Italy has one of the best train systems, able to get you from one end of the country to the other in just 3 hours or so. It’s a great way to travel relaxed and is typically a pretty scenic route. If you plan to travel to major cities, the train system is much simpler than driving. Parking and rules with driving/parking in the cities can be quite expensive. While the train stations are typically in the city center, easy to navigate, and usually connected to the metro system. If you want to visit the countryside or smaller towns, driving may be a better route for you (pun-intended). However you decide to travel, the views are sure to be picturesque.
It’s really just a matter of what you’re most comfortable with, where you’re going, and how much flexibility you need in your travel plans. If you want to understand more about the train system and options, keep reading!
National and private train lines
Italy’s private company, Italo, has many options connecting more major cities. They are usually more plush and newer than the regional or national train lines. There are multiple classes also so if you want to take advantage of more amenities during the ride, you have more lavish options. Some areas of the country have private companies that serve there area as well but in terms of major train systems Italo is the main private company to book through.
Trenitalia is the national train company of Italy. These trains basically get can get you anywhere and have normal or high-speed options. The Frecce trains are the high-speed options. On these, you will receive a seat reservation. Frecciarossa (the quickest), Fecciargento, and Frecciabianca are all fast train lines. But they are more expensive than others because they don’t stop at each station. While you can buy tickets for different classes, these trains are comfortable and tidy even in the low levels.
The Intercity and Intercity Plus train system runs the entire length of Italy. Destination stops are in every major city and large town. Again, you’ll receive a seat reservation on these trains and can choose between first and second class. First class is less crowded and the seats are a bit better. However, there isn’t astronomical differences between the two classes.
trains are your local, inexpensive option. There are no seat reservations so you are not guaranteed a spot to sit down which can be tough for a longer journey. These usually stop at each stop along the route so they take much longer than the high-speed trains. While most only offer second class, you may see some with a first class option. It’s worth spending a bit more on it if it is available because there are usually more seats and less people. But if you don’t have too far to go or don’t mind standing for a while, these are a great cheaper option!
Buying the ticket
You can buy your tickets ahead of time online which for Italo and Trenitalia are usually a good option as the closer it gets to the travel date, the more expensive tickets may become. It’s fairly intuitive to use their websites to search and book and they have an option to switch the language to English. You’ll get a PDF of sent to your email which you can print or save and show on your device at the station and on the train. However, if you want to buy from the station, you can either go to the ticket office or use the electronic kiosks.
The kiosks have a language selection option and are pretty intuitive as well. You can usually pay with cash or credit card at these machines also. If you would rather not deal with technology, just head to the ticket office and let the person know where you want to go, the number of tickets, and which class you’d like (if applicable). If you buy tickets for a train that doesn’t give a seat reservation and cannot find a seat in second class, you can ask the worker on the train if it’s possible to upgrade to first class.
Finding the train
There are screens in almost every train station that will list the departing and arriving trains with the time, platform, and delays if there is one. Sometimes the trains don’t arrive until minutes. Before it is scheduled to leave so just be aware of the screen updates. It’s best to get on the train when it arrives as opposed to waiting.
Validating your ticket
Before boarding, look for a small machine that is usually at the beginning of each platform. If you have a ticket printed from the machine or without a specific reservation, be sure to put it into the machine. This will stamp your ticket with the date and time, validating it. If your ticket is not validated, you will be fined on the train, so this step is extra important! If you have a ticket with Italo or Trenitalia, or any with a seat reservation and specific info, don’t worry about doing this part.
Stations either have the trains going directly through the station or they pull directly into the station. The latter is simple to see the front of the trains lined up on the appropriate platform. Stations like Milano Centrale or Roma Termini are set up in this way. In stations where the train passes through, you’ll have to use the stairs labeled “sottopassagio” to get to your platform.
Trains have luggage racks on the sides above your head for bags and personal items. If you don’t have a seat reservation for your train, any carriage in the appropriate class will do. Just enter the train and find a seat. If you have a specific seat, your ticket will tell you which carriage to go on at. Expect to handle your luggage on your own so be mindful when packing for your trip if you are taking the trains.
Are you thinking of buying a train pass for your trip to Italy? Do you know the difference between Eurail and Interrail Pass?