Italian trains come in several varieties, even if they serve the same routes. They have different names, but the main things to be aware of are whether they are faster or slower, and how much they cost.
Until 2012, there was one company running trains in Italy – the national rail service, Trenitalia. A new company, Italo, has started operating luxury high-speed trains to certain cities (some of which are also served by Trenitalia), with plans to expand its network further throughout the country.
You can use whichever train system you like – you just need to be aware that Italo trains don’t always serve the same stations as Trenitalia trains (check your tickets carefully!), and since the Italo trains are run by a private company they aren’t covered by rail passes.
Here’s a list of the different kinds of trains you’ll see in Italy. They’re roughly in decreasing order of how fast and how nice the trains are overall, but it’s not strictly a scale. The abbreviation by which each train is often identified in Italy is in parentheses.
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This means “high speed,” and it’s the fastest set of trains run by the official Italian rail system, Trenitalia. AV trains run on a completely different kind of track than the other trains in Italy, which required building entirely new tracks, which means at the moment AV trains serve a limited (and always growing) number of major cities.
These trains always require reservations, and these are likely to be the most expensive train tickets on a given route. AV trains come in three flavors, each with its own name:
Started in 2012, the Italo trains are operated by the NTV company. So far Italo trains serve Milan, Venice, Padua, Rimini, Bologna, Pesaro, Ancona, Florence, Turin, Rome, Salerno, and Naples.
Italo trains are competitively priced with the AV trains if booked in advance, and feature all kinds of nice amenities like reliable WiFi, a cinema car, and a “no sound” car.
Note that in some cities, Italo trains don’t use the primary stations used by Trenitalia and may even have two different hub stations in one city. Look at your tickets carefully if you’re taking an Italo train to find out which station you need to use.
This is not the same Eurostar as the trains that connect London to Paris and Brussels. The Italian Eurostar was the fastest thing in Italy until the AV trains came along. ES trains are still quite fast, usually air-conditioned, comfortable, and tickets typically cost less than tickets for AV or Italo trains.
These trains don’t connect the entire country, either, although the network is a bit more far-reaching than the newer AV network. Eurostar trains, like Alta Velocità trains, always require reservations.
Like their fancier siblings above, InterCity trains also cover long distances in Italy – they just do it a bit more slowly and cheaply. Because of this, IC trains can be good options for travelers with more time than money.
IC trains sometimes require reservations, but not always. Most cautious travel guides will recommend getting reservations on IC trains, but it’s generally not strictly necessary. Read my article on when to buy reservations for trains in Italy to find out whether it makes sense for your trip.
There are several varieties of regional (read: slow) trains in Italy, including the InterRegionale (IR), Regionale (R), Diretto (D), and Espresso (E). They’re all much slower than the trains listed above, which also means they’re all much cheaper.
These are the sorts of trains you might take between small towns along the coast, for instance, where the distance covered isn’t great. Reservations are often not even available for these trains, which also may not have air conditioning or first class cars.