Italy’s inter-city train network is modern, efficient, and incredibly fast. We highly advise travelling around Italy by train, not car. By all means rent a car at your destination if you want to enjoy exploring the countryside, but it doesn’t make any sense in Italy to drive long distance, and having a car in a city is an absolute disadvantage.
Similarly, flight times between cities in Italy are rarely more than 90 minutes, but getting to the airport, through security, waiting around, then waiting around for luggage and getting into your destination city can take longer than the train – and is a lot more stressful. On Italy’s luxurious inter-city “bullet” trains you travel city center to city center, and on board you can enjoy comfortable seats, wi-fi, stunning views, space to wander, a buffet car, and you arrive relaxed and refreshed rather than frazzled.
To enjoy your own relaxing and efficient journey between cities, it helps to understand how the train system works: there are two train companies that run intercity “bullet” trains, that are called Trenitalia, and Italo. These companies compete against each other on major routes, leaving and arriving at the same stations.
Trenitalia is the national rail company and provides both express services and stopping services. Trenitalia fast services are called “Le Freccie” (the arrows). Frecciarossa – “Red Arrow”, 190 mph, Frecciargento – “Silver Arrow”, 160 mph, and Frecciabianca – “White Arrow”, 130-160 mph depending on the line.
Meanwhile Italo is a private company that only provides express trains, but not on every route. All Italo trains run at a massive 220 mph. The trains themselves are just called “Italo”.
Searching for the right train used to involve jumping between the two operators’ Italian-only websites, but to compare availability and prices in English we recommend TheTrainLine.com. This allows you to input your destinations, times and dates only once, and then see all options from both train operators with no mark-up. By booking in advance, you can make huge savings over the cost of tickets bought on the day.
While it’s possible to research and book tickets from one or other of the train companies’ websites, it’s not efficient because you have to do it twice. The search and English-language content of the national websites also leave a bit to be desired.
Beware too when booking through Trenitalia that unless you specify the type of train your’re looking for, you will also be shown the slow, stopping services.
Researching and buying your train tickets through a consolidator such as Trainline.com removes all these hassles. You will then be emailed the ticket which has a QR code on it, that can be scanned by ticket inspectors.
From here you can also book trains to and around the rest of Europe too.