Booking trains in Italy can feel confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Italy has an incredible rail system that makes it easy to get around the country and to neighboring countries. There are many different types of trains throughout the country, and a few different ways to book.
Should You Take the Train in Italy?
First things first, contemplate what works best for you in your vacation plans. But the short answer is, “Yes! You should be taking trains throughout Italy.” Because of Europe’s low-cost carriers, you’ll find that airfare can be the same price as a train ticket. However, your air travel cost is ultimately higher than a train cost. Trains don’t charge extra for luggage, and they’ll drop you at the city center rather than an airport on the outskirts. And finally – in Italy, it’s generally much faster to take a train than an airplane.
When to Book Train Tickets in Italy
The answer to this is usually “as soon as is possible or feasible.” The Italian train companies are masters at pricing, and are aware that the closer to a departure date, the more you’re willing to pay. They also run special pricing and promotions, which typically have a limited number of seats available. The sooner you book, the better deals you’ll have access to.
However, there are so many trains constantly running in Italy that you don’t need to worry about not getting on one. There might be times that are sold out, but as long as you’re going between major cities and hubs, there will always be tickets available. It’s easy to get there the day of and buy the tickets you need.
The longer of a distance you’re going, the better it is to book earlier. The local trains have no early-booking discounts. You’ll find the best discounts on the high-speed trains going between the large cities.
Should You Get a Rail Pass for the Trains in Italy?
An important note: if you live in Europe, you’ll want to look at Interrail passes. If you live outside of Europe, Eurail passes are for you. Don’t compare prices between the two of them, because you can only get the one the applies to your country of residence.
As an American, in checking out the Eurail passes, you’ll find prices start at $194 for three days within one month. So if you were going from Rome to Florence to Venice to Milan, then you’d have three travel days.
However, individual tickets for each of these routes are likely to be 20 – 30 Euro each if you buy them ahead of time (and cheaper if you run into a sale, or go on Saturday with the 2 for 1 deal). So 60 – 90 euro of individual tickets works out to about $72 – $100. You’d be getting a shitty deal if you used a Eurail pass for that. Generally, the math I’ve done has been that it’s a much better idea to book tickets individually rather than use the Eurail passes.
How to Take the Trains In Italy
If you’re used to flying, you’re in for a treat when you take the trains across Italy. It’s generally a good idea to get to the station about half an hour before the train is set to depart. Some of the stations can be quite large, so you’ll want time to look at the departure board for which track you’re leaving from.
There is no security line to go through – you’ll just get there and get on the train. For the high-speed trains with assigned seating, you’ll be assigned both a seat and a car. The platforms will have screens or markings for which car number is expected to be where. You’ll want to line up at your car number. Boarding a train is hectic enough without tons of people trying to go through multiple cars.
Unless you’re at one of the terminal stations, the train will come in to the station, stop for a maximum of about five minutes, and then continue on. Thus the boarding process is much faster than a plane. It’s considered standard practice to let the people getting off the train get off before boarding.
Keep your ticket on you. Conductors will come through to check your ticket, so you want to make sure you have proof of purchase. All of the Italian train companies offer digital tickets, so feel free to just keep your tickets on your phone.
Where to Put Your Luggage on Trains in Italy
Trains aren’t like planes – you won’t be checking your luggage, and you won’t have anyone else to manage your luggage for you. If you’re planning on taking trains throughout Italy, it’s a good idea to pack as light as possible for the trip. Rolling bags and/or backpacks are a good idea.
On each train, there are typically two options for your luggage. Lighter pieces can go in the overhead area. The bigger/heavier bags can go back in the luggage compartment. Note that the luggage compartments are not generally monitored, so there are always horror stories of luggage getting stolen at various stops. This is not common, but it is a reason to pack in a small bag that can easily be put above your seat. As a general rule, if it fits in an airline’s overhead bin, you’ll have an easy time getting it on the train’s overhead bin.
Trains in Italy don’t monitor the number of pieces of luggage you have, so you can take as much as you want (within reason). However, just remember you have to get it all on and on!
Types of Trains in Italy
You’ll find a broad selection of trains and train types in Italy. The main differences come in the speed of the trains, the number of stops they make, how nice they are and who they’re owned by.
Train Companies in Italy
Italy has two primary train companies: TrenItalia and ItaloTreno.
Italo company is known for its gorgeous, red, high-speed trains. It’s owned by the owner of Ferragamo, who thought there could be a better train experience in Italy. The interiors of the Italo trains are leather, comfortable and pretty.
The key drawback of the Italo is that it is only a high-speed train company, and as such, it operates on limited routes. If you’re trying to go somewhere that isn’t on the main Milan/Naples/Florence/Rome/Venice circuit, then you’ll likely need to connect onto a TrenItalia train and book two tickets.
On a personal note, if you’re going between the major cities, I found the Italo trains to be nicer and more fun than TrenItalia.
TrenItalia is the main, state-owned rail company in Italy. They offer a huge number of train options going to virtually every town in the country. You can use their website to book train tickets easily, and frequently find good sales.
The confusing thing about TrenItalia can be the types of trains. You’ll see “Le Frecce” and “Regional” trains. Both seem to be going to the same places. The key difference is that any train with “Frecce” in it is the high-speed train, while the regional trains are not. This is also the reason that the Frecce trains are much more expensive.
The regional trains are generally far less nice than the Frecce trains – though they are far cheaper. If you’re traveling in the summer, you should know most regional trains aren’t air conditioned. The regional trains also make far more stops, as they’ll typically stop at each station. The Frecce trains will go faster, and make fewer stops.
Other Things to Know About Trains in Italy
Generally, the high-speed trains in Italy will have outlets where you can charge your phone and/or laptop. If you’re in first class, this is almost guaranteed.
It’s ok to take food and drinks onto the trains – most even have meal cars. Be neat about it, and don’t take anything terribly messy or odorous.
The regional trains have windows that open, so you’ll get a lot more noise through the car. Because the regional trains don’t have AC, you might think about arranging to take those in the morning or evening if you’re there during the summer.
The trains can get quite crowded, but are generally very quite. You’ll find some loud groups – those are generally tourists.
Don’t be afraid to take the train. It’s an incredible way to see the country, and it’s easier than an airplane!