LivingTravelTaking the train in Italy

Taking the train in Italy

Traveling by train in Italy is a convenient and inexpensive way to see much of the country, especially its major cities and towns. The national railway system started in the 19th century and was greatly expanded under the fascist regime of Mussolini, who “made the trains run on time.” The bombing during World War II devastated the rail lines, but reconstruction occurred under the postwar Marshall Plan. The first high-speed trains debuted in the 1970s and today Italy continues, at least little by little, to modernize and expand its rail system.

Traveling by train is often the best option for visiting large and medium-sized cities, where driving is stressful and parking is scarce and expensive. In major cities, the train station is usually in the city center or right on the perimeter. In medium and small cities, especially those with higher elevation (such as Siena or Orvieto, for example), the station is at a lower elevation and is connected to the center via bus, funicular or a short walk or taxi.

It is worth noting that if you want to see the Italian countryside and tour its more remote villages, trains are not the most ideal option, as many cities do not have nearby stations. And because train tracks often have embankments on both sides, you don’t always have an idyllic view of the countryside from your window.

Types of trains in Italy

With the exceptions mentioned, all trains are part of the national railway line, Trenitalia.

Frecce fast trains
Frecce are Italy’s fast trains that run only between the main cities. Seat reservations on Frecce trains are mandatory and are generally included in the ticket price. Tickets for the Frecciarossa, Frecciargento and Frecciabianca high-speed lines (Frecciarossa is the fastest) are available on the Trenitalia website – you’ll notice immediately when looking for fast trains to be significantly more expensive and, well, faster than others Trenitalia trains There are different travel classes available, but even the basic service from Freccia is clean and comfortable.

Trenes Intercity e Intercity Plus

Intercity trains are relatively fast trains that run throughout Italy, stopping in large cities and towns. First and second class service is available. First-class coaches offer slightly better seats and are generally less crowded. Seat reservations are mandatory on Intercity Plus trains, and the fare is included in the ticket price. Seat reservations can also be made for most intercity trains.

Regionale (Regional Trains)
These are the local trains, which often run around work and school hours. They are cheap and generally reliable, but seats can be difficult to find on the main routes. Many regional trains only have second-class seats, but if they are available, consider purchasing a first-class ticket. It’s less likely to be crowded, especially during travel times, and it doesn’t cost much more. We have to be honest: Regionale trains, while cheap and frequent, can range from clean and comfortable (with air conditioning in hot climates) to dirty and even smelly, with bathrooms you may not want to step on.

This is not always the case, but know that Regionale trains are a bit of a dice roll.


Italo , a private railway company, operates fast trains on routes between several major cities. In recent years, it has bitten into the Trenitalia business, particularly where it competes with Freccia trains. Italo has an extremely modern fleet of clean and comfortable trains, with classes of service ranging from Smart (standard) to Club Executive (VIP class).

Some small private railway companies serve cities in an area like Ente Autonomo Volturno which has routes from Naples to places like the Amalfi coast and Pompeii or the Ferrovie del Sud Est which serves the south of Puglia.

Find your destination in the train schedules

Train times are displayed at train stations, both for departing (partenze) and arriving (arrivi). Most train stations have a large plaque or a small television that shows trains that will be arriving or leaving soon and which track they use. Even if your train appears on the screen, you may have to wait a while before seeing the track listed and heading to the correct platform.

Buy an Italian train ticket

There are several ways to buy a train ticket in Italy or before you go:

  • Look up timetables and buy train tickets online and view train times on Trenitalia or Italo. This is our preferred method of purchasing tickets, which you can print or save to your smartphone to show the driver.
  • 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 the class of tickets ( prime or secondary ).
  • Use a ticket vending machine if the station has them. These are fairly easy to use and you can avoid long lines at the ticket window, but you may have to pay cash.

Note: Unless you’re really doing things last minute, we recommend purchasing your tickets online.

To travel on regional trains, keep in mind that a train ticket buys you transportation on a train, it does not necessarily mean that you will get a seat on that train. If you find that your train is full and you cannot find a seat in second class, you can try to find a driver and ask if your ticket can be upgraded to first class.

Train Travel FAQ: Should I buy a rail pass to travel by train in Italy?

Board your train

Once you have a ticket, you can head to your train. In Italian, tracks are called binari (track numbers are listed under bin on the output board). At the smaller stations where trains pass through the station, you will have to go underground using the sottopassagio, or underpass, to get to a track other than Binary One or Track Number One. At larger stations like Milano Centrale , where trains arrive at the station instead of passing, you will see the trains head-on, with signs on each track indicating the next expected train and its departure time.

But before you go to your train, validate that train ticket! If you have a regional train ticket or a ticket for one of the small private lines (or any ticket without a specific train number, date and time), just before boarding your train, look for the green and white machine (or in some cases the old-style yellow machines) 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 trip. There are severe penalties 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.

Note that if you have an electronic or PDF ticket, or a printed ticket with a QR code, there is no need to validate it, just show it to the conductor when you pass on the train.

If you don’t have an assigned seat, just hop into one of the train cars for your class of travel. There are usually shelves above the luggage seats, or dedicated shelves near the ends of each coach for your larger luggage. Please note that you will not find porters at the station or waiting on the track to help you with your luggage, you will have to take it to the train yourself.

It is customary to greet other passengers when you sit down. A simple buongiorno will work fine. If you want to know if a seat is vacant, just say Occupied? or E release? .

At your destination

Train stations are bustling places, especially in big cities. Be careful with your luggage 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 are looking for a taxi, go outside the station to the taxi rank or bus stops. In cities with metro (subway) systems, there is usually a metro station within the train station.

Frequently asked questions about train travel:

  • Can I buy train tickets online?
  • How do I validate my train ticket?
  • When should I buy my train tickets?

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