Italy Transportation Tips by mccalpin
Italy Transportation: 349 reviews and 251 photos
We frequently discuss here on VT how Eurailpasses are not a bargain within Italy.
One reason is that to use the Eurailpass on a 'premium' train, you must not only get a reservation in advance, but also pay a supplement (which includes the reservation fee). Regional (i.e., local) trains do not require this supplement.
To figure out whether a Eurailpass is worth the cost, you need to generally plan out your trip using www.trenitalia.com/en/index.html . Note the fares for the various types of trains. Then note that if you have a Eurailpass, you will have to pay the supplements listed below over and above the pass on all 'premium' trains.
Eurostar Italia ( Frecciarossa / Frecciargento / Frecciabianca); EuroCity
* Fees - 1st and 2nd class: €10
InterCity; InterCityNotte, Expresso (only seats)
Reservation: recommended but not required
* Fees - 1st and 2nd class: €3
(for historical reasons, I'll leave the following, which is now dated. Note that the link is no longer valid.
"Supplements in Italy
Surcharges and/or reservation costs are required for these domestic day trains:
Eurostar Italia - 1st and 2nd class: € 15 (approx. USD 22,20 / AUD 8,75)
Eurostar Italia AV - 1st and 2nd class: € 20 (approx. USD 29,60 / AUD 35)
EurostarCity Italia - 1st and 2nd class: € 15 (approx. USD 22,20 / AUD 26,25)
TBiz - 1st and 2nd class: € 25 (approx. USD 37,00 / AUD 43,75)
InterCity Plus - 1st and 2nd class: € 5 (approx. USD 7,40 / AUD 8,75)
EC/IC Internazionali (domestic journeys) - 1st and 2nd class: € 5 (approx. USD 7,40 / AUD 8,75)
Cisalpino (domestic journeys) - 1st and 2nd class: € 5 (approx. USD 7,40 / AUD 8,75)
Artesia de Jour (domestic journeys) - 1st and 2nd class: € 5 (approx. USD 7,40 / AUD 8,75) "
***end of dated material)
But the regional trains don't take reservations at all, so you can just go to the station and hop on the train with your pass and go...of course, there is a small chance you might stand or sit in a pull-down seat in the aisle, but that's all part of the adventure...;-)
The answers to your questions depend on which type of train you are taking.
In Italy, there are generally two types of trains: (1) regional, and (2) "premium".
Regional trains are shorter distance trains regulated by the region (well, duh). These trains are slower, have more frequent stops, and do not take reservations - that is, if you have a ticket, you can get on, even if there are no available seats. Think: "city bus".
Regional trains are for trips within a region (there are 22 in Italy, like Tuscany, Lazio, Veneto, etc.), or for trips that begin in one region and end in a neighboring region. Regional trains seldom cross more than two regions.
The fares are charged by the kilometer, although since the fares are regulated by the region, the per kilometer charge will vary slightly from region to region.
There are no discount plans for regional trains available to non-residents (i.e., you). Buy in advance, buy at the station - the price is the same.
Indeed, it's not even easy to buy regional tickets online. The normal process is for you to go to the station, buy a ticket from the "Rete Regionale" (regional network) ticket machine (this is actually a different machine than the one for "Trenitalia" which is for the other type of train), take yourself to the right track, validate your ticket (which date/time stamps it), and get on your train.
Your regional tickets are good for the given route for something like 2 months - this is why you have to validate the ticket, to make sure you can't reuse it. Passengers with an unvalidated ticket are treated like passengers with no ticket at all - heavy, on the spot fines (starting at 50 euro)(!).
You can see a photo of someone validating her ticket at
You can see photos of the self service ticket machines for regional trains at
"Premium" trains are trains run by the national "Trenitalia" brand (the owner is actually the Ferrovie dello Stato, the national railways - this is why you often see "F.S." or "FS" as a reference to the rail network). These trains are generally long distance, i.e., across multiple regions. These trains have fewer stops, and are the high-speed trains that can take you from Rome to Milan in an unbelievable 3 hours, city center to city center (taking regional trains would take all day).
All seats are reserved on these trains. You must buy the ticket in advance, although you can buy one when you walk up to the station to take the train, if seats are available (as they often or even usually are).
These fares are market-priced, that is, like airfares, these train fares are whatever the market will bear.
Because of this, they are much higher than regional fares, because the trains are faster, have fewer stops, and are more comfortable (newer carriages).
There are discount programs for premium trains. Some are available only to "frequent flyers", but you will find the two discount fares of interest. There are three fare classes: "base", "economy", and "supereconomy".
Base is the normal, walk up fare. Economy is the first level of discount. It is a healthy discount (the percentage varies). Supereconomy is an even deeper discount - up to 60%(!). HOWEVER, just like the airlines, the number of economy and supereconomy seats are limited on any given train. Thus, on popular routes, these seats will sell out, sometime a couple of weeks in advance. You can buy these fares up until the moment that the train leaves, if the discount seats are still available, but they often sell out.
These are the trains for which it is advantageous to buy the tickets in advance, whether online or in person at a train station or travel agency (there are thousands of travel agencies in Italy that sell Trenitalia/FS tickets). However, these discounts tickets have limited ability to be changed or be refunded (like the airlines), so you don't want to buy one of these discount tickets unless you are sure that you will be taking that train on that day.
The self service machines for these trains are not the "Rete Regionale" machines, but the other, taller, newer ones (I have a photo somewhere that I need to post). Actually, you may be able to buy regional tickets on the Trenitalia machines; I just never tried.
1. is it worth booking tickets online?
A. for regional trains, No
B. for premium trains, a qualified Yes - see above
2. Are there disadvantages to buying on the day of travel?
A. for regional trains, No (in fact, there is NO point in buying regional tickets in advance, unless it's something you just want to get out of the way)
B. for premium trains, a qualified Yes - you are less likely to be able to take advantage of discounts
3. What about train passes?
There are no train passes available to non-residents
4. Is there a weekly-ticket?
Validating a regional train ticket
NOTE: you have to validate the tickets ONLY for regional trains - the tickets for "premium" trains do NOT require validation.
"Validation" means putting your ticket into the green or yellow box (they are switching from yellow to green across the country) mounted on the wall of the station or next to the track, so that it can be date/time stamped.
Why validate? Because your regional train ticket is sort of like a municipal bus ticket - it's good on this route for up to 2 months or more, so you date/time stamp the ticket to show that it's been used (otherwise, you'd be able to reuse it, which is a no-no in Italy). Since the regional trains do not take reservations, it's possible to do the tickets this way.
"Premium" trains, on the other hand, require seat reservations, so your "ticket" (which is often electronic anyway) is good only for a certain train on a certain day at a certain time. But can't you get reimbursed for an unused ticket if you didn't take the train? Yes, but only in the first HOUR after departure, because the train personnel can be pretty sure that you didn't take the train (since you're in the station talking to them at the time). Otherwise, more than 1 hour after departure, your ticket is no longer good.
The reason why people keep emphasizing that you need to validate your tickets is because many foreign visitors are caught by this and are fined on the spot 50+ euro (can be 100+ if you don't have the cash on hand). AND this system for trains is different than for buses, because buses have the little yellow boxes onboard the buses whereas if you board the train without validation, it's too late.
In short, you DON'T have to validate tickets for "premium" trains...and, besides, for the premium trains, you often don't have a ticket anyway (they're electronic)!
On June 20th, 2012, I noticed that Trenitalia had changed its fare classes (including discount fares) once again, so for the benefit of everyone, I'll state them here (NOTE: the English text on the Trenitalia website has NOT been updated, only the Italian has):
Base - the standard fare with the following features:
1. unlimited changes to the date and time of a reservation, before departure.
2. change of ticket (itinerary, number of travelers, class, etc.) is free for an unlimited number of times before departure and once up to an hour after departure; you will have to pay any difference in fare, though. In other words, this allows you to apply an unused ticket to another rail trip.
3. you can get an 80% refund on tickets before departure and a 50% refund on tickets after departure.
4. you can directly board another train of the same (or lesser) class with a ticket of this fare, if you see the train personnel immediately. You will pay a supplement of 8 euro. The fare description doesn't say what happens if the train you board is sold out (i.e., no free seats)...
Economy - first level of discount fare with the following features:
1. only one change allowed to the date and time of a reservation, before departure.
2. no change of ticket (itinerary, number of travelers, class, etc.) is allowed.
3. there is no refund allowed.
4. there is no ability to directly board similar trains.
Super Economy - the deepest discount fare, with the following features:
1. no changes to reservation allowed (date and time).
2. no change of ticket (itinerary, number of travelers, class, etc.) is allowed.
3. no refunds are allowed.
4. no direct access to other trains is allowed.
BIG DIFFERENCE! You can buy any of these fares up until the moment of departure, if the seats in that fare class are available. Usually, of course, the discount fares will be sold out at the last minute, but I noticed just a few minutes ago that a last minute Economy fare was still available for the Rome to Florence train that was about to leave.
ANOTHER NOTE: the above fares are ONLY for "premium" trains, the Freccia*, the Eurostars, the InterCity, etc. - any train that requires reservations (there are some exception for certain international trains). Regional trains still have only one fare class: "ordinary". The ordinary fare is priced per kilometer, unlike the fare classes listed above which are based on market demand.
YET ANOTHER NOTE: the above list of fares didn't include the "flexible" fare. The fare class still exists, but I haven't read the fine print to see why it's better than the new Base fare. Note to tourists: the flexible fare is for local business travelers and of no interest to you...because it costs more than the Base fare.
Other Contact: www.trenitalia.com
A train at Fiumicino Airport
And let me add something else to help clarify why you validate regional tickets and not premium tickets.
The tickets for a premium train are for a certain date and time. To change it, you have to go to the station or a travel agency to get it changed. Furthermore, with any discount tickets (like the Mini fare), I think you're allowed only one change, and you'll liable for any difference in fare (i.e., if the cheap seat that you got the first time is no longer available on the new train). This is a lot like how airlines do tickets.
I believe that the conductors have hand-held devices to confirm that you are who you are and that you have a reservation on that train - that's why all they need is your ID and your PNR code. I say "I believe" only because I haven't been on a premium train recently (I took only regional trains on my last visit).
So, your premium ticket is good for only one certain train on a certain day...
BUT, for regional trains, the ticket is good for this same distance for any time in the next 4 months. That is, when I buy a ticket for Rome to Civitavecchia on a regional train (there are some IC trains, but I'm ignoring these because they're premium trains), what I get is a ticket for XX number of kilometers (80 as I recall). Regional trains are priced by kilometer, unlike premium trains which are priced by market demand.
Since there are no reservations even possible on a regional train and since my ticket is good for XX kilometers, with this ticket, I could take any regional train going from X to Y any time in the next 4 months. This would be like me buying a bus ticket on one day, and not using it until later - exactly what you're doing if you buy a "carnet" (booklet) of tickets.
OK, if the ticket isn't tied to a train, what's to stop you from re-using it? Nothing, which is why there is this validation process, really, a date-time stamp. This indicates that you have used the ticket and therefore can't reuse it.
Conductors used to punch these things on trains, but I guess that this took too long, so now YOU have to validate on the track near the train. On walls in the station or near the track will be yellow boxes about chest-high (or lower) with a slot that you stick the ticket into. A printer in the box quickly prints the date and time stamp on the ticket in VERY small print. Now you have 4-6 hours to complete the journey. Now your ticket can't be reused for another trip. (NOTE: there is a yellow validation box in the photo at the far right)
This is why the conductors treat someone with an unvalidated ticket the same as someone with no ticket at all. Hence the discussion on maybe why you should validate something even when you don't even have a ticket.
But really, regional trains are like buses - you buy a ticket, you validate it, and you get on, even if you have to stand (note that in Rome, at least, the yellow boxes are on the buses themselves, so you validate after getting on whereas you validate before you get on for trains).
On the premium trains, they know if you boarded the train you had the reservation for, so they know if you used the ticket, so no need to do this validation stuff...
There is no rail pass issued by the Italian national railroad that is available for non-residents. The passes that exist are really only for long-term commuters anyway.
As noted above, it is virtually impossible for a Eurailpass to be cheaper in Italy than point-to-point tickets.
Some travelers are very concerned with minimizing expenses. The Italian rail system has two general categories of trains: regional and "premium".
Regional trains run primarily within a region equivalent to a state in the US or province in Canada (sorry - no idea what the units are in Malaysia ;-) ). These trains are "local", tend to have a lot of stops, and are dirt cheap. They do not take reservations; if you have a validated ticket, you can get on so long as there is physical room to stand.
"Premium" trains are long distance trains. They are higher speed, and have few if any stops. These trains always require reservations, although you will be sold a reservation at the last minute if there is a free seat (as is often if not usually the case). "Premium" trains are more expensive than regional trains, sometimes amazingly so. The service is geared to business people and tourists who don't realize that there are cheaper ways to travel.
www.trenitalia.com is the official website of the national railroad. There are other railroads, but most visitors won't run into them, unless they go to Pompeii (Circuvesuviana), Como (Le Nord) or in far southern and south-eastern Italy (there are several here).
Before you go to Italy, you should practice doing trip solutions on the Trenitalia website, so that you can get a feel for the trade-offs between cost and speed. Let's do an example:
Rome to Florence (Oct 2011)
Alta Velocita' (AV, "High Speed") - 1 hour 30 minutes or less - 45.00 euro one way 2nd class
InterCity (IC) - 3 hours - 30.00 euro one way 2nd class
Regionale Veloce (RV) - 4 plus hours - 17.15 euro one way 2nd class
The AV and IC trains above are "premium" trains and require reservations; the RV train is not.
Note that there is seldom if ever a need to go first class. In first you will find only business people on expense accounts and tourists who have this weird vision of second class being full of chickens, goats, the occasional cow, and unwashed people reeking of garlic...
Note that some routes will have only regional trains (like Florence to Pisa and back), other routes will have no direct trains that are regional but only the premium trains.
The rail system in Italy is not like an airline where all the flights take the same length of time, but more like a bus system where there are local buses and express buses...
The issue is whether or not tickets on Italian trains must be validated, that is, date/time stamped. The answer is "yes" for some and "no" for others.
If the trip is on a regional train, yes, you must "obliterate" ("obliterare" is the verb, "obliteratrice" is the machine, although they sometimes use "convalidare" as the verb) the ticket, i.e., give it a date/time stamp. Why? Because regional tickets are good for a trip for something like 2 months, so if you didn't date/time stamp the ticket, you could keep reusing it over and over...hence, the rail employees treat you as if you have no ticket (no, they're not going to validate it for you, they'd rather fine you on the spot).
If the trip is on a "premium" train, however, the issue is murky. Remember that tickets for premium trains are for a specific date and time, and the ticket cannot be cashed in too long after the trip.
I looked at one thread on the Italian answer.com site (http://it.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080822021701AAR7NVz)
where all the respondents (as I recall) said "no, you don't have to validate the ticket", but the answer chosen as "best" said, "no, of course you don't have to validate the ticket because it is for a given date and time, but you know that there are idiots everywhere (in the railroad system) who may not know that so it doesn't hurt to validate it anyway."
One of the answers was from an Italian who just took a Eurostar and whose unvalidated ticket was checked twice. The first conductor said that it should have been validated, but left it at that with no fine or anything, while the second conductor didn't say a word.
Note that the question was triggered by the OP being told by a railroad employee that validation was not necessary, but she wasn't sure she believed him.
Anyway, the Trenitalia website traveler's guide says this:
"Ricordati che devi sempre salire in treno con un biglietto valido per il viaggio che intendi effettuare ( per i biglietti Regionali è necessaria anche la convalida), altrimenti vieni considerato sprovvisto di biglietto. "
(Remember that you must always board the train with a valid ticket for the route that you intend to take - the regional tickets also must be validated - otherwise [referring to the first phrase] you will be considered as traveling without a ticket.)
Besides, if you ride Ticketless on a premium train, you don't have anything to validate anyway...
Ah, I see in the section called "Rilascio di biglietti ed altre operazioni in treno" at http://www.trenitalia.com/cms/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2f2df63b758ea110VgnVCM1000003f16f90aRCRD
that you are OK in boarding a premium train if all you have is a valid (but not validated) ticket, but the ticket must be validated for a regional train...
So, despite much confusion (which is natural to the Italian character which sees "idiots everywhere" ;-) ), it's pretty clear that premium trains don't require validation of the ticket (if you even have a paper ticket)...
I don't think I've taken a sleeping compartment on an Italian train, except a couchette, but this is what the Trenitalia website says...
There are a number of choices for a "seat" on the overnight train from Milan to Rome:
Couchettes for four "Comfort" - Couchette C4 Comfort
2 bed compartment - compartimento 2 letti
3 bed compartment - compartimento 3 letti
double seat compartment - posto doppio
special seat compartment - posto speciale
single seat compartment - posto singolo
Excelsior singolo (solo in 1a)
Excelsior singolo con lettino
Excelsior doppio con lettino
On the left is what the English page shows, and on the right is the Italian. Note that the Excelsior descriptions are in Italian in both cases.
The page that describes these services is only in Italian (I suspect), and can be found at
After reading it carefully and recognizing the differing terminology (probably due to service offerings changing over time but not all documentation being updated in a timely manner), this is what I think (note: all prices as of summer 2011):
Excelsior is like a hotel room, up to and including a private bathroom and shower. The non-discounted price is 120 euro per person for the Excelsior doppio (double).
posto doppio (and posto speciale and posto singolo) appear to be cabins in a carriage called a "vettura Letti Classica". This type of carriage has 12 cabins per carriage. The non-discounted posto doppio price is 100 euro per person.
compartimento 2 letti (and 3 letti) appear to be cabins in a carriage called a "vettura Letti Turistica". This type of carriage has 17 cabins per carriage, hence the rooms are smaller than on the "vettura Letti Classica" above. The non-discounted price compartimento 2 letti is 82.90 euro per person.
couchettes are six seats (daytime) and 4 beds (nighttime) that fold down from the walls. The rooms are often shared with strangers, and there is the possibility of asking for an all-female room. The non-discounted price for a couchette is 67.90 per person.
The posto doppio and compartimento 2 letti otherwise share a similar set of features:
"- lavabo con acqua calda e fredda,
- prese di corrente per rasoio elettrico e lampada da lettura,
- porta abiti,
- accessori per l’igiene personale,
- porta intercomunicante tra 2 cabine adiacenti apribile su richiesta del cliente per chi vuol viaggiare in compagnia di amici o parenti. "
- sink with hot and cold water
- electrical outlets for an electric razor and a reading lamp
- clothes storage
- accessories for personal hygiene
- an optional door between two cabins for those who want to travel with friends or family [just like a lot of hotels].
Read more: Italy Travel Forum
People often have serious difficulties buying tickets online using the Trenitalia website. It's not that you can't make it all the way to the purchase page, it's that your credit card won't be accepted for reasons that are not at all clear (even to the credit card company Help Desks).
You can use online services like www.raileurope.com to buy tickets online - and they can even ship them to you wherever you live, as opposed to Trenitalia which will mail only in Italy. However, these services are pricey in that they charge quite a premium on the ticket prices. For example, the reservation fee for a train in Italy is usally something like 3 euro (almost $4USD), but I have seen raileurope.com quote $22USD for the same thing(!).
What you may want to do is look at this link http://www.trenitalia.com/it/0f866ccf935c5010VgnVCM10000045a2e90aRCRD.shtml for a list of travel agencies outside Italy that are able to sell Trenitalia tickets, passes, and the like. I have chosen the Italian page, because the English page is not as up-to-date, and you should be able to click on the country you want and see the list of names and addresses without much trouble.
For example, if you click on "USA", you'll get a list of 16 travel agencies across the US (including one here in the Dallas, Texas area!) that can sell these tickets.
I have no experience with any of these outfits, but it may be worth your while to talk to one if it is near you and you have to buy tickets in advance.
I have discovered a URL within trenitalia that shows you the arrivals and departures in one hour increments, apparently from any train station that trenitalia has access to, including non-Italian ones.
I got to this URL by accident, and realized that it shows, for example, every train that is departing Roma Termini between 9 and 10 a.m. - quite similar to what you see on the wall at the station itself (except I don't see track numbers here, oh well...).
Go to http://orarioint.trenitalia.com/bin/stboard.exe/en. Type in the name of a station, such as "Roma Termini", and then select a timeframe (like "from 09:00 h"). Then click on "Show" (the top one).
You'll be presented a timetable, like at the station. Note that it will work also with non-Italian stations (try "Muenchen HBF" - the main train station in Munich).
I have tried playing around with the URL, but there doesn't seem to be a corresponding page that is not international (but that doesn't matter since this page does both Italian and international stations), and there is not an equivalent page in Italian (I changed the "en" to "it").
I also don't know how you get to this page normally...I got to it when I tried to plot the solution of St. Moritz to Venice, and I got an error page, which gave me a link to this page...but I don't know how one does this normally...
Also look at forum discussion http://forum.virtualtourist.com/discussion-334317-1-1-Travel-0-51-Italy-discussion.html - it appears that this feature is also available at the German rail website...
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