Traveling by train in Italy is my favorite way to travel. Not only are their network of trains convenient and reliable, you also get some spectacular views of the countryside. Today, I wanted to answer a few of the most common questions I get about traveling by train in Italy, and hopefully guide you towards choosing the best mode of transportation for you on your next Italian adventure.
5 Questions about Train Travel in Italy
1. What are the different types of trains, and when should I use which?
Depending on your route, there can be different train options you can choose for your journey and this will make a difference in the length of your trip, and cost. The Freccia trains are Italy’s fast trains and connect Italy’s major cities. These trains are clean and comfortable, and are definitely the way to go whenever they are available. The EuroStar is also a fast train option (although not as fast as the Freccia trains), and is a comfortable choice as well. The InterCity trains also service the bigger cities and smaller cities as well, but they aren’t as fast and aren’t as comfortable. You will make more stops along the way as well. If you are going to some smaller cities or towns, this may be your option. Finally there are the Regional trains, which are the slowest, and not so comfortable. You might need to take these if you are in a small city and heading to a big city, but they are smaller and slower, so this is only the choice if your journey is a short one.
2. Do I need to make a reservation beforehand?
For most journeys you can choose to buy your tickets in advance, or onsite. The choice usually will depend on what type of flexibility you want to have with your plans. If you buy your ticket online, in most instances that is the train you will have to be on, and changing it requires you to do so online. That can be a hassle. Buying your ticket onsite means that you don’t get to take advantage of promotional fares that are offered online. However, you have the freedom to travel when it is most convenient, and it is rare that a train will be completely sold out. (Although it can happen on very popular routes during high season).
3. When does it become a good idea to get a RailPass?
This choice is dependent on the type of traveling you are doing and requires some math to make an educated choice. You basically are taking into account how many train travel days will be part of you trip, and what the cost of those journeys would be approximately, by looking up fares online. You would divide the cost per day of the pass you would choose, and compare that to what it would cost if you got individual tickets for each travel day. Math is not my strong suit, and I’ve never actually purchased an Italy RailPass, but I do know that in some instances they make economic sense. That probably didn’t help much- sorry!
4. Where can I look up train schedules?
Travelers can choose between Trenitalia, or for high speed routes you can check out Italy’s new private high speed trains at Italo Treno. Take a look at both to compare dates, times and prices. Trenitalia is the national rail service, so it includes all of the national routes. Small, local trains won’t be included.
At the website, click the button that says “English” at the top. Then, on the left, you’ll see your options for searching routes. You can opt for one-way or for return, and you have to put in your starting point, destination, and date.
5. I’m at the train station… now what? (don’t forget to validate!)
At most train stations you will see a very large screen that lists all of the departures. Depending on how early you are, your specific train might not be listed yet, so don’t worry. Make sure you are looking at departures and not arrivals, and find your particular train number and departure time. Trains will be listed by the final destination, so if you happen to be getting off before that, you might get confused if you just look for your destination. It will list the platform you are departing from, so head there.
Don’t forget to validate your ticket. You often don’t have to do this for fast trains that required a reservation—but if you’re uncertain, it’s always best to be on the safe side. The validation machines tend to be all over the station, as well as on the platform; they’re usually yellow. To stamp, put your ticket in the slot, arrows facing in, and push until you hear the stamp. If you don’t do this and you were supposed to, you can get a heavy fine.
Next, ENJOY YOUR JOURNEY.
There are many perks to train travel, and when it makes sense for the itinerary you are on it can actually enhance the experience! I will take a great 1st class train trip over a budget european airline any day! If you’d like some assistance putting together a fantastic Italy vacation, let me know! I would love to chat with you about it.
P.S. I also just finished creating this ideal 2 week Italy vacation itinerary to give you an idea of the type of experience you can have in Italy if perhaps this is your first time, and you want to explore by train. Check it out HERE.