Those who plan to travel by train in Italy have several choices to make. If you do the math and decide not to buy an Italy Rail Pass, instead opting to get train tickets for the train trips you’ll take, you still have another decision to make – whether to buy those tickets in advance from home or wait to buy them on-site in Italy.
There are good reasons to buy tickets and reservations ahead of time, and some good reasons why you’d want to wait – it depends largely on where you’re going and when, and both options are discussed below.
Read more about Italy train travel:
- Italy Trains Guide
- When to Buy an Italy Rail Pass
- How to Buy Train Tickets in Italy
- What’s the difference between train tickets and reservations in Italy?
- What’s the difference between 1st class and 2nd class on Italian trains?
When to Buy Train Tickets and Reservations Before You Get to Italy
Travelers with a limited amount of vacation time in Italy are justifiably annoyed when they have to spend time doing anything that isn’t included in the “having fun on vacation” column – and that includes waiting in line at the train station to buy tickets.
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The lines at train stations in bigger and/or touristy cities can be extraordinarily long in the peak summer season, but even in what is supposedly the off-season or shoulder seasons there are times when the lines are outrageous. Imagine dealing with these lines with a couple of bored kids in tow. But buying tickets in advance of your arrival isn’t just about avoiding lines – it’s also about saving money.
Trenitalia offers great discounts for tickets purchased in advance, sometimes 30% or more off the regular price of the ticket. Many non-Italian credit cards don’t work on the site, but WhyGo Italy now has a ticket booking method that works with any credit card, lets you book tickets in advance, and gives you access to those great Trenitalia discounts. Just use the search box above. Those holding Rail Passes can use the same system to buy reservations only.
Another money-saving benefit to buying online before you leave home for U.S. travelers is that the transactions through WhyGo Italy are completed in U.S. dollars, so there’s no exchange rate – you won’t get charged by your credit card company or bank for exchanging a euro purchase into dollars. It’s also worth noting that if you’re watching the exchange rate and the euro is getting stronger in the weeks before your trip, buying your tickets ahead of time can save you quite a bit in that regard, too.
You should strongly consider getting your tickets and reservations in advance if:
- you have a more or less set itinerary in Italy, including knowledge of what days you’ll travel from city to city AND
- you’ll be traveling in Italy during the high season (including late spring, early fall, and the whole summer) or during any of Italy’s national holidays OR
- you’re concerned about the exchange rate and/or you know the euro is gaining strength leading up to your trip
- you’re traveling with a large group and/or children OR
- you’re buying well enough in advance to take advantage of substantial online purchasing discounts
When to Buy Train Tickets and Reservations as You Travel in Italy
Tickets and reservations purchased in advance of a trip to Italy by definition lock you into a given itinerary, and if you’re more of a wanderer with no set plans that could be far too confining for your tastes. If, on the other hand, you know what route you’ll be traveling but just don’t know when you’ll move from city to city, you can buy tickets in advance and wait to get your reservations in Italy.
Travelers who are planning to skip all the big touristy cities in Italy and are visiting during the off-season aren’t likely to run into long lines at the ticket windows or overcrowded trains, so that’s another group for whom buying in advance isn’t as critical. It can still save you money to buy in advance, but if that’s not as big of a concern for you then rest assured you can absolutely buy tickets as you go in Italy.
Buying train tickets and reservations in Italy as you travel might be good enough for you if:
- you’re not planning to go to the more popular cities AND
- you’re not traveling during the high season or over any Italian holidays AND
- you’re traveling solo or with a small and mobile group OR
- you’ve got no set itinerary in Italy – you aren’t sure yet where you’ll be going, let alone when