There are two intercity train operators in Italy: the state railways (Trenitalia) and the private Italo. Interrail is not valid on Italo. Almost all Trenitalia intercity trains require reservations. Trenitalia accepts Interrail on all trains with one exception, the Milan – Paris Frecciarossa trains. You can use TGV trains on that route instead, or buy a regular ticket for the Frecciarossa, since that tends to be a similar price to the TGV even with Interrail.
If you buy a regular Trenitalia ticket without Interrail from a ticket machine, don’t forget to validate it! “Convalidare sul retro” means validate on the back. There are validators at every station.
Trenitalia high speed and intercity trains, and how to buy reservations for them:
Trenitalia high speed trains are branded as Le Frecce, and divided into Frecciarossa, Frecciargento and Frecciabianca (Trenitalia is changing the branding, so soon all of them will be branded Frecciarossa). These always require seat reservations, which costs 13€. Regular intercity trains are called IC, they only require reservations in busier periods, for 3€. ICN are night trains, and those always require reservations, the price varies by accommodation type.
There are 4 ways to book reservations for Ialian trains.
- Ticket offices – in Italy and many other European countries. Trenitalia ticket machines can’t issue Interrail reservations, so only staffed offices will work.
- ÖBB: besides ticket offices, ÖBB also offers reservations for Le Frecce and IC trains online: https://shop.oebbtickets.at/en/ticket You have to select Interrail/Eurail as your discount card, and select single tickets. This works for all Trenitalia trains except InterCity Notte (ICN), and they don’t charge any extra fees.
- Italiarail at https://partners.italiarail.com/default?force_pass=true&aff=EURAIL – they are emailed to you and charge a 1€ extra fee. Unlike ÖBB they can though issue reservations for ICN trains.
- Interrail – like Italiarail, they charge a booking fee, and it works for all trains including ICN as well.
If you know where you’ll be going in advance, “super promo” tickets that are available for early bookers from https://www.trenitalia.com/en.html can be quite cheap, so using Interrail won’t always be the cheapest option.
In Italy there are no security checks like in Spain, there are just gates at major stations, which can be opened by a QR code from a ticket. If it doesn’t work, you can show your ticket to the staff and they will let you through. There are no gates at smaller stations.
Frecciarossa (red arrow) are the fastest trains in Italy with a top speed of 300 km/h. They primarily run on the north-south high speed route between Turin and Salerno, and some trains continue outside of the high speed network. Two types of rolling stock are used: The older ETR 500, and newer ETR 1000. There are 4 classes – Standard, Premium, Business and Executive. With a 2nd class Interrail pass you can only use Standard, with a 1st class pass you can use Business – both only with a reservation.
Frecciargento (silver arrow) are tilting Pendolino and non-tilting ETR 700 trains with a top speed of 250 km/h, used on routes that partially use high speed track, and partially conventional low speed track, such as Venice – Rome. These have Standard, Premiun and Business seating.
Frecciabianca (white arrow) are 200 km/h trains, on routes no high speed track, with a higher level of comfort and fewer stops than IC trains. These have regular 1st and 2nd class seating You need to pay the same 13€ reservation as in the faster trains.
Intercity trains run at lower speeds, and the reservations only cost 3€, and are only mandatory in high demand periods. There’s usually no catering on IC trains, except for vending machines on some trains.
There is an international Nightjet sleeper train that connects Vienna and Munich to Rome, La Spezia and Venice. Unlike most other countries in Western Europe, Italy also has an extensive domestic network of sleeper (ICN – Intercity Notte) trains.
All ICN cars are air conditioned. Reservations for these trains are always mandatory. The classes are similar to other night trains in Europe. The reservation prices are: seat €3, 4-berth couchette €41, bed in 3-berth compartment €48, bed in 2-berth compartment €58, bed in 1-berth compartment €122. ÖBB doesn’t sell these, so you’ll have to use the Interrail service, ticket office or Italiarail. They don’t take your reservation at night (at least in couchette class), so you don’t need it printed if you got it online.
- Seats: the cheapest and least comfortable option. Italian night trains use open carriages, so don’t expect closed compartments like on Nightjet trains.
- Couchettes (Cucette comfort): the middle option, couchette cars have lockable compartments with 4 couchettes. During the day they can be folded into the wall so that you can sit. There’s a pillow, bedsheets and blanket ready when you board. You get complimentary bottle of water, a small snack and a coffee in the morning, included in the ticket price. This is the most popular class, ICN trains are mostly made up of couchette cars.
- Beds (Deluxe): the more expensive and comfortable option, there are only 3 beds in a compartment, so you get more privacy. In addition to the couchette services, there’s also breakfast included in the price. You can pay extra to have the entire compartment to yourself, if travelling alone or with two people. The toilets and showers are shared for the entire carriage.
- “Excelsior”: sleeper compartments with only two beds, and a private toilet and shower. Interrail is not valid for these, you have to pay full price.
The sleeper trains from mainland Italy to Sicily, as well as a few daytime IC trains on the route, use the unique train ferry across the Strait of Messina – more information here.
Most regional trains are operated by Trenitalia as well (R – Regionale and RV – Regionale Veloce). In addition, Interrail is also valid on Trenord (R and RE trains in Northern Italy) and TILO (R and RE trains across the border with Switzerland). Interrail is not valid on trains of any other company besides Trenitalia, Trenord and TILO in Italy. There are no reservations on regional trains.
The only complication is airport connections:
On the Leonardo Express to the Rome airport, only a 1st class Interrail pass is valid. Regular regional and high speed trains also go to the airport.
The Trenord and TILO trains from Milan to the Malpensa airport aren’t included in Interrail at all. However in case of some of those trains only the segment around the airport is included. For example, if you are traveling from Malpensa to Switzerland on the TILO train, you can buy an individual ticket from Malpensa to Busto Arsizio and then continue the trip using your pass from Busto Arsizio on. The individual tickets can be bought from the machine near the platforms. Don’t forget to validate the ticket by tapping it to the reader located at the stairs to the platform.
The regular ferry from Villa San Giovanni to Messina is not included (the ferry that takes the train on board is). It costs only 2.50EUR, but you need to buy it before boarding. There is a ticket office, that look a bit like a shipping container, near the ferry terminal. When you exit the train, follow the crowd and you will easily find it.
France to Italy
As said above, the Frecciarossa operated by Trenitalia into France are not included in Interrail. The TGV trains operated jointly by SNCF and Trenitalia are, however you’ll need to pay a fairly expensive reservation. You can also use slower regional trains with no reservations.
Austria and Germany to Italy
There are two main routes, Munich – Innsbruck – Verona, and Vienna – Venice. You’ll have to pay a 10€ supplement (+3€ optional reservation) to use the EC and RJ trains on both of those routes. You can pay it on the ÖBB website/app, or at a ticket office. Interrail is also valid on the ÖBB IC Bus route between Italy and Austria. There is also a couple of ÖBB Nightjet sleeper trains that connect Vienna and Munich to Rome, Milan and Venice.
Switzerland to Italy
An EC train connects to Zurich to Milan. Reservations are required, though not within Switzerland. If you take an EC or IC train from Zurich to Lugano and change to an RE train to Milan you can get there just as fast, without requiring any reservations. You can also use the scenic route via the Bernina pass if you’re going from the eastern part of Switzerland.
Slovenia to Italy
A once daily EC train runs from Ljubljana to Trieste, and a couple more trains that require changing at Villa Opicina. Note that these regional trains are shown incorrectly in the Rail Planner app and are not direct. The connection in Villa Opicina is guaranteed.
Technically the segment from Villa Opicina to Sezena requires reservations even on regional trains. However it is impossible to get those reservations on-line or on Italian train stations and conductors don’t check them. When in doubt, board the train without the reservation and ask the conductor if you are good to go with just the pass.
There is also an overnight Trenitalia InterCity Notte train from Rome to Trieste to help if you are traveling from central/southern Italy – this arrives too late though for the morning regional train – it is through possible to catch it by leaving the sleeper train at Venice Mestre for a regional express train (the sleeper goes to St Lucia then waits for 25 minutes while it is turned around). This does though mean leaving the overnight sleeper about 0625. Otherwise you’ll need to wait for the lunchtime intercity.
Equally in the other direction the evening regional train is too late to connect with the Rome sleeper – you need the mid afternoon (1420ish) Eurocity.
It can also be worth checking local buses between Trieste and Villa Opicina – these are cheap and run regularly though not included in interrail and can open up some more journey options then the through trains. A similar arrangement is possible in Gorizia where you can catch local buses from Gorizia Centrale (Italian) to Nova Gorica (Slovenian) to join between the two networks – this can be particularly time efficient if you are looking to head from Italy to Bled or the Triglav National Park.
It’s also worth looking at connections via Austria – particularly as you can get an ÖBB Nightjet overnight train from Villach just over the border to La Spezia (via Milan & Genoa) as well as Rome. Heading South this leaves at 0134 but you can normally board from 0001 – check the timetable carefully. This does though require 2 travel days as this train leaves after midnight. And it does not work in the other direction as the stop in Villach is around 0330 in the morning!
Information on how to book these sleeper trains can be found at: https://www.reddit.com/r/interrail/wiki/night-trains#wiki_some_popular_night_train_services
Greece to Italy
With an Interrail/Eurail Global Pass, you can take Attica Group ferries between Italy and Greece with a discount. With a 6 day Greek Islands Pass, you can take them for free.
When you look for connections between Sicilly and mainland Italy, most connections will show up as “not included in the pass”. That is usually because the ferry from Villa S. Giovani to Messina is not included. Don’t shy away from those connections, you will only have to pay 2.5EUR and otherwise the trains are included.