In this article, you’ll learn what your options are for buying tickets and reservations, either before you leave home or once you’re in Italy.
As I’ve alluded to in other articles on this site, when it comes to Italian trains you can do plenty of planning from home – and that includes buying your tickets and reservations. People who don’t have European credit cards used to be unable to buy train tickets directly from the Trenitalia site (the word is that these problems have been remedied with a new system). If you run into issues with the Trenitalia site, however, don’t worry – there’s another site that partners with Trenitalia to allow anyone to purchase tickets – even the “economy” and “super economy” discounted tickets – online with any credit card.
Using the ItaliaRail website, you can look up train schedules and purchase both tickets and any necessary reservations you’ll need for your trip in the same place. ItaliaRail has a partnership with Trenitalia that gives you access to the same advance-purchase discount fares you’ll see on the Trenitalia site (when they’re available), so you’ll be rewarded for booking ahead of time. Prices are listed in US dollars (which means there won’t be an exchange fee for US credit card holders), and the site accepts all credit cards. The tickets you purchase on ItaliaRail are sometimes e-tickets, which means you’ll get them via email right after you buy them – so even if you can’t book weeks in advance, you can still get your tickets just before you leave home.
While the schedule supposedly comes right from the Trenitalia site, I sometimes find it less complete than Trenitalia – so I prefer to do my research directly on Trenitalia and then, when I’m ready to buy, click over to ItaliaRail.
Also keep in mind that tickets for trips that aren’t entirely in Italy – i.e. if you’re booking a trip from Zurich to Venice or Nice to Milan – aren’t usually available as e-tickets and may need to be mailed to you. In other words, if you wait too long you may not have a choice but to buy tickets once you get to Europe.
If you’ve got a Eurail Italy Pass, you can still use ItaliaRail to purchase any reservations you need – just make sure to check the correct boxes on the site so you’re only looking up and buying reservations, not tickets.
Users don’t report the same credit card issues with the new Italo website, where you can buy tickets for train trips up to roughly six weeks in advance. Italo trains are competitively priced with AV trains when booked in advance. Remember that you can’t use Eurail Passes on Italo trains.
If you don’t necessarily have a set itinerary or want more flexibility on your trip, you can absolutely buy tickets as you go in Italy. There are a couple ways you can do this, usually depending on the size of the city and train station.
Every station will have a ticket window (or many). Bigger stations will have more windows, but will also be busier. To avoid standing in line so long that you miss your train, you might want to swing into the station the day before your intended trip to get your tickets sorted well in advance. That way, you can simply walk into the station on the day of your trip, validate your ticket, hop on your train, and away you go.
Remember that if you’ve got a Eurail Italy Pass, that is your ticket – but even if you know you just need reservations, you should bring your pass with you to the ticket window. The ticket agent will likely need to see your pass to determine the kind of reservation you need. You will also need to present your passport along with your rail pass.
It’s also handy to note that you can buy tickets at any train station, whether you’re in either of two cities on your itinerary or not, because the stations are all on the same computerized ticketing system. In other words, you could be in Venice and buy a ticket for a trip the following week from Florence to Rome. You may not need to do this often, but it’s useful in case you know you’ll have very limited time at a train station later in your trip – and you’ve got the ear of a patient ticket seller where you currently are. (Never underestimate the benefits of a patient ticket seller!)
Ticket sellers at train stations accept credit cards, but be aware that European train stations are increasingly only accepting cards that have electronic chips embedded in them – something that’s now standard in Europe, but not everywhere (including the US). If your card doesn’t have a chip in it, it may well be rejected by the credit card reader. It’s always a good idea to have cash on hand for train tickets, just in case.
In addition to the ticket windows staffed by station employees, there are also automated ticket machines at most train stations in Italy. Not all of the machines are the same, however, and you’ll still find lines at the machines during peak travel times, but they’re typically a much faster way to get a ticket and get on your way.
The machines you’ll see most often in Italian train stations say “Biglietto Veloce” on the top (that means “Fast Ticket”). The touch-screen will let you change languages so you can complete your transaction in English (or a number of other languages). The instructions to buy the tickets and reservations you need are simple to follow.
If you’re asked what type of ticket you’d like to purchase, it’s likely the “Base” fare (which means you don’t have a discount code). You may also be asked whether you have a Trenitalia membership card – assuming you don’t, select “Nessuna Carta” (“no card”).
Automated ticket machines are a great option for people who don’t have questions about their trip and know what they’re doing – or the confidence to wing it. Be cognizant of those waiting in line behind you to use the machine, especially at rush hour, and if you’re having trouble figuring out what you need, it’s okay to opt for a human being at a ticket window instead.
These machines do take Visa and MasterCard credit cards, but newer machines will only accept cards that have an electronic chip in them. This is standard in Europe, but not everywhere (banks in the US don’t offer cards with chips in them as yet), so your card may be rejected if it doesn’t have a chip in it. Be prepared with enough cash for your train tickets, just in case – and pay with small denominations, as some machines conveniently “forget” to dole out change.