Train travel in Italy is cheap compared to surrounding countries. But there's a catch: major rail lines in Italy tend to have a vast ridership and seats during "rush hours" can be difficult to find on Italian regional trains. We can offer tips that will get you over this hurdle. But first, the basics on train travel in Italy.
Italy Train Routes MapTraveling by train is usually the best option for visiting large and medium-sized cities. Where can you go on the Italian train? Check this Italy Rail Map on Europe Travel.
Types of Trains in Italy
We'll list the types of trains by cost and speed, expensive and fast trains first.
Frecce and Eurostar (ES or Treni Eurostar Italia)
Frecce and Eurostar Italia are Italy's fast trains, not to be confused with the Eurostar that plies the English channel (the Italian Eurostar was first to claim the name). Seat reservations on Frecce and Eurostar Italia trains are mandatory and usually included in the ticket price. Eurostar Italia trains have mostly been replaced by the Frecce series that serve major cities and you'll see them designated on the Trenitalia web site as Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, and Frecciabianca, however on the departure board at the station they may still be designated by ES.
Intercity and Intercity Plus trains
Intercity are relatively fast trains that run the length of Italy, stopping at cities and large towns. First and second class service is available. First class coaches offer slightly better seats and are generally less populated. Seat reservations are compulsory on the Intercity Plus trains, and the fee is included in the ticket price. Seat reservations can be made for most Intercity trains, too.
Regionale (Regional Trains)
These are the local trains, often running around work and school schedules. They are cheap and usually reliable, but seats can be hard to find on major routes. Many regional trains have only second class seats, but if available, consider first class, asking for Prima Classe per favore, it's less likely to be full especially during commute times and doesn't cost much more.
Italo, a private rail company, runs fast trains on routes between a few of the major cities too.
Finding your destination on the train schedules
In train stations there are both white and yellow/orange train schedules displayed. For departing trains, check the yellow/orange colored poster. It will tell you the route, the major intermediate stops, the the times the trains run. Be sure to check the notes column; expect schedule changes for Sundays and holidays (there are generally fewer trains that run on Sundays). Most train stations have a large board or small television listing trains that will arrive or depart soon and which track they use.
Buying an Italian Train Ticket
There are a number of ways to buy a train ticket in Italy or Before You Go:
- Go to a ticket window at the station equipped with the time and destination of the train you want to take, the number of tickets you need, and ticket class (primo or secondo).
- Use a ticket machine if the station has them. These are pretty easy to use, and you can avoid long lines at the ticket window but you may need to pay in cash.
- Buy train tickets online and see train schedules online at Trenitalia or Italo.
- Buy Frecce and Eurostar Italia e-tickets online (in US dollars) from Select Italy, a US-based company. Go to Select Italy train tickets page to check schedules and buy tickets with seat reservations. This may be an easier option for online purchases. Italo train tickets can also be bought online in advance through Select Italy.
- If you're traveling on a Freccia or Eurostar Italia train, remember that seat reservations are mandatory. It's also possible, and sometimes mandatory, to make seat reservations for IC trains.
For travel on regional trains, note that a train ticket buys you transportation on a train, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a seat on that train. If you find that your train is crowded and you can't find a seat in second class, you may try to find a conductor and ask if your ticket can be upgraded to first class.
Train Travel FAQ: Should I Buy a Rail Pass for Train Travel in Italy?
Boarding your Train
Once you have a ticket, you can head out to your train. In Italian, the tracks are called binari (track numbers are listed under bin on the departure board). In smaller stations where the trains go through the station you'll have to go underground using the sottopassagio or under passage to get to a track that isn't Binario uno or track number one. In larger stations like Milano Centrale, where the trains pull into the station rather than passing through, you'll see the trains head-on, with signs on each track indicating the next expected train and its departure time.
Find out more about how to figure out when and where your train leaves with this interactive sample Train Departure Board.
But before you go to your train--validate that train ticket! If you have a regional train ticket (or any ticket without a specific train number, date, and time), just before you board your train, find the green and white box (or in some cases the old-style yellow machines) like the one shown in the upper right photo and insert the end of your ticket. This prints the time and date of the first use of your ticket, and makes it valid for the journey. There are stiff fines for not validating your ticket. Validation applies to regional train tickets or any ticket that does not have a specific date, time, and seat number on it.
Once you find your train, just board it. You will probably have to show your ticket to a conductor once during your journey so keep it where you can get to it. Usually there are racks above the seats for luggage. Sometimes there are dedicated shelves near the ends of each coach for your larger baggage. Note that you will not find porters in the station or waiting by the track to help you with your luggage, you will need to get your luggage onto the train yourself.
It's customary to greet fellow passengers when you sit down. A simple buon giorno will do nicely. If you want to know if a seat is vacant, simply say Occupato? or E libero?.
At Your Destination
Train stations are bustling places, especially in large cities. Be careful about your baggage and wallet. Don't let anyone offer to help you with your luggage once you are off the train or offer you transportation. If you're looking for a taxi, head outside the station to the taxi stand.
Most train stations are centrally located and surrounded by hotels. It's easy to adapt a carefree approach to traveling, especially in the off season.
Train Travel FAQ:
- Can I Buy Train Tickets Online?
- How Do I Validate My Train Ticket?
- Should I Buy an Italy Rail Pass?
- When Should I Buy My Train Tickets?
Enjoy your Italian train travel. Never traveled by train in Europe? See a Flash Video: Riding the Rails in Europe.