Venice has rail connections with many major cities in Italy and Europe. Note that Venice's train station is Venezia Santa Lucia, not to be confused with Venezia-Mestre, which is the mainland stop prior to arriving in the city. Some trains do not continue beyond the Mestre station; in such cases you can catch the next Venice-bound train. Get a €1 ticket from the newsstand on the platform and validate it (in the yellow time-stamp machine) to avoid a fine.
Traveling by train in Italy is simple and efficient. Service between major cities is frequent, and trains usually arrive on schedule. The fastest trains on the Trenitalia Ferrovie dello Stato (FS)—the Italian State Railways—are Freccie Rosse Alta Velocità. Ferrari mogul Montezemolo launched the competing Italo high-speed service in 2012. Bullet trains on both services run between all major cities from Venice, Milan, and Turin down through Florence and Rome to Naples and Salerno. Seat reservations are mandatory, and you'll be assigned a specific seat; to avoid having to squeeze through narrow aisles, board only at your designated coach (the number on your ticket matches the one near the door of each coach). Reservations are also required for Eurostar and the slower Intercity (IC) trains; tickets for the latter are about half the price of the faster trains. If you miss your reserved train, go to the ticket counter within the hour and you may be able to move your reservation to a later one (this depends on the type of reservation, so check rules when booking). Note that you'll still need to reserve seats in advance if you're using a rail pass.
There are often significant discounts when you book well in advance. On the websites, you’ll be presented with available promotional fares, such a Trenitalia’s "Mini" (up to 60% off), "Famiglia" (a 20% discount for one adult and at least one child), and "A/R" (a round-trip in a day). Italo offers "Low Cost" and "Economy." The caveat is that the discounts come with restrictions on changes and cancellations; make sure you understand them before booking.
Reservations are not available on Interregionale trains, which are slower, make more stops, and are less expensive than high-speed and Intercity trains. Regionale and Espresso trains stop most frequently and are the most economical (many serve commuters). There are refreshments on long-distance trains, purchased from a mobile cart or a dining car, but not on the commuter trains.
All but commuter trains have first and second classes. On local trains a first-class fare ensures you a little more space; on long-distance trains you also get wider seats (three across as opposed to four) and a bit more legroom, but the difference is minimal. At peak travel times a first-class fare may be worth the additional cost, as the coaches may be less crowded. In Italian, prima classe is first class; seconda classe is second.
Many cities have more than one train station, so be sure you get off at the right station. In Venice, it is important to note that the Venezia-Mestre station is not in Venice itself but is the stop for the mainland industrial city across the lagoon. You can purchase train tickets and review schedules online, at travel agencies, at train station ticket counters, and at automatic ticketing machines located in all but the smallest stations. If you'd like to board a train and don't have a ticket, seek out the conductor prior to getting on; he or she will tell you whether you may buy a ticket onboard and what the surcharge will be (usually €8). Fines for attempting to ride a train without a ticket are €50 plus the price of the ticket.
For trains without a reservation you must validate your ticket before boarding by punching it at wall- or pillar-mounted yellow or green boxes in train stations or at the track entrances of larger stations. If you forget, find a conductor immediately to avoid a hefty fine.
Train strikes of various kinds are not uncommon, so it's wise to ensure that your train is actually running. During a strike minimum service is guaranteed (especially for distance trains); ask at the station or search online to find out about your particular reservation.
Traveling by night can be a good deal—and somewhat of an adventure—because you'll pass a night without having to have a hotel room. Comfortable trains run on the longer routes (Sicily–Rome, Sicily–Milan, Rome–Turin, Lecce–Milan); request the good-value T3 (three single beds), Intercity Notte, and Carrozza Comfort. The Vagone Letto has private bathrooms and single-, double-, or twin-bed suites. Overnight trains also travel to international destinations like Paris, Vienna, Munich, and other cities.
FS-Trenitalia. 06/68475475; 892021; www.trenitalia.com.
Rail passes promise savings on train travel. Italy is one of 24 countries that accept the Eurail Pass, which provides unlimited first- and second-class travel. If you plan to rack up miles across the Continent, get a Global Eurail Pass (covering all participating nations). The Eurail Select Pass allows for travel in three to five contiguous countries. Other options are the Eurail Youth Pass (for those under 26), the Eurail Flexipass (valid for a certain number of travel days within a set period), and the Eurail Saver (aimed at two to five people traveling together).
The Eurail Italy Pass, available for non-European residents, allows a certain number of travel days within the country over the course of two months. Three to 10 days of travel cost from $295 to $539 (1st class) or $240 to $439 (2nd class). If you're in a group of more than three, consider the Eurail Italy Pass Saver: good for 3 to 10 travel days, the price per person is $251 to $459 (1st class) or $205 to $374 (2nd class); family passes offer further discounts for children under 12; kids under 4 travel free. Eurail Italy Youth (for those under 26) is second-class only and costs from $195 to $357 for one to 10 days of travel. All passes must be purchased before you leave for Europe. Keep in mind that even with a rail pass you still need to reserve seats on the trains that require them.
Attractive as a pass may seem, compare prices with actual fares to determine whether it will actually pay off; you may have to do a great deal of train traveling to make a pass worthwhile. Generally, the more often you plan to travel long distances on high-speed trains, the more sense a rail pass makes. You can calculate how much you will be spending on individual tickets by using the Trenitalia website.
Italia Rail. 877/375–7245; www.italiarail.com.
Rail Europe. 800/622–8600; www.raileurope.com.