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Ancient ruins and fine wine in Rome, Renaissance masterpieces in Florence, fashion and design in Milan, romance in Venice, and Baroque treasures in Naples—each Italian city has its own character and provides a jumping off point to the beaches, rolling hills, vineyards, and other attractions in its region. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, more likely than not, you’ll want to visit multiple destinations. Fortunately, the country’s rail system makes it extremely easy to do so.
Though the Bel Paese is not exactly known for its efficiency, it has a highly developed rail system that’s convenient and pleasant to use. Trains crisscross most of the boot and are generally clean, fast, and affordable. If your trip to Italy includes a multi-city itinerary, it’s a good idea to take the train. Here’s what you need to know.
The Different Types of Italian Trains
Italy is connected by a vast network of high-speed and regional trains that stop in most major cities and many small towns as well. If you’re traveling between major cities such as Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, Naples, Bologna, and Turin, taking a high-speed train—either the Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, or Italo—will get you there in about half as much time as it would take to drive. These trains are designed to go up to 400 kilometers per hour, while the speed limit on Italian highways tops out at 130 kilometers per hour.
The high-speed train from Rome to Naples takes just one hour; Rome to Florence takes about 90 minutes; Rome to Milan takes three hours; Rome to Venice takes four hours. In the next rung down, there are Intercity trains, which make more stops, including in second tier cities like Pisa, Portofino, Genoa, Orvieto, and Padua. Regional trains make the most stops and are thus the slowest. They’re useful if you’re going to beach towns like Sperlonga and Gaeta.
How Much Train Tickets Cost
The price of train tickets in Italy ranges from under €5 to over €100. Generally speaking, the farther you go the more it will cost. When booking tickets on high-speed trains, the price will also rise if you book less than a week in advance. A standard one-way ticket from Rome to Florence on the Frecciarossa, for example, costs €35.90 when booked more than a week in advance but rises to €50 when booked just 24 hours ahead. You can book tickets through the website of Italy’s national carrier, Trenitalia, or Italo, a private company. Both give you the option of booking business class tickets in addition to standard fares.
Other Ways to Get Around Italy
Alitalia flies a number of routes, which are most useful if you need to cover large distances between the north and south or if you’re going to the islands of Sicily or Sardinia. Buses such as Flixbus can—but don’t always—cost less than the train, but take at least twice as long to get to the destination. Traveling by car also takes longer than traveling by train since vehicles are subject to speed limits and traffic.
Of course, renting a car gives you the freedom to stop along the way and the ability to reach remote destinations like wineries and countryside resorts. Southern Italy is less connected by rail, so if you’re trying to plan a trip to Puglia, Calabria, Sicily, or Sardinia, it’s probably best to rent a car. And while there are buses that connect the towns on the Amalfi Coast, if you plan to hop around a lot, you should either rent a car or travel by taxi or boat. If you do rent a car, keep in mind that most cities have restrictions on where you can drive and many small villages are pedestrianized, so you’ll have to park outside the historic center and enter on foot.
Getting to and From the Train Stations
Another advantage of taking the train is that the train stations are usually centrally located, whereas airports are outside the city center. Major cities are connected by some combination of metro, buses, and trams, and taxis are always an option.
Just make sure you book your tickets to arrive at the correct train station, as some cities have more than one. In Rome, you’ll likely arrive at the Stazione Termini, which is the city’s main station. In Florence, the main station is called Firenze Santa Maria Novella (it sometimes appears as Firenze S.M.N.). In Venice, it’s Venezia Santa Lucia. In Turin, it’s Torino Porta Nuova. In Milan, Naples, and Bologna, the main stations are simply called Milano Centrale, Napoli Centrale, and Bologna Centrale. When in doubt, ask your hotel or Airbnb host.