When to Buy Italy Train Tickets

by Jessica on January 7, 2011

by | January 7th, 2011  

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:

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.

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

photos, top to bottom, by: Vokabre, Vokabre

{ 7 comments }

Sally Watkins, CTC January 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm
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With Italiarail, are paper tickets sent in advance? What differences are there with Rail Europe purchases! Grazie.

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Jessica January 17, 2011 at 10:52 am
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ItaliaRail gives you e-tickets, so no paper tickets are sent – you get your e-tickets immediately. Rail Europe sends paper tickets in advance, so if you buy them too close to when you leave for Italy you risk not having enough time to receive them in the mail before your flight. Also, Rail Europe doesn’t have access to the big discounts offered by ItaliaRail, so if you’re buying far enough in advance you’ll often get a much better deal with ItaliaRail.

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Kathryn February 2, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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How far in advance, is advance? If I’m a planner and will be purchasing tickets ahead of time- when? 4 weeks before I leave for Italy? 6 weeks? 8? Thanks!

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Jessica February 4, 2011 at 2:47 pm
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You might check on the ItaliaRail site to see what they say about when to book – I can’t recall how far in advance you have to book to get the biggest discounts. If it’s not discounts you’re focused on, you can buy tickets up to 2 months in advance, I believe.

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Yatra September 22, 2011 at 1:40 am
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e-ticket is better than paper ticket.
Paper ticket will vanish one day.

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Josh August 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm
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Is it possible to buy the train tickets before we leave for Italy, but not commit to a specific time until we are in Italy? We know what days we will be traveling from city to city, but we want to remain flexible on what time we leave each city. All of the websites I looked at required you to pick a specific time. Thank you!

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Mick February 8, 2013 at 11:01 pm
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We are contemplating buying in advance for travel between major cities in May and we will also need to travel from Milan to Varena, Varena to Milan, Florence to Todi, and Todi to Rome. We thought it would be best to buy in advance for the major city travel
and in italy for the others. However should we consider a Rail pass and would this be more economical.

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