By Rick Steves
Are rail passes a good value for Italy?
Not for most people — think carefully before buying a rail pass, especially if your trip doesn't extend beyond Italy. Most train travelers in Italy spend each rail-travel day taking relatively short rides on the Milan–Venice–Florence–Rome circuit. For these trips (most of which cost less than $60 for a second-class ticket), it's cheaper to buy point-to-point train tickets than a rail pass (since most cost more than $60 per day). Furthermore, a rail pass doesn't provide much hop-on convenience in Italy, since many trains require paid seat reservations, as indicated in train schedules (see below for more Italy-specific reservation advice).
How do I see whether a rail pass makes sense for my trip in particular?
Use this map to add up approximate pay-as-you-go fares for your itinerary, and compare that cost to the price of a rail pass for the number of days you expect to spend on the train. Fares shown on the map include reservations when required, but they cost extra when using a rail pass. Also, follow the links below for:
- More tips for figuring out whether a pass makes sense for your trip
- The basics on choosing among rail passes
- More tips for getting the most out of a rail pass
- General advice on deciding between first and second class
- Fare-estimate maps outside Italy
- Answers to frequently asked rail-pass questions
Choose one of the passes below to check prices and to buy your pass (orders are fulfilled by Rail Europe).
Do I need to make seat reservations on Italian trains?
For most trains between most major destinations, yes, you do. You don't necessarily need to make the reservations that far in advance, but if you're traveling with a rail pass, don't assume you can hop on any Italian train with just your pass in hand. Even with a pass, you still need to pay a little extra to ride the fastest trains on the main routes connecting Italy's bigger cities.
- Le Frecce trains: These trains provide most of the high-speed service on the main lines between Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Naples. Reservations are required, and cost about $15 per leg if you have a rail pass.
- EuroCity and international trains: Reservations are required, and cost about $10 if you have a rail pass.
- InterCity trains: Reservations are optional for passholders.
- Regional trains: Most trains that aren't on the main lines, such as most Florence–Pisa–Cinque Terre service, don't require (or even offer) reservations.
You can buy passholder seat reservations at train stations and major travel agencies, reserving several key trains in one visit. There is no deadline to reserve and no limit to the number of seats allocated to rail-pass holders on the Italian State Railway.
What do rail passes cover in Italy?
Aside from the extra reservation fees required for certain classes of train (see above), rail passes cover all travel on trains run by the Italian State Railway (Ferrovie dello Stato Italiano). Rail passes do not, however, cover most privately run trains, such as these biggies:
- Thello night trains: These trains are your only direct night-train option between Italy and Paris. For the best price, buy your ticket months ahead (or consider flying).
- Italo: These high-speed trains connect Italy's main cities...but so do the equally fast and more frequent Le Frecce trains, which are covered by rail passes (though they do require a paid seat reservation; see above).
- Circumvesuviana: This service is your only train option to get from Naples to Pompei and Sorrento; fortunately, tickets between Naples and either Pompei or Sorrento only cost about $5.
- Malpensa Express: The train between Milan's Malpensa Airport and the city's central station (Milano Centrale) costs about $15.
Besides the popular-with-tourists trains listed above, several other privately run Italian railways don't accept rail passes; for the rest of the list, see the sidebar on this page.
Also worth knowing:
- Most daytime Italy–France service (all TGV trains on the Paris–Lyon–Torino–Milan line) is very pricey, even with a rail pass. For example, even with a rail pass covering both countries, you still have to pay an extra $80 for required reservations in second class ($110 in first). See our tips for best handling the Italy–Paris sticky wicket.
- Rome's Fiumicino Airport Express train is part of the national railway system, but since all its seating is considered first class, it accepts only first-class rail passes (otherwise, tickets cost about $15).
- The bus between Villach, Austria and Venice (Mestre and Tronchetto stations), which is run by the Austrian Railway, is covered by rail passes. Reservations cost about $15; if your pass doesn't cover both countries, you'll also need to pay a supplement.
- Buses not operated by the national railway (that's most buses in Italy) aren't covered by rail passes.
If a rail pass doesn't pencil out for your trip, you may be able to shave off the cost of your train tickets — or at least some of the hassle — with some of these tips:
- Avoid train-station ticket lines whenever possible by using the ticket machines found in station halls.
- If you do use the ticket windows, be sure to stand in the correct line.
- You can buy train tickets (and make seat reservations) at major travel agencies in Italian city centers, reserving several key trains at one stop. The cost is only a little more, it can be more convenient (if you find yourself near a travel agency while you're sightseeing), there are no crowds, and the language barrier can be smaller than at the station's ticket windows.
- Advance-purchase discounts are available for Le Frecce trains, and offer good savings for longer trips; get tickets online throug the Italian State Railway. Privately owned Italo trains have similar deals between major cities.
- Seniors (60 and older) can buy a Carta d'Argento (€30; free if 75 or older), which gives holders a 15 percent discount on most train tickets.
- Youths (25 and younger) can buy a Carta Verde (€40), which gives holders a 10 percent discount on most train tickets.
- If traveling with kids, ask for the "Offerta Familia" deal when buying tickets at a counter (or, at a ticket machine, choose "Yes" at the "Do you want ticket issue?" prompt, then choose "Familia"). While the deal doesn't apply to all trains at all times, with this discount families of three to five people with at least one kid (age 12 or under) get 50 percent off the child fare, and 20 percent off the adult fare. (Even without this deal, kids ages 4 and under travel free on Italian trains; ages 4–11 ride for half price.)
- Get even more advice on Italian trains in my full-size guidebooks for Italy: Rick Steves' Italy, Rick Steves' Rome, Rick Steves' Venice, or Rick Steves' Florence & Tuscany.
Italy Rail Passes: Key Details
France–Italy Eurail Pass: Does not cover night trains between Italy and Paris, and most direct daytime connections on this route require a hefty reservation fee, even with a pass. See here for tips and details.
Greece–Italy Eurail Pass: Since it's affordable to buy train tickets locally in both Italy and Greece, and since Greece has just a few rail lines operating, this pass is not a wise move for most travelers. It does, however, cover deck passage on overnight Superfast Ferries between Patras, Greece and Bari or Ancona, Italy (starts use of one travel day, cabins extra). It also grants a 30–50 percent discount on the basic cabin fare on Hellenic Mediterranean Line ferries on the Patras–Corfu–Brindisi route (does not use a travel day).
Italy–Spain Eurail Pass: To connect Italy and Spain via train, you can either buy a separate point-to-point train ticket for your travel through France (roughly $100 in second class), or get a Eurail Global Pass. Otherwise, take a ferry (this pass and the Eurail Select Pass get you a 20 percent discount on Grimaldi Lines ferries), or fly.
Eurail Select Pass and Eurail Global Pass: Second-class passes can only be used by travelers under 26; travelers age 26 or older must buy a first-class pass.