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A Complete Guide for Traveling by Train in Italy
Italy’s train network covers large swaths of the country, and train travel has quickly become the preferred mode of transport between cities for both locals and visitors alike.
Train travel in Italy is cheaper and oftentimes faster than flying, and it’s a heck of a lot more environmentally-friendly as well. While driving can be more convenient in Italy’s countryside, no one wants to figure out the hectic parking situation in major cities. Furthermore, most train stations sit conveniently in the city center of bigger metropolises (especially if you see centrale in the name!), which makes accessibility another bonus of train travel.
Italian rail travel got its start back in the 1800s, and it has come a long way since then. Rail lines expanded and became more efficient under the rule of Mussolini, though this progress was paused and even reversed by bombings in WWII. Routes were eventually reconstructed, and Italy's first high-speed train line debuted in 1977. Since then, trains have continued to improve, and taking the train around Italy is now a seamless and comfortable option for seeing the country.
From high-speed trains to slower regional options and privately-run routes to government rail lines, there’s a lot you need to know about traveling by train in Italy. Below you’ll find the ultimate guide to rail travel in Italy, so you can confidently traverse the country by train.
Train companies in Italy
Trains in Italy come in two types: high speed and regional. There are a few major players among the train operators across Italy, Trenitalia and Italo, plus a handful of smaller companies that are worth knowing about, too.
Trenitalia is the country’s government-run train company.
Their high-speed trains (the Le Frecce fleet) connect all of Italy’s major cities. These sleek trains are the newest and most modern and offer passengers comfortable seating options, WiFi and food and beverage service. There are also different ticket tiers to choose from, and assigned seats and climate control on all the high-speed trains. If you are traveling long distances, there are even night trains with different levels of comfort available, from reclining seats to private cabins with beds and bathrooms.
There’s also the Intercity Fleet, which also covers larger towns, just at a slower rate with more stops along the way. There is usually climate control and assigned seating on these trains, though you may have to switch trains along the way. Tickets are usually a bit cheaper with the Intercity Fleet.
Last but not least, Trenitalia also has a Regionale Fleet to connect the smaller cities and towns around the country. These are the oldest and slowest trains from Trenitalia. Seating is not assigned, there are no class distinctions and the temperature in each car is determined by how many windows are open.
Italo is the newer name in Italian train travel. This privately-owned company offers high-speed express trains between Italy’s largest cities. While a few stops are available in between big cities in the northern part of the country, these express trains usually do not service smaller destinations.
Service on high-speed trains is similar across carriers, with comfortable, assigned seating, climate control and luggage storage. Italo offers four different ticket options, which means you can generally find a cheaper ticket with them than with Trenitalia if you buy in advance.
If you plan on exploring outside Italy’s border, DB EuroCity trains connect with nearby countries, including France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Poland. These trains are not typically high-speed, but they are still a quick and convenient way to travel between some of Europe’s largest cities.
In addition to Trenitalia’s Regionale Fleet, various smaller commuter rail services run to the tinier towns and villages around Italy. These trains may also be referred to as Regionale, Regionale Vocale, Interregionale, or Local services.
Trenord operates the Regio-Express, which makes up the bulk of the regional train services in Lombardy and the surrounding regions. Other northern Italian regional train services are operated by SAD in Trentino-Alto Adige, Sistemi Territoriali (ST) in Veneto and Società Ferrovie Udine-Cividale (FUC) in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
In addition, the Ferrovie del Sud Est (FSE) has regional trains serving the Apulia (or Puglia) region of southeastern Italy.
Regional trains generally only offer second-class tickets, and purchasing your fare in advance is not always possible. In addition, on-board amenities vary greatly with regional rail services, so know that taking these trains is a bit of a roll of the dice.
While northern Italy’s small towns are fairly well serviced by regional trains, other areas of the country are harder to get to by train. Certain regions like Tuscany, Sicily and Basilicata are better explored by car or bus.
Popular train destinations in Italy
Reaching Italy’s most bucket-list-worthy destinations is a breeze via train. Here is some inspiration for your upcoming travels.
Venice, with its world-famous canals and gondolas, is one of the most recognizable cities on the planet. Also known as the floating city, Venice is a must-see on your train trip through Italy. This romantic city is a hub in the north, with an impressive collection of architecture, charming bridges over winding canals, and narrow, pedestrian-only streets. Luckily, it's incredibly easy to reach Venice by train. Trenitalia and Italo both offer direct high-speed trains to connect Venice with Milan, Florence, Rome and other big cities.
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Situated in the heart of Italy’s northern Lombardy region, Milan is a sprawling metropolis crowned by the instantly recognizable Duomo di Milano. In addition to the jaw-dropping architecture, Milan is also famous for its fashion, cuisine, and nightlife, making it a must-see for every type of traveler. Milan is one of the most connected cities in Europe, with trains traveling directly to international hubs like Paris and Zurich, plus dozens of large cities across Italy.
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For thousands of years, Bologna has been a central hub of northern Italy. Today, visitors flock here to discover the city’s rich history, cultural attractions, and above all, the food! Culinary traditions like lasagna alla bolognese and tagliatelle al ragu got their start in Bologna, so consuming your weight in pasta is basically a rite of passage here. Getting to Bologna is a breeze, with direct routes on Italo, Trenitalia, and Deutsche Bahn.
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All roads (and rail lines!) lead to Rome. No train trip across Italy would be complete without a stop in Rome, where you’re spoiled with countless historical sites, elegant plazas, and tantalizing gelaterias. Rome is extremely well-connected, with hundreds of high-speed and regional trains linking both Italian and European cities. Trenitalia and Italo offer the most comprehensive selections for traveling to and from Rome.
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For a true taste of Italian culture, make a beeline for Verona. It is best known for being the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and no doubt there is something truly romantic about this riverfront town. Verona is also a must-see for art and opera lovers, though history buffs will also find plenty of Roman ruins to discover as well. Verona is much smaller than many of Italy's other most beloved destinations, making it easy to add in as a day trip or quick weekend getaway. Numerous high-speed and regional routes from Italo and Trenitalia connect Verona to other major Italian cities, and DB Eurocity routes even offer international connections.
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The most scenic train routes in Italy
Taking the train in Italy is much more than just a way to get from point A to B. Some routes are so beautiful that riding the train is an experience in its own right.
Bernina Express (Tirano to St. Mortiz)
Of all the scenic train routes in Italy, the Bernina Express is perhaps the most famous. Starting in northern Italy (Tirano), this stunning route travels up into Switzerland and boasts epic views of alpine scenery, lakes and impressive engineering feats like viaducts and tunnels carved into the mountainsides. This train ride is so stunning that it’s actually a designated UNESCO World Heritage route, and the windows on the train are oversized to give riders the best views possible. There are dozens of trains running this route daily, and the ride lasts about two and a half hours.
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Cinque Terre Express (Levanto to La Spezia)
Though some overachievers choose to hike the hilly route through Cinque Terre, those searching for a more relaxed way of exploring this famous area can take the scenic train ride through the villages. The Cinque Terre Express winds through all five of the ancient Cinque Terre towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. The views from the train will likely entice you to hop off and enjoy the scenery for a few hours, and luckily, there are plenty of trains each day to take you to the next village once you’re ready. But be warned, this route is anything but a hidden secret, and trains can get extremely full. To avoid the crowds, try getting on an early train or staying into the evening.
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How to book train travel in Italy
There are two ways to purchase tickets for train travel in Italy.
Book train tickets online
You can buy your tickets online, and doing so in advance will save you both time and money. No need to worry about waiting in line, dealing with any unexpected fees, or not getting a spot on the train! Because your ticket gets you a designated seat on the train, it is possible that the train you’re eyeing could sell out. In addition, more seat options are available when you book online.
Ticket sales usually start about four months in advance for high-speed and long-distance trains. Purchasing as far out as possible will give you the most ticket options. Economy or super economy tickets are generally the cheapest, though they come with little to no flexibility or cancellation options.
Although booking in advance is generally smart, the exception is for regional trains. There is really no benefit to purchasing tickets in advance other than saving time at the station.
Buy train tickets at the station
Tickets can also be purchased right at the station, either from ticket windows or self-service machines.
Can you buy a train ticket onboard the train?
You cannot purchase a train ticket directly on the train, so be sure to have one in hand (or on your phone) before boarding. If you don’t have a ticket when you board, you’ll likely be stuck with a hefty fine of around €200!
Can you reserve a specific seat on the train?
All high-speed and long-distance trains in Italy require a seat reservation. You will have the option to pick your seat when purchasing your ticket, whether you do so in advance or at the station. Of course, there will be more options available the earlier you book.
Note that if you are traveling with a Eurail or Interrail pass, you will need to pay a small surcharge to make a reservation on high-speed and long-distance trains in Italy. You can do this at the staffed ticket offices at the station or online from the website where you purchased the pass.
Tips for finding deals on train tickets in Italy
The best way to find a deal on Italian train travel is by purchasing your ticket in advance. The further out you book, the more options you’ll find for economy and super economy fares. These cheap tickets don’t have many perks and generally do not offer free changes or cancellations. If that’s something you can live with, this is a great way to save some money.
The class options for high-speed and long-distance train travel can feel overwhelming, but if you’re not a fussy traveler, then the base fare will do just fine! Even the most basic option affords you a pretty high level of comfort, and they’re much cheaper than the business and first-class options.
Another way to save money on Italian train travel is by opting for regional trains whenever possible. There are fewer amenities and they’re much slower, but that also means that they’re way cheaper than the high-speed trains. This may not be the most optimal way to travel, but it will help keep costs down.
If you’re traveling with kiddos under four, there’s no need to buy them a ticket - they can ride for free! There are also discounts available for older children and seniors. Discounts vary by carrier, so be sure to check the fine print before purchasing your tickets.
If you plan on traveling by train frequently in Italy, you may be able to save money by purchasing a rail pass.
Railcards & passes in Italy
There are a few options for rail passes in Italy, and some are better options than others. If you plan on riding frequently or for long periods of time, railcards can be a great way to save money, but pay attention to the cost to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money.
Trenitalia has a few different passes to choose from. The cheapest option starts at €129 and is valid for three train trips within a seven-day window. There are also options for four trips within seven days, seven trips in 15 days, and ten trips in 30 days. There are discounts for youth and senior travelers, and there are three different classes to choose between: easy, comfort and executive.
Eurail and Interrail Passes
If you plan on visiting more countries than Italy while in Europe, the Eurail (for residents outside of Europe) and Interrail (EU residents) passes can be a great option for saving money on train travel. You can choose how many travel days you want to purchase out of a full month or book unlimited travel for months at a time.
Eurail also offers an Italy pass, with options for unlimited train travel for three, four, five, six or eight days out of a month. You can choose between first or second class, and there are discounts for children, youth and seniors.
It is important to note that these passes do not include seat reservations, so you will need to pay an additional €10 to reserve a seat on each train ride. Note that seat reservations are required, so you will not be able to avoid this cost.
Types of train services available in Italy
Are there high-speed trains in Italy?
Both Trenitalia and Italo have fleets of high-speed trains connecting the country’s larger cities.
If you are traveling long distances with Trenitalia, you’ll notice their high-speed trains are referred to as Le Frecce (the arrows). There are a few different types of high-speed trains with Trenitalia, each with its own name (Frecciarossa, Frecciobianca, etc). This may seem a bit confusing to passengers, but worry not. These distinctions are based on technical specs that riders don’t need to think about.
Whether you’re traveling with Trenitalia or Italo, all high-speed trains in Italy have similar amenities, including luggage storage areas, reserved seating, WiFi and climate control. Some offerings vary by ticket class, but no matter which ticket you purchase you can look forward to a comfortable journey.
Are there first-class seats available on Italian trains?
Both Italo and Trenitalia offer a range of ticketing options to choose from.
Basic options include a specific seat reservation, a small table, an electrical outlet and overhead luggage storage. Executive level ticket holders have the most privileges, with perks like station lounges, preboarding, and larger and more comfortable seats. There are usually one or two options in between the lowest ticket option and the highest, so no matter your budget, you’ll be able to find an option you feel comfortable with.
Are there overnight trains in Italy?
For longer journeys around Italy, you can hop on a Trenitalia overnight (also called Intercity Notte) train. This is a great way for budget travelers to save on hotel costs, and even the most basic ticketing option on overnight trains is pretty darn cozy!
Just like other long-distance trains, you’ll need to make a seat reservation to ride the night trains. The cheapest option is to purchase a basic seat that reclines (almost) all the way back. You could also splurge on a sleeper booth for up to four people, a sleeper cabin, or even a private room with your own bathroom.
Can you take a train to the airport in Italy?
A few major Italian cities have train services to and from the airport. Cities with a designated rail service to and from the airport include Rome, Milan, Pisa, and Turin. These services are usually run on regional routes, so purchasing a ticket in advance is not necessary.
Getting to the train station in Italy
Italian train stations are usually located in city centers, so you’ll likely be able to walk there depending on where you are staying. However, if you’re outside of the central area, you can take a taxi to the station. This is also a good option if you are traveling with a lot of luggage - all that Italian cobblestone can really do a number on luggage wheels!
Stations are comfortable places to hang out as you wait for your train, and most have at least one cafe. There are also usually restrooms, lounges for first-class passengers and luggage storage facilities. While train travel is incredibly safe in Italy, it’s good practice to beware of pickpockets while at the station.
High-speed and long-distance trains
If you are traveling on one of Italy’s high-speed or long-distance trains, plan to arrive at the station at least 40 minutes in advance. Once you arrive, look for a large screen with departure information to find which platform you need to be on. This may seem overwhelming, but simply look at your ticket number and final destination and match it with the screen. If you are early, the screen may not list the platform number (binari) yet—they usually do so about 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
Once you find the way to the platform, look for another screen showing info about the carriage numbers so you can board easily without wandering through the whole train to find your reserved seat. Your ticket and the train will show a carriage and seat number. It’s important to note that you must sit in your reserved seat. This may seem obvious, but if we can save you the embarrassment of being yelled at in Italian by the train conductor, then it’s worth the reminder!
If you’re taking a regional train, plan to show up at the station at least 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Information about departure times and platform numbers are displayed on large screens. Look at your ticket number and final destination and match it with the information displayed on the screen.
If you have a physical ticket for a particular route but not a specific train (with the date and time specified), you will need to validate your ticket before boarding. There are small machines on the platforms for validating your ticket before you board. Ticket validation is becoming more and more obsolete, but it’s still worth double checking so you don’t wind up with a hefty fine. If you have a mobile ticket, there’s no need to worry about validating it.
Getting on the train in Italy
You won’t need to show your ticket while boarding a train in Italy, but you will need to pay attention to your seat and carriage number if you are traveling on a high-speed or long-distance train. Your ticket will have this information on it, as will a screen on the platform indicating which area you should board based on your carriage. Once the train arrives, each carriage number will be displayed above or on the side of the doors. From there, you can enter and seek out your designated seat number.
If you have luggage, you can store small items in the overhead compartment or underneath your feet. Larger items should be placed in the designated luggage compartments located at the front and back of each carriage.
If you are traveling via regional train, there are no reserved seats. Simply validate your ticket (this is important!), hop on, and find a place to sit (or stand). There is no luggage storage on the smaller trains, so you will have to keep it near you as you ride.
Rather than showing your ticket as you board, a train conductor will make the rounds to check tickets once the train has departed. Once you hear them calling out for tickets, have your ticket ready to show as they pass. No need to worry about showing identification unless you have a Eurail or Interrail pass.
On-board experience on Italian trains
Italian high-speed and long-distance trains are a comfortable way to travel. Carriages usually have a variety of seating options, which you will choose when you purchase your tickets. There are options to sit side by side, or across from another passenger. If you are traveling in a group, there are some spots with four seats (two seats facing another two seats with a small table in the middle). It is important that you sit in your assigned seat! Seats are reclinable, and there are pull-down trays or tables in front of every seat.
On regional trains, there are no designated seats. Seats are not generally reclinable, and you may have a hard time finding a place to sit depending on the time of day and the route you are taking.
Food & beverages
Food and beverage service is available on high-speed and long-distance trains. There is either trolly service or a dining cart (or both). You can purchase snacks, meals and a variety of beverages while you ride, which can really enhance your experience on long trips. Of course, if you’re looking to save some money, you can bring your own food and drinks onboard.
Most Italian trains have at least one restroom onboard, though the size and quality can vary depending on the age and route of the train. High-speed and long-distance trains tend to have fairly modern bathrooms, with flush toilets, sinks, soap and paper towels. Regional trains are a bit dicier, but if it’s an emergency, at least you have something available!
For regional trains, don’t expect much in the way of amenities other than (maybe) a place to sit and some great views.
High-speed and long-distance trains offer a wide variety of amenities based on your ticket type. However, you can enjoy free WiFi, reclining seats and climate control regardless of which fare you purchase. Levels of service and amenities vary from company to company, but more expensive seats tend to include perks like leather seats, more leg room and more privacy.
Top train routes in Italy
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