I’m in a few Italy travel groups on Facebook, and I’ve noticed that people often ask questions about the trains here, typically on how they work, if they should buy tickets in advance, and what they can expect on a train journey.
For this reason, I started putting together a post on train travel in Italy. When I started researching, I noticed that there are lots of great guides on this topic, but I couldn’t find an in-depth guide on how to get the cheapest train tickets in Italy. So here’s mine!
I decided to start off with some general info so that you can understand how the train system works here (and which types of trains are the least expensive). After that you’ll find a case study on why you should always buy high-speed train tickets in advance, and which company will save you the most bucks!
Are you ready for my tips on getting the best deals on train travel in Italy? Andiamo!
Table of Contents
How to get the cheapest train tickets in Italy
Train companies in Italy
Before we dive into good stuff, it’s important to understand a few things. The first is that there are two train companies in Italy, Trenitalia and Italo.
Trenitalia is the main train company in Italy. It offers the widest variety of times, locations, and fare types.
Trenitalia has several different levels of service (hence the variety of fare types). Ranging from the Regionale to the Frecciarossa, they offer varying levels of comfort and amenities.
Here are the details on each train type, ranging from cheapest to most expensive.
Regionale – the cheapest option
Regionali, or regional trains, are the cheapest (unless you get a deal on another fare type – details below). The price of regional trains never changes, so you can buy these tickets a month or two in advance, or you can buy them at the station up to a few minutes before the train leaves.
There are no reserved seats, so you might have to stand up. I don’t know if they ever stop people from buying tickets either, so sometimes, you might be squashed against a window.
Paper regional tickets must be validated. If you buy them at the station, be absolutely sure that you stamp them at one of the validation machines (often these are around the platforms). If you don’t validate a regional ticket, you can get a hefty fine.
Tickets are valid four hours from the time of validation, so if you stamp your ticket and then decide to catch a later train, make sure that it’s within four hours of the time you validated it.
The same goes for regional tickets bought online or through the Trenitalia app – they’re valid for four hours from the time you booked for.
There’s no wifi or bar car.
What to expect on a regional train
They’re slow and some of them are really old. They don’t have much luggage storage, so you might have to keep your bag with you, and you might not find a seat because lots of people put their suitcases or backpacks on the seat next to them and then diligently avoid eye contact with anyone trying to indicate that they might like to sit down on their very long trip from Naples to Milan.
Sometimes, the air conditioning works, and sometimes, it doesn’t. If you’d like to get an idea of what it’s like to ride a regional train in the summertime, start by huffing the steam off a bowl of boiled onions to approximate the scent. Rub a glue stick on the backs of your thighs, then sit on any hot surface, preferably while the sun beats down on you through a window that won’t open. Put a suitcase on your lap, and play a soundtrack of someone snoring and another person loudly talking to their nonna about every meal they’ve had in the last 10 days.
Oh yeah, and the bathrooms are usually straight out of a post-apocalyptic hellscape.
Why (the hell would anyone in their right mind) take a regional train?
The onion smell didn’t sell it for you?
Joking aside, there are a few reasons why the regional trains are great. The first is that these trains are key for reaching small towns, because the high-speed trains only connect cities. The second is that they’re really great if you’re on a budget. It might take several hours longer to reach your destination, but you’ll save big if you’re willing to take one.
Some regional trains are new and nice, too. I’m (mostly) kidding about how bad they are.
Not about the bathrooms, though. Those things are no joke.
These are the same as the regionali, but they make fewer stops, hence the “veloce” part (which means fast). They won’t be much faster, but they will be a bit.
The prices of are the same as the regular regional trains.
InterCity tickets come with a reservation, meaning that you have to take the train you booked for, and you’ll have a reserved seat.
InterCity trains don’t run very often – sometimes only twice a day – but they’re a step up from the Regionale without the price tag of the high-speed trains.
I like the InterCity. They’re spacious and comfortable, in my experience. They won’t get you to where you’re going as fast as the high-speed trains, but if you want a bit more comfort than the regionale, they’re a great option.
They do not have wifi.
Italy’s fast trains, known as “le frecce” (arrows) also have varying levels of comfort, amenities, and speed, but they’re all nice.
These trains require a booking, which means you’ll have a reserved seat. You can make changes to some of these bookings, but it depends on the fare type. Details on fare types and the changes that are allowed are below.
The Frecciabianca and the Frecciargento offer first and second class. The Frecciarossa has four different classes, which are detailed in that section.
The Frecciabianca is the slowest of the high-speed trains, and therefore the cheapest. There’s a bar car, and the bathrooms are a few steps up from the raunchy Regionali.
There is no wifi on the Frecciabianca, so if you want to work while you ride, you’ll have to take either a Frecciargento or a Frecciabianca.
The Frecciargento reaches speeds of up to 250km/hr on Italy’s high-speed train lines. It has a bar car, decent bathrooms, and wifi.
The Frecciarossa is the fastest of the high-speed trains and travels at 300 km/hr. It also has a bar car, decent bathrooms, and wifi.
The Frecciarossa has four classes with different levels of comfort and amenities.
Standard – Second class.
Premium – Second class plus, which means that it’s a bit more spacious.
Business – More room, a welcome snack and drink, and small rooms for colleagues traveling together.
Executive – This is the nicest level of travel. There are only eight seats, and you get a meal (or snack, if it’s a short trip). You can also go into the FRECCIALounge at the station with this type of ticket.
Understanding fare types on trenitalia
Trenitalia also offers different fare types on their high-speed trains.
The descriptions I’ve got below are just to give general information. Remember that Italy is the land of exceptions! What is mean is that sometimes, there are specials on one fare or another, so you might be able to get a great deal on tickets that are usually expensive!
Regionale, Regionale Veloce and InterCity fare types
You can only choose between first and second class on the Regionale, Regionale Veloce, and InterCity trains. The seats might be a bit more spacious in first class, but I don’t think there’s too much of a difference, really.
High-speed train fare types
This is the cheapest fare for high-speed trains. It also has the most restrictions. You can’t make changes, get a refund, or take another train with a Super Economy ticket. You have to take the exact train that you booked, period. If you don’t, you’ll have to book another ticket.
These tickets are more expensive than Super Economy, but you can change an Economy ticket for a fee. Economy tickets are not refundable.
Base fares allow you to change your booking time and date an unlimited number of times up until departure with no fee. They are more expensive than Super Economy and Economy. You can get a refund (with a deduction).
On the Frecciarossa, you can choose from regular business class, a quiet car (Business Area Silenzio), the working area for groups traveling I mentioned above, or the Business Salottino which has a private compartment and a table.
This is, of course, the most expensive ticket option. Sometimes, you can get deals on them, so I thought I’d include them here just in case. In First Class, you have a larger seat, a snack and drink on arrival, and a newspaper.
the bottom line on trenitalia
Regional trains are the cheapest, longest, and least comfortable.
Italo is the first private train company in Italy. They only offer high-speed services to cities, so, like I said above, if you’re traveling to small towns, you’ll have to take a Regional train and book it through Trenitalia.
I travel with Italo a lot (you’ll find out why below) and I think they offer a nice service. The only problem is that they’re late pretty frequently, in my experience. I’m not sure if this is true, but someone told me that Italo trains have to give priority to Trenitalia trains (there’s even a train hierarchy in Italian society, sheesh). This might be way they’re delayed often. Not terribly delayed, but 20 – 30 minutes seems pretty normal. That being said, Trenitalia is late a lot too. Prepare yourself for possible delays either way!
Like Trenitalia, Italo trains also have different classes (called ambiences) and fare types.
Seats in this class are the cheapest and have leather seats and wifi.
The seats in Comfort are more expensive but these cars are also more spacious. Free wifi is available.
First class on Italo offers leather seats, free wifi and a welcome service, which probably means a drink and snack.
Club Executive tickets include extra wide seating, complimentary coffee, snacks and drinks, a personal 9 inch screen, newspapers and magazines.
You also get access to the Italo Lounge at the station, “where waiting in the station becomes a pleasure.”
I’ve never been into a lounge in a train station in Italy. I’m not sure if they’re worth paying the extra price, honestly. What I can tell you is that one night I got stuck at the train station in Bologna from 10pm until nearly 2am, and I had to sit in the general waiting area. My phone was dead, so in order to stave off boredom, I decided to people watch.
The following things happened:
1. An old man sat next to me and removed his right shoe to reveal a foot that both looked and smelled like a very aged wedge of parmesan.
2. Another man couldn’t figure out a way to open up his glass Coke bottle, so he decided to start smashing it against the handle of a fire extinguisher, until a cop gently screamed at him.
3. Another police officer scolded a woman for taking her shoes off while she sat, and a few passengers rallied behind her in support and tried to encourage the rest of us to take our shoes off in solidarity to spite the policeman. I did not participate. The sight of the foot from incident Number 1 had really put me off feet for…ever.
So, the point is, if you get trapped in a station overnight, maybe buy a pass to the lounge.
Italo fare types
These are the cheapest fares. They are not eligible for a refund. You can change the date/time for a 50% charge, and you can change the name on the ticket for 1 euro.
These are more expensive than Low Cost, but offer a bit more flexibility. You can change the name on these tickets for free, get a refund minus 40% of the cost of the ticket, and you can change the date/time for a 20% charge.
Flex tickets allow you to change the name on the ticket and modify the booking up until 3 minutes before departure and up to 3 hours after. You can also get a refund minus 20%.
If you’re like me, you like to save money, but you also want to be comfortable, especially in the summer (i.e. you don’t want to feel like you’re riding in the demon’s damp armpit that is the regionale), and you don’t want to waste your precious travel time on a train. So, what do you do?
I’ll tell you! Read on for my tips on how to get the cheapest high-speed train tickets in Italy!
How to get the cheapest high-speed train tickets in Italy
Compare Italo and Trenitalia
Above, I said that I travel frequently with Italo, and this is for the simple reason that Italo usually has the cheapest fares.
Let’s look at an example. For this one, I chose Rome to Florence, which is a super common route, and I looked at the fares for about a week from now.
You’ll see here that Italo’s Low Cost fares are sold out, but that even Economy, which is the second most expensive fare type, is cheaper than Trenitalia’s Super Economy. You’ll also see that a first class Economy ticket is cheaper than Trenitalia’s fare, too!
The problem is that Italo has fewer trains and of course, fewer times than Trenitalia, which means you might miss out on their cheap fares. And that brings me to point number two…
Buy your tickets in advance
I swear that every single day I see someone ask “Should I buy my tickets in advance for my trip to Italy?” in the travel groups I’m in on FB.
The answer is YES!
Inevitably, someone says “No, on my trip I just bought them at the station on the day I wanted to travel.” This is TERRIBLE advice for two reasons:
- High-speed trains will be way more expensive on the day (or even a few days in advance). The closer you get to your travel dates, the higher the prices go (like I said above, this doesn’t apply to regional trains, which are always the same price).
- High-speed trains can sell out! Believe me, once I got stuck at the Milan train station after flying in from the US right after Christmas because all the trains were booked. I had to wait for ages in the station in Milan, and ended up sitting at McDonald’s. And guess what guys? I fell asleep on the table and the bouncer tried to kick me out. Don’t let this happen to you!
Booking on the day of travel
Let’s look at an example. You’re traveling from Rome to Naples. Let’s say you’re here now and decide you want to go to Rome tonight.
It’ll cost you 39.90 on Italo.
And 48 on Trenitalia for the same level of service. There’s always the Regionale…
Booking ahead of time
Now, what happens if you book in advance? I decided to look at dates two months from now, which is a decent amount of time, but not an unreasonable one for people who will be traveling in Italy.
You can get to Naples from Rome for 15.90.
Or 19.90 on Trenitalia with a high-speed train around the same time.
The bottom line on Trenitalia vs. Italo
Save the 4 euro so you can buy more pizza in Naples and go with Italo.
Sign up for Italo and Trenitalia’s promotional emails
Both Italo and Trenitalia run regular promotions and send out codes that can save you big bucks!
Sign up for Italo emails in English here. Make sure you check the box to agree to receiving promotional discounts!
Generally, they run promotions that run for certain amounts of time only, so be sure that your travel dates fit so you don’t miss out!
Book with Trenitalia or Italo directly
There are a few websites catering to English speakers that offer easy booking in English that’s written by a human and not by a computer/robot.
The English on the Trenitalia and Italo websites is, well, not always the clearest. For example, Italo mentions a “cinema coach” in their description of the Smart Ambience. This might lead one to believe that there’s a movie theater somewhere on the train. Or perhaps an acting teacher. I can assure you that you won’t find either of these on Italo. What you will find, however, are movies available to watch on your phone or computer on Italo’s streaming portal. I’m not sure how that translates to “cinema coach,” but frankly, I have other things to worry about. Like the state of the bathrooms on whichever train I’m on.
Anyway, while I was working on this post, I came across two of these external booking websites, RailEurope, and ItaliaRail. Both book through Trenitalia, and do not offer Italo trains.
Let’s take a look at how the prices compare to our Rome to Naples trip on January 31.
ItaliaRail comes in at $23US. That’s about 21 euro, so about 1 euro more than Trenitalia, and about 4 more than Italo.
Rail Europe is $25 for the same train, which is about 3 euro more than Trenitalia, and 7 euro more than Italo!
The prices speak for themselves. Sure, a few euros isn’t much, but if you take a few trips while you’re here, it adds up.
Still, there are some reasons why people might like to use one of these booking services. Let’s look at the pros and cons of all the options.
Booking options: pros and cons
Pros: Most trains daily and widest range of pricing options.
Cons: Website is glitchy and can be hard to understand.
Pros: Cheapest for high-speed trains and travels to most major cities.
Cons: Website is glitchy (I’ve hard my card rejected a few times) and can be hard to understand.
Pros: This website was created for English speakers. The prices are in USD. It’s clear and easy to understand.
Cons: Prices are marked up. Also, the other day when I was playing around with the site, several trains were unavailable. My guess is that ItaliaRail only has a certain amount of tickets available for each train.
Pros: Similarly to ItaliaRail, this site is written in clear English and is easily navigable.
Cons: Prices are marked up (the highest, if my case study holds true).
For the cheapest high-speed tickets in Italy, go for Italo, and buy your tickets in advance.
If you’re on a super budget, go with the regional trains on Trenitalia.
If you’ve never been to Italy and aren’t super great at navigating confusing websites with translations that might be off, book with ItaliaRail. Sure, you’ll pay a bit more, but the prices and language will be clear. If that kind of stuff makes you anxious and you have the extra cash, spend the bucks and remove the stress.
Want more help and tips for your Italy trip? Check out all my Italy-related posts!
Questions? Thoughts? Still need help buying train tickets in Italy?! Reach out in the comments!
Want to save more money on your trip to Italy? Check out these deals from Booking.com:
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