t Walks of Italy, we’re passionate about enriching your travels. If you find our travel guides helpful, you’ll love our expert guided walking tours. Check them out over at walksofitaly.com and no matter where you go, don’t forget to travel slow and #takewalks.
Pst! We’ve got a secret: The best way to get around Italy is by train. The Italian rail network connects just about every major city in Italy, runs like clockwork, and often includes spectacular views of the countryside. If you know a few simple tips about how to use it it’s an absolute breeze.
First, a quick look at the other options. Driving in Italy, particularly in Italian cities, can be confusing, chaotic, stressful and, for the uninitiated, even dangerous. (But if you do want to drive, you should definitely read our top 6 tips for driving in Italy.) Between the cost of car rental and gas it’s often cheaper to go by rail. Meanwhile, with all of the hassles of flying and the time required to get out to the airport, a flight often winds up taking as long, or longer, than the train — and, again, is often more expensive.
Of course, we know it’s easy for us to say that taking a train is easy. If you don’t speak Italian, even figuring out the train schedule can be tricky. That’s why we’ll walk you through how to book, and take, a train — right now.
Travelers can choose between Trenitalia, or for high speed routes they can check out Italy’s new private high speed trains at Italo Treno. Take a look at both to compare dates, times and prices. Trenitalia is the national rail service, so it includes all of the national routes. (Small, local trains, like the Circumvesuviana that goes from Naples to Sorrento and Pompeii, aren’t included, but you don’t need them for most major destinations).
At the website, click the button that says “English” at the top. Then, on the left, you’ll see your options for searching routes. You can opt for one-way or for return, and you have to put in your starting point, destination, and date.
For example, let’s say you want to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome then pop over to Naples for a jaunt through Pompeii. When you enter your options and click “Send,” the next page will show you a list of options around the time, and on the date, you selected. You might notice that under “Departure,” though, it doesn’t say Rome. It might say “Roma Te.” That’s because Italians call Rome “Roma,” and the “Te” is short for Rome’s main train station — Termini. Similarly, instead of “Naples,” it’ll often say “Na C.le,” short for “Napoli Centrale.”
We know this can be confusing, so here’s a list of Italy’s major train stations and how they’re abbreviated on the Trenitalia site:
Rome Termini (central station) –> ROMA TE
Naples Centrale (central station) –> NA C.LE
Florence Santa Maria Novella (central station) –> Fl.SMN
Venice Mestre (on the mainland) –> MESTREVenice Santa Lucia (on the island) –> VE. S.L.
Milan Centrale (central station) –> MI C.LE
Genova Piazza Principe (central station) –> GE P.P.
Genova Stazione Brignole –> GE BRIG
La Spezia Centrale (central station) –> SPEZIA
Pisa Centrale (central station) –> PISA C.
Sometimes, you might notice that one train station name at the top will be black, followed by a number of others in red. That means that there’s more than one station in the city you’ve picked, and the train stops at all of the stations on the list.
Figuring out the differences between Italian trains
Once you’ve got your destination and date down, you’ll often still have a number of options for exactly which train to take. You’ll notice clear differences under “length of journey,” with some (more expensive) trains being much faster than the other trains. You can also look at “train category.” The “Frecciarossa,” “Frecciargento” and “Frecciabianca” trains are the fastest, with speeds of up to 200-250km/hr. The “Eurostar” trains are also very fast. These are also the most expensive trains, and they connect only Italy’s most major cities. The most economical option tends to be the “Intercity” trains, which connect everywhere else, make more stops, and are slower, or the “Regional” (local) trains.
What are the price and speed differences, exactly? Well, let’s take our Rome to Naples journey as an example (one-way). On a weekday, leaving around noon, a “Frecciarossa” train takes only 1 hour 10 minutes. It costs €45 2nd class, or €58 1st class. Then there’s the “Intercity” train, which takes 2 hours 13 minutes and costs €22 (2nd class) or €29 (1st class). Finally, there’s the regional train, which takes 2 hours 34 minutes and costs only €10.50 (one class only).
What train you pick, of course, is up to you. But because the Eurostar and Frecciabianca/argento/rossa trains tend to be not only faster, but more comfortable and cleaner, if we’ve got a little cash to spare, they’re our transport of choice. That’s especially true when there are discounts on those trains — as there often are.
Taking advantage of Trenitalia’s promotional fares and discounts
When you’re looking at tickets online, don’t forget to check out Trenitalia’s deals (yes, that’s the link to their current promotional fares). You can see that right now, for example, children under 15 travel free with their Bimbi Gratis Offer.
How can you actually book one of these promotional fares? When you get to the page with all the train options and times, select the one you’d like to take, then click “Continue.” Your various options, like a “base” or “flexible” ticket, will show up – along with any promotional fares, like the Bimbi Gratis offer, if they’re available.