Italy Train Travel
Traveling by train in Italy is simple and efficient. Service between major cities is frequent, and trains usually arrive on schedule. The fastest trains on the Trenitalia Ferrovie dello Stato (FS)—the Italian State Railways—are Freccie Rosse Alta Velocità. Ferrari mogul Montezemolo launched the competing NTV Italo high-speed service in 2012. Bullet trains on both services run between all major cities from Venice, Milan, and Turin down through Florence and Rome to Naples and Salerno. Seat reservations are mandatory, and you'll be assigned a specific seat; to avoid having to squeeze through narrow aisles, board only at your designated coach (the number on your ticket matches the one near the door of each coach). Reservations are also required for Eurostar and the slower Intercity (IC) trains; tickets for the latter are about half the price they are for the faster trains. If you miss your reserved train, go to the ticket counter within the hour and you may be able to move your reservation to a later one (this depends on the type of reservation, so check the rules when booking). Note that you'll still need to reserve seats in advance if you're using a rail pass.
There are often significant discounts when you book well in advance. On websites, you’ll be presented with available promotional fares, such as Trenitalia’s "Super Economy" (up to 60% off), "Famiglia" (a 20% discount for one adult and at least one child), and "A/R" (same-day round trip). Italo offers "Low Cost" and "Economy." The caveat is that the discounts come with restrictions on changes and cancellations; make sure you understand them before booking.
Reservations are not available on Interregionale trains, which are slower, make more stops, and are less expensive than high-speed and Intercity trains. Regionale and Espresso trains stop most frequently and are the most economical (many serve commuters). There are refreshments on long-distance trains, purchased from a mobile cart or a dining car, but not on the commuter trains.
All but commuter trains have first and second classes. On local trains, first-class fare ensures you a little more space; on long-distance trains, you also get wider seats (three across as opposed to four) and a bit more legroom, but the difference is minimal. At peak travel times a first-class fare may be worth the additional cost, as the coaches may be less crowded. In Italian, prima classe is first class; second is seconda classe.
Many cities—Milan, Turin, Genoa, Naples, Florence, Rome, and even Verona included—have more than one train station, so be sure you get off at the right station. When buying tickets, be particularly aware that in Rome and Florence some trains don't stop at all of the cities' stations and may not stop at the main, central station. When scheduling train travel online or through a travel agent, request to arrive at the station closest to your destination in Rome and Florence.
Except for Pisa, Milan, and Rome, none of the major cities have trains that go directly to the airports, but airport shuttle buses connect train stations and airports.
You can purchase train tickets and review schedules online, at travel agencies, at train station ticket counters, and at automatic ticketing machines located in all but the smallest stations. If you'd like to board a train and don't have a ticket, seek out the conductor prior to getting on; he or she will tell you whether you may buy a ticket on board and what the surcharge will be (usually €5). Fines for attempting to ride a train without a ticket are €100 (€50 if paid on the spot) plus the price of the ticket.
For trains without a reservation you must validate your ticket before boarding by punching it at wall- or pillar-mounted yellow or green boxes in train stations or at the track entrances of larger stations. If you forget, find a conductor immediately to avoid a hefty fine.
Train strikes of various kinds are not uncommon, so it's wise to ensure that your train is actually running. During a strike minimum service is guaranteed (especially for distance trains); ask at the station or search online to find out about your particular reservation.
Traveling by night can be a good deal—and somewhat of an adventure—because you'll pass a night without having to have a hotel room. Comfortable trains run on the longer routes (Sicily–Rome, Sicily–Milan, Rome–Turin, Lecce–Milan); request the good-value T3 (three single beds), Intercity Notte, and Carrozza Comfort. The Vagone Letto has private bathrooms and single-, double-, or twin-bed suites. Overnight trains also travel to international destinations like Paris, Vienna, Munich, and other cities.
FS-Trenitalia. 06/68475475; 892021; www.trenitalia.com.
NTV Italo. 06/0708; www.italotreno.it.
Rail passes promise savings on train travel. But compare prices with actual fares to determine whether a pass will truly pay off. Generally, the more often you plan to travel long distances on high-speed trains, the more sense a rail pass makes.
Italy is one of 27 countries that accept the Eurail Pass, which provides unlimited first- and second-class travel. If you plan to rack up miles across the Continent, get a Global Eurail Pass (covering all participating nations). The Eurail Select Pass allows for travel in two to four contiguous countries. Other options are the Eurail Youth Pass (for those under 26), the Eurail Flexipass (valid for a certain number of travel days within a set period), and the Eurail Saver (aimed at two to five people traveling together).
The Eurail Two Country Select Pass, available for non-European residents, allows a certain number of travel days within two contiguous countries over the course of two months. Four to 10 days of travel in Italy and France cost $317–$518 (first class) or $255–$416 (second class). There is a 15% discount if two or more of you are traveling together; family passes offer further discounts for children under 12; kids under four travel free. Discounts are also given for those under 26.
Passes should be purchased before you leave for Europe, but can be delivered to your hotel for an additional cost. Keep in mind that even with a rail pass you still need to reserve seats on the trains that require them.
Italia Rail. 877/375–7245; www.italiarail.com.
Rail Europe. 800/622–8600; www.raileurope.com.