Train Tickets vs. Train Reservations in Italy: What’s the difference?

by Jessica on January 14, 2011

by | January 14th, 2011  

There’s some understandable confusion among many travelers in Italy whenever I say that train tickets are not the same thing as reservations, so I thought I’d take a moment to try to explain this in a bit more detail.

What is a train ticket in Italy?

When you purchase a train ticket in Italy, that means you’ve paid for the ability to travel between two cities, but there’s no date or time attached to that ticket. If you routinely made the same train journey in Italy you could, for instance, buy a few tickets for that route in one transaction but use them over the course of a few weeks – but those tickets don’t mean you’ve got a seat on a train. Should you board the train one day and all the seats are taken, you’ll be standing for the duration of the trip.

What is a train reservation in Italy?

When you purchase a reservation on a train in Italy, that menas you’ve paid for a specific seat on a specific train, scheduled for a specific date and time. Your reservation does not, however, mean you’ve paid for the transport itself – that’s your ticket. It’s only a reservation that guarantees you a seat on a train.

Do all train tickets require reservations?

Not all trains in Italy require reservations, and some don’t even allow for them. Some trains require both a ticket and a reservation, some require nothing more than a ticket but allow you to purchase a reservation if you want to, some require nothing more than a ticket and don’t even have the capacity to reserve certain seats. There is no such thing, however, as a train that requires only a reservation without a ticket.

How can I tell which trains require reservations?

There’s an R symbol on Italian train schedules that indicates which trains require reservations, but in general it’s safe to assume that any high-speed train (including the Alta Velocita and Eurostar trains), any overnight train, any train that travels from one country to another, and just about any long-distance train will require a reservation. It’s also a good idea to buy reservations on popular routes during the high season or over Italian holiday weekends when the locals are booking train trips, too.

How does an Italy Rail Pass figure into this equation?

An Italy Rail Pass is the equivalent of a train ticket. What your rail pass grants you is the same thing that a train ticket grants you – the ability to travel between two places, but without an assigned day or time or train attached. For some trains you’ll take in Italy, you’ll need to buy a reservation even if you have an Italy Rail Pass – just as you would if you had a train ticket – and for others you can just hop on board with your rail pass.

Further Reading

Here are a few other train-related articles that may help you in your trip planning:

photo by jayneandd


Annie January 16, 2011 at 9:19 am

Will all the Soccer plans put to bed we are on to train travel plans….
I have read the attached article and similar topics you have posted and they have all been hugely helpful. I still have trouble deciding if the pass is better than waiting and buying as we go in Italy. I have asked myself the “questions three” (forgive the obscure Monty Pyton reference). Q.#1 All of our trips are short. Q#2 all will be on High Speed Rail Trains (hopefully) and Q#3 We have set Agenda. All trips will be day trips out of Milan. The furthest point will be Venice. Other destinations are Modena, Como, and Bologna. The other rides are to and from the Airport. What do you think. Should we a la carte it or go for pass. We are 4 travelling together at all times. No passenger under 17. We would like to pay by a US Bank Issued credit card if we purchase it here in the US. Also all travel will take place between 2/20 and 2/28 if there is any additional discount for advanced purchase. Thanks Jessica, we know you can help.


Jessica January 17, 2011 at 11:04 am

I’m no fan of math, but that’s really the best way to determine whether a pass or individual tickets is best for your trip. You’ll need to look up the ticket prices on the Trenitalia website and compare them to the prices of the various Rail Passes, as I talk about here:

And if you’re still stumped, there’s a link and phone number in that article for the Eurail expert at my office.


Laura from Ciao Amalfi January 26, 2011 at 7:40 am

Great train travel tips, Jessica! Thanks!!


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: