Italian trains explained

Anna McNiel
September 23, 2010

For many travelers new to Europe, the world of train travel can be confusing, and when you add a foreign language to the mix, it is easy to feel defeated. There is always the looming fear that you will accidentally do something wrong and be suddenly faced with an Italian-speaking conductor who must try to make sense of your desperate excuses. Worries, be gone! Here is the Italian train system explained with some helpful tidbits to make your train travel (figuratively) smooth.



Eurostar: Fast

Eurostar trains travel between regional capitals. A seat reservation is mandatory and included with your ticket purchase. In Italy, the Eurostar is called the Freccia Rossa (‘Red Arrow'), and you fork out the euro for the pleasure of arriving in your destination FAST! However, it is not unusual for all seats to sell out, or all seats in the (only slightly) more affordable second class to sell out. One-way from Florence to Rome €44 (1 hour, 35 minutes); Venice €42 (2 hours); Milan €52 (1 hour, 45 minutes).


Intercity: Medium

Intercity trains are a comfortable step down from the Eurostar. Not as fast, they stop at more stations along the route, but they are not slow. These trains are the best friend of the Eurail pass holder, as they require only a small supplement (€3), and only if you want to book a seat. Unfortunately, Intercity trains are no longer scheduled at convenient times and can rarely be used for day trips to major cities. One-way from Florence to Rome €28 (2hours, 30 minutes); Milan €27.50 (3 hours); Venice €22.50 (3 hours).


Regional: Slow

These trains stop at all stations. Italians frequently use them to commute to school or work and so they can often be crowded. There are no seat reservations, so these trains never sell out. They are definitely an Italian experience and very easy on the wallet, even if you may have to sit in an inter-car passageway.  Journeys to take with regional trains include Pisa €5.80 (1 hour); Viareggio €6.70 (1 hour, 30 minutes); Rome €16.95 (4 hours, 10 minutes, recommended for the adventurous!)


Plan and save

Train travel can be either a bit expensive or slow. Saving money comes from proper organization. On Intercity and Eurostar trains, there are discounts for advanced booking: you get 30 percent off if you book 15 days or more in advance (for example, a 30 percent discount will save you €16 on a one-way ticket to Milan), and a 15 percent discount for bookings at least seven days in advance. Advanced reservations are limited, so the earlier you book, the better chance you have of getting a discounted ticket.


Buying the ticket

There are three options for purchasing your train ticket: (1) at the train station's ticket office, (2) at the train station from the touch-screen machines, or (3) from a TrenItalia-affiliated travel agency. If you can, avoid the first option: the lines are long and most of the staff speak very little English. The machines are easy to use. They ‘speak' six languages and accept cash or credit. On the other hand, travel agencies are convenient because there is rarely a line for buying tickets. However, there will likely be additional fees so be sure to ask if there are any before you purchase.


To avoid any misunderstanding with the ticket inspector, it is essential that you stamp your ticket in one of the yellow machines at the platform. The stamp marks the time and date on your ticket and makes it valid for that day. If you forget to stamp your ticket, you will be fined as if you had no ticket at all."

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