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

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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