One of the biggest questions for anyone who’s planning a trip to Italy is what to do about buying Italy train tickets. Should I get a rail pass? Should I buy tickets in advance? Should I wait to buy tickets as I go? There are a few options in this department, and the best one for you will depend on the kind of trip you’re taking (among other things), but here are some things to think about when you’re looking at buying Italian train tickets.
Many years ago, train travel in Italy used to be so cheap that unless you were visiting other countries in Europe or were planning to take only long-distance or overnight trains you were almost always going to be better off buying individual train tickets in Italy as you traveled. As the Italian rail network has added more high-speed trains – and raised ticket prices as a result – and especially since Italy is now part of the European Union and no longer on the lira currency, that blanket advice no longer applies to everyone.
People who are traveling on a very strict budget but have more time to spend on their trip can still opt for the slower – and cheaper – trains, making buying individual tickets along the way a reasonable option. Anyone who doesn’t have as much time to play with, plans to take lots of high-speed or long distance or overnight trains, or will be visiting other European countries besides Italy might be better off buying a rail pass instead of booking individual tickets. A rail pass can make the average cost of each ticket significantly less than you’d pay if you bought the tickets separately.
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Keep in mind that even if you buy a rail pass in Italy, there are many types of trains in Italy where you’ll still need to purchase a reservation. That might sound redundant to you, but train tickets in Italy aren’t necessarily specific to a particular train or even a particular day – so in order to get a reserved seat on a train you have to buy a ticket and a reservation. On slower trains, buying a reservation isn’t always required – but on the faster trains, on overnight trains, and on trains covering longer distances, reservations typically are required.
A rail pass is the equivalent of a train ticket, so if you have a rail pass you’ll just need to buy a reservation (bring your rail pass to the ticket counter so they see that you already have the ticket part taken care of). If you don’t have a rail pass, you’ll have to buy a reservation in addition to any Italian train tickets that require reserved seating.
Some train stations in Italy are notoriously busy at all times, so if you’re worried about having enough time to wait in line to buy train tickets in Italy then it’s a good idea to go to the train station on a day other than your travel day. You can buy tickets for any day in the near future, and even from different stations – so you could buy all your Italy train tickets at once if you wanted to, provided you’ve got a kind ticket agent who speaks English and you’re not holding up a long line of grumpy customers!
photo by Joe Shlabotnik