Anyone planning to take the train in Italy – whether that’s your only mode of transportation or not – needs to know some critical information before that can happen. Specifically, one of the first things to figure out is how to buy train tickets and reservations.
>> Confused about what the difference is between those two things? Read my article about train tickets vs. reservations in Italy.
You have two options to buy tickets and reservations – you can either do it ahead of time from home, or you can do it once you get to Italy.
>> Learn more about when to buy Italy train tickets – before you leave home or on the ground in Italy.
How to Buy Train Tickets & Reservations Before Arriving in Italy
Both train tickets and reservations can be purchased online from anywhere in the world, but unfortunately not all credit cards work on the Trenitalia site.
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If you’re lucky enough to have an Italian credit card, you can buy tickets directly from Trenitalia – for the rest of us, WhyGo Italy has a way to access those same discounts that the Trenitalia site does (often 30% or more) with no restrictions on the kinds of credit cards you can use or what country you’re in. Simply by using the search box on this page, you’ll be able to book tickets from Trenitalia in advance with great discounts.
You can purchase train tickets and reservations online, or – if you already have an Italian Rail Pass and you don’t need tickets – you can purchase just seat reservations to pair with your Rail Pass. And U.S. travelers will appreciate that the transactions on WhyGo Italy are done in U.S. dollars, which means there won’t be an exchange fee from your credit card or bank for the purchase.
There are other online sellers of train tickets in Italy, but none of them offer the same Trenitalia advance-purchase discounts.
How to Buy Train Tickets & Reservations in Italy
Buying train tickets and reservations as you travel through Italy can be done a few different ways, depending on where you are and how big the train station is.
If you’re not sure what you might need to buy or want to ask some questions before purchasing anything, you can go to a ticket window and talk to a Trenitalia ticket agent. In the high season, expect long lines – especially in popular cities, where the lines can be extremely long and slow-moving even outside the high season.
You’d be smart to give yourself plenty of time to wait in said line in order to get what you need, rather than arriving at the station 20 minutes before your train is supposed to leave and assuming you’ll have time to get what you need accomplished.
If you know what you need to buy or you’re a little more familiar with the Italian train system, you can buy tickets and reservation from the automated machines that are becoming more common throughout Italy. They’re plentiful in big stations, less so in smaller ones, and although there are sometimes lines for even those machines they move far more quickly than the lines for the ticket windows.
A few things to note about the ticket machines:
- Make sure you see a credit card icon on the machine before you get in line for it; most machines take credit cards, but if you end up with one of the old ones after waiting in line and you don’t have enough cash, that’s annoying.
- Almost all the machines have the option right at the start to change the language from Italian to whatever language you’re most comfortable using. Make the switch and the transaction is simple.
- Be considerate of the travelers waiting in line behind you for the machines, especially at peak travel times – be as prepared as you can be to make whatever decisions you need to complete your transaction before it’s your turn. You can consult printed train schedules in the station before you get in line.
Also remember that if you have a Rail Pass already, that is the same thing as having a ticket without a reservation. You may still need to buy a reservation for a given trip, and not all machines offer the “reservation only” option. If in doubt, go to a ticket window with your Rail Pass and buy your reservation there.
In some cities you can also get tickets for the slow, regional trains at the tabaccaio, or tobacconist’s shop, in or near the train station. While you are there, pick up some postcards and stamps (francobolli), too, so you can write home while you watch the countryside drift past your train window.
You can purchase train tickets and reservations up to two months in advance of your actual trip, so if you are in a busy city during the peak summer travel season, you might pop into the train station a couple days before your actual travel date in order to purchase whatever you need without worrying about missing your train.
photos, top to bottom, by star5112, Jessica Spiegel (and may not be used without permission)