We are planning our upcoming trip to Italy, and I’m loving the planning portion! One of the challenges on this trip is transportation. I decided that due to the limited parking in cities and my imagination (I’m picturing thousands of Vespas all cutting each other off in Rome and us paralyzed in the middle of an angry swirl of Italian drives in a tiny rental), that the train is the way to go. Plus, on days we aren’t travelling we might save on transportation costs.***
Italy has a great network of trains, and generally speaking, they run on time. They have a massive number of smaller, slower regional trains that travel short distances (in addition to a great network of buses and metros in some areas), and a few high speed train options. For regional trains, you don’t need to really buy a ticket in advance. If you show up and an upcoming train is booked, you can wait from 10-45 minutes and another train will come along. In the meantime, you’re already in the train station and can purchase a ticket for the upcoming train. It’s simple and convenient and makes me long for that type of transportation here in the USA. We will use regional transportation for the journey between Rome and Florence, Florence and Venice, and then from Venice back to Milan. While we can wing it with our regional train rides and have a little extra flexibility with timing on those trips, we will take the high speed train between Milan and Rome (3 hours as compared to 8 and a half hours).
High speed trains, however, should be purchased in advance. The trains sometimes can sell out because of the higher demand and comparatively limited number of routes they run in a day, so buying a ticket ahead of time avoids this headache, especially if you need to get to another city to check into a hotel on time or arrive on time for plans later in the day. The high speed train companies also tend to offer discounts for advance booking. The earlier you buy your ticket, with a few exceptions of occasional last-minute sales deals, the cheaper your rate will be. For instance, for a party of three in standard class one way from Milan to Rome, I was expecting to pay about €165. I checked the prices in March and possibly in early April and found the same result. When I decided to book in early May, however, the cheapest rate I could get was €193. $184 versus $216, or a difference between about $61 a ticket and $72 a ticket. In addition, I decided to upgrade for all three of us for Euro 28 ($31) to premium so we could get the “free” snack and drinks upon check in for our morning trip. Had I booked the trip further in advance, my price for all three would have been about $71 a person instead of $82 a person. Per person this isn’t the end of the world, but if you’re travelling with a partner and no splitting costs entirely, that’s $22 more for our tickets than if I had just booked when I had looked before. Not the end of the world, but lesson learned!
There are two high speed train companies in Italy: TreinItalia and Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori (NTV) Italo . We are using Trenitalia for the Milan to Rome trek. I was planning on doing the regional trains as mentioned above for the other routes, but after exploring the NTV website, I’m going to consider using them for regional tickets. We will just have to think about the comparison of costs.
Paul is looking forward to the trip, but is most excited about the high speed train!
***I actually am not sure that this ultimately will save us money overall when it comes to transportation costs, to be honest. You’d have to do the math on your own potential trip to see how the cost would work for your trip. I didn’t do the math on ours, but I figured the cost of having a car (cost for the rental per day, cost for gas, and the cost for parking) plus the lengthened amount of time it would take to drive between locations as compared to the faster train travel means that for us, at least on this trip, that just not having the hassle of the car made the cost difference irrelevant. Now, if the costs for the trains on our journey were a few thousand dollars more, I would very clearly be in the camp of choosing a car rental over the train.
You can find more information about how I’m planning my trip to Italy other places on this blog, like here (Planning a Day in Venice).