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Italy Q&A: Train Travel on May 1, a Public Holiday

Here’s another entry in my Italy Q&A series of posts. This one came in the form of a comment from Vivian, who says:

Hope someone can help me. I have booked a trip to Italy April 20th to May 3. Now I’m thinking that I made a mistake weatherwise and public holiday wise. I knew that April 25th was a public holiday (we’re in Florence then), but now I find out that May 1 is also a public holiday (we’ll be in Venice then). Should I re-book to avoid the public holidays – we’re travelling by train from Florence to Venice on May 1…and would the weather be a lot warmer in May rather than the latter part of April?

Thanks for the question, Vivian! Late April and early May are definitely a shoulder season, so you could end up experiencing elements of both Spring and Summer in that time. I’m assuming that you weren’t expecting every day to be spectacularly sunny to begin with, or you would have planned your trip for July or August! And although the weather varies from year to year, it’s unlikely that later in May it would be “a lot warmer,” as you say – chances are it’ll be a little warmer, but the difference might be minimal. So if you don’t mind carrying a mini-umbrella around and having a windbreaker at the ready, I think that time of year is fine for a trip to Italy.

As for your question about train travel on May 1, I’m told by one of my Italy expat friends that while May 1 is generally not a big travel day in the country (meaning it’s not a holiday when the Italians themselves take off for the day), it is falling on a Friday in 2009 – so you should make reservations for your train that day when you can just to be sure you don’t run into a flood of vacationing Italians enjoying a long weekend. I’ve been told you can make train reservations from the US using the Trenitalia website, but I’ve not used it myself. It’s too far in advance at the moment to buy tickets or reservations, so you’ll need to start looking into this with about 3-4 months to go before your trip.

If you’re buying a rail pass for your trip, ask when you buy that about making train reservations – most places that sell European rail passes offer the service for an additional fee and then you can take care of it in one transaction. Alternately, you can always make reservations once you get to Italy. In your case, I’d advice going to a train station in whatever city you arrive in and booking yourself onto the May 1 train you want to take. You can do it ahead of time at just about any train station in the country, regardless of whether you’re going to be leaving from that station or city. In other words, you can be in Rome when you want to book your ticket from Florence to Venice.

I hope that helps; please let me know if you’ve got any other questions, and have a great trip!