When you are in Italy, you won’t have to worry much about getting around. Even longer distances can be easily covered with public transport. The Italian train network is extensive and very convenient.
As with many train systems in Europe, Italy has split its trains in two separate departments: commuter trains for medium and short distances and high-speed trains for longer distances.
Commuter trains in Italy are run by both the national rail company (Trenitalia) and several local companies that run their regional trains in a set part of the country. For example: Trenord runs its trains in the country’s north. Don’t be fooled though, these companies are usually (partly) owned by the national railway company Trenitalia.
The commuter trains are running on local lines and they come in different varieties from stop trains, which strop at every station and express or intercity services which skip (several) stations. These services are usually quicker when you travel between major cities.
Important to know is that most of these services have a fixed price. So you can just grab a ticket when you arrive at the station and jump on the next train out. But if you want to grab a coffee first, you’re fine too. This is not the case for the high-speed trains.
Please note: buy a ticket before you board. There are ticket machines that are not amazing, but they are functional and in English.
A much more exciting part of the Italian train network is the high-speed network. These trains are run by two companies: Italo and Trenitalia.
The Italo train service is relatively easy: they run high-speed trains up and down the country and you can buy a ticket airline-style. This means that the earlier you book, the lower the price will generally be. If you book on the day, chances are you are paying a premium.
And speaking of paying a premium… Italian trains are a bit strange. They don’t have just a second class and first class. They have… several first classes. And several second classes. So paying a premium for a different class seat might get you a nicer seat, a complimentary drink and some other amenities.
Again: think of it as a very long airplane. That is pretty much what you can expect in terms of what type of service you can expect.
Trenitalia is the state-owned national rail carrier of Italy. And when it comes to the high-speed rail service, they… Well… They clearly weren’t going to make it easy for you.
So let’s try and keep it easy: they run several kinds of high-speed trains: Frecciarossa (350 kph), Frecciargento (250kph) and Frecciabianca (up to 200kph).
Not every service runs on every line so you should look at the specific route you are taking. Most of the time, ticket machines or the website will give you the available options.
As for comfort: these trains are quite decent. Nothing beats some of the older ICE-trains in Germany but there is nothing wrong with these trains. As with Italo, Trenitalia runs several second classes and several first classes. So you can pick what level of comfort and service you want.
As with Italo, Trenitalia uses a reservation system that looks a lot like that of airlines. Generally this means that booking early gets you the best price. Even though they do run promotions from time to time.