Italy's trains have always been some of the least expensive means of getting around compared to just about any country in western Europe. In the recent past, a rail pass wasn't likely to save you money unless you used it for very long trips of the type few travelers make: Rome to Sicily comes to mind. I didn't recommend rail passes for Italy very often.
But today, with prices rising and faster and more expensive trains coming to a binario (track) near you, I've spent some time recalculating the costs involved. I've come to the conclusion that rail passes can save the typical traveler to Italy some serious money. In fact, on our next trip to Italy we'll probably purchase one for the first time in well over a decade.
To get the most savings out of the rail pass, you'll still have to plan right and pay cash at the station for tickets on local, regional train jaunts, but you can save substantially if you make medium trips on the IC and faster trains like the Eurostar Italia. Let's work it out with some real figures.
In 2013, A Eurail Italy Pass good for 4 days in 2 months will cost you $338 dollars in first class and $276 for second. That's about $84.50 and $64.50 per travel day. (click the link for current prices). A Saver Pass can save you more if you are a family traveling together and a youth, aged 12-25 can save even more with a Youth Pass.
A 2009 trip on the Eurostar Italia AV (Alta Velocità--the really fast train) in a second class seat going from Naples to Florence cost us €60, or about $88. We bought the ticket at our local train station in Tuscany. As you can see by comparing the numbers, a rail pass would have saved us some money. Just remember, with a rail pass you must travel long distances in a day to make it worthwhile.
A more frugal idea for those combining a vacation in Italy with one of the adjacent contries is to try Multiple Country Passes as train travel is more expensive in France and Germany, for example.
You can check prices for point to point train tickets or order tail passes using the box below.
Italy on a Rail Pass
There's another reason to purchase a Eurail Italy Pass. Your interaction with folks at the ticket window will diminish a bit, especially on regional trains where you just board the train and go. But with a rail pass, you'll still have to purchase seat reservations on the faster Eurostar Italia (ES) trains and IC trains.
You'll have to go to a train station before your first train journey and have your pass validated. You'll need to write the date on the pass each day you use it. You're very likely to get fined if you don't. Then you're free to take as many trains in a 24 hour period as you like. Be aware that a rail day lasts from midnight to midnight. On an overnight train that departs after 7pm, a rail day will begin at 7PM and end the next day at midnight.