How to see Italy on Trenitalia trains: what you need to know about trains and tickets
Trenitalia: Italy's main railroad company

How to see Italy on Trenitalia trains: what you need to know about trains and tickets

The whole of Italy, especially its central and northern parts, is so densely permeated with rail lines that buses and cars lose out to the train in speed, convenience and price in most cases. From Milan to Palermo can be reached in 15 hours and from 40 €. I tell you about the country’s main railroad company, the state-owned Trenitalia.

The main secret to saving money with Trenitalia is to buy your tickets in advance. The Trenitalia website is my main assistant in planning my travels in Italy. If you buy 1—2 months in advance, tickets for all trains will be 2—3 times cheaper. There are no discounts on electric trains, i.e. regional trains.

At the station, you can buy a ticket from a cashier or from a vending machine. There are enough vending machines at each station, they have a clear interface in English and the queues are smaller than at the cashiers. If there are more than 2 people in line at a machine, look around, there is probably another machine around the corner that nobody needs.

Trenitalia vending machines - red, big, are at every station
Trenitalia vending machines — red, big, are at every station

Trenitalia train classes

Trenitalia has several classes of trains:

  1. Regionale — the simplest, regional trains. They run short distances, cost the least and usually take the longest time. For short distances, the time difference with more expensive trains can be as little as 5—20 minutes, but usually Regionale goes where intercity trains don’t go.
  2. Intercity — simple intercity trains. They sometimes differ from regional trains only by the number of stops. As a rule, they are old cars, can be quite shabby.
  3. Freccia are modern high-speed trains. Frecciabianca, Frecciarossa and Frecciargento differ in train class, level of service and very different speeds. There is a bar-bistro on board.
  • Frecciarossa are Trenitalia’s flagship trains. Power outlets and information monitors at every seat, comfortable seats, extra space for luggage, and most importantly, speeds of up to 300 km/h and dedicated high-speed lines. From Bologna to Florence can be reached in half an hour, and from Milan to Bari on the heel — in 6 hours. Ticket prices are correspondingly high.
  • Frecciargento — high-speed trains (up to 250 km/h) connecting Rome with the main regional centers. We used the Silver Arrow between Rome and Pisa, we got there in 2 hours, but comfort, as we realized, is a relative matter. The train was not much different inside from the Intercity.
  • Frecciabianca — runs on ordinary, not high-speed lines, but provides increased (compared to Intercity) comfort to passengers and the highest possible speed on ordinary lines. All Freccie has priority over Intercity and even more so over Regionale.

Regional trains (Treni Regionali)

These are not exactly electric trains, although many people are more accustomed to calling them that. They are trains within one region or between neighboring 2—3 regions. They are simple, without a bar, but sometimes very comfortable.

Regional trains are Regionale simple and Regionale Veloce high-speed trains. The latter are distinguished by the fact that they make fewer stops along the way, have higher speeds and can travel slightly faster than ordinary trains.

In different regions, and even on the same line, you can get very different level of cars. It does not depend on the region, direction and speed of the train. For example, between Rome and Nettuno there are comfortable double-decker trains, but between Rome and Ostia there may be an old train with unconditioned cars. From provincial Gorizia we rode in a new train, more like a subway, and to Chioggia we took a car that seems to be written off today or tomorrow.

Electric train in Italy
Electric train in Italy
A regional train can be very comfortable and modern
A regional train can be very comfortable and modern
... and it could be so old
… and it could be so old
About half of the regional trains look like this
About half of the regional trains look like this

Don’t forget to stamp your ticket!

Unlike intercity trains, whose tickets contain exact departure times and reserve a seat for you, tickets for regional trains must be validated manually before departure. Look for validators at the station — small green-and-white machines on walls and poles with the Trenitalia logo. Insert your ticket into it, press it against the left side of the validator, and the machine punches out the activation time on the ticket.


A ticket for the Italian «electric train» is valid for 4 hours from the moment it is composted

This is convenient if you have connections or if you want to get off for a couple of hours between A and B and see a small town in between, but you don’t want to go there on purpose. Get off at the intermediate station, walk around and take another train in your direction. The main thing is that from the moment of validation to the end of the trip should not be more than 4 hours.

Sometimes the tickets are quite small and sometimes they are so big
Sometimes the tickets are quite small and sometimes they are so big

An invalid ticket is equivalent to a stowaway ticket

The fine for a stowaway or an unvalidated ticket is 30 € + the cost of a new ticket for the same train. Controllers do not do any favors to tourists. Even if it happened because of a strike on the railroad, that is not your fault.

What to do if the train is canceled?

Trains are late and canceled. Italians like to be scolded for not being punctual, but the reason is usually road repairs or strikes, and they love to strike.

This happened to me twice: once I had not yet managed to buy a ticket and just sat at the station for an extra couple of hours, and the other time I had already managed to buy and validate the ticket.

  1. If an intercity train is canceled, just go to customer service and get a refund or a new ticket.
  2. If a regional train is canceled, the situation depends on whether you had time to cancel your ticket.
  3. If you didn’t make it in time, just get on the next appropriate train. Don’t get the wrong class! You can’t get on a Freccia if you have a ticket for Regionale. It is the same between different Freccie.
  4. If your ticket has already been validated, go to the Customer Office at the station. There a special girl will do three things: offer you options on how to get to your destination, cross out the validator mark on your ticket, put a special stamp next to the crossed out validation.

From now on, your ticket is brand new again! Compost it on the other side and drive without penalty.

The advice to «compost as late as possible» doesn’t always work. When this situation happened to us on a connecting trip, our train was canceled 25 minutes after it was supposed to leave (!), and up to that point it was showing on the scoreboard as if everything was on schedule. Of course, our ticket had already been stamped.

Remember: in any unclear situation with tickets, go to Servizio Clienti. The Trenitali controllers are ruthless and do not fall for tearful stories about how you didn’t know something.