Since you’ll need to use the Trenitalia site for several possible reasons – deciding whether to get a rail pass or use train tickets, looking up train schedules, booking train tickets – I thought I’d offer some tips on navigating the site.
The good news? The English version of the site is actually pretty good. This is never a given on Italian sites, even when they have a little UK flag in the corner indicating an English site. With Trenitalia, the stuff you’ll need to use is well-translated.
The bad news? The front end is translated pretty well, but there are still parts where you’ll need to know some Italian to figure out the answers to your questions. Plus, the site’s kind of messy. I hope these user tips help you get through the mess to find what you need.
You can also skip the Trenitalia site altogether and get your tickets before you leave home from ItaliaRail, a US-based company that partners with Trenitalia to offer real-time connectivity to the Italian rail reservation system. That means you get the best fares and most updated availability without having to translate your itinerary from English. Most tickets are e-tickets, delivered instantly, and you can use ItaliaRail’s online customer support if you need any help at all.
Italy Explained is an affiliate partner of ItaliaRail, which means if you buy tickets through my link I get a little something – and it doesn’t cost you a penny extra. Thanks for your support.
Start on the English version of Trenitalia. Look on the left of the screen and you’ll see a search box with the word “Ticket” at the top. This is the box you need.
Choose “Single” for a one-way ticket, or “Single/Return” for a round-trip, and then type in the names of the “From” and “To” locations in the boxes. Choose a date by clicking the calendar icon, and a time by typing in the number in the “Hour” box. Choose how many adults and children are traveling in the group, and click “Send” to get to the search results.
Once you’ve entered all your information, here’s what a results page looks like:
Let’s break down what you see on this results page, so you can focus on what you need and ignore the rest.
Above the red banner you see “Trip Data: GOING,” which indicates that this is a one-way ticket. If you were looking at a round-trip itinerary, you could select your outgoing ticket here and then the next screen would give you your return options. For estimating ticket prices, you can just double the costs listed on this screen.
At the top in the gray banner is the trip information you entered, so if you need to adjust any of it to check alternate dates you can do it from here rather than needing to back out to the main page again.
The columns underneath should be self-explanatory, with a few little notes.
Here are some other useful tips for using the Trenitalia site.
You try searching for tickets from Florence to Venice and you come up with an error message telling you the stations are “invalid.” Last you checked, both of those cities are still in Italy. So what gives?
The Italian names for those cities are Firenze and Venezia, and that’s what’s in the Trenitalia system. You’ll need to use the Italian names for any city or town you’re looking up. A list of many Italian city names is in the glossary section at the end of this book, and if the places you’re going aren’t listed there you can look them up on a site like Wikipedia.
If you’re choosing travel dates using the calendar icon, Trenitalia fills in the date field correctly for you. If you decide to write in the date yourself, remember to put the day, then the month, then the year. August 10h becomes 10-08, not 08-10.
Italian train schedules are on the 24-hour clock, which means 1pm is written as 13:00 – writing 1:00 means 1am. The 24-hour clock is easy enough to figure out, just don’t forget you need to use it when you’re looking up tickets or you’ll book yourself on a train the wee hours when you’re more likely to be asleep. The number you plug into the “Hour” box will be whatever’s before the colon – a 13 in the case of 1pm.
Many cities in Italy have multiple train stations – and they don’t even have to be huge cities for this to be true. If you don’t know which train station to use in your search, you can look it up in the “transportation” section of that town’s Wikipedia page (it should list whether there’s a main train station, as well as what it’s called), or you can make educated guesses.
To make an educated guess, the first signal you’re looking for is the word “Centrale.” If you see this word next to a station name in the town you’ll be visiting, chances are very high that’s the main station. The word, after all, means “central.” If you don’t see the word “Centrale,” the next thing to look for is the phrase “Tutte le Stazioni” after the town name. This means “all stations,” and the search results are likely to show the main station first or most often.
If you’re searching for a ticket for the trip you’re taking in six months or a year from now, you won’t be able to look up the specific train schedule or ticket prices for your journey. Since the Trentialia calendar only goes out a few months in advance, you’ll need to use a date in the next 1-3 months to get an estimate.
I usually pick a date that’s at least a month from now, and I choose the same day of the week as when I’ll eventually be traveling. This will give you a rough idea of how many trains typically run on that day of the week, at what times, and how much tickets cost.
Note that for regional (i.e. slower) trains, the schedule only goes out about a week in advance. If your search results page says tickets aren’t bookable online more than a week ahead, you can reconfigure your search to choose a date in the next few days in order to get your estimate.
Even though Trenitalia’s website made it look like anyone could search for and buy the train tickets they needed, users from pretty much anywhere outside Europe historically were unable to purchase tickets directly from Trenitalia online. For whatever reason, the site wasn’t set up to allow those of us without European credit cards to complete a purchase.
Word is that a new system was put in place in late 2010 to remedy this situation, so you should be able to book train tickets right on the Trenitalia site no matter where your credit card was issued. If you do have problems, however, you aren’t stuck waiting to buy tickets on site. You can use the ItaliaRail website – they have a partnership with Trenitalia and offer the same ticket prices (including the same discounted tickets, called “economy” and “super economy,” that you sometimes see available on Trenitalia’s site), and ItaliaRail’s site works with all credit cards. Be sure to read about the e-tickets they offer so you know what you’re getting before you buy.