Travel in Italy by Train

When visiting Italy on a longer trip, it’s likely you’ll hop on a train at some point. Train travel is a local favorite and is something I still love about living in Italy! It can be really budget-friendly, easy, and actually quite comfortable when done right.  Traveling in Italy by train is actually one of the best ways to go to get around from city to city.

Obviously, it depends on how far you are going, you might prefer to take a flight for a long track, but train travel in Italy does let you fit in a lot of easy day trips on your trip to Italy. Let’s go ahead and cover some of the basics of Italy trains.

Regional vs High-Speed

In Italy, apart from the city metro, you’ll come across primarily two types of trains: Regional ones, and High Speed. These trains are managed by different companies, but the regional ones are primarily operated by Italy’s rails system Frecciarossa.

Regional trains are often smaller, and slower, but connect the smaller cities throughout the region with the bigger cities. Instead, the High-Speed trains, more modern and faster, will skip small stops and connect larger cities throughout the country.

Regional trains run on a fairly set-in-stone schedule, running every 20 minutes- an hour depending on the track they are running. These have set prices, that will not change whether you book a month in advance or five minutes before.  They also do not have assigned seats so it is first come first served, careful because they can get a little packed.

These regional trains are the ones you will want to take for a quick day trip, say from Rome to Tivoli or Orvieto, Turin to Alba, Milan to Como.

High – Speed Trains on the other hand are just that, faster. They are usually more common when hopping from Rome to Florence, or Rome to Milan, longer trips. The price of the ticket is more, and it will increase in price the closer you get to departure, so you might want to buy early.

Different High Speed

In Italy, there are actually two companies that operate high-speed trains in Italy. Frecciarossa, which is the national company, and Italo, a private train company.

Frecciarossa has different lines of trains so you may sometimes see the name Frecciabianco etc. But overall, these are the classic high-speed train. Prices of tickets can vary, and if you make an account via their website, you can take advantage of student discounts.

Little pro tip: if you are signing up for the Trenitalia website, they might ask you for and address of birth, and it has to be in Italy. No clue why but this glitch used to confuse us. Finally, we realized you can put ANY address in, and it will accept it. So just pick your current stay in Italy.

Frecciarossa trains can vary in comfort, but I have to say personally I am more a fan of Italo trains.

Italo offers the same main routes as Frecciarossa, but can often have better prices, and promos often throughout the year. They have a loyalty program which you should definitely sign up for if you are living in Italy.

Italo trains tend to be more comfortable, than freccia, and if you go the extra upgrade for the first class you can get extra space and snacks. Usually, the price difference is so little it is worth it!

Other than comfort, and prices, there aren’t huge differences between the two, it’s just that I have personally become a loyal Italo fan.

In the Station & On the Train

 If you are buying a high-speed train ticket, you will probably want to buy these online in advance, but if you are booking a spontaneous ticket, or grabbing a regional train ticket, you can buy it right in the station.

At the station, you’ll always see large timetables telling you the arrivals and departures, and eventual delays. Be sure to note, these tables name the final destination of the train, so if you are looking for yours, check that the time and train number coincide with your own.

Right nearby these timetables, before you head to the binari or tracks, you’ll see a number of automatic ticket machines. To buy a freccia or regional you can go to any of the white ones with green and red decoration. Here you can buy your ticket.

Italo tickets look for the all-red machines.

Alternatively, there will always be a help desk both for Italo and Freccia, including regional. Here you can buy a ticket directly from a person if you feel more comfortable.

A note for visitors: Buying from the machines can sometimes be intimidating because it happens quite often there may be some gypsies hanging around nearby. They will either try to trick you by offering to do the machine for you as assistants or will take the money straight from the change drawer the second it drops. This particularly happens in Milan and Rome. Hold your wallet close, say no strongly, and if in doubt go to the help desk.

Ticket Validation

High-speed tickets are only valid for the train you bought the ticket for, regional tickets however are flexible. A regional ticket bought online allows you to use it for the exact train or one within the hour. Then if you buy it in person, it is actually able to be used for a few months.

You will need to validate your regional tickets so the conductor knows it’s been used only for this one. You need to do this before you hop on the train, at one of the odd little green egg-shaped machines found at the end of the tracks.

If you don’t do this, either you will get a nice train manager who will clip it and write the date for you with no problem, or you will get a mean one who will make you pay the fine. Usually, the fine is twice the original ticket price.

The responsible adult who doesn’t want you to sue me says ALWAYS VALIDATE YOUR TICKET. The one student living in Italy on a budget says… Well, the fine isn’t that bad if you get caught. This one is all on you guys. But I will say DO buy a ticket, don’t get on with anything.

On The Train

If you take a regional train, there are no assigned seats, so you will have to wander to find one. There is space for your luggage above your head but it isn’t very big. If you travel with large suitcases, you’ll need to find a spot with enough space to squeeze them between the seats. Also, there is not really security on these trains, so you won’t want to leave your luggage or belongings far from you.

Regional trains will sometimes have a bathroom, but not always, and I can’t say it will always be clean, nor even lock.  They also will sometimes have plugs, but not always, and they don’t always work.

Instead, High-Speed trains have assigned seats, with both space above your head, and dedicated shelves to lay your baggage. These trains are monitored so you can rest more assured your items will be safe. They have bathrooms in nearly every car, which are in good shape. These trains have multiple plugs, and usually Wi-Fi for your trip.

When is it best to Travel in Italy by train?

Honestly – always! This is one of the most common ways of travel in Italy. But I will say it is ideal for day trips, regional trains can take you to so many places. Then when it comes to longer routes, says Turin to Rome, it is true the flight might be shorter but the cost may be more, and since the airports are outside the city center, it can be tedious. Instead, a train will get you from center to center and that is what I love about travel in Italy by train, it’s easy and convenient!

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And if you are looking for more help on your journey of making Italy home or looking for local insight to plan the best trip, get in touch, let me help you experience authentic Italy.