For those travelers thinking of seeing Italy by rail, there are many options available. From stand alone tickets purchased at the station or on the train to discount cards for frequent use to rail passes with unlimited travel. In order to determine which option is right for you, first determine the length of your stay. Second, consider your itinerary and decide which mode of transportation makes the most sense for your party - keeping in mind that trains do not always connect the small villages. Lastly, figure out how much travel you plan on actually doing during your trip - some passes allow for unlimited travel in a number of days or even months.
Depending upon this last part, you may want to buy a complete rail pass to have the most freedom. However a single ticket or a discount card may be a better option if you plan to stay in one region, with few side trips. Here is a breakdown of the many options available for rail travelers in Italy.
Tips on Traveling in Italy by Train
Buying a seat reservation is strongly suggested, even if you have a rail pass. Reservations on the high speed trains and sleeper trains are mandatory but are usually only a few euros. Without a reservation, you may find yourself standing or running from car to car looking for an empty seat- especially on busy weekday mornings in Rome or Milan.
Make sure to ask conductors any questions about connections, stopovers or if your car is going to your destination. Even though most conductors do not speak English, they are very friendly and willing to help. Often trains will split, with one section heading to a different destination, make sure you are on the right part of the train. It is best to ask a conductor if it is your train before boarding, that is unless you feel adventurous.
The trains run on time in Italy- well usually, there is still the occasional labor strike, but these are pre-scheduled and can be avoided. The English edition of the Corriere Della Sera (found at newsstands) lists these rail strikes so that you can take another line or a bus to your destination. On the rare chance that you do get delayed, it is usually not for very long. The best way to avoid wasting too much time is to travel early in the morning. This often allows for a quick stopover in places that you would otherwise miss, keeping in mind that not all trains make all stops. Always check the detailed train schedules posted in every station.
Traveling with the Train in Italy, What you need to know.
Types of Trains in Italy
Regional Transport trains: Stop at nearly every station en route to the larger towns in any specific region. They usually provide only 2nd class seats and are not the best option if you are in a hurry or do not plan on making any stopovers.
Direct or "espresso trains:" Don't be fooled by the name: these are still slow even though faster than the regional trains and make fewer stops. They also usually travel greater distances as well.
Inter-Regional trains: These trains are more common during tourist season since they travel beyond regional boundaries to more distant locations. When in service these trains are preferred for hitting the major tourist cities.
Intercity and Intercity Plus: For larger distances across Italy the "IC" trains are the best for their comfort and affordability. IC trains are ideal for Traveling between major cities with only a few important stops.
Eurostar trains: The ES Italia trains are high speed and designed for travelers seeking high standards of comfort and speed. The Eurostar trains are the top of the line and offer air conditioning, internet access and better handicap accessibility. Catering services are provided by coffee bars or restaurant car with the first-class service including a complimentary drink with daily paper on the morning trains. Ticketing has become easier with a new e-ticket system and with a small supplement, rail pass holders can also see the Italian countryside whisk past them at amazing speeds.
Frecciarossa Fleet: The latest Italian trains are part of Eurostar's Alta Velocità fleet. So far the new fleet consists of one train, the Frecciarossa, capable of speeds of 300kph (186 mph). This train is able to make the trip between Milan and Bologna in just over an hour, with over fifty trains per day between Milan and Rome. The train is loaded with passenger comforts and with a travel time of three hours, you can have breakfast in Milan and lunch in Rome!
Tickets can be costly:for example a second class ticket from Rome to Milan or viceversa costs 89 Euros at the time of writing. So a full trip Milan - Rome - Milan will cost you 178 Euros per person. But there are special prices and promotions that can significantly lower this price. For example, booking at least a month in advance you ticket from Milan to Rome or viceversa will lower its price to 39 Euros. Same day round trip are at a discount too. For example, leaving Rome for Milan in the morning and coming back in the evening of the same day will cost you 98 Euros (49 Rome-Milan, 49 Milan-Rome).
Italy by Train: Italian Rail Point-to-Point Tickets
For travelers who don't plan on too much moving about during their stay in Italy, the Point-to-Point ticket option may be the best. This type of ticket allows 1st or 2nd class travel on Trenitalia domestic or international trains and is valid for up to 2 months. The Point-to-Point ticket does not cover seat reservations, sleeper cars, or upgrades to Eurostar Italia trains. Buying a ticket for travel in Italy has recently gotten easier with the advent of electronic tickets. The "Ticketless" option is now available for Eurostar, IC and IC Plus trains and can be purchased up to 10 minutes before departure. The electronic ticket is available for both 1st and 2nd class and available by the Internet or by phone. Going ticketless eliminates the need to wait in line at the ticket counters, or to risk not finding a seat on a reservation only train.
Italy by Train: Rail Discount Cards
Eurostar Club Railcard
For those who want to experience the best in Italian rail travel, The Eurostar Club Railcard offers exclusive services plus discounts and concessions in many hotels and theaters among other establishments for less than 100 Euro per year. The Cardholder is still responsible for paying any other expenses such as a reservation fee, on-board refreshments and car rental on arrival. This card also covers travel made on many regional trains but cannot be combined with other discounts.
The Intercity Card allows travelers to collect points towards premium tickets and special offers. Points can be accumulated by Traveling in Italy on any of these trains: Intercity, Intercity Night, Express, Eurocity (Italy only) and Eurostar. The Family Intercity card allows travelers to register 3 extra cards for family members to help accumulate points even faster. Travelers with over 1000 points get upgraded to an Intercity Gold Card, which includes to the Eurostar Clubs found in many train stations
Verde Railplus Card
This card, designed for younger travelers (under 26) offers discounts of 10% off 1st and 2nd class ticket prices as well as sleeper trains and couchettes, and 25% off international rail tickets. The Verde Railplus card is valid for one year and covers travel made on regional trains but does not cover reservation fees. As with other railcards offered, it cannot be combined with other discounts.
Specifically designed for senior travelers, the Argento Railcard offers a 15% discount on the price of first and second class tickets, plus a 10% discount on journeys made in sleeper trains and couchettes. This card is valid for one year, covers all regional service (not reservations) and is offered to travelers over 60. An upgrade to a lifetime membership card offers even better discounts of up to 40% off First class.
The Carta Blu is reserved for Italian residents with disabilities and is valid for 5 years. The Carta Blu allows a disabled person and a companion travel on one ticket, except on Eurostar trains or sleepers (a service charge ticket is required). These tickets must be purchased before boarding and must be accompanied by the railcar and valid I.D. The Carta Blu is only valid for travel within Italy.
Rail Travel to Italy.
Italy by Train: Rail Passes
For those planning on more extensive travel during your stay in Italy, one of the rail passes available is ideal. A rail pass can save you time, money and maybe your sanity in some of the big and incredibly busy stations in the major cities.
The Trenitalia Pass
The Trenitalia Pass is exclusively for non-Italian travelers. It allows travel in 1st or 2nd class on all Trenitalia trains throughout Italy. Travel must be completed in for 4-10 non-consecutive days within a two-month period. Supplements are required for Eurostar, sleeper trains or upgrades.
The Trenitalia Basic Pass offers both for 1st and 2nd class travel for adults with children under 12 entitled to a 50% discount. Trenitalia Youth Pass is designed for young people between 12 and 26 Traveling in 2nd class. Trenitalia Saver Pass offers both 1st and 2nd class travel for small groups of between 2 and 5 people.
InterRail - For residents of Europe
The InterRail pass is available to Europeans and residents of Turkey, Algeria Tunisia or Morocco. This pass offers unrestricted 2nd class travel in 29 European countries, excluding the pass holder's country of residence. The countries included in the InterRail system are divided into 8 zones: Italy is in Zone G with Greece, Turkey, Slovenia and Croatia. Where the pass is not valid, such as the holder's country of residence the InterRail pass entitles the holder to many reduced tickets and even discounts on bus and ferry service. InterRail passes can be bought in advance, up to three months before use and are available in different durations. A pass to travel in 1 zone is valid for 16 days, for 2 zones there are 22 days and a global pass includes all zones and is valid for one month.
InterRail passes are available in three types according to age: InterRail -12, for children from 4 until 12. InterRail -26, for young people between the ages of 12 and 26, InterRail 26+ is for adults 26 and upward. Like all rail passes available, additional services such as seat reservations, couchettes or sleeper cars must be purchases separately. Also, a supplement is need to when Traveling on higher quality trains or in 1st class. An upgrade fee is required to travel on Eurostar trains in Italy with the InterRail pass.
Eurail - for Non-European Travelers
Eurail passes are very popular, especially for extended journeys in Europe. There are many passes available by the European railway network to non-Europeans to make rail travel hassle free and affordable. All versions of the Eurail passes allow either 1st or 2nd class travel on trains and ferries with some having rental car options available. The Eurail passes can be chosen depending upon the length of your stay: The Eurailpass is valid in all participating 17 countries; Eurail Selectpasses are valid in 3, 4 or 5 countries or the Eurail Regional Pass which is valid in 2 countries. All of these passes can be designed to allow the most travel flexibility, from a set number of travel days to 2 or 3 months of unlimited travel. It all depends upon what you need for your trip. All Eurail passes must be purchased before entering Europe and validated before or during the first use. The Eurail pass does not cover reservation fees or supplements for couchettes, sleeper cars, or Eurostar trains.
By Justin Demetri