Train travel in Italy: a guide
Italy is one of Europe’s most compelling destinations. Picture the snow-capped Alps in the north, and the centuries-old vineyards of Sicily. What were once numerous separate city-states and kingdoms is now one diversely enchanting country. Train travel in Italy in now easier than ever. What better way to connect the majestic cities of Venice and Milan with Florence, Rome, and Naples than by Italy’s multifaceted rail network!
Foreigners have long been captivated by Italy’s historic, cultural, and gastronomic treasures. Have you ever wanted to see Michelangelo’s David, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Roman Colosseum, or eat pizza in its birthplace? Italy is the place you’ve got to go.
To get around the country quickly, efficiently, and in style, use TrenItalia’s Le Frecce line of high-speed trains. They’re first-rate, but do require a reservation (10 euros). Using a Eurail Pass makes rail travel in Italy more convenient and good value.
Types of trains in Italy
There are various trains in Italy. Besides the high-speed Le Frecce system, there are InterCity (IC), night trains, and regional trains.
Formerly known as Eurostar Italia, Le Frecce consists of three separate lines:
- Frecciarossa. Connect the main Italian cities from north to south.
- Frecciargento. Connect Rome to the main cities in the northeast and south.
- Frecciabianca. Links Turin and Milan to Italian cities in the northeast of Italy.
These trains are modern and comfortable, gliding on high-speed lines that get you to Italy’s most popular cities. Each have air-conditioning, large luggage racks, power sockets for electronic devices, and free Wi-Fi (Frecciarossa only), plus refreshments and usually a restaurant car. 1st class reservations include a small snack and a hot or cold welcome drink served at your seat. On my speedy 1:10 p.m. journey from Naples to Rome, I was served a glass of Prosecco!
Eurail Pass Holders pay a 10 euro supplement to ride Le Frecce’s 1st and 2nd class, which includes the compulsory reservation. It’s best to book a few weeks (or months) ahead in the high season, from May-September, and on public holidays. Other times of year, you could just reserve at the station the day before, or the morning you leave with little risk of being sold out.
Next up is the InterCity (IC) trains. They are relatively fast and make fewer stops than regional trains. IC trains connect key cities like Rome, Milan, Venice and Florence. They also accept reservations, but don’t require them. Reservations costing 3 euros are recommended in the high season and on public holidays. IC trains are a good compromise for saving travel time and money.
Finally, regional trains connect the cities to small towns and villages. These frequent and inexpensive services are where you can expect to see ordinary Italians going about their daily business. Although the trains are slower and stop more frequently, the views are often more scenic than the high-speed lines which use a different set of tracks.
Using the regional rails, you’ll get to places beyond where the majority of tourists go. Regional trains don’t take reservations. These serve as a good back-up plan in the event you are shut out at the last minute from a Frecce train.
Reservations are compulsory for all Le Frecce trains, night trains, and international day trains like the EuroCity. For InterCity trains, a reservation is recommended, but not required. It’s not possible to make reservations for regional trains.
There are a few ways to make a reservation for an Italian train:
- With the Eurail.com Reservation Service.
- Online at the TrenItalia website.
- At a ticket desk or self-service kiosk at major Italian rail stations.
- By telephone.
This page on the Eurail.com website will help with any questions about making reservations for trains in Italy.
Taking the night train gives you the benefit of saving a night’s accommodation. You also save travel time by arriving at your next destination the next morning. International and domestic night trains include the following:
- The EuroNight Allegro from Vienna to Rome/Milan/Venice.
- The Toscana Mare from Vienna to Tuscany.
- The City Night Line night trains from Munich to Rome/Venice.
Each of these trains require a reservation and related fee. With the exception of the Toscana Mare, each offers a seat with a reservation fee starting at 7 euros. Reservation fees for a bed in a shared compartment start at 27 euros.
Getting to and from Italy
There are many ways to get to and from Italy by day train as well. Some of the most common routes are:
- Innsbruck or Munich to Venice or Milan.
- The south of France to the Cinque Terre.
- Zurich or Luzern to Milan.
- Vienna to Venice.
Train travel in Italy: Top routes
Most Eurail Pass users follow the popular routes through Italy. From Florence to Rome, consider the regional train. You’ll save money avoiding the reservation fee, follow a more scenic route, and have the option of stopping off at one of these three outstanding stop-offs: Orvieto, Arezzo, and San Giovanni Valdarno.
Another common route through Italy is from Milan to Rome. The Frecciarossa conveniently whisks passengers point-to-point in a mere three hours. The more leisurely scenic regional train is 7-12 hours long.
Many travelers also ride between Milan and Venice. This route is well-connected by Frecciabianca and regional trains. Both trains may afford glimpses of the Alps to the north. However, only the InterCity or regional lines will allow you to stop off at some of my favorite small cities in Italy: Padua, Verona, and Vicenza.
The islands: Sardinia and Sicily
Your pass is valid on both islands. Grimaldi ferries offer a discount. You can reach Sicily by train as well as ferry. The domestic night train InterCity Notte takes you on a unique journey to Sicily. On this route the train is transported by boat across the Strait of Messina. Day trains run as well, completing the trip from Rome in about 12 hours. The ferry route to Palermo (Sicily) makes its way twice per week from Salerno, southeast of Naples.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. It’s a favorite spot for Italians and foreigners alike. This rugged island has a unique culture. There’s outstanding fresh food and wine and an ancient history with important archaeological sights. It’s also the home to Mt Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world.
Sardinia is known for its gorgeous beaches and coastline. You can do outdoor activities like diving and hiking. It’s also popular with high-budget travelers.
The overnight ferry to Sardinia arrives in Porto Torres, on the north coast. Grimaldi lines offer a 20% discount for Eurail Pass Holders. The ferry departs from Civitavecchia, northwest of Rome. It runs twice per week in off-season and more often in summer.
Tip: Consider visiting Italy in the off-season. Summer is beautiful, but can be busy with tourists. Trains must be reserved well in advance and museum lines are extremely long. The spring and fall shoulder seasons offer lovely weather and thinner crowds.
Choosing a rail pass
Italy is one of the most popular countries in Europe. Train travel in Italy is possible with the Eurail Global Pass, Select passes, and the Eurail Italy Pass.