This guide to train travel in Italy will help you navigate the Italian railway system and feel comfortable booking train tickets for your next sightseeing adventure.
Train travel is a great way to see Italy’s incredibly diverse landscape, which ranges from plains and rolling hills covered in vineyards to stunning coastlines and mountains.
It’s fairly easy to travel across Italy by train, but I know it can seem a little overwhelming at first with all the different options and train types.
And since many of you have a lot of questions about train bookings in Italy, I thought I’d put together a guide that hopefully will help. So, let’s start…
Train types in Italy
First thing first, there are three main types of trains in Italy:
High-speed trains are the fastest trains that allow you to travel to Italy’s major cities quickly and comfortably. Their services include assigned seats, ample luggage storage, and wifi, and you can book tickets in advance online. Italo trains and the Frecciarossa, Frecciargento and Frecciabianca trains provided by Trenitalia fall into this category.
Intercity trains connect major cities on long distances, they’re cheaper but a bit slower. They usually have air conditioning and you get an assigned seat in 1st or 2nd class.
Regional trains are what you need if you’re planning to explore smaller towns and villages. In comparison to fast trains, they’re cheap (and their prices tend to be fixed), but they’re also much slower since they have many stops. Because the seats are first-come, first-served, you’re not guaranteed one, especially during peak travel times. Also, there’s rarely air conditioning or first class. They are identified by RV (Regionale Veloce, a bit faster) and R (Regionale, the slowest).
Which train company shall I choose?
There are two train companies operating in Italy: Trenitalia and Italo.
The main difference between the two is that Italo only offers fast trains connecting major cities (like Milan, Rome, Venice, Turin, Florence, Naples), while Trenitalia offers high-speed, intercity, and regional trains. So, if you need to get to small towns and villages, you’ll need to use Trenitalia.
When it comes to high-speed trains, both Italo and Trenitalia offer free wifi and power outlets, as well as a seating option for four people facing each other, which is great for family trips or groups of friends.
Trenitalia’s high-speed fleet consists of Frecciarossa (the fastest train), Frecciargento, and Frecciabianca trains. Tickets come in four different classes – Standard, Premium, Business, Executive (more info here). There are also three main types of fares: Super Economy (no changes, nor refunds allowed), Economy (you can change it by paying the price difference, no refunds), and Base (you can change it by paying the price difference; partial refund allowed).
Italo offers four different service levels: Smart (the cheapest), Comfort, Prima, and Club Executive (further info here). You can choose between Low Cost (no changes nor refunds allowed), Economy (changes and refunds allowed for a fee), and Flex (changes are free, while refunds come with a fee).
Italo is my go-to when visiting big cities because it tends to be cheaper and on time. In general, I guess the choice will mostly depend on where you’re going and the time schedule available. Standard class is good and comfortable with both train companies, and I usually choose the cheapest ticket with some flexibility (for example, the Standard Base with Trenitalia).
Shall I purchase train tickets in advance?
I get asked this a lot, and my answer is always yes! Why wait if you’ve got it all planned out? Booking train tickets in advance is a wise move especially if you are traveling to popular places or during peak season.
Also, when you buy your train tickets in advance, you don’t just save time during your trip, you’ll also get some great deals. You can always opt for flex fares if you need to change plans for whatever reason.
To clarify, only high-speed trains to big cities should be booked in advance (like Milan to Rome, Venice to Florence, etc.). Regional trains, on the other hand, usually have fixed prices, so buying them ahead isn’t necessary or advantageous. In fact, buying regional train tickets in advance can be a problem since they are usually non-refundable and non-changeable.
Is it better to buy train tickets at the station or online?
Personally, I buy all my train tickets online, either on the websites or through the official apps, because it’s just so easy and convenient.
Both the Trenitalia and Italo sites have a section in English; the option to change the language is at the top of the homepage, on the right-hand side. Just remember to type the city name in Italian (eg Venezia, not Venice).
Tickets purchased online don’t need to be validated or printed. You just have to show your phone to the conductor when you’re asked to do so.
Tip: don’t register when buying your train tickets online. Registering is only for Italians and you don’t need an account to buy a ticket. So don’t try to enter your details, you might end up stuck on that registration page forever!
Alternatively, you can get tickets right at the train station. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket counter or using the touch screen kiosks, where you’ll generally find uniformed staff helping you out.
Getting the names of the Italian train stations right
Like airports, Italian train stations have names. Additionally, major cities like Rome, Milan, or Venice have multiple train stations, so you need to know which one you need when you book your train tickets.
These are the names of the main stations in big Italian cities:
- Rome: Roma Termini
- Venice: Venezia Santa Lucia
- Milan: Milano Centrale
- Florence: Firenze Santa Maria Novella
- Turin: Torino Porta Nuova
- Naples: Napoli Centrale
- Cinque Terre: use La Spezia Centrale, it’s the main transportation hub in the area
What shall I do when I am at the train station?
Upon arriving at the train station, look for the big electronic board with all the Partenze (Departures).
For each train that’s leaving, you’ll see the train number, the final destination, and the binario (the platform number). Say you’re traveling between Milan and Florence on Italo train 9947: the board will say “Napoli” next to the train number since that’s its final destination.
Also, the platform number usually appears only a few minutes before departure time, so if you get there early and don’t see it on the board, don’t panic.
In big stations like Roma Termini and Milano Centrale, you’ll have to go through airport-style security gates to get to the platforms – there are no scanners, just controllers who check your tickets.
The importance of validating your train tickets
When you travel on a regional train, make sure you validate your paper ticket before boarding. There are small machines (usually green or yellow) on the way to the platforms where you can put the ticket so it’s stamped with the date and time. You’ll get fined if you don’t validate your ticket!
You don’t need to validate regional tickets that you’ve bought online and printed at home, nor intercity or high-speed tickets as these are valid only for that specific date and train.
What do I do if someone takes my seat on the train?
First of all, remember that your seats are allocated on high-speed and intercity trains only while on regional trains, seating is first-come, first-served. However, it does happen sometimes that someone else is already sitting in your reserved seat, but most of the time you just show your ticket to prove that it’s your seat and they’ll apologize right away and leave.
In the unfortunate event that they refuse to move, talk to the conductor. Don’t forget that sometimes there’s a language barrier, and what seems rude may just be a result of not understanding each other.
Where do I find the conductor in case I need help?
The conductor is usually on the platform when you get on the train. Once the train starts moving, you can either wait for the conductor to come check your tickets or go to the first coach.
What if I miss my train?
This depends on what train it is and what ticket you have.
Regional trains give you a 4-hour window from validation. If it’s a high-speed train, you’ll have to buy a new ticket unless you booked a flexible fare that lets you change it (it’s more expensive, but it’s totally worth it for peace of mind!).
How do I change the name on a train ticket?
It’s not necessary to add the names of everyone on your train ticket, just the person booking it. And even if you are asked to add every passengers’ name, from my experience the conductor never checks them.
Do train stations in Italy have luggage storage facilities?
Yep, all major train stations in Italy have luggage storage facilities. Here are the main ones:
- Rome: KiPoint Roma Termini
- Milan: KiPoint Milano Centrale
- Venice: KiPoint Venezia Santa Lucia
- Florence: KiPoint Firenze Santa Maria Novella
- Naples: KiPoint Napoli Centrale
- Turin: KiPoint Torino Porta Nuova
- La Spezia: Left Luggage La Spezia Centrale
How to avoid scams at train stations in Italy
You’ve got to be cautious walking through a train station in Italy, just like you would anywhere else. Let’s face it, a foreigner carrying luggage and looking a little disoriented is a prime target for a scam, right? Play it cool, look confident, and learn some basic Italian – it will help a lot!
Fake taxi drivers are one of the most common scams. You’ll see people approaching you as soon as you exit the station and asking if you need a taxi. I suggest you stay away from them and get in the official taxi line, even if it’s long…it’ll save you lots of headaches! Also, be sure your taxi is metered, don’t ask for a forfeit price.
You’ll also often see the soon-to-be-helpful person that will lead you to the right platform or help you at the ticket machine. These people are only after your money. Once again, stay away from them and never show your tickets to anyone (you only have to show your ticket to access the platform and to the conductor on the train). If you’re being approached by suspicious people, just say “No thanks” or “Basta!”.
Don’t let scammers discourage you from taking trains in Italy – this could happen anywhere. And remember, there are people out there who are genuinely trying to help.
What to do when there’s a train strike in Italy
No matter how much you plan ahead for your train travel in Italy, you might run into a sciopero dei trasporti (transportation strike). But luckily, strike plans aren’t a secret and they’re often announced well in advance. There’s even a website that lists all upcoming transport strikes. It’s in Italian only, but it’s not so hard to read – just filter for Trasporto Ferroviario under the Settore column.
Also, a sciopero can last from a few hours to all day and can involve the whole local transport system. However, minimum service is usually guaranteed during peak hours (6 am – 9 am and 6 pm – 9 pm).
Where do I put my suitcases when traveling on Italian trains?
First of all, there’s no luggage fee and no weight limit, and you can take your own suitcases on the train.
On regional trains, you can put your suitcases on the racks above your seat or just on the floor next to you.
On high-speed trains, you can put carry-ons and medium-sized suitcases on the shelf above your seat, but anything larger should go on the luggage racks at the end of each coach. You may also find a spot between two sets of seats.
I’ve never had a problem with my suitcases on trains, but if you’re worried, try seating close to the entrance of the train coach or buy a wire lock to secure your bag to the rack. Honestly, though, there’s no need for that.
I hope this guide will help you navigate the Italian train network and buy tickets with confidence. Now, why don’t you take a look at these day trips from Venice by train and start planning some sightseeing adventures?
Pssst… Pin this article for future reference and get in touch if you have any questions about train travel in Itay!
Ciao for now,
Very good summary of train travel in Italy, Valentina. Good tips especially the explanation regarding the types of tickets. When I visited Italy I was surprised at how inexpensive train travel was compared to my own country.
Thanks so much Hazel, glad you find this useful!