Without a car, I regularly travel through Italy by train. That includes taking regional trains to get to smaller towns or short distances, and fast speed trains to travel between major Italian cities. I have compared companies and routes for years in order to write a guide on how to buy train tickets in Italy.
While the time is obviously slower than flying to Milan for example, when you factor in getting to and from the airport and arriving early enough for check-in and security, train travel often takes the same total time door-to-door.
So how do you get on the Italian train bandwagon?
Five ways to buy train tickets in Italy:
Trenitalia: the largest train company with the most options is TrenItalia. You can create a free account with Trenitalia to purchase tickets online with a credit card or PayPal. On the main page, you can change the language to English by clicking on the Italian flag in the upper right and selecting the British flag instead.
Insert your starting station and destination, noting if it is one way or round trip. Select the calendar date and time and you will see the results from that time and later on the next page.
On the results page, you will also see the journey time, transfers needed and cost. I prefer as direct a train as possible and avoid transferring if I can, even if this ticket comes at a higher cost. Trenitalia includes both regional and high-speed trains so checking the travel time is really critical before making your choice.
Italo: Italo Treno is a TrenItalia competitor. Italo only offers high-speed trains between select Italian cities. If you are traveling between major destinations such as Milan, Torino, Florence, Naples, Venice, and Rome, Italo may be more competitive than TrenItalia.
Because Italo is trying to compete, they also sometimes offer coupon codes to buy discounted train tickets. I recommend signing up for their free newsletter (only in Italian) to be notified of sales or carefully checking the website to see if there are any promo codes.
To use their system, select your departure city and arrival from the drop-down menu, pick the dates and select a time range if you like, then enter the promo code if applicable. On the next page, you’ll see your departure options by time and price. After selecting your outward bound train, you can see the return tickets on the next screen.
No account is necessary, you can simply enter the passenger information and the payment details on the final screen. However, it is safer to create one in case you need to update or retrieve something later. Note the confirmation code because this will be how you can later retrieve your reservation and will also be the only detail that the ticket controller will need on the Italo train.
Note: train tickets in Italy are a bit like plane tickets because they tend to get more expensive as you approach the departure date (or occasionally one train at a more popular time will sell out). If your travel details are 100% confirmed, you can book in advance for the best prices and times. Otherwise, opt for something like ItaliaRail, or a flexible ticket on Italo, in order to protect your trip.
In person: prefer to pay cash for your train ticket? Or want to play your plans more by ear? You can also buy tickets in person at most larger Italian train stations. In Rome, this includes Termini, Trastevere, Ostiense and Tiburtina. You can buy tickets at the Trenitalia counter at all stations, and Italo also has ticket sales at Termini and Tiburtina. Other smaller stations, as well as large train terminals, have ticket machines that accept cash or card. For regional trains, some tabacchi sell the tickets based on km to be traveled. Here is more information about everything you can do at an Italian tobacco shop.
On the train: some small Italian train stations (Castel Gandolfo for example) do not have ticket counters or ticket machines. For this reason, it’s advisable to buy a return ticket when you are leaving a main station. However, if you are ever really really stuck you can buy a ticket on the train. There is not a ticket inspector on every single regional train, but it’s not worth the risk (and the heavy fine) to travel without a ticket. You need to find the official before he finds you. Walk to the first carriage and proactively stop the uniformed attendant to let them know you have to buy a ticket. You will pay a supplemental fee of at least €5 on top of the base fare but that is better than a fine of €50 (minimum) if the controller finds you without a ticket. If there’s no ticket inspector, wait in the first carriage and signal to them when they come back. If they never come, then you’ve earned the free trip.
A note on arriving at the station and validating your ticket: Train stations differ from airports because there is no checkin process or major security screening. Therefore, there is no reason to arrive extremely early for your train. If you have luggage, plan to board the train 10 minutes before departure to find sufficient space. This is also true for regional trains where your ticket does not include a seat assignment – boarding early increases your chances of getting a seat because they sometimes fill up. However, because there are so many trains coming and going, don’t expect it to even be at the station more than 10-15 minutes before departure (if you’re lucky).
For high speed trains, you will have a carriage number and a seat on your ticket for a train that leaves at a specific time and date.
Regional train tickets in Italy are more flexible, therefore ensure that you validate it in a machine on the platform before boarding. An unvalidated ticket is the same as having no ticket at all and you are unlikely to find a sympathetic ticket inspector.
Please note: this post may include affiliate links to companies which I personally recommend. I may earn a commission if you choose to make a purchase with them.
15 thoughts on “How To Buy Train Tickets in Italy”
Great article, validate those tickets people!
A note on train travel in Sicily though. Avoid, avoid, avoid. The train is a surefire way of getting nowhere, fast. If trying to travel long distances in Sicily it’s usually quicker (and far less painful) to take the intercity buses run by AST (Azienda Siciliana Trasporti) or Segesta Autolinee.
One thing I will say for Sicilian train travel though is that you might find a more accommodating ‘capo treno’ as I did when trying to travel to Segesta from Trapani. From this experience it should be noted that not even the train company feels it’s likely anyone would be getting off at Segesta, as by the time we had made sure the sign said Segesta, got up from our seats and gone to get off, the train doors had opened, closed, and the train had set off again.
When we explained our plight to gentleman in the fancy hat he told us to get off at the next stop, where he also disembarked and proceeded to buy us coffee! So not all bad.
I would advise anyone trying to visit Segesta not to take the train though, as apart from anything else the station is quite a way from the temple and amphitheatre, and the walk (with very little signage) is along a road with no pavement.
FANTASTIC tips, Miranda! Thank you!
Great post! I just bought train tickets from Rome to Naples the other day and they were quite reasonable. Have you ever done that journey?
Thank you for the great breakdown! One thing that’s making my upcoming trip difficult, in terms of booking trains, is that my friend has a rail pass and I do not. (She has been studying abroad and has an Interrail pass, but I have found that buying a 2-country Europass is not cost-effective for this trip because we’re not training too much.)
We need to get from Bologna to Paris, and I know we can take a Frecce Italian train from Bologna to Milan, then get on a private (Thello) overnight train to Paris. But how do we make a booking together, so we’re seated together, for such an itinerary when she has a rail pass and I do not? So confused! Should we just book each leg of the trip separately, instead of using Thello’s or TrenItalia’s trip planner (or any other trip planner, for that manner)? In other words, since her pass won’t cover the Thello leg of the trip, we can go ahead and book that part together out-of-pocket. Then is there an option, when we go to book the Bologna to Milan train in a second transaction, to reserve her passholder seat and buy my ticket all at once?
Hello, how to validate an italotren ticket if I buy it through the app or online?
Hello! If you purchase it online, you will have to select a time. The ticket is valid only within the window of time specified and does not therefore need to be validated!
Excellent information! Do all of the train lines except electronic vouchers (tickets) ? When traveling without a printer, and purchasing ticket online this is important to know. Thanks. Stephen
Yes! Even the regional trains. Each ticket has a QR code that can be scanned by the conductor.
We are traveling to Rome in September and plan to take a day trip to Assisi from Rome. Since we only have one day in Assisi we want to make the most of our time there and avoid changing trains along the way (Regionale). There are not many options for direct trains to Assisi and I am nervous about changing trains. Can you give me the lowdown on changing trains? In 2006 we were with a group of 20 people and we were traveling from Rome to Assisi for the day. Somehow some of us didn’t get off at the stop we were supposed to change trains at. This resulted in waiting hours for another train and allowed us only a few hours in Assisi. I don’t want that to happen again. Any help would be greatly appreciated, Natalie! God bless!
Do the railways often go on strike? Thank you!!!
We will be visiting by cruise ship, what is the fastest train route to take to Rome? Thank you!
Maybe not as much as advertised but they do have strikes usually of 2 or 3 days. “Hiccup” strikes are not unusual where on a given date and time, the train will stop for maybe 15 minutes or so even in the middle of nowhere. But it’s all part of the Italian psyche that almost impossible to understand!
In 10 years, I honestly have not seen a 2-3 day strike. Here’s more on strikes in Italy (which are fairly common but very highly regulated)
Hello Natalie 🙂 I am planning a trip with my 12 yrs old son for over 3 wks in mid June. Starting 2 wks in Lucca ( in btwn to Florence and Pisa etc.) , then Rome, Venice and Milan. Is it better to get Eurorail Italy for the both of us? Was looking at getting 1st Class. I believe there will be add ons for high speed trains. There are so many train systems…getting a little confusing. Much appreciate it.