How to Master Train Travel in Italy

The inside of an Italian train as an example of what to expect from train travel in Italy

There are a lot of reasons to travel by train in Italy: the romance, the convenience, the cost, and the scenic settings are the first that come to mind. However, the best thing about train travel in Italy is that it works like a charm – saving you time and money while also allowing you to see the country like a local.

Ready to explore Italy by train?

Here is the complete guide to how to travel by train in Italy, starting with why it is your best choice for getting around the country.

train travel in Italy at stations like this in Milan, where two trains wait on the tracks under a high arched ceiling

Why to Travel by Train in Italy

  1. Train travel in Italy is often the fastest way to get between two points. Driving between Rome and Florence takes close to four hours depending on traffic. The train takes as little as 1.5 hours. Italian highspeed trains travel on dedicated tracks at well over 100 mph, so you are going to be able to get between major cities in less time than it takes to drive.
  2. Check-in for Italian trains is a breeze. Show up at the train station with your tickets and you are ready to go. All you need to do is make the short walk to your platform – no messing around with check-in, security lines, or gates and boarding procedures.
  3. Italian train stations are easier to get to than airports. Most major Italian train stations have “centrale” in their name because they are indeed very central. Train stations are major hubs for transportation and so they tend to be right in the middle of Italian cities, or at least on the edge of the city center. Because of flight restrictions and the space needed to safely land a plane, airports are the opposite and tend to be located pretty far outside of the city. Train stations are 100% easier to get to, which is one reason that train travel in Italy is so much faster and more convenient than flying.
  4. Traveling in Italy by train is incredibly beautiful. Trains in Italy pass through much more countryside than any road. In most cases, your train journey is going to travel through fields and vineyards. You will catch glimpses of untouched natural reserves and you won’t be distracted by any zipping traffic. Taking in the sunset over a tiny village as you sit on the train towards your next Italian destination is not only scenic but also romantic.
  5. Planning to travel by train in Italy is also easy. Once you are on board, all you have to worry about is remembering to get off at your stop. You don’t have to mess with directions or check the GPS – just keep your eye on the clock so that you are ready to gather your things when you are getting close to your arrival time. Stops are announced in Italian and in English so you really won’t mess up. If you still don’t believe how easy it is – here is a complete guide to buying train tickets in Italy.
  6. Driving takes longer and can be much more expensive. Having your own car does give you more flexibility but between the cost of renting a car, getting insurance, and paying for gas, driving is almost always more expensive than taking the train in Italy. If you are driving between cities you will likely be on the A1 autostrada and this also means that you will need to add toll fees on top of everything else. You also have to deal with actually driving in Italy, a country where lane markers are treated like a general suggestion rather than a rule. If you plan to drive, come with nerves of steel!
  7. Trains are one of the most popular forms of transportation in Italy. For all of the reasons listed above, taking the train is the norm in Italy. I mention that in case you come from a country (like the US) where trains seem like an old fashioned way to get around. Because they are so popular in Italy, they are high-speed, new, and convenient. There are usually hourly departures for major Italian cities because the demand is so high. So when in Rome, travel by train like a local.

Exterior of a regional train in Italy

How to Travel by Train in Italy

Ready to climb aboard? Train travel in Italy is very straight forward if you remember a few general guidelines.

  • Know the name of the stations. Italian train stations have names much in the same way airports have names. The name of the station often starts with the name of the city, e.g. Roma Termini or Firenze Santa Maria Novella. Many cities have more than one train station, so save yourself some time and confusion by making sure you know the exact name of the station you want. You need the station name to buy tickets, and you can simply google “main train station [INSERT CITY NAME]” if you are unsure. For the big cities, the main train stations are:
    • Rome: Roma Termini (Roma Tiburtina is another large station but it is further outside the city center. Roma Trastevere and Roma Ostiense are two smaller stations which mainly handle regional trains)
    • Florence: Firenze Santa Maria Novella
    • Milan: Milano Centrale
    • Venice: Venezia Santa Lucia (this will drop you at the Grand Canal. Venezia Mestre is on the other side of the Venetian lagoon)
    • Turin: Torino Porta Nuova
    • Naples: Napoli Centrale
  • Buy your Italian train tickets in advance. As with flights, cheap train tickets in Italy are easiest to find if you are buying train tickets few months in advance. Even a few days in advance is going to be cheaper than booking the day of travel. You will also have the greatest selection if you look in advance because popular times and routes tend to sell out. If you aren’t 100% about your travel dates, use a service that allows you to book a flexible ticket and buy insurance. It may cost a few euro more but it will save a lot in the long run if you need to change anything.
  • Select a highspeed train whenever possible. Fast trains in Italy are generally more expensive than regional trains, but time is money and they will get you there as quickly as possible. The regional train from Rome to Florence takes almost four hours instead of 1.5 hours on the highspeed train. That means a lot more time to explore (and more a more updated, comfortable train environment). Plus, if you are booking in advance, you can get an amazing deal on even the newer, highspeed trains. Regional trains in Italy are also first come first serve, so you will not have a guaranteed seat if you choose to book this option.
  • Arrive at the train station with at least 20 minutes before departure. You don’t need to worry about long security lines but you will need enough time to check the electronic boards which display the train numbers and their corresponding track number (or bin./binario in Italian). Since you will have your luggage, you want to give yourself time to find the track number and board the right train.
  • Check the partenze. Partenze are departures in Italian, whereas Arrivi are arrivals. Make sure you find your train number under the Partenze column to ensure that you go to the correct platform for your departure. Knowing your train number is key because the Partenze will display the final destination o the train. If you are traveling from Florence to Rome, your train might actually keep going to Naples – so it will be Napoli which shows on the board. If you keep watching, all of the stops will scroll by in the smaller letters next to the main destination. This should help put you at ease, but you really can’t go wrong if you focus on the number of the train (usually 4 digits) and the departure time.
  • Validate your regional ticket before boarding. If you do choose to take a regional train instead of a fast train, be sure to validate your ticket before boarding. There are small, brightly colored machines at the end of the platform where you can place the corner of your ticket so that it is stamped with the day and time, thus activating the ticket. You need to do this if your train ticket says regionale, but you do not need to do this if you are traveling on Frecciarossa, Frecciaargento or Italo. These train tickets are like plane tickets and unchangeable unless you make a flexible reservation in advance. You can tell if you have one of these if your ticket has your name and/or a specific carriage and seat number lister.
  • Board the correct carriage. Train tickets in Italy will include your train number (like a flight number to identify the correct train), the date and time of your departure, and a carriage and seat number. In order to avoid blocking the aisles while walking through many carriages to reach your seat, try to get on the right carriage to begin with. The carriage numbers are clearly visible either on the side of the train or on an electronic sign on the door. (But if your train is about to depart – just get on! You can find the right seat after it leaves).
  • Feel free to relax, but keep your arrival time in mind. You can sleep on a plane without every worrying about missing your stop, but most trains in Italy make multiple stops. If you want to sleep, make sure you place any valuables like a purse, securely between your feet or somewhere that you can feel it at all times. This makes it less likely to disappear along with someone who is disembarking before you. But you CAN sleep, or get on the free WiFi, read, or stare dreamily out the window. Set an alarm for 10 minutes before your scheduled arrival time just to be sure you are alert when it is time to get off the train.
  • Bring your own food, if you want. If you are going on a long train trip in Italy, it is totally fine to bring food on the train. Some people even bring wine or beer – there are no rules against this. Trains do not tend to have any hot food available, so bring your own sandwiches or picnic items if you are going to be hungry along the way.
  • Expect most of the same comforts of a plane. If you are on a highspeed train, your seat won’t have a seatbelt but it will have a tray table and space to place your personal items. If you are traveling in first class, you will likely be treated to a beverage cart and snack. Otherwise, there is a bar car or vending machines where you can purchase water and simple foods like chips. And don’t worry: train travel in Italy is comfortable even when it is not at its most glamorous. For example, even regional trains have bathrooms. There might not be a bathroom in every carriage but you are free to move around the train at any time, so go ahead and follow the signs (which might say “WC”) until you find one.

Potential Drawbacks of Traveling by Train in Italy

Every form of travel within Italy comes with pros and cons. In this case, the pros of traveling by train far outweigh the cons but for total transparency, here are a few drawbacks to

  1. There is no checked baggage. Trains in Italy have luggage racks over the seats and also have dedicated spaces for large bags right inside the doors when you board. If you are traveling with a lot of stuff, you are going to have to get it all onto the train and then take it down again when you reach your destination. One upside? There are absolutely no baggage fees when you are traveling by train in Italy so you do save some money with the DIY approach to handling the luggage.
  2. There might be a strike. This is fairly rare but transportation systems, including trains, sometimes go on strike in Italy. If you are worried this might be a problem, consider booking your tickets with a service like ItaliaRail and adding travel insurance to the reservation for just a few euro. Unlike TrenItalia, ItaliaRail also has a 24/7 helpline if you get stuck. BUT if there is going to be a full strike, flights can also be affected so flying is not always the easier choice in this case either.
  3. Delays sometimes happen. Even when there are no serious issues like strikes, train delays do happen. Usually, these are 10-20 minute delays but if there is a problem with the weather or the mechanics, these can be significantly longer. It shouldn’t stop you from booking a train in Italy – just give yourself some padding time if you really need to be somewhere by a specific hour. Getting stuck with a delay is bad luck – much like getting caught in a random traffic jam.
  4. Trains in Italy sometimes don’t go to the smallest, hilltop towns. Train travel in Italy can be incredibly fast but some smaller towns are only served by older, regional trains which make frequent stops and move slowly. Other towns, particularly hilltop towns in Tuscany, don’t have train stations. In these cases, having your own car is better than relying on the rural bus services that connect the nearest train station to the more remote villages.

Flying within Italy

If you really are not convinced about train travel in Italy, or if you simply prefer to fly, then there are of course options for flights between many Italian cities. There are also a few cases – like if you need to go somewhere like Sicily or Sardegna – when flying within Italy is going to be your best option. Yes, there are ferries but most are overnight and are going to take you a longer time to travel. If that works with your schedule, then go for it!

I personally use SkyScanner whenever I am looking for flights within Italy (or around Europe). I find that it works slightly better than US-centric sites like Kayak.com because it does a good job of pulling in all of the low fare budget air carriers in addition to the national carriers.

Flights between Rome and Milan are under an hour, versus the four hours the trip takes by highspeed train. However, considering how much time you need to have to get out to the airport, go through security, wait for boarding, then get back into the city center at your new destination – the entire process of flying can actually take longer door-to-door.

Do you have any other tips or questions about train travel in Italy? What are you waiting for? All aboard!

text travel italy by train how to plan the perfect trip by rail on a picture of Polignano a Mare with sand beach and cliffs

Please note: this post may include affiliate links to companies that I personally recommend and use myself. If you choose to book through the link, I may earn a small commission. 

19 thoughts on “How to Master Train Travel in Italy

  1. Anna says:

    Perhaps it useful to point out that the final destination of your train is worth knowing (ie Napoli), because at major stations in particular, the departure board may not list all the places that the train will stop at. So have the train number and final destination to hand.

    Also if there is a train strike, that does not mean that all trains are on strike. (From experience it depends upon the Union). I have found there is always a train if you are prepared for a long wait and possibly to take a taxi at the other end of your journey.

  2. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia says:

    I did a lot of train travel in Sept/Oct while visiting a ton of places in central and southern Italy and I have to say it’s one of my favorite ways to travel. Sometimes certain routes aren’t ideal or the schedule is a bit off, but to get to any of the major cities, it’s usually a great way to go!

    • Natalie says:

      Hi! Yes bikes are allowed. The carriage (usually the last one) where they are allowed is marked with a symbol of a bike on the door.

    • Giulio says:

      Bikes are allowed on regional trains, usually in first and last carriage. For the high speed trains bikes are instead treated like a large baggage, so you’ll have to disassemble the wheels and buy one of that special bags for bikes. You’ll also have to leave your bike in the large baggage area

  3. Virginia says:

    Great information! We are traveling throughout Italy this spring starting in Milan through to Amalfi Coast and Paestum, and then Sicily, and planning to fly back to Milan. What’s best option to use going to Sicily – fly, train or ferry? Thanks!

    • Natalie says:

      Hi Virginia! Sounds like a great trip! I always fly to Sicily (though there are overnight ferries from Naples and some other ports so I suppose you could go by boat after Paestrum). Definitely fly from Sicily back to Milan!

    • Giulio says:

      Unfortunately there is still no high speed track in many parts of southern Italy, so if you want to reach Sicily with train you can use Italo and Frecciarossa (the two high speed services) only up to Naples. From there you’ll have to take the Frecciabianca (it’s a service that covers long distances, but it’s slow and not as comfortable) to Reggio Calabria, and from there one of the many ferries that cross the Strait of Messina. The ferry in the strait is a short and beautiful ride, but can be very crowded during the summer.

  4. Cynde says:

    Would you know if you reserved a ticket and missed the ‘connecting’ train, can you catch the next one? I bought a ticket going from San Remo to Monaco with a change in Ventimiglia (this will be in May). I have six or seven minutes in Ventimiglia to get on the train there to go to Monaco. What happens if I miss it? Can I jump on the next train? I know it sounds silly because I have no idea the direction the trains run, where the platforms are, etc. I do understand that I would have to go through the walkway tunnel underneath where the trains run to get to the other side to look at the arrival/destination board. It’s just so confusing.

  5. Derek Bond says:

    My first tip is to look at the railcards that are available as well. For example with Trenitalia you can purchase a card that gives you discounts. This card is free if you are over 75. The card has to be purchased at a railway station during your visit, but is valid for a year and can then be used during online purchases.

    https://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en/Offers/Green-and-Silver-Cards-with-Railplus-discount

    My second tip is to learn Italian numbers and times, because it helps when you are listening out for train arrivals which give the train number and arrival/departure times.

  6. elizabeth says:

    My husband and I are coming to Italy in November for our 10 year anniversary and your blog has been a wealth of information! We have poured over all of the posts and have gotten such great information from you that we feel like we might actually be somewhat prepared by the time we make the trip 🙂 The only thing we really haven’t been able to find any info on any where in our research is, what do people use for phone service? Other times we’ve traveled abroad, we’ve purchased Sim cards for our phones and bought data. Is that the norm in Italy too? Thanks so much for all the help you’ve given us this far – we’ll continue to use every bit of knowledge you lend out! You’re a gem!!

  7. Laura Hasty says:

    Hi, We are traveling from Milan to the Tuscany area then to Rome end to the Amafi Coast. Then on to Venice for the day then back to Milan. We don’t have a lot of time so trying to figure the fastest way to do. Was planning to fly from Naples to Venice.

  8. Joann Ricci says:

    Grazie mille for this article. What about e-tickets from Trenitalia? I don’t have access to a printer during my stay in Roma, I trust e-tickets work in Rome and major cities-though what about regional trains?

    • Natalie says:

      E-tickets work fine! You don’t need to validate them, and they have a QR code that you can pull up on your phone for the ticket inspector to scan. This is true even for regional trains (but you need to take the train specified on the ticket – or within 1.5 hours after. The details will be in the fine print on the e-ticket)

  9. luana cresswell says:

    This is great info, thanks so much !
    Are your large bags safe left alone in the area for large suitcases ?

    • Natalie says:

      For the most part – yes. However, I never leave valuables in these bags, and always instead keep things like cameras, laptops or any cash in a smaller bag that I keep with me at my seat.

  10. Cassie says:

    Any issues with large luggage not having any space in the racks? My mom is insistent on bringing 29 inch luggage. We have a train from Rome to Lucca. Part fast train part regional. I am also pregnant and carry all that much. I am downgrading my bag…despite being sad about not fitting as much wine as I want to bring back for after this baby!!! Thank you!

    • Natalie says:

      Hi Cassie! That is… big. For traveling between different locations and pulling it on and off trains – it is going to get old fast. I don’t think anyone will say she can’t bring it. If it doesn’t fit in the racks, she will have to leave it near the door. What I like to do is bring a smaller case, and then back a small nylon bag. It is lightweight and doesn’t take up room but you can unpack it and use it if you end up getting souvenirs. It could become your new carryon – with the other checked (full of wine) for the trip home

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