Saturday, June 8, 2013

Taking the Train in Italy: Step One - Buy Your Ticket!

As an American who had previously never traveled by train, the intricate train system in Europe was very intimidating to me when I first arrived. Now that I've used it quite a few times, I think it's truly amazing! I might even take the train in the U.S. in the not so distance future to compare experiences.

There are three ways to buy train tickets in Italy:

1. Online at

2. At the train station through the ticket vendors (real people)

3. At the train station through the self serve machines


There are pros and cons to buying online. Number one, if you're going to buy online, it's best to plan your trips in advance, up to two or three months. That way you can purchase the less expensive economy tickets. You can have the tickets sent to you, or retrieve them most of the time from the self serve machines at the stations. If you wait too long to buy online, only the expensive tickets will be left and they can be significantly higher than economy.


Buying the tickets from a real person has an obvious advantage: you can talk to them, ask questions, and figure out how the system works. I did this on my day trip from Venice to Florence, and while I wish I'd bought the tickets in advance to save money, I'm glad I was able to talk to someone in English about how the Italian train system works. For the high speed trains, typically 1st and 2nd class tickets are all that's available at the train station. Economy is the cheapest, and sells out online quickest. 


Buying tickets at the self serve machine is great. You don't need to wait in the long line, as you do for the ticket vendor. Also the machines I used all had an English option when you click the British flag at the start. This makes it extremely user friendly for tourists. You can easily buy a regional train ticket (very affordable) or high speed ticket to pretty much anywhere on the same day, or for a future date. I highly recommend this option for shorter trips.

High Speed versus Regional

Not to point out the obvious, but if you want to get somewhere quickly, the high speed trains are going to be the way to go. They travel super fast, and don't stop at most stations. When I took the high speed train to Florence, the train only stopped three or four times and took just under two hours.

On the other hand, I took the regional train from Venice to Verona, and it also took two hours because it stopped at every station along the way. However I only paid 7.50 euro each way for the regional train, and ended paying 45 euro (2nd class) each way for Venice to Florence. When traveling only for the day to a far away place, it definitely makes more sense time wise to splurge on the high speed. If you're like me, then you're only in Italy for a short period of time and you don't want to spend half a day on a train when you could just as easily be taking in all of the sights.

What About Everywhere Else in Europe??

As far as I can tell from taking the train in other European countries, the process is very similar. There's simply a different website for online purchasing, and all of the stations I've been to have had the self serve machines. In general, if you're able to plan your itinerary in advance, then buy the tickets ahead of time online. Just beware of the sites that charge a premium because you're booking through them instead of the actual train service (I.e. eurorail). If you're like me, and don't care to plan ahead, then plan trips that are short distances and can be taken on the regional lines. When I went from Luxembourg to Trier, it cost me 9 euro for a round trip ticket, which I bought in person at the ticket vendor window on the day of the trip (regional train). I only used the online booking system to find out the train schedule.

I hope this article was helpful for other new travelers.

Travel safe!

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