Every traveler should experience traveling on trains in Italy at least once. I lived in Italy for over 12 years and train travel was my favorite mode of transport. And what’s not to love? You can nap, eat, read, and watch TV while passing through jaw-dropping landscapes.
There also no traffic, it’s less stressful than driving in Italy, and generally a safe way to travel. Oh and it’s often the fastest and most economical form of transport.
But, for many Americans, traveling by train in a foreign country is intimidating. Luckily, trains in Italy are easy to navigate. From kids heading to school to nonni (grandparents) visiting relatives, all Italians take trains, and you can too with this simple guide. From which type of train to take and the difference between Italo and Trenitalia to when you need Italian train reservations, we’ve got you covered.
Top Reasons To Take Trains in Italy
If train travel gives you anxiety, you may be tempted to skip it when traveling to Italy. But that would be a mistake. First, some places, like Cinque Terre and Venice, can’t be accessed by car. Second, seeing the country by train is scenic and relaxing. In fact, between major Italian cities, train travel can be quicker than driving. For example, it’s a minimum of 3 hours to drive from Florence to Rome while it’s only 90 minutes via high-speed train.
Types of Trains In Italy
Start by getting to know the various types of trains in Italy.
Treinitalia vs. Italo
Most trains are run by the national train operator known as Trenitalia. However, the privately-owned Italo also runs high-speed trains between Turin, Milan, Verona, Venice, Bologna, Rome, Naples, andSorrento.
Alta Velocità (AV)
Translating to “high speed,” the alta veloticità (“al-tah, veh-loh-chee-tah”) trains travel up to 300 km/hour and connects the major cities. The high-speed trains run by Trenitalia are known as (Le Frecce) while all Italo trains are high-speed.
These regional trains operated by Trenitalia are usually for travel between cities in the same region. They are slower than the high-speed trains but not as slow as regional trains. They don’t always have AC, so keep that in mind during the summer. While seat reservations are available and they usually have bathrooms, they often do not have a food and beverage car.
Regional trains stop at every single station and go by any of the following names: Interregionale (Interregional) (IR); Diretto (Direct) (D); or Espresso (Express) (E). These are the slowest form of train travel and the least expensive. Don’t be fooled by D or E abbreviations as they will only cut out one or two stops from the standard route.
Smaller train lines
Besides Intercity, there are also small train lines within cities. Examples are the train loop around Mt. Vesuvius known as the Circumvesuviana line or the line that connects the five towns in Cinque Terre called the Cinque Terre Express.
If you’re traveling across the country, you may want to take a night train known as Intercity Notte. There are a few different options with different types of seats, including:
Basic: For a seat that does not recline
Cuccetta Comfort: A four-person cabin with a door and beds. You can take all four or be with people you don’t know.
Vagone Letto Delux: This is a double or triple cabin with a door and bed and includes a complimentary toiletry kit.
Cabine Excelsior: This is a private single or double cabin with a door and a private shower
Read more about these options on the official website.
Shuttle Trains To Airports
Finally, some cities in Italy have specific train lines to connect travelers to the nearby airport.
Rome To Fiumicino Airport Via Leonardo Express
The Leonardo Express is a shuttle train connecting Fiumicino Airport outside Rome with Rome city center. It leaves about every 15 minutes, and it only goes from the airport to the city so you won’t get lost. They are 90-minute timed tickets and do not have seating assignments, so if you miss the first train you chose, you can easily take another train afterward. These trains rarely sell out, and because they leave frequently, you can buy tickets directly at the airport or train station.
Milan To Malpensa Airport Via Malpensa Express
The Malpensa Express train connects the Malpensa Airport near Milan with Milan’s central train station. Buy tickets online or get them directly at the airport or train station. These trains rarely sell out, but it can happen, so if you plan to buy in person the day of your travel, just give yourself a bit of extra time.
What Is The Difference Between Italo and Trenitalia?
High-speed trains in Italy are a reliable means of transport and are the most frequently used trains by our travel clients. Operated by Trenitalia and Italo Treno, they connect the country’s major cities.
The high-speed Trenitalia trains are called “Le Frecce” (lay, fre-chay) and come in different models, indicated by their color. There is frecciarossa (red), frecciargento (silver), and frecciabianca (white) but unless you’re interested in train engineering, don’t mind the colors. All you need to know is, if you want a high-speed train, look for “freccia” in the description.
The website to book a Trenitalia Freccia train provides options for slower trains for your selected trip, so you can browse all viable options. The slower trains usually cost less so are a good choice for those who aren’t in a rush and want to save.
Unlike Trenitalia, Italo Treno only runs high-speed trains. Service and quality are very similar between Italo Treno and Trenitalia, so it choice usually comes down to convenience. Trenitalia and Italo offer different hours, stops, etc. and so it is usually worth checking both before deciding on one or the other. You can book Italo trains here.
What Is Included On High-Speed Trains In Italy?
All high-speed trains in Italy come with the same basic features. These include reserved seating, luggage racks, climate control, free WiFi, food and beverage carriages with snacks and meals, and a variety of classes (from economy to business to first).
High-Speed Train Levels of Service and Ticket options
If you’re ready to consider booking a train, let’s dive into your ticket options.
Trenitalia Ticket Options
On the Trenitalia website, you will find many train ticket options. While most people will buy according to their budget, let’s go over the major types of tickets you will see. Trenitlia trains have three classes they are:
- Standard: This is where you will find the base fares.
- Premium: A step up from standard, it includes larger chairs, more leg room, and usually free snacks and beverages.
- Executive: The highest level of comfort, this has extra space, reclinable chairs, and usually a wine or Prosecco option brought to your seat.
In the base (basic) fares on Trenitalia you will find:
Offerta senior (for people 60 and older and ALSO holders of FrecciaCard)
Bimbi gratis (Kids travel free – for children up to 14 years of age)
Insieme (Together fares for small groups between 3-5 people)
Andata e ritorno in giornata (Return trip on the same day, these are sometimes sold with steep discounts)
Weekend fare (Going on Saturday, Returning on Sunday)
You can read more about them and their terms and conditions directly on the Trenitalia site. Pro tip: Don’t worry about all the details and options if it is stressful for you. The train will get you to where you want to be, so select the fare that makes the most sense for you based on timing and budget.
Italo Treno Fare Options
Italo offers the following different levels of travel:
- Ambiance Smart: (Second class) Entry level, coach, very basic
- Ambiance Prima: A step up from coach and includes snack options and more leg room
- Club Executive: (First class ticket) The highest level of comfort includes pre-boarding and access to the lounge while you wait for the train, plus seats have built in monitors
Within each of these service levels, you will find options similar to Trenitalia. As such, we suggest you book your travel based on what promotions are available, or based on the level of service you prefer when traveling.
So Which Train Company Should I Book With?
Trenitalia and Italo are competitors, and as such, they have different offerings. To compare the two, head to the third party website The Trainline. Enter your travel details and it will pull up all options across both companies. We don’t recommend booking through their service as it may incur a service fee. Plus, if you need to change your tickets or miss a train, it will make matters more complicated. Instead, use this site to choose you best train option and then once you’ve identified it, head directly to that train’s website to book.
When You Need Italian Train Reservations
A common question we get from clients is, “Is It cheaper to buy train tickets in advance or day of In Italy?” We strongly recommend buying tickets in advance for the following reasons:
Ticket Prices Are Based On Demand
Train ticket prices are based on demand, so waiting until the last minute will often result in a more expensive fare. Also, seating is limited so high-speed trains can sell out quickly.
Booking Ahead Is More Flexible
If you want the option to change your ticket, you can book ahead and select a ticket that allows for refunds and changes. Much like when booking a plane ticket, if you pay a little more, you can opt for a ticket with more flexibility. The one exception are inner-city trains and other commuter lines. These train lines usually don’t sell out (although they may be full when you board) and so they have more flexibility.
What if I really want to buy my ticket at the station?
We highly recommend booking train tickets online as the process is easy and straightforward. Everything is digital including your check in on the train, so it’s contactless. Also, it eliminates the risk of lost or stolen tickets. However, if you really want to buy tickets in person, know thee following:
Tickets sell out fast, so book your later travel dates as soon as you arrive in Italy.
The lines at the counters can be long so don’t arrive last minute.
There are self-service machines where you can buy your tickets without waiting for the agent; however, these are hotspots for pickpocketing. People distracted buying tickets are an easy target, so it’s where most petty theft in the train station happens. Mind your belongings keeping everything directly in front of you, while using the machines.And do not accept help from anyone that isn’t wearing official Trenitalia or Italo Treno badges.
How Do I Book A Trenitalia Ticket Online?
Here are a few tips for booking a train ticket for Italy online:
Book Directly Through Trenitalia.com
We recommend booking your train ticket directly through the Trenitalia website but know that tickets are not for sale for more than 60-days in advance. To find the route for your trip before then, use a site like Rome2Rio; however, book directly through Trenitalia or Italo Treno. The reason is the same as for air travel: namely, if there is a cancellation or a strike (which happens!), it will be easier to deal with ticket changes if you booked it direct.
Choose Your Travel Details
At this point, it’s like booking a flight as you’ll choose your departure and destination, date and time, and number of passengers. The destinations will be the Italian names of the city so look for Roma instead of Rome. Also, bigger cities often have more than one train station so be sure to double the station before booking. After you hit “search,” you will see all the available trains an you can click the fare option to choose the option that best serves you.
Pro Tip: If you were looking for a particular fare, and it’s not showing up, it’s no longer available. You can try changing dates or times to see if it is available at another time.
Purchase Your Ticket
Once you’ve selected your fare, you will proceed to seat selection and ultimately payment. If you don’t want to create an account you can check out as a guest. Once you’ve made the purchase, you will be emailed a PDF of your train ticket. Show this PDF at the train station (if required) and again onboard the train. These types of tickets do not need to be validated as they are limited to the journey you selected.
How Do I Book An Italo Ticket Online?
You should use their official website to book a ticket with Italo Treno. The steps for booking are the same as booking with Trenitalia and they will also send a PDF with your ticket via email. Before you book, just be sure to check the arrival and departure stations, and that the fare is the one you need (refundable etc) and then proceed to checkout!
Reservations For Other Types Of Trains
If you’re booking a smaller and slower train, like a commuter train, an express train, an inner city train etc, these tickets can easily be purchased at the station. Since these types of trains are usually short rides, with standing room available, they rarely sell out. Usually they will simply jam in as many people as possible and if you miss the first train, you just wait on the platform for the next one.
How To Buy A Regional Train Ticket
These types of tickets can be bought at the counter with an agent, or via the machines in the station and occasionally, they will allow you to book them online when booking the rest of your travel. These types of tickets, without assigned seats or a set departure time, also often need to be validated.
How To Validate An Italian Train Ticket
Validating involves putting your ticket into a small machine located in the train station, usually found at the front of each platform, that will stamp the date and time. Failure to do so will result in a hefty fine. High-speed trains do not require this, so it’s just for certain trains with certain fares. If you’re unsure, ask a train station agent for help.
List Of Main Italian Train Stations
Some cities in Italy have more than one train station so it’s key to know where to book your arrival and departure (we’re here if you need help!). Furthermore, each train station has a name, so it’s not as simple as entering “Rome” and getting the main station. Even if the ticket website is in English, when inputting your destination city, the website only recognizes the Italian city names. So, we created this handy list of the main (aka centrale) train station in each of these big cities.
The central train stations are:
- Rome: Roma Termini
- Florence: Firenze Santa Maria Novella
- Venice: Venezia Santa Lucia
- Milan: Milano Centrale
- Bologna: Bologna Centrale
- Verona: Verona Porta Nuova
- Salerno: Salerno Centrale
- Turin: Torino Porta Nuova
- Naples: Napoli Centrale
- La Spezia: La Spezia Centrale
How Early Do I Need To Arrive At The Train Station?
This largely depends on the type of train you’re taking. If you’re planning on traveling on a high-speed train, 40 minutes should give you ample time. If you’re traveling on a regional, or intercity train, you don’t need to arrive much before the departure time. Just be sure to account for how slow or fast you walk and if you’ll want to grab food, etc. before departure.
What To Do At The Train Station
Once you arrive, look for the large board with “Partenze/Departures” to find your train. The Easiest way to do this is by going by your train number (can be found on your ticket) rather than your destination city as some trains make multiple stops and your stop might not be the final destination of the train.
Find Your Train Track
Once you’ve identified your train, look for the “binario” number, which is your platform number. Keep in mind, sometimes “binari” are added just 15 minutes or less before the train is set to depart. This is normal and not a reason for alarm. Just wait near the sign and check periodically to see when the binario is listed. Once listed, make your way to the train platform.
Find Your Carriage Number
If you’re taking a high-speed train, and you’ve identified your binario, look again at your ticket now and identify your “carrozza” as this is your train carriage number. You will need to board the train at the door for your specific carriage and seat number. Each carriage has two doors, and you will need to enter the one that is closest to your seat. It’s clearly labeled at the station, so as you walk down th train track, you’ll see the carriages and seat ranges clearly marked.
A Few Last Things To Keep In Mind
Here are a couple of common sense things to keep in mind when taking trains in Italy.
Is It Safe To Travel By Train In Italy?
Traveling by train in Italy is generally safe; however, since it get busy and tourists abound, petty crime and scams can happen. Keep your luggage in front of you and never leave a wallet or phone unattended. We also recommend turning your backpack or purse around so it sits at your front, never put a wallet or phone in your pocket, and keep valuables deep inside your luggage where fast hands can’t easily reach. Be mindful of moments when you’re distracted (ie paying, eating, etc.) and be wary of people who seem to friendly to be true.
Beware The Baggage Helper Scam
A common racket to watch out for is the “baggage helper” scam. In this situation, you’re approached by someone who does not work for the train company yet they offer to help you with your bags. Then, once they take the bags from you, they won’t give them back without payment. Avoid this by denying help from anyone who offers to carry your bags.
Prepare For Train Strikes
Another problem you may encounter is the famous “sciopero dei treni” or train strikes. These are usually organized ahead of time and are printed in the paper and blasted on the news so keep an eye out. Since they are organized, you can likely re-book your ticket ahead of time without too much headache.
The bad news is, sometimes the alternate trains are booked up and it can create a wrinkle in your travel plans. The best thing you can do if you find yourself in Italy when there is a train strike is to be flexible. Some trains may run despite the strike so you can go to the station and check, before rebooking. Or, if you have more flexibility, re-book to avoid the strike days.
Have Us Plan Your Italy Trip
Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency that specializes in Italy travel planning? If you’re looking to plan one of the best trips to Italy, our Italy trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Photo Credit: Cinque Terre Train photo by Julia Lav; Pisa train in sunflower field photo by frank andiver on Unsplash; Milano Centrale Train Track Photo by Jeton Bajrami on Unsplash; Salone Biglietti photo by MACH Photos; Train departure info by egd