Welcome to the guide to using InterRail and Eurail Passes which are valid for train travel in Italy.
Having used rail passes to travel 1000s of kilometers around Italy by train in the past two years, we've anticipated the questions you are most likely to have - we hope.
So either use the content menu to jump straight to the info you need, or spend 10 mins (ish) reading all of our insights.
They should save you save you time, money and confusion!
Not quite, rail passes aren't valid on the high speed trains operated by Italo and on a few local networks of the Regionale trains
IF you avoid the fast 'Frecce' trains you can hop any of the trains provided by the main national rail operator, Trenitalia.
Rail pass reservations are available, but optional on the InterCity (IC) trains, but when travelling long-distance on these trains, ShowMeTheJourney highly recommends making a reservation for two reasons:
(1) These can be busy trains, particularly in the summer
(2) When boarding there's no way of knowing whether seats will or won't be available, so there's a high chance you'll have to move seats (multiple times) if a seat is claimed by a ticket holder.
You can hop on and off *nearly all of the Regionale (R/REG) and Regionale Veloce (RGV/RV) trains without having to bother with making reservations prior to boarding.
*What's becoming slightly awkward is that a few Regionale train services are now operated by regional government organisations instead of the national rail operator, Trenitalia and when that is the case rail passes aren't valid.
It's particularly worth being aware of this if you will be taking local trains to/from Bari, Bolzano and Trento.
Because seats can't be reserved on the on these two types of Regionale services (R and RV) they can be crowded in summer and around holidays, so if you'll be joining these trains at a city station, it's worth being at the station before boarding will commence.
A big plus of the Regionale Veloce (RGV/RV) services in particular is that they can cover relatively long distances.
Popular routes taken by Regionale Veloce (RV) trains:
On these routes the RV train services provide an alternative to paying reservation fees on the Frecce or EC trains.
(2) Milano - Como - Chiasso - Lugano - Locarno (operated by Ticino)
(5) Venezia - Padova/Padua - Vicenza - Verona
Connect in Verona to travel Milano ↔ Venice/Venezia by Regionale Veloce trains
(7) Bologna - Verona - Trento - Bolzano - Brennero (connect at Brennero for local trains to Innsbruck)
*routes operated by Trenord - rail passes are valid on Trenord trains.
On these routes the RV trains are more frequent than the IC trains AND also enable the Frecce services to be avoided.
(2) Milano - Piacenza - Parma - Modena - Bologna
(4) Piacenza - Parma - Modena - Bologna - Rimini
(7) Roma - Ancona
(9) Messina - Palermo
Popular longer routes taken by slower Regionale (R/REG) trains:
(1) Genova/Genoa - Albenga - San Remo - Ventimiglia (connect for local trains towards Nice in France)
(2) Genova - Sestri Levant - Monterosso (for the Cinque Terre) - La Spezia
(3) Firenze/Florence - Pisa - La Spezia or Livorno
(4) Firenze/Florence - Siena
(5) Firenze/Florence - Arezzo - Perugia - Assisi - Foligno
(6) Roma - Napoli/Naples
(7) Milano - Tirano (connect for RhB trains into Switzerland)
The short answer is that reservations are required on ALL of the Frecce train services; no matter how long your journey will be and they are highly recommended on the InterCity (IC) trains.
Reservations can typically be booked from 4 months ahead in advance of the travel date.
Using rail passes on InterCity trains:
Cheapest, but slowest of the express trains options are the InterCity express trains, but the reservation fee to travel by these trains is only €3 - in 1st AND 2nd class - and choosing to reserve is optional.
Though ShowMeTheJourney recommends making a reservation for two reasons:
Using rail passes on the Frecce trains:
The reservation fees for the Frecce trains are €10 if you have a 1st OR 2nd class pass
(The other prices that you may see for these reservation fees, include a booking fee, but paying that additional cost is easily avoided;see the Booking the reservations notes).
Travel by the very fabulous Frecciarossa 1000 or Frecciarossa trains with a 1st class Eurail or InterRail pass and your reservations will be in ultra-swish Business Class.
If you want to mainly travel by the Frecce trains, a 1st class pass will be better value, in terms of the money you'll save compared to a 2nd class pass.
Because the reservation fees are a flat rate, taking a Frecce train can be good value IF you will be travelling long distances such as Milano <> Napoli; Venezia <> Roma or Torino <>Firenze.
Compared to buying tickets even a couple of days ahead, the day of rail pass use + the reservation fee, can equate to a saving of than €80 if you will be using a First Class pass and €40 if you will be using a Second Class pass.
Though take care before you commit to paying these fees to travel by the non-high speed Frecciabianca trains.
On some routes including Milano <> Bologna, alternative faster Frecciarossa trains will be available - but the same fees are charged to travel by the slower Frecciabianca trains.
Using rail passes for journeys WITHIN Italy on the EuroCity trains heading to/from Austria
Instead of Italian Intercity trains, the EuroCity trains that are heading to/from Germany and Austria operate on these two routes:
(1) Brennero - Fortezza - Bolzano - Trento <> Verona - Bologna - (Rimini)
(2) Brennero - Fortezza - Bolzano - Trento <> Verona - Vicenza - Padova - Venezia/Venice.
For any domestic journey within Italy by these trains, the rail pass reservation fees are now €14.50 in 2nd class and €20 in 1st class; more expensive than the Frecce trains, so avoid them and take the alternative Regionale (RV/R) trains instead.
Using rail passes for journeys WITHIN Italy on the EuroCity trains heading to/from Switzerland
On the Milano <> Stresa and Milano <> Como routes the express trains are the EuroCity trains that are heading to/from Switzerland
The rail pass reservation fees are now €11 in 2nd class and €13 in 1st class, so avoid them and take the alternative Regionale (RV/R) trains.
Rail pass reservations are no longer sold on the Trenitalia website, but for journeys WITHIN ITALY they can be easily booked on ItaliaRail.com, simply use the 'I have a pass' options on the home page, just beneath the destination boxes.
Select the 1st or 2nd class rail pass options to correspond to the type of Eurail and InterRail pass that you will be using and then look up the journey(s) as though you were buying a ticket.
The prices you will then see are the seat reservation fees.
OR if you happen to be travelling through Germany on route to Italy, you can book reservations with no booking fee at a Reisezentrum travel desk in a major German station - the hauptbahnhofs.
If you're happy to make your reservations once you have arrived in Italy, then you can book them in stations at a ticket desk, or by using any Trenitalia branded ticket machine - without paying any booking fees!
This can be the best option on the routes which have fairly frequent trains, because you can be spontaneous and travel when it suits.
The queues for the ticket counters at major Italian stations can be lengthy, so our preference is to use the machines.
The trick is to click on the Global Pass button, even if you have a One Country Pass, and then follow the fairly obvious steps.
When using the ticket machines to book reservations, you will need to enter your pass number, but when more than one person is travelling together you just enter the one pass number.
You can book reservations for multiple journeys in the one transaction, so what I tend to do when I first arrive in Italy is find a machine that doesn't have lengthy queues, then I book all of the reservations that I'll need for my future journeys.
When a journey involves more than one train on which reservations are charged, you will have to pay the fees per train and not one fee for the entire journey.
The only bug is that you're unlikely to be given the specific seat that you have requested when using the machines.
Some advice on when to book these reservations:
Because it can be relatively straightforward to book reservations at the station in Italy, it can be tempting to exploit the possibilities for spontaneous travel provided by using an InterRail or Eurail pass and refrain from booking any mandatory reservations in advance.
However, booking reservations at least 4 weeks ahead is recommended if you;
In contrast, on the routes with frequent Frecce services, such as Venice <> Milan or Rome and journeys between cities on the Turin - Milan - Bologna - Florence - Rome - Naples route, if you leave making a booking until the last minute, some trains might be sold out, but alternative convenient departures will be available.
You can travel between any Italian city with a rail pass without having to pay the more expensive reservation fees to travel by Frecce trains.
Over long distances InterCity trains can be a slower, option; though when they are an alternative to the Frecce trains they're generally much less frequent.
However on some routes, included the two listed below the Intercity trains are the only option:
(1) Milano - Genova - Monterosso (for the Cinque Terre) - La Spezia - Pisa - Livorno - Roma
(2) Roma - Napoli - Messina - Palermo/Siracusa
Something to keep in mind is that avoiding the reservation fees on the Trenitalia high speed trains can mean that using rail passes to travel around Italy by train won't offer such good value for money.
Tickets for journeys by InterCity (IC); Regionale (REG) and Regionale Veloce (RGV/RV) trains are comparatively cheap; and if you want to avoid ANY reservation fees when travelling around Italy with a rail pass, you'll have to take those train services.
A last minute ticket for a journey by RGV train between Firenze/Florence and Roma costs less than €22; and this is one of the longest possible direct journeys by Regionale Veloce (RGV) train, so keep in mind the cost per day of using your pass.
A pass can be value for money if you mainly travel long-distance on the IC train services, but the prices for the longest possible journeys by the IC trains cost from €39.
Though in contrast, if you compare the cost per day of using your pass against the last minute (on the day) ticket prices of LONG DISTANCE journeys by Frecce trains, you can be 'saving' more than €40 with a Second Class pass and more than €80 with a First Class pass - even AFTER paying for the reservations.
What about Bologna ↔ Florence/Firenze?
Bologna and Firenze are comparatively adjacent cities, the journey between them by Frecce trains using the high speed line is less than 40 minutes, so once you have paid a €10 reservation fee to travel this distance on a Frecce train, using Eurail or InterRail passes will offer poor value for money.
But there is only one direct train per day between the city centre stations (Bologna Centrale and Firenze S.M.Novella) which isn't a Frecce train, and that one train is an InterCity train.
Three other Intercity trains per day operate in both directions between Bologna Centrale station and Firenze Rifredi station - and Rifredi station isn't in the city centre.
Connections by Regionale trains link Firenze Rifredi station with the city centre station, Firenze S.M.Novella.
On balance it isn't worth paying the optional reservation fee of €3 to travel on these IC trains for this journey, you'll be on the train for less than 90 minutes, so even if no spare seats are available (an unlikely scenario on this route), you won't be without one for long
However, if the timings of the IC services don't suit, you can take Regionale trains, but will have to make connections in Prato.
Though plan journeys via Prato with care as the Regionale trains in both directions between Bologna and Prato aren't particularly frequent.
Eurail and InterRail passes are NOT valid on Italo trains - the red trains pictured below, but Trenitalia services are available on all routes taken by Italo trains.
Some Regionale train services are operated by companies other than Trenitalia, but rail passes are valid on MOST of these - but not all.
Although they are valid on train services operated by Trenord - this company operates most train services in Lombardy, therefore many of the Regionale services to/from Milano are operated by Trenord
Taking cross border local trains
On the other international routes to/from Italy you can now only avoid rail pass reservation fees if you take local/regional trains across the border AND make connections to continue your journey; can be simpler than it seems and it can be a more scenic journey too.
The six comparatively easy alternative journey options include:
(1) Take a Regionale (REG) and Regionale Veloce (RGV/RV) trains on the Verona - Trento - Bolzano - Brennero route.
Then at Brennero connect for the local trains on to Innsbruck
Do this and you can avoid the reservation fees charged on the EC trains between Italy and Austria/Germany.
(2) Take Regionale trains (branded TiLo) in either direction on the Milano - Como - Chiaso - Lugano - Locarno route.
Connect in Lugano for Swiss trains to/from Basel, Luzern and Zurich.
Do this and you can avoid the reservation fees charged on the EC trains between Italy and Switzerland.
(3) Take Regionale trains between Milano and Domodossola.
Then at Domodossola you can connect into Centovali F.A.R.T trains for the stunning journey to Locarno in Switzerland; and then from Locarno you can travel on the spectacular route to Basel, Lugano, Luzern and Zurich.
Or connect in Domodossola for Swiss regional trains on to Brig and towards Bern.
This is another option for avoiding the reservation fees charged on the EC trains between Italy and Switzerland.
(4) Take Regionale trains between Milano and Tirano.
At Tirano you can connect for RhB trains on to St Moritz - and with easy connections in Pontresina and Samedan, you can travel on to Chur
From Chur you can connect into trains on to Buchs (connect for Innsbruck and Salzburg); St Gallen and Zurich.
Do this and you can avoid the reservation fees charged on the EC trains between Italy and Switzerland - and you'll have a much more spectacular journey.
(5) Take the regional trains between Udine and Villach in Austria
Do this and you can avoid the the reservation fees now charged on the Railjet trains on the Venezia/Venice - Treviso - Udine <> Villach - Klagenfurt - Bruck an der Mur - Wien/Vienna route
These regional trains depart Udine at 07:14 (connection available from Treviso) and at 17:22 (connections available from Treviso, Trieste and Venezia)
Both trains have onward connections in Villach to Wien/Vienna via Klagenfurt.
(6) If you'll be heading towards Lyon on a weekend, during the day on Saturdays and Sundays, there is an alternative to taking the TGV-France/Italy trains - which will save more than €30 if you will be travelling with a rail pass!
There are now Regionale trains, which depart from Torino Porta Nuova station at 07:15; 09:15; 11:15; 13:15 and 15:15 on Saturdays and at 09:45; 11:45; 13:45 and 15:45 on Sundays, which cross the border to terminate in Modane.
The EC trains
Reservations are required on the EC trains (€20.90 in 1st and €14.50 in 2nd) on the Bologna/Verona/Venezia - Bolzano - Brennero <> Innsbruck - Munchen/Munich route.
Or avoid paying these fees, by taking alternative journey options when travelling to Austria or Germany from Bologna, or from Venice/Venezia.
Rail pass reservation fees are also mandatory on the EC trains between Italy and Switzerland (€13 in 1st and €11 in 2nd).
Fees are now also charged for cross-border journeys (and for journeys within Italy) on the Railjet trains in either direction on the Venezia/Venice - Villach - Klagenfurt - Wien/Vienna route.
(€15 in 1st and €10 in 2nd).
If you book online by using the Eurail reservation service or the InterRail reservation service - you will be charged a €2 booking fee per reservation, per person.
However, SMTJ's understanding is that you use these services you will be assigned a seat reservation - but seat reservations are otherwise separate to the supplement on these Railjet services.
If you pay the supplement at a Trenitalia ticket desk, you won't pay the booking fee, but a reservation won't be included, and will cost an additional €3.50: as per the info on this page.
OR if you book a seat reservation on the OBB (Austrian Railways ) website - the instructions are here, it won't include the supplement fees, so if you book the seat reservation on the OBB website, you can then either purchase the supplement from the train conductor - or prior to boarding, pay the fee at a Trenitalia travel desk.
Hence a guide to how to avoid paying these fees when travelling from Venice/Venezia to Wien/Vienna.
The Nightjet overnight trains
Reservations are also required for all the accommodation (seats/couchettes/sleeping cabins) on the Nightjet trains between Italy and both Austria and Germany
(There are no overnight trains between Italy and Switzerland)
Thello day trains
Rail pass reservations ARE now available on the Thello overnight trains which operate on the Venezia - Verona - Milano - Dijon - Paris route.
TGV France-Italy trains
SMTJ's advice is to avoid if possible the TGV France-Italy trains on the Milano - Torino - Chambery - (Lyon) - Paris route.
On these trains the reservation fees are slightly more expensive than the cheapest discounted tickets.
But if you can travel between Italy and France on this route at a weekend, and will be willing to changing trains, you can make savings when travelling from Milano or Torino/Turin to Lyon or Paris.
The only ONLINE option for booking reservations for thee international DAY trains before arriving in Italy is using the Eurail reservation service or the InterRail reservation service but you will be charged a €2 booking fee per reservation.
These reservations can't now be booked on the Trenitalia website and ItaliaRail doesn't sell rail pass reservations for international journeys to and from Italy.
Booking reservations when in Italy:
International reservations CAN'T be booked by using the Trenitalia branded ticket machines.
If you want to book reservations for the EC or, Thello or Railjet trains* in Italy you have to use a ticket office - but no booking fees are charged.
*The ticket desks at Italian stations will not sell reservations for the TGV France - Italy services - they can be booked at a dedicated ticket desk in Milano Porta Garibaldi station.
Booking rail pass reservations for the NIGHT trains:
If you want to travel in a sleeping cabin or couchette on a Nightjet train to Austria or Germany or on the Thello train to Paris, it's best to book the reservation before arriving in Italy.
Couchettes and sleeping cabins can sell out on these trains weeks in advance.
Reservations will be available from 6 months ahead on the Nightjet and up to 4 months ahead on the Thello train.
OBB is the Austrian national rail operator and provider of the Nightjet network and it now enables rail pass users to book reservations online for journeys between both Austria and Italy - how to do this is explained here.
The Thello trains on the Venice - Milan - Paris route can be booked on the Eurail/InterRail Rail reservations service
The reservation fees for the international express trains?
The fees on the popular routes include:
(1) Basel/Bern/Geneve/Luzern/Zurich – Milano (EC) = €13 in 1st and €11 in 2nd class
(2) Paris - Torino/Miano (TGV France/Italy) = €45 in 1st; €31 in 2nd
(3) Munchen - Innsbruck - Verona/Bologna/Venezia (EC) = €20.90 in 1st; €14.50 in 2nd - these fees also apply to journeys within Italy by these trains.
(4) Vienna/Wien - Klagenfurt - Villach - Udine - Venezia/Venice by Railjet = €15 in 1st and €10 in 2nd class
Note those eye watering rail pass fees for the TGV France/Italy trains; the discounted tickets for this service are cheaper than these reservation fees.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.