When To Buy Train Tickets In Italy To Get The Best Deal

When you think of high-speed trains, places like Japan and China probably spring to mind. However, much of Europe, including Italy, is covered by long-distance high-speed train lines, and getting around might be faster than you think. How about going from Rome to Florence in 1.5 hours? Or maybe you'd like to travel from Rome to Venice in less than four hours? Travel times by car are substantially longer, and flying can be expensive, so taking the train is a no-brainer if you want to make the most of your European vacation.

Once you're convinced you should take the train, your next question is probably, "How much?" The cost of train travel in Italy can vary wildly depending on how far in advance you buy your ticket. A ticket from Rome to Florence purchased on the day of travel can clock in at $60. Rome to Venice can be $100 or more. However, buying in advance can yield considerable savings. How far in advance? TikToker @alidalifetravel recommends booking around 45 days ahead of travel. Italia Rail recommends looking for fares around 60 days in advance, and Point Me recommends buying tickets 30 to 45 days ahead of travel.

It looks like if you book between one and two months ahead of your date of travel, you should be able to save some money. But of course, we're going to put that to the test.

What to know about Italian trains

Before searching for rail tickets in Italy, there are a few things to be aware of. Firstly, it pays to book high-speed trains in advance, but regional trains cost the same whenever you buy the tickets. If you're planning to take some day trips while staying in Rome, for example, you can just turn up at the station and buy the ticket there and then. There are ticket machines with several language options, including English. Secondly, bookings for high-speed trains tend to open around four months ahead, though this varies. If you don't see a train you want, keep checking back.

Finally, there are two main operators — Trenitalia and Italo. Both run high-speed trains between hubs like Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, and Naples. If you want to check ticket prices with both operators at the same time, use a third-party booking site like Trainline or Omio. You will be charged a small booking fee (usually between $1 and $3), but it will save you time.

There's little difference between Trenitalia and Italo; both will whisk you to your destination quickly and in comfort. However, train enthusiast The Man in Seat 61 writes that Trenitalia's high-speed Frecciarossa trains offer more seating around tables and have a casual restaurant onboard, while Italo trains do not. If those things are important to you, choose Trenitalia.

Testing when to buy tickets

We decided to check how much you could save and when by searching for our own Italian train tickets. So, we went to Trainline and looked for tickets to take us from Rome to Florence. For travel on the same day, a high-speed train costs between $53 and $60. We searched 45 days ahead, and sure enough, ticket prices had dropped precipitously. Many high-speed options were available for just $21, saving you at least $30 (think of how much gelato you could buy). Booking 30 days ahead, it was the same story: many tickets cost $21.

One week ahead of travel, prices had gone up to at least $38. So, you get it: book early to save. Booking a month ahead is perfect and will allow you a wide choice of trains. But there is something to be aware of with these super cheap advance tickets: they tend not to be exchangeable or refundable, at least not for free, so if your plans change, you lose out.

Finally, we have a hack for you! Strangely, sometimes higher-class tickets were cheaper than standard ones. On one Trenitalia train we looked at, Standard Class, which gives you nothing but a seat, cost $4 more than Premium, which gives you a better seat and a free drink and snack. So don't exclude the higher classes from your search as you could not only save on ticket prices but food and drink too!