Italy’s train system made easy!
November 11, 2021/in Blog/by admin
Trains are a great way to get around Italy, but it can be hard to navigate all of the options out there now or keep up with the latest rules on how to book, how to get the best price, and how to purchase tickets directly from an app on your phone. There have also been some changes in airport transport as both Florenace and Bologna now have tram service from their central train stations directly to the airport now. So read on to get caught up with the latest!
COVID UPDATE: it is required to show proof of vaccination, a negative test, or proof of having recovered from Covid before boarding InterCity and high-speed trains (not for regionals). Sometimes it's the ticket-taker who checks, and sometimes nobody asks, but you should have your "digital green pass" or vaccination card handy in case they do.
1) ITALIAN TRAINS: TRENITALIA vs. ITALO
TRENITALIA: Most Italian trains are operated by Trenitalia. The fastest trains are the "Freccia" series (= "arrow" in Italian), with the Frecciarossa, Frecciabianca, and Frecciargento offering service to all corners of the country now. They show up on the big board as "AV" for Alta Velocita (high-speed). They can travel up to 300 kph and make very few stops between cities. InterCity (IC) trains are the next level down. They travel along the main rail line (Milan-Venice-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples) and cost more than regional trains but they are much faster and make fewer stops. You must book a seat on the Freccia trains and it will be automatically assigned to you when you buy your ticket, then it is valid only on that particular departure. You can make changes to your AV ticket up until the time of departure at the booths by the platform, but you can NOT get a refund for a ticket after the train has departed. If you miss your reserved train you can get on this next one, but you should immediately seek out the conductor and you will have to pay a small fine and reserve yourself a new seat. Reservations are optional on InterCity trains and cost just a few euros, so it’s worth reserving a seat if you are traveling in the high season or on a busy travel day, otherwise you may find yourself standing in a corridor for the duration of your trip! If you don’t reserve a seat, you may sit anywhere that’s not marked as reserved. All AV and most IC trains have a restaurant/bar car on board. There is free wifi on most AV trains but it often doesn't work or it's very slow, so you shouldn't count on it too much! You can access movies on your phone using their "Frecce Portale," so see more info about that here.
ITALO: There is also a privately-owned high-speed rail service called "Italo." The trains run on the same main line (Salerno-Naples-Rome-Florence-Bologna-Milan-Torino OR Venice) and have competitive prices, so check with both companies before you buy. The Italo trains usually have better wifi as well as free drinks and even movies in the higher classes (there are 4 classes that they call "Ambiences"). For information and reservations see their website here.
Note: Both Italo and Trenitalia high-speed trains stop at a variety of train stations in Milan, Rome and Venice, so take note when transferring! In Rome the trains stop at both Roma Tiburtina and Roma Termini, so you will have to catch a train, bus or taxi if you have a connection at another station.
Local “Trenitalia” Trains: The fastest of the local trains are the Diretto (D), followed by InterRegional (IR), which stop mainly in larger cities. The slowest trains are the Espresso (E) and finally the Regionale (R). These trains stop in every village and are by far the cheapest option. There are no reservations so you just buy a ticket and hop on any train you like (but note: the ticket is only good for the day on which it was purchased; if you decide to travel on another day you have to change the ticket at the counter).
Purchasing Tickets: You can buy tickets last-minute at the train station at automatic ticket machines (English is available) or else at the counter (Italo has a separate section for ticket purchase). Some of the machines don’t take cash, so make sure you have an ATM or credit card handy [be wary of people who want to “help” you at these machines in Milan or Rome. Some are good citizens but others may pester you for money, or may even be pick-pockets!]. Now, of course, most people buy their tickets ahead of time online or using an app on their phone. Both Trenitalia and Italo have their own apps, or The Trainline is a really good option since they'll show you both of the Italian companies' offerings on the same page, and they also have train information for France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and the U.K.! Click here for more information. Regional train prices don't change over time while the high-speed ones definitely get more expensive the longer you wait to buy them, so if you're on a budget and are sure of your dates, book early. Finally, in an emergency you can purchase your tickets on the train -- but it will cost you double the price of a normal ticket (plus an additional fine).
Validating your Ticket: Before boarding a local train you must validate your ticket in one of the green/gray machines posted around the train station. Insert one end of the ticket into the slot and the stamp is printed with an audible “click.” You could be fined if the conductor sees that you did not validate (convalida in Italian) your ticket, and they are not always lenient with tourists! You don’t have to validate high-speed tickets since they are only valid for that particular journey. If you've bought your ticket online or on an app you don't need to validate it; just be ready to show the QR code to the agents when they check.
First & Second-Class Tickets: Intercity trains and some local trains use First and Second class, while Eurostar now offers four classes (Standard, Premium, Business, Executive). Despite this new class system, you will find that ticket machines and even the trains themselves often still offer “primo” and “secondo.” Italo trains have three “Ambiences” (Smart, Prima and Club), with options for special “cinema” cars or “silence” cars. Most Italians travel second class, so you will find the compartments more crowded and harder to find seating in. The difference in comfort is relatively minor between first and second-class compartments on Eurostar and Intercity trains. If you are not traveling at a peak time (i.e. weekends or during weekday commute hours) second-class seating is typically fine. Please note that if you do not specify class type when purchasing your tickets at the train station, the ticket issuer will automatically issue you a second-class ticket.
** Senior (60+) Discounts: Italo offers a 20% discount for anyone over 60 years old, while Trenitalia only offers discounts if you buy a card (la Carta Argenta) in advance at a ticket counter. Valid one year and good for discounts of 15% on domestic trains and up to 25% on international trains, it costs €30 for those 60–75, and it’s free for anyone over 75.
Binario/Platform Numbers: The train platform (binario) number is posted on schedule boards and TV monitors in the station. You need to know the final destination of your train because they are listed by destination only. For detailed information, see the timetables posted on large display cases around the station (at left). Look for the departure time of your train, make sure that your station is listed (sometimes it will say “ferma in tutte le stazioni” which means stops in all stations), and then look for the platform (abbreviated as ‘bin’). Double-check this with the big board, however, since platforms do change.
Ticket Check: the train conductor doesn’t always make it to your seat to check/stamp your ticket. Do not try and use the tickets again since they are no longer valid after they have been validated (for local trains) or after your train has departed.
Smoking On Trains: All trains in Italy are now smoke-free, so you can breathe easy!
Train Conductors: they are usually very helpful and some speak a little English. Go to them if you have a problem, rather than waiting for them to come to you (you may avoid a fine this way!).
STAY UP WITH THE LATEST CHANGES TO THE RAILWAY & TRAM SYSTEM:
* For the past few years security has been stepped up at the Rome, Milan and Florence train stations, so you have to show your ticket to police before they let you onto the platforms. You can read more about that here.
* Florence now has tram service that connects the airport with the main Santa Maria Novella tratin station. See more about that here.
* To get to the Pisa Airport you no longer take the train from Pisa Centrale since there is now an elevated tramway called the "people mover." It's quick and easy to use, and you can read more about that here. And if you're taking a BUS from Florence to the Pisa Airport make sure you know where the bus stop is! The old Terravision company doesn't run anymore and some of the buses depart from behind the station, a good 10-minute walk. More on that here.
* The Bologna Airport also has a new tram service that links Bologna Centrale to the airport, so give it a try next time you're in town. See here for more information. The Bologna train station also has moved most of its high-speed train lines deep underground, so give yourself extra time to get there (you have to go down a long series of escalators) and don't be surprised if the train pulls in and you're underground!! It's easy to think it's not your stop if you don't see the usual above-ground platform. More on that here.
Things change all the time so just drop us a line if you have questions and we'll help you travel in style!