Train Travel in Italy: all you need to know + how to plan the perfect journey
Italy’s well-known for its rich history, striking architecture, stunning landscapes, and mouth-watering cuisine.
Train travel is a convenient and enjoyable way to explore Italy’s magnificent cities and charming towns.
Italy boasts an extensive rail network that seamlessly connects major cities and picturesque countryside, offering a cosy and hassle-free journey.
The affordable tickets and trains’ speed and efficiency make travel much more accessible. When travelling between large cities, the trains have a perfect drop-off spot, avoiding the stress of parking and traffic jams.
Note that not all regions offer the same level of service and accessibility, prioritizing available options suitable for exploration.
This blog post discusses the differences between regional and high-speed trains and gives tips and tricks to ensure an unforgettable and smooth Italian train journey.
Begin your adventurous journey through the charming landscapes and vibrant cities of Italy.
In a previous article, I delved into the topic of renting a car in Italy and the joys of embarking on a memorable road trip in this captivating country.
Planning Your Train Travel in Italy
Research Your Route
When preparing for your Italian train adventure, it’s important to plan ahead and research the various train routes available.
Fortunately, getting around Italy is a breeze, especially with the help of several handy apps that I personally love using when I’m planning my trips.
First, there’s the Moovit App, which is perfect for planning all kinds of trips. It focuses on public transportation and covers everything from subways and trains to ferries and buses.
It’s my go-to app that I really find useful for getting around.
Another app that I trust is Google Maps.
It’s always with me when I’m navigating public transport in Europe.
To use it, simply enter your destination and select the train icon when checking out the directions.
Apart from these apps, Trenitalia and Italo websites are also fantastic resources for finding train schedules and planning your journey.
Names of the major Italian train stations
In most larger Italian cities, you’ll find multiple train stations, with one typically serving as the “main” station.
Here’s a friendly list of the main train stations in some popular Italian cities:
- Turin: Torino Porta Nuova
- Venice: Venezia Santa Lucia
- Verona: Verona Porta Nuova
- Milan: Milano Centrale
- La Spezia: La Spezia Centrale (Cinque Terre)
- Florence: Firenze Santa Maria Novella (Firenze S.M.N.)
- Bologna: Bologna Centrale
- Rome: Roma Termini
- Naples: Napoli Centrale
- Salerno: Stazione di Salerno Irno
- Palermo: Palermo Centrale
- Bari: Bari Centrale
Pro tip: To find the main train station in a city, search for “city name” plus “centrale” or “stazione”. For example, Milano Centrale or Stazione Milano.
Italy’s main train routes
Italy has several main train routes that connect the major cities and regions of the country.
Some of the most popular and important train routes include:
- Milano – Roma: This route connects two of Italy’s most important cities, Milan and Rome. Both high-speed Frecciarossa (Trenitalia) and Italo trains operate on this route, and the journey takes about 3 hours.
- Firenze – Roma: This route connects the beautiful city of Florence with the capital, Rome. Both high-speed Frecciarossa and Italo trains operate on this route, and the journey takes about an hour.
- Firenze – Venezia: This route connects the city of Florence with the floating city of Venice; the journey takes about 2 hours.
- Milano – Venezia: This route connects the fashion capital of Milan with the romantic city of Venice. The journey takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
- Roma – Napoli: This route connects the capital Rome with the coastal city of Naples. Both high-speed Frecciarossa and Italo trains operate on this route, and the journey takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Roma – Venezia: This route connects Rome to Venice, and the journey takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes.
- Milano – Torino: This route connects the two major cities of Milan and Turin. The journey takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
- Roma – Bari: This route connects Rome with the southern city of Bari. The journey takes about 4 hours and 30 minutes.
- Firenze – Napoli: This route connects the beautiful city of Florence with the coastal city of Naples. The journey takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes.
These are just a few examples of the fastest main train routes in Italy, but there are many other options available depending on your destination.
Once you’ve chosen your ideal route, remember that booking your train tickets in advance is highly recommended.
This will save you both time and money, as reserving ahead of time can lead to significant savings.
But before you buy train tickets to Italy online, there are a few things to keep in mind.
What are the different types of trains in Italy?
Italy’s rail network features a variety of train types, from the high-speed trains like Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca, and Italo, to the convenient Intercity trains, and regional trains including Regionale, Interregionale, and Suburbano.
Trenitalia, the government-owned company, plays a pivotal role in operating the majority of trains in Italy, ensuring reliability and efficiency throughout the network. Now, let’s have a closer look at the different types of trains in Italy, their unique features and advantages.
Italy’s High-speed Trains: Trenitalia or Italo?
High-speed trains in Italy are designed for long-distance travel and connect major cities like Venice, Milan, Turin, Florence, Rome, and Naples, at impressive speeds.
These trains can reach speeds of up to 300 km/h (186 mph), significantly reducing travel time between destinations.
High-speed trains offer a more comfortable travel experience with spacious seating, air conditioning, and power outlets for charging electronic devices.
Some of them also provide Wi-Fi and a dining car.
Here are the prominent high-speed train services in Italy:
- Frecce – Frecciargento, Frecciarossa, and Frecciabianca (Red, Silver, and White Arrows) are Trenitalia’s high-speed trains, with Frecciarossa being the fastest. Frecciarossa travels at up to 300 km/h (185 mph) and connects major cities daily. Frecciargento trains run on both high-speed and conventional lines, reaching speeds of up to 250 km/h (155 mph). Frecciabianca trains operate on traditional lines outside the high-speed network, achieving 250 km/h (155 mph) while ensuring comfort and quality services.
- Italo is a privately-owned high-speed train service that specialises in high-speed (alta velocità) intercity trains. Their service is comparable to Trenitalia’s, but they boast the newest and best trains, comfortable seats, ample space even in second class, and frequent great deals. Here you’ll find some of the latest deals!
Regional Trains in Italy
Italy’s regional trains are operated by Trenitalia and are more budget-friendly due to their slower pace and additional stops.
They are ideal for travelling short distances between smaller towns, making them perfect for uncovering Italy’s hidden gems.
Regional trains are more basic in terms of comfort and amenities.
They usually have fewer services on board and may not have air conditioning or power outlets.
Here are the two primary types of regional trains:
- Regionale (R) – Regional trains connect towns and cities within a specific region. They travel at slower speeds and have frequent stops. They’re perfect for visiting quaint towns and villages.
- Regionale Veloce (RV) – These faster regional trains offer an accelerated service compared to regular regional trains. While they stop at fewer stations, they are an excellent option for covering slightly longer distances within a specific region.
InterCity trains bridge the gap between high-speed and regional trains, reaching 200 km/h (125 mph).
They serve medium-sized cities and smaller destinations and are the lowest level among train categories requiring reservations.
Here are the key features of InterCity trains:
- InterCity (IC) – These trains connect major cities across Italy, offering a balance between speed and affordability. They are equipped with comfortable seating, air conditioning, and onboard amenities, ensuring a pleasant journey. You’ll also find Eurocity (EC) high-speed trains that cross borders, such as those from France to Italy.
- InterCity Notte – InterCity Notte trains are night trains connecting major cities across Italy and Europe (Euronight) and are operated by Trenitalia. They are a convenient option to cover long distances while enjoying a restful sleep onboard. They offer sleeper cabins and couchettes, making them a popular choice for overnight travel between cities.
Other Specialised Trains in Italy
Italy also boasts a few specialised train services that cater to unique travel experiences:
- Leonardo Express – Operating between Rome’s Termini Station and Fiumicino Airport, the Leonardo Express is an efficient airport transfer train. It provides a quick and reliable connection, allowing travellers to easily reach the heart of Rome or catch a flight.
- Bernina Express – Crossing the breathtaking landscapes of the Italian and Swiss Alps, the Bernina Express is a panoramic train journey that takes you through UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It offers unrivalled views of snow-capped mountains, sparkling lakes, and charming alpine villages.
- Campania Express is a brand new train service that conveniently connects the vibrant cities of Naples and Sorrento. Operating along the same route as the Circumvesuviana commuter train tracks, this service offers a higher level of comfort and convenience with its limited stops and enhanced amenities. With allocated seating and refreshing air conditioning, the Campania Express aims to provide a more pleasant travel experience, catering specifically to tourists. While it may not be luxurious, it proves to be a fantastic option, especially if you’re travelling with bulky luggage or children.
- Malpensa Express is a dedicated shuttle that seamlessly links Milan-Malpensa Airport to the bustling Milan Central Station. To ensure a hassle-free journey, tickets for the Malpensa Express can be conveniently purchased in advance through their user-friendly website or obtained on the day of departure at the station itself.
- In addition to these services, Italy boasts several other remarkable train options. Trenord (Lombardy regional trains), the Circumetnea (taking you around the majestic Mt. Etna), and the Circumvesuviana (connecting Naples to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Sorrento).
Train Travel in Italy Tickets: First and Second Class
There isn’t a significant gap between travelling in first and second class on trains in Italy.
Most visitors find second class perfectly satisfactory.
However, first-class ticket holders can enjoy a few extra perks, such as additional space, more legroom, a light snack, and a newspaper.
Here are some more details about the different ticket classes available in Italy:
Trenitalia – Frecciarossa High-Speed Services:
– Second Class / Standard: This class offers WiFi, air conditioning, power outlets, tables, food, and bar service, as well as an entertainment portal.
– First Class / Premium: In addition to the amenities provided in Standard, Passengers in Premium class enjoy spacious leather seats, newspapers, and a welcome drink.
– Business Class: Similar to First Class, Business Class offers extra leg and elbow room, as well as table service.
- Executive Class: Executive Class provides the same benefits as First Class but also includes 10-seat coaches, access to the station’s club lounge, gourmet meals, and even access to a 6-seat meeting room.
Trenitalia – Other Frecce and InterCity trains:
- You’ll find both first and second-class options available. Occasionally, there are also Business, Premium, or Standard classes, although they may not be as luxurious as the Frecciarossa trains. However, rest assured that these trains still offer a comfortable journey, complete with amenities like air conditioning and individual power sockets. While the first class does provide a bit more space, the overall difference between the two classes is not significant.
Trenitalia – Regional and Regional Veloce trains:
- Second class is the standard choice, with occasional trains offering first class as well. First-class tickets may come at a slightly higher price, but they offer a quieter and more peaceful environment for your journey.
- Second Class / Smart Ambience: In Smart Ambience, passengers can expect WiFi, air conditioning, power sockets, comfortable leather seats, and a snack area.
- First Class / Ambience Prima: similar to Smart but with additional space and wider seats, fast track services, individual power sockets, in-seat catering, and newspapers.
- Club Ambience: Club Ambience class goes a step further, providing all the perks of Prima, along with dedicated catering services, personal screens, and access to Club lounges in major stations.
Keep in mind that the services and amenities offered in first and second class can vary depending on the train and the route, so it is always best to check the specific train’s website or ask the train company for more information.
Italy train travel: Should you buy train tickets in advance?
It is generally a good idea to buy train tickets in advance, as they can be cheaper than buying them on the day of travel.
Additionally, booking in advance ensures that you secure a seat, as trains can fill up quickly, especially during peak travel times.
As expected, high-speed train tickets are generally more expensive than regional train tickets.
However, if you book in advance, you can find discounted fares for high-speed trains, making them a more affordable option for long-distance travel.
Tickets usually become available 3-4 months before the travel date, and the earlier you book, the better the deals you can find.
Keep in mind that discounted tickets are limited and may sell out quickly.
There’s no need to worry about booking regional train tickets in advance, as their prices are based on the distance you’ll be travelling, which means there aren’t any early booking discounts.
Just head to the station when you’re ready to travel and grab your tickets from the ticket window or an automated kiosk.
But hey, if you prefer a more convenient option, you can always purchase your regional rail tickets online.
This way, they’ll be ready on your phone, and you can skip the lines at the ticket machines.
One crucial tip to remember before boarding a regional train, is to make sure to validate your ticket at the validation machines located on the departure platform. Failure to do so may result in a fine.
High-speed train tickets purchased online or at the ticket counter are automatically validated and do not require this step.
Let’s recap the main train types in Italy and whether they require advance booking or not:
- Long-distance or high-speed trains: These trains, such as the Frecciarossa and Italo, are very popular and can fill up quickly, especially during peak travel season. It’s a good idea to book your tickets as far in advance as possible to secure a seat. Online booking typically offers the best prices, and fares tend to increase as the departure date approaches. High-speed trains connect major cities like Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, and tickets for most of these routes can be purchased three to four months in advance.
- Regional and Intercity Trains: There’s no need to book regional trains in advance. These trains are priced based on the distance travelled, so there are no early booking discounts. Simply arrive at the station and purchase your tickets at the ticket window or automated kiosk. However, it’s still a good idea to book in advance, especially during peak travel season, or if you prefer to have them readily available on your phone, saving you from waiting in line at the ticket machines.
- Night trains: These trains, such as the InterCity Notte and the Euronight, are convenient for overnight travel, but it’s a good idea to book in advance, as sleeping compartments and couchettes can fill up quickly.
In general, booking your tickets at least a few weeks in advance is recommended to ensure you have a seat and that the fare is reasonable.
If you are travelling during peak season, such as the summer or Christmas holidays, it’s even more important to book as early as possible.
When it comes to choosing between intercity or regional trains and high-speed trains, it’s worth noting that high-speed trains are faster and more comfortable.
While they may be more expensive, the time savings they offer often make up for the additional cost.
However, if you’re on a tight budget, there’s no shame in opting for a cheaper train option.
Where to buy Italy train tickets?
There are several ways to buy train tickets in Italy:
- Online: You can purchase train tickets online on the Trenitalia website and the Italo website. This is the most convenient and quickest way to buy train tickets.
- Train stations: You can also purchase train tickets at train stations. This is a good option if you prefer to buy in person or if you need assistance with your purchase.
- Self-service ticket machines: Most train stations have self-service ticket machines, which can be used to buy train tickets.
- Third-party booking platforms like Trainline or Omio are fantastic search engines that offer a convenient way to compare and book train tickets throughout Europe. These platforms make it incredibly easy to purchase tickets using your credit card, and you can secure them at the same price as the official Trenitalia website. Another noteworthy aspect is that these platforms are designed specifically for English-speaking travellers, ensuring a user-friendly experience.
Keep in mind that when purchasing a train ticket, you’ll need to provide the departure and arrival stations, the date and time of travel, and the class of service (e.g., first class or second class).
Are rail passes a good value for Italy?
Well, it’s worth considering before making a decision, especially if your travel plans are primarily focused on exploring Italy.
In Italy, the majority of train passengers tend to take short rides within the popular Milan-Venice-Florence-Rome circuit. These journeys typically cost less than €50 for a second-class ticket. In such cases, buying point-to-point train tickets turns out to be more cost-effective than purchasing a rail pass, which often exceeds €50 per day. It’s also important to note that most high-speed trains in Italy require you to make a paid seat reservation when using a Eurail pass; the reservation costs around €10 per seat.
You must make the reservation before you get on the train, limiting the convenience of a rail pass for frequent hopping on and off.
That being said, it’s important to consider that longer-term rail passes offer reduced per-day fees. So if you’re planning to embark on extensive train travel throughout Italy or even beyond as part of a larger European trip, a rail pass could be a more sensible choice.
Do I need to print my tickets?
In Italy, you have a few options for how to present your train tickets:
- Print your ticket: You can print your train ticket at home or save the PDF to your phone or tablet and have the conductor scan it from there. This is a good option if you prefer to have a physical copy of your ticket.
- Use the Trenitalia or Italo app: You can download the Trenitalia or Italo app on your smartphone and use it to purchase and show your train tickets. Make sure to have your phone fully charged and the app open with the ticket displayed when boarding the train.
- Use the Electronic Ticket: Some train tickets can be sent to your email, and you can show them on your phone or tablet. Make sure that you can access the email or have a printout of the ticket when boarding the train.
- Pickup from the Station: Print your tickets at the train station using your credit card or a booking number.
It’s worth noting that some train stations or trains may not have the capability to check electronic tickets, so it’s a good idea to have a backup option, such as a printout or a screenshot of the ticket on your phone.
In general, it’s always a good idea to double-check the specific train’s website or ask the train company for more information on how to present your ticket before your trip.
Tips for a Smooth Train Travel in Italy
Boarding a train in Italy is relatively straightforward, but here are some tips to make the process go smoothly:
- Pack Light: Train stations in Italy often have stairs and limited elevator access. To make your journey more comfortable, pack light and use luggage with wheels for easy maneuverability.
- Arrive at the station early: It is a good idea to arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before your train departs. This will give you ample time to locate your platform, validate your ticket (if necessary), and find your seat.
- Buy your ticket: If you haven’t pre-booked a ticket, you can easily purchase one either from a ticket machine or in person at the station.
- Check the departure platform number: Make sure you know the departure platform number (Partenze in Italian) of your train, as it will be displayed on the electronic boards in the station. Keep in mind that the display might only show the final destination. Therefore, it’s a good idea to verify the train number on your ticket to ensure you’re headed in the right direction (look at the example in the photos above).
- Validate your ticket: If you’re traveling on a regional train, don’t forget to validate your ticket at the validation machines located on the platform. Failure to do so may result in a hefty fine, so make sure you get it validated to avoid any trouble. High-speed train tickets purchased online or at the ticket counter are automatically validated and do not require this step.
- Show your ticket: It’s worth noting that Italian rail stations do not have security checks. Instead, there will be ticket inspections conducted onboard the train, so ensure you have a valid ticket ready for inspection.
- Check the coach number: Before the train arrives, check the location of your designated carriage, the number on the train, and the one on your ticket. Being in the right place ahead of time allows you to board promptly, as the train won’t wait for latecomers.
- Find your seat: Once you are on the train, locate your seat. Your seat number will be printed on your ticket. Keep your ticket with you, as you may be asked to show it again during the journey.
- Store your luggage: Once you have found your seat, store your luggage in the overhead compartments or the designated luggage areas at the end of each carriage. This way, you can keep your belongings safe and ensure a comfortable journey. Be mindful of the space and other passengers.
- Enjoy the ride: Sit back and enjoy the beautiful Italian countryside as you travel to your destination.
- Get off at the right stop: Make sure you know the name of the station you are getting off at and be ready to disembark when the train arrives. One important thing to remember is that trains only stop for a short period during a changeover. Be aware of the limited time and plan accordingly to ensure a smooth transition.
Beware of Train Station Scams in Italy
When it comes to train travel in Italy, you can generally expect a safe and convenient experience.
However, it’s important to be aware of potential scams and situations that may compromise your security.
Here are a few things to watch out for:
Ticketing Machine Scam
One common scam involves individuals posing as helpful assistants at ticketing machines.
These people may approach you while you’re purchasing your ticket and offer their assistance.
It’s important to note that unless they are wearing official Trenitalia or Italo Treno attire and carrying identification, they are not there to genuinely help you, at least not without expecting something in return.
They may be looking for a tip or, even worse, attempting to pickpocket you.
Stay cautious, and don’t fall for their tricks.
Baggage Handling “Helpers”
If you’re travelling with large and heavy suitcases, be prepared for individuals who claim to be helpful and offer assistance with your luggage.
However, it’s crucial to remember that these individuals are not official porters but rather people seeking tips or, in some cases, trying to steal your belongings.
Be especially cautious if someone approaches you too closely or offers excessive help.
While there are genuinely kind people out there, it’s essential to maintain awareness and keep your belongings secure at all times.
While these scams exist, it’s important to remember that they don’t overshadow the overall safety and convenience of train travel in Italy.
By staying vigilant, using common sense, and keeping your valuables close, you can greatly reduce the chances of falling victim to such scams.
Dealing with Train Strikes in Italy
Train strikes (sciopero dei treni in Italian) are not uncommon in Italy.
Keep an eye on local news and the Trenitalia website for any strike announcements.
If a strike occurs, your train may be delayed or cancelled.
In such cases, Trenitalia usually offers alternative transportation or a refund.
The impact of a strike can vary, ranging from major disruptions affecting multiple trains and journeys to minor inconveniences limited to specific routes.
However, rest assured that a basic level of essential services is typically maintained.
If you find yourself travelling during a train strike, it’s crucial to remain flexible and adaptable.
Stick to your original schedule and first check if your train is still operating as planned.
If it’s not, don’t panic.
Instead, seek out alternative options recommended by the service providers to help you reach your destination.
It’s important to note that predicting the exact impact of the strike on your specific train can be challenging without advance notice.
Therefore, the best approach is to stay informed and go with the flow as the situation unfolds.
Keep an open mind and consider the available alternatives that arise along the way.
While a train strike can be frustrating, it’s also an opportunity to embrace the unexpected and find creative solutions to continue your journey.
Be Prepared for Delays
Train delays can happen, especially on regional trains.
Keep an open mind and be prepared for potential delays.
Use this time to enjoy the scenery, chat with fellow travellers, or catch up on your reading.
Learn Basic Italian Phrases For Train Travel
Please note that this blog post is not an exact transcript of the podcast episode linked below. However, if you give it a listen, you’ll find the pronunciation of the Italian words, which are conveniently highlighted in bold.
While many Italians speak English, learning a few basic Italian phrases can enhance your train travel experience.
Simple phrases like “Buongiorno” (good morning), “Grazie” (thank you), and “Scusi” (excuse me) can go a long way in making your journey more enjoyable and immersive.
Here are some more Italian train travel vocabulary:
- Treno – train
- Stazione ferroviaria – Train station
- Ferrovia – railroad, railway
- Biglietto – ticket
- Di sola andata – one way only
- Andata e ritorno – return trip
- Orario dei treni – Timetable
- Partenza – departure
- Arrivo – Arrival
- Binario – platform / track
- Sottopassaggio – underpass
- In ritardo – late
- In anticipo – early
- Prenotazione – reservation
- Carrozza – carriage
- Posto a sedere – Seat
- Prima classe– First class
- Seconda classe – Second class
- Bagaglio – luggage
And here are some common expressions you’ll need when asking for information:
- Dov’è la stazione ferroviaria / dei treni? – Where is the train station?
- A che ora parte il treno? – What time does the train leave?
- A che ora arriva il treno? – What time does the train arrive?
- Dove posso comprare i biglietti? – Where can I buy tickets?
- Posso comprare il biglietto qui? – Can I buy a ticket here?
- Quanto costa il biglietto per (city name)? – How much does the ticket to (city) cost?
- Vorrei comprare un biglietto per (city name) – I would like to buy a ticket to …
- Un biglietto di sola andata per (city name), per favore. – A one way ticket to …,please.
- Un biglietto di andata e ritorno per (city name), per favore. – A return ticket for (city name), please.
- Da quale binario parte il treno per (city name)? – From which platform does the train for …leave?
- Dov’è il binario (platform number)? – Where is the platform (number)?
- È libero questo posto? – Is this seat taken?
- Mi può aiutare con il bagaglio, per favore? – Can you help me with my luggage, please?
- Qual’è la prossima fermata? – What is the next stop?
- È in ritardo il treno? – Is the train late?
Essential Tips for Train Stations and Train Safety in Italy
When navigating train stations in Italy, it’s crucial to prioritise your safety in the midst of the bustling crowds.
While train travel in Italy is generally safe, it’s essential to keep an eye on your luggage at all times.
Use luggage racks above your seat or at the end of the car for small bags, and keep valuable items with you.
Avoid carrying wallets in back pockets or using unattended pockets, such as those found on backpacks.
In the evening, train stations and local trains may attract individuals looking to cause trouble.
This situation can be particularly unpleasant and potentially hazardous, especially for solo female travellers.
Exercise extra caution after nightfall and adhere to basic safety precautions as you would in any major city.
In a nutshell
Train travel in Italy offers a unique and memorable way to explore the country’s diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage.
By planning your route, choosing the right train type, and following my tips for a smooth journey, you’ll have a pleasant and stress-free experience while traveling by train in Italy.
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment or DM me, I’ll be happy to help.
Ciao e Buon viaggio!
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