Taking the train is far and away the best and easiest way to get from city to city in Italy. Italy has some of Europe’s fastest, most comfortable trains and a large network of routes that covers almost everywhere you will want to go. Compare that with Italy’s world-famous crazy drivers along with the cost of renting a car, gas, and tolls on pretty much every highway, and to us, the decision is very easy!
Understanding the train system in Italy can be a little overwhelming and confusing at first, but we promise that once you figure it out, you will be glad you did! We have traveled Italy extensively by train and strongly believe it is the best way to explore this beautiful country.
With just a little bit of advance planning and properly selecting your itinerary within Italy, you will be able to comfortably journey from city to city, while relaxing and enjoying the amazing scenery flying by at up to 300 km/h (186 mph)!
Planning your journey By Train
To help arrange your itinerary to be able to take advantage of Italy’s fastest trains, the Frecciarossa or “Red Arrow”, which can travel at speeds up to 300 km/h (186 mph), it is helpful to know the main routes these trains take so you can plan accordingly.
- Turin to Salerno: with stops at Milan, Reggio Emilia AV, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples (110 trains per day).
- Treiste/Udine to Turin: with stops at Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia and Milan (48 trains per day, but only 8 make the Milan to Turin leg).
- Venice to Salerno: with stops at Padua, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples (26 trains per day).
- Bergamo to Rome: with stops at Brescia, Verona and Bologna (2 trains per day).
- Milan to Bolzano: with stops at Brescia, Verona, Rovereto and Trento (2 trains per day).
- Milan to Lecce: with stops at Reggio Emilia AV, Bologna, Rimini, Ancona, Pescara, Foggia and Bari (6 trains per day with 2 ending at Pescara, 2 at Bari and 2 at Lecce).
Map of Italy’s High Speed Train Routes
There are also the Frecciargento or “Silver Arrow” and Frecciabianca or “White Arrow” trains which are still very fast and provide access to other popular cities such as Pisa, La Spezia, Genoa, and Reggio de Calabria in addition to running most of the same routes as the Frecciarossa with additional stops to service smaller cities.
When looking to buy tickets you will also see what is referred to as Intercity trains and Regional trains. These trains are slower and make more stops between major cities, but are less expensive and maybe your only option if you are visiting a smaller town. If you must choose between the two, Intercity trains are faster with fewer stops. See below for a comparison of the top speed of Italy’s different trains.
- Frecciarossa – Red arrow – 300 km/h
- Frecciargento – Silver arrow – 250 km/h
- Frecciabianco – White arrow – 200 km/h
- Intercity – 160 km/h with more stops
- Regional – Speed doesn’t matter, lots of stops!
Buying your Train ticket
Should you buy your tickets in advance or at the station? It is not required to buy your tickets in advance, but all the high-speed and Intercity trains require a seat reservation, so technically they could sell out, or more likely you would just have to wait for the next train which may or may not be a problem depending on your schedule. We have always bought our tickets in advance to avoid the crowds and hassle of doing it at the station. One big benefit to buying online in advance is saving money.
There are multiple ways to purchase your ticket in advance online, but please do yourself a favor and use Italiarail.com or Thetrainline.com, these are online services that sell Trenitalia (the national rail service in Italy) tickets but with much easier to understand websites that are set up to cater to English speaking customers and accept US credit cards. Trainline also sells train and bus tickets throughout Europe, not just Italy.
Also, we recommend you do not waste your money on a rail pass in Italy. There are plenty of articles out there that provide a detailed analysis as to why not, but why give yourself a headache trying to figure it out! The bottom line is that most of the time, it will cost you more money to buy and use a rail pass compared to just buying tickets for each of your legs. If you do decide to buy a rail pass, be aware that you will still need to pay extra to make a seat reservation on any of the Freccia or Intercity trains in Italy.
Train Fare Classes
Train tickets in Italy can be bought in any of three fare classes, normal (base) fare, economy and super-economy. Economy and super-economy tickets can only be purchased at least two days in advance, but there are a limited number of these tickets sold on each train so it may be necessary to book further in advance to get these fares during peak times. A summary of the rules for each class are below:
- Normal (base) Fare: This fare is 80% refundable up to two hours before departure. Unlimited date and departure time changes are allowed up to two hours before departure (you cannot change the stations) and changes are subject to a price increase if the new fare is more expensive.
- Economy Fare: This fare is non-refundable. You can make only one change in the departure date and time up to two hours before departure (you cannot change the stations) and changes are subject to a price increase if the new fare is more expensive.
- Super-Economy Fare: This fare is non-refundable and you cannot make any changes to the ticket.
To illustrate the cost savings associated with the different fare classes, the table below provides a comparison of price differences for a standard class ticket on a “Freccia” train for some popular routes.
|Normal (Base) Fare
As you can see, it is possible to save quite a bit of money buying in advance if your travel plans aren’t likely to change. If you buy your ticket at the station the day you plan to travel, your only option is the normal base fare.
Train Service Classes
The fare classes above should not be confused with the service class of the carriage you will ride in, of which there are also multiple options. Depending on the type of train, the service classes can include standard (2nd class), premium, business (1st class), and executive.
It is common for the cheapest (standard) class tickets to sell out on trains during peak travel times which is another benefit of booking in advance. The higher (more expensive) service classes provide more comfortable and spacious seating and more space in the carriage for luggage along with complimentary drinks and snacks. The table below provides a cost comparison of different service classes for a base fare ticket on the same routes as above.
Another nice feature of Italiarail.com is that if you book your ticket far enough in advance, they will often have free service class upgrades on certain train times.
Main Train stations
One particularly important thing to be aware of when buying your ticket is to make sure you are buying a ticket on a train that stops at the exact station you wish to depart from and arrive at. Most major cities in Italy have multiple stations located in various areas around the city. Google maps is a great resource to be able to look up the location of the stations relative to your accommodations.
Below is a list of the main train stations in major Italian cities.
- Rome: Roma Termini
- Florence: Firenze Santa Maria (SM) Novella
- Milan: Milano Centrale
- Venice: Venezia Santa Lucia (right on the Grand Canal)
- Turin: Torino Porta Nuova
- Naples: Napoli Centrale
Milano Centrale Station
Direct vs Connecting Trains
Be sure to look at the train you are selecting closely to know if it is a direct train or if you will need to change trains along the way. Most routes between major cities are served by direct trains, but often there is a combination of direct and connecting options. Taking a direct train is always most convenient especially if you are traveling with a lot of luggage, plus you don’t have to worry about missing your connection!
2 for 1 Discount
Another great way to save money is to take advantage of the 2 for 1 deal that TrenItalia offers which allows you to buy 2 tickets for the price of 1. This deal is only available for travel on Saturdays and there are a limited number of tickets per train available with this offer, so once again it is important to buy in advance. If you can plan your longest, most expensive ride on a Saturday, the savings can be significant.
At the Train Station
Make sure you arrive to the station at least 20 minutes before your train is scheduled to depart. There is no security screening to go through, but the stations are often very crowded and some of the tracks can be a fair distance away from the main entrance.
Finding your train
The first thing you will want to locate (assuming you already have your ticket), is the departure board. The departing trains are listed under “partenze”. Make sure you look for your train using the train number and not your destination city. The destination city listed on the board is the final destination of the train, which may not be your stop!
If you don’t see your train number on the board, don’t worry, it may not appear until a few minutes before your train pulls into the station. Once it does appear, it is typical to see a large swarm of people rushing towards that track. Make sure to follow them because the train will leave on time with or without you!
If you have a ticket on a regional train, these tickets are not time-specific, so make sure you validate your ticket at one of the small green devices near the ticket machines. These machines will time stamp your ticket, so the conductor knows you aren’t reusing a ticket multiple times. If you have a ticket for any of the “Freccia” or Intercity trains, with a specific time and seat assignment, this step is not necessary.
Self-service train ticket machine and ticket validation machines
Boarding The Train
Once you have located your train, you need to make sure you are getting on the correct carriage. Your ticket will have the carriage number along with your seat assignment listed. The carriage numbers are clearly marked on the side of the train near the doors or on an electronic sign near the door. It is possible to walk between the carriages, but it is much easier if you get on the right one, to begin with.
If you are traveling with luggage, trains in Italy do not have a dedicated baggage car. Each carriage will have racks at each end to store your larger suitcases on and there are racks overhead for your smaller items. There are no weight or size limits, which makes for a much more pleasant experience than flying.
After you have stowed your bag and taken your seat, it is time to sit back and relax. Make sure you keep your ticket handy for the conductor who will eventually come around to check it. If you plan to take a nap along the way (there’s nothing like a train ride to lull you into a nice calm state), make sure you set an alarm for the approximate time of your planned arrival if yours isn’t the final destination of the train. If you sleep through your stop, you may be going on an unplanned visit to another city, which is not necessarily a bad thing!
Hopefully, this guide has been helpful for the planning of your train journeys around Italy this is far and away the best way to travel around this beautiful country.
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