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The train is a great way of touring Italy with a good network of Intercity and regional services. Rail is a much stronger proposition than any bus service between major towns and cities, though scheduled Intercity coaches between major Italian cities are available with the promise of very cheap fares.
It's worth checking out low cost airlines, Ryanair and easyJet for some of the longer journeys like Venice to Naples but once you factor in airport transfers, the train is going to be cheaper, as fast or faster city centre to city centre and a lot more stress free.
• Cheapest advance purchase fares • Pay by credit card • Instant confirmations • Timetables
Unless you are determined to travel at very lowest price, the Italian high-speed trains are going to be the workhorse of getting between major sightseeing cities in Italy.
By buying advanced purchase promotional fares three to four months in advance, these trains can also be astoundingly cheap. Buying on the day though can be very expensive. See the section further down the page discussing how best to get the cheap fares.
The high-speed trains connect the major cities of Italy and for the most part run on dedicated tracks, separate from alternative slower Intercity trains. The high-speed trains are comfortable with plenty of room and free Wi-Fi.
The high-speed train services are:
Frecciarossa trains – Turin-Milan-Bologna-Rome-Naples-Salerno Trains reach up to 360km/h
Frecciargento trains – Rome to Venice, Verona, Bari/Lecce, Lamezia Terme/ReggioCalabria. Trains reach up to 250km/h
Frecciabianca trains – Milan to Venice, Udine e Trieste; Genoa and Rome; down to Bari, Lecce on the traditional line. Trains reach up to 200km/h
The simple answer to getting cheap rail fares on the high-speed trains is book online in advance (preferably 3-4 months in advance on the Trenitalia website).
On Trenitalia you buy true e-tickets from the website, payment is by credit card priced in euros. For high-speed and Intercity trains you select your seat number within a carriage on the train.
You will receive a confirmation voucher immediately by email.
On the day of travel you find the platform, find the train carriage number displayed on your confirmation board then find your seat number.
There are no ticket barriers, a guard will come and verify your tickets on the journey. You just show your confirmation to the guard.
Tickets become available 4 months before date of travel online. Regional and local train tickets only become available 7 days before travel. The cheapest fares are Super Economy tickets that are broadly a pay in advance, no refund, no cancellation ticket.
If you can purchase a high-speed train ticket as soon as they become available, chances are you'll bag an absolute bargain. In fact, rates can be as low as half the full fare if you book this much in advance.
For example, at the time of writing (Feb 2020) if you were buying 3-4 months in advance a Rome to Florence Super Economy ticket is available for €23.50 on every high-speed train that day. Buy a ticket for travel today and the cheapest ticket is €57. If you are prepared to make a change or two (and double your journey time) even cheaper rates can be found.
On most city pairs you will also have the option of travelling on one of the trains that run on the conventional rather than high-speed tracks, broadly called Intercity trains. Trains are much slower and typically less punctual (this is not Switzerland) than the high-speed trains.
Carriages are not uncomfortable but are not as spacious and airy as the high-speed trains. There are different types of carriages on this class of trains. Many have carriages with small compartments of 6 seats linked by a corridor along the carriage others are airline style.
A typical comparison on the Rome to Naples route shows that the high-speed trains do the trip in just over an hour against just over 2 hours for the Intercity class train, but the Intercity train is half the price.
If you are ready to put some time in researching on the Trenitalia website you will probably find some very attractive tickets. Some personal Intercity favourites are a train Pisa to Naples, a 6-hour journey (with 1 change) for €17.90 on an advance purchase Super Economy ticket and Florence (Rifredi railway station) to Rome (with 1 change) for €14.90. (June 2020 prices.)
Even for the high-speed trains there may be more than one station used by the trains in a city. It is well worth checking the name of the station against the city.
The danger for the unaware is that the station served by the train is on the outskirts of the city, rather than the city centre station.
For example the main station in Rome is Termini, right in the city centre. High-speed trains travelling between Florence and Naples may stop at Tiburtina Station on the edge of the city instead.
Similarly Pisa to Naples trains may stop at Ostiense station for Rome.
For Florence the main city centre station is S.M. Novella. However if you want the cheapest fare on an Intercity train rather than a high-speed train, these trains like the Venice to Naples trains normally use Rifredi as their Florence station a few kilometres outside the city centre.
There are no separate luggage cars which are controlled by an attendant and secured with a ticketing system. You board the trains with your luggage, the amount is only limited by what you can carry.
There may be luggage racks which may be full already. It sounds worse than it really is, but if you are travelling heavy (more than one large bag) it may be an issue for you in terms of stress.
On some trains, notably the Intercity trains with compartments, the luggage rack for large cases may be above your head so you should be able to lift your case above head height to make use of it.
The Trenitalia website is easy to use for finding fares, timetables and ticketing and is also in English.
Remember, tickets become available 4 months before date of travel online. Regional and local train tickets only become available 7 days before travel.
Although in English, the city names which you search on in the online travel planner are in Italian ...
Florence = Firenze
Naples = Napoli
Turin = Torino
Venice = Venezia
Full details of the Circumvesuviana trains that enable an independent visit to Pompeii, Herculaneum & Mount Vesuvius from Naples are on our dedicated page linked below.
The Circumvesuviana is a small independent network of lines out of Naples that cover the region to the east of the city.
The line is not part of the national railways so you cannot buy a ticket to Pompeii using the national rail network and Circumvesuviana journeys combined in one ticket. There are no seat reservations, you pay cash for tickets in advance at the stations or local news-stands and bars.