Differences Between First Class & Second Class on Italian Trains

Seats on a Trenitalia train.

Seats on a Trenitalia train. — creative commons photo by Conan

As if all the other choices you need to make in planning an Italy trip weren’t overwhelming enough, on some Italian trains you also get to pick whether you want to sit in first class or second class. (I know, all of this decision-making will make the next “paper or plastic” question seem so easy, won’t it?)

You’ll notice the main difference between first class and second class even before you get on a train in Italy – first class, naturally, costs more. Once on board, the differences are not as stark as they are between first class and coach on a plane, so don’t automatically assume first class is worth the extra cost.

Generally speaking, here are the differences you can expect:

First Class on Italian Trains

  • Wider aisles and seats
  • Fewer people
  • More luggage storage space
  • Free newspapers (on some trains)
  • Free snacks and beverages (on some trains)
  • Other passengers – primarily Italian business travelers, American and other Western tourists
  • Sometimes free or more reliable WiFi
  • Sometimes free entertainment (movies)
  • Cleaner and better-stocked bathrooms

Second Class on Italian Trains

  • Narrower aisles and seats
  • More people
  • Less personal space
  • Less luggage storage space
  • Snack and beverage service for a fee (on some trains)
  • Other passengers – more of a mix, including frugal Italian travelers and tourists

Things like air conditioning are typically throughout a train, and not limited to one class of car or another, and the existence of a dining car isn’t dependent on a train class, either. If there’s a dining car attached to a train, people from both classes are welcome to use it. A trend on newer trains is to have electrical outlets at each seat, which are available in both first and second class.

Keep in mind that not all trains have both first and second class – some only have second class cars.

Also note that both the AV trains and the Italo trains have taken to giving new names to first and second class, which means you may see different titles for both. On AV trains, first class has been divided into two – Executive and Business – and second class has been split as well – Premium and Standard. Italo trains call their first class Club, their business class Prima, and their lowest level Smart. Whatever the name, you’ll know which is considered “second class” because it’ll almost always be the cheapest option.

So, is first class worth the price?

Well, that depends. The biggest difference between the train classes is space, so if space is really important to you then I’d say go for it. The jump in price isn’t nearly as dramatic as the difference between first class and coach on a flight, and if it’ll make your trip more comfortable then that’s never a bad thing. Having said that, the prices on the expensive trains keep going up, so first class tickets may be outside your budget. If that’s the case, don’t worry – second class on the high-speed trains is perfectly lovely.

Personally? I opt for second class every time. It means I’ve got more money leftover for gelato.

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