Maria Novella) in Florence and bring it on the train with me so that’s also an option when travelling.

I didn’t see anyone coming around with food so not sure if that’s new or if I was in a train that didn’t have that service.  It may be that I had to go to a special wagon/car on the train – but I didn’t do that.

 

Onboard:

The trains are air conditioned and you can select your seats beforehand (at booking). This is very convenient if you are travelling with a family or group and want to sit together. To be honest, I didn’t really know which train I was on or which level of service. I booked according to departure time, price and length of trip. Length of trip will tip you off because the Frecciabianca trains run the slowest and you will notice the duration while booking. Double check the pricing because you may be able to get the same price for a faster train. Conversely, you may notice a higher price for the Frecciarossa trains and their different levels of service.

These Italian trains were clean, efficient and timely.  All of the trains I took left and arrived on time.  I had read about strikes beforehand but I didn’t encounter any.  As well, the trains were silent meaning there were no humming or buzzing noises.  The a/c temperature was perfect and it was pretty much a smooth ride on all my routes.

Luggage storage is no problem as there are overhead storage at your seat. There’s also additional storage at your seat and at the entrance /door of the train car. I had carry on luggage which fit overhead but larger luggage can go in the storage at the door.

 

FCO to Rome Termini:

You can even take the train from FCO airport in Rome to Termini metro train station in the center of Rome for $14 euros one way. Service from Rome Termini starts at 5.35 a.m. with last train departing at 10.35 p.m.  And, from Fiumicino Airport, service starts at 6.23 a.m. until 23.23 p.m. Kids under 4 are free.  Also, small & large pets are also free and ok to travel as long as they are in their carrying cases.

 

My itinerary:

If you have been following my blog posts or my Vacation Guide for Italy, below is the recap of my Italian train travels.  This includes the station names which are important to know so you end up in the right place.

  1. Rome Termini station – Florence Santa Maria Novella station.  2.5 hours.  Make sure to select Rome “Termini” and “Firenze SMN” station.  Both Rome and Florence have another station so make sure to select these as the main train station.  If you’re looking ahead of time (2-3 months), you may be able to snag this route for $20 euros one way which is a great deal.
  2. Florence SMN station – Pisa Centrale station.  30 minutes.  Most likely, this will be a “Regionale” or slower train.  This was the only train ticket I bought at a kiosk in the SMN station because I was unsure of the day and time I wanted to go to Pisa.  It’s $14 euros round trip.  There’s no discount (that I could see) to pre-booking.  The Florence-Pisa route is available every 20 minutes.
  3. Florence SMN station – Verona Porta Nuova station.  2-2.5 hours.  There is a train changeover/ connection in Bologna Centrale.  I got a 2 for 1 ticket deal on this leg – check the site as you may be able to get special deals on various routes.
  4. Verona Porta Nuova station – Venice S.Lucia station. 1 hour.  Make sure to select “Venezia S. Lucia” station and not Venezia Mestre station or any other.  Venezia S. Lucia will drop you off at the tail end of the Grand Canal and near Piazzale Roma, the bus terminal.

 

Hopefully, this takes some of the mystery out of Italian train travel.  Italy has invested a lot of money into revamping their train system and it shows.  Don’t hesitate to try it out.

 

 

Take an unforgettable Italy vacation

Take an unforgettable Italy vacation

Going to Italy for vacation is always one of the top destinations on any traveler’s bucket list.  And with good reason.  There are endless things to do, see, eat and shop for in Italy.  It’s an art, food and fashion mecca.  There are many cities and regions in Italy — all offering its own flavor and distinction.  With Italian trains receiving a facelift in recent years, travel around the country is even more accessible.

I took this 10 day vacation with my family in May/Spring.  We started in Rome and ended in Venice. However, you could easily do the reverse or even start in the middle at Florence and pick up either leg.

Below is my recap of each place with links to my blog posts that have more detailed information about sights, getting around and maps to help you out.

 

Take a walking tour of Rome

Rome wasn’t built in a day but you can do a pretty good job of covering major sights around town.  Start with the most iconic, The Colloseum, and take a walk through history.  Don’t forget to stop for gelato or get a café.  The many squares are great places to people watch.

Check out my Walking Tour post of Rome for more information.

Explore a Roman Villa in Tivoli

Consider taking a day trip from Rome to get out in the countryside.  Visit the small town of Tivoli where you have access to a few Roman villas.

My suggested Roman villa is Villa D’Este which has a beautifully frescoed villa and expansive gardens.

 

Seek inspiration in Vatican City

Seeing Michaelangelo’s masterpieces is a must do for any traveler and Vatican City doesn’t disappoint.  Although small in size, the art and history of the Vatican overwhelms.

Get the inside scoop on how to make the most of your time in the Vatican.

 

Eat, Shop & Stroll in Florence

Appease your senses in Florence with a stroll through the city.  Gardens, retail therapy, gelato, David and incredible art await.  Make sure to take in the view of it all from the hilltop, Piazza Michaelangelo.

Read more about the many ways to enjoy your time in Florence.

 

Discover Siena in the heart of Tuscany

Explore the Tuscan medieval city of Siena for a  look at Florence’s rival city.  Stroll the winding cobblestone streets and enjoy a café at the Campo in the center of town.

Check out my post on what this beautiful, red city has to offer.

 

Snap your pic@Pisa

Get swept away in the craziest, cheesiest photo taking session at Pisa.  Don’t fight it — just join the fun.

Read more on this fun and funny tourist attraction.

 

From Verona with Love

No where is eternal love more cherished and celebrated than Verona.  Come explore this sweet and lovely city with its cobblestone streets, Romeo & Juliet balcony and heart shaped confections and pasta.

View all the loveliness of Verona.

 

A Doge in Venice

Visit this unique and beautiful floating city in all its splendor, starting with San Marco’s square and the Doge’s Palace.  Ride the Grand Canal, see a glass blowing demo on Murano Island and explore the connecting bridges and neighborhoods.

Take to the water and discover Venice.

*Featured photo by Federico Beccari.

 

 

 Where to stay in Italy?  My Hotel Reviews…

Crowne Plaza Rome

Hilton Garden Inn Florence

Crowne Plaza Verona

Hilton Garden Inn Venice

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