There are many different reasons why it’s a great idea to travel by train in Italy. The train connections between cities are excellent, it’s affordable, and train stations are conveniently located in the city centers. Traveling between cities by car can be more hassle due to the numerous environmental zones and expensive parking lots. If you’re traveling to a region like the Dolomites or Sicily, train travel may not be convenient, and it’s best to read our tips for renting a car in Italy. Train travel is particularly convenient when moving between cities. During our trip, we relied heavily on the Italian railways, and below are all the things you need to know for train travel in Italy.
Tip: There are also buses operating between many cities, which can sometimes be cheaper. Always check the bus connections on Bookaway.com.
The different types of trains in Italy
There are three different types of trains operating in Italy.
High-speed trains operate between major cities such as Milan, Rome, and Florence. These trains allow you to travel quickly from one city to another. Some trains reach speeds of up to 400 km/h (249 mph). Tickets for these trains can be quite expensive, especially if purchased on the day of departure. However, if you book these trains well in advance, you can get a ticket at an affordable price. When booking your ticket, it may not be explicitly stated whether it’s a high-speed train. You can identify these trains by the names Frecciarossa, Frecciargente, and Frecciabianca.
Example: Travel time from Florence to Rome is approximately 1.5 hours.
This is the second fastest train in Italy. It operates at a slightly slower speed and makes more frequent stops, but you still won’t be traveling for a long time. Tickets for intercity trains are more affordable compared to high-speed trains.
Example: Travel time from Florence to Rome is 2.5 to 3 hours.
This is Italy’s equivalent of a local train or commuter train. Regional trains operate at much lower speeds than the trains mentioned above, make more frequent stops, and are therefore cheaper than the other trains. They are suitable for shorter distances, but for longer distances, we recommend taking an intercity or high-speed train.
Example: Travel time from Florence to Rome is 4 to 5 hours.
Book Your Train Tickets in Italy in Advance
You can purchase a train ticket at the station, but it’s also very easy to book them in advance online via Trenitalia.com. During our trip, we bought train tickets both in advance and at the station, and we have to say that booking in advance is a much better option. If you buy a ticket at the station just before departure, the price is often higher than if you had purchased it in advance. Trains can also be full, and you may have to wait hours for the next available train (yes, we speak from experience). Unless you’re traveling a very short distance on a regional train, we recommend always reserving your train ticket in advance. If you still want to buy a ticket at the station, there are ticket machines available where you can easily purchase one. These machines accept both debit cards and cash payments.
Tip: Of course, these pre-booked train tickets may limit your flexibility during your trip. If you prefer to have more freedom, you can choose a fare that allows you to exchange your ticket for another time or date at no additional cost.
Stamping Your Train Ticket at the Station
If you have purchased a ticket at the station for a regional train, you need to validate it using a machine. These machines can be found on the platforms or within the train station, and they are labeled with ‘Convalida’ or ‘Valid your ticket.’ By stamping your ticket, a time and date will be printed on it. If you fail to do this and board the train without a stamped ticket, your ticket is not valid, and you may receive a fine if you’re checked by an inspector. This does not apply to online-purchased train tickets as they already have a time and date printed on them.
Be sure to be on time
It may sound a bit excessive, but it’s wise to be at the station at least 15 minutes before your train departs. Especially at train stations in big cities, it can sometimes take a while to find the right platform. You’re likely carrying a lot of luggage, so there’s no room for a quick sprint either. Moreover, it’s much more relaxed to have some extra time, perhaps to buy a sandwich to eat on the train.
Know where to get off
Italian cities often have multiple train stations. It’s convenient to get off at the station closest to your hotel so that you don’t have to walk a long distance or take another taxi. Therefore, before your trip, save the location of your hotel on Google Maps and check which station is most convenient to disembark. When you’re on the train and approaching your destination, it’s helpful to use Google Maps to track your location. Navigate to the station where you want to get off and select the ‘transit’ icon. This way, you’ll never miss your final stop.