We’ve spent weeks testing websites to find out how to efficiently book the cheapest tickets for Italian train travel.
We tested all kinds of routes and options, and looked at overall end purchase prices as well as the complaints about and defects with the national operator’s website, Trenitalia. We compared it to various private systems.
Frankly, it’s so good that we think even Italians themselves are better off leaving Trenitalia’s site for easier booking at the same prices.
The Best Way to Book Italian Train Tickets
Trainline helps avoid the obvious challenges of these sites, such as poor translations (and untranslated portions of the sites, such as place names), foreign credit card denials, surprise re-directs, incomprehensible options, and technical bugs that cause you to restart your purchase process. Plus Trainline searches both Italian train systems at once.
In our tests, Trainline also has a smarter search engine that comes up with cheaper and better route options than private competing portals. Customers are also generally reasonably satisfied with the level of customer service.
Update History of This Article
Why Search for an Alternative to the Italy’s National Operator’s Website?
Ha! Trenitalia’s site is so full of errors that we devoted an entire separate article to it.
In short, those issues include poor translations (and untranslated portions of the site, such as place names), foreign credit card denials, surprise re-directs, incomprehensible options, and technical bugs that cause you to restart your purchase process.
While Trainline isn’t perfect, it’s easily better (and sometimes cheaper) than booking through Trenitalia. We’ve found that it’s also still well-ahead of competing private train booking portals for Italy.
The Advantages of Trainline for Italian Train Tickets
There are a number of options out there and we tried all of them for multiple routes both within Italy and entering and leaving the country. Here’s why Trainline came out on top.
- You get the same prices (and sometimes a bit cheaper) as when booking directly from Trenitalia or Italo: Trainline offers its tickets at the same prices as on the official websites of the national carrier Trenitalia and the private carrier Italo. (The same is true with its tickets for Germany, Spain, Eurostar (Paris to London), France and more.) Trainline makes its money on commissions — rather than adding a surcharge, like some other portals.
- Trainline is even cheaper than the official national operators for many complex trips: When you cross out of Italy during a trip, Trainline can be even cheaper than Trenitalia, as we found recently when looking for a trip from Bari to Zurich. This is because Trainline can do combinations directly with other countries’ ticketing systems (in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) that sometimes Trenitalia doesn’t have access to, or charges more for.
- Trainline works non-Italian international credit cards, accepting Visa, MasterCard, American Express, PayPal, and Apple Pay. Payment is as smooth as on any secure modern website, and you are immediately issued a completely comprehensible email with your itinerary and receipt.
- Snappy, clean website: Trainline’s website is a nice bit of design and easy to use. It doesn’t have the grating clutter of Trenitalia, nor the incessant advertising of other private options. (There are no popups for Booking.com, car rentals, etc. — fine sites, but you can take care of those reservation needs without being hassled during your train purchases, right?)
- Quality and speedy customer support: Trainline excels as a hand to hold and mediator between customers and the complex and frustrating European train systems. Trenitalia is legendarily difficult to get ahold of, let alone deal with, should problems with your booking come up. Trainline’s support comes from normal humans who respond quickly.
Indicate your seat preference: Trainline offers this option for long-distance trains (no such option exists on Trenitalia regional trains). Some competing portals do not offer this option at all for Italy.
- Compare bus, Trenitalia, and Italo options side-by-side: The private competitor Italo runs limited services on a few of the same routes as Trenitalia and can be quite comfortable and in certain cases more convenient. With Trainline you’ll automatically see both options when available, so you don’t have to visit both sites separately. Trainline also automatically suggests the (usually much cheaper) bus options.
- Age and Other Discounts: Trenitalia sells discount cards for youth (12 to 26 years old) and seniors (60 years and over) that are worth purchasing if you travel very frequently via the Italian rail system. If you have these cards, you can get the relevant discounts when purchasing via Trainline, and likewise for age discounts when available in other countries. Other private ticketing portals generally don’t provide this option.
- Emailed tickets: Trainline emails your tickets immediately upon purchase. For the long-distance trains you can simply quote the booking reference on board; the regional tickets must be printed out.
- Easy cancellations: If you’ve purchased tickets that are refundable or changeable, you can take care of this right from within Trainline.
A Few Disadvantages of Trainline — But They Don’t Derail Us
Here’s where we think Trainline could still stand to improve.
- There is no flexible dates option. We’d love to see this, but neither Trainline nor any other platform is currently offering the ability to see which date would be cheapest to travel on if you’re flexible.
- Still has a surcharge in certain countries: While you don’t pay anything extra for using Trainline for Italian as well as most other European train tickets, you may pay a bit extra for travel within Benelux countries, Austria, Denmark, and Czech: typically 2-4 euros.
Other Platforms for Booking Italian Train Tickets
Trenitalia: We discussed how annoying the national train company’s official site is up top.
Italotreno.it: The private competing rail service has a website that is a bit better than Trenitalia’s, but still suffers from usability problems and incomplete translations. Since their service is much more limited, it’s only relevant for certain routes. It’s much easier to search both train services at once using our main train portal pick Trainline, which offers the same prices as both and is more user-friendly.
ItaliaRail: This is a private booking portal that sells Trenitalia tickets with a website that is a bit smoother for foreigners to use than Trenitalia’s. The design is simpler and the English version is more complete. However, unlike our main pick, it tacks on an extra fee, and its options aren’t always quite as good.
Loco2.com is almost as nice as our top pick. It generally offers the same prices, though not as many route options in our tests. The user interface is excellent and we’ll be keeping our eyes on this main competitor to Trainline.
Rome2Rio is a cool search tool that compares everything at once: driving, buses, planes and trains. But it doesn’t actually sell the tickets itself, doesn’t show very good/cheap train routes, and it seems to be rather incomplete in coverage for Italy.
Omio.com: This site is very clean and easy to use. It isn’t as clever with suggesting complex train routes as our main pick, nor does it offer as many options about seating and the rest. It also has search functions for buses and planes. There is a small additional booking fee.
Wrap-up: Our Favorite Train Portal for Italian Tickets
We now simply head to Trainline for all train tickets for Italy.
For simple tickets, prices are the same as the carriers themselves, and the booking process is much, much smoother.
For complex and international trips in and out of Italy, Trainline almost always offers us cheaper routes than Trenitalia and other private portals.