Italo vs Trenitalia: Which is the Best Italian Train Company?

Are you wondering what are the differences between Italo and Trenitalia, the two train companies in Italy?

Then you’ve come to the right place. Over countless trips to Italy, I have travelled with both Italian train operators and am excited to share my first-hand experiences.

Italo vs Trenitalia? In my experience, there’s not much to choose between them. In the end, it will boil down to who serves your route and, faced with a choice, which train company is cheapest.

old fashioned clock hanging above train station platform in italy

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Train Companies in Italy

The two main train companies in Italy are Trenitalia and Italo. A third company – Trenord – runs passenger trains in the Lombardy region of Italy.

The government-run Trenitalia is the country’s largest train company. When I started travelling in Italy in the 1990s, it was Italy’s only train company.

Launched in 2012 by the privately-owned NTV (Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori), Italo is the new kid on the block. Its trains connect a selection of Italy’s cities with a 35% market share of these lucrative high-speed routes.

Italo vs Trenitalia: Routes

This is where Trenitalia trumps Italo.

A Trenitalia train will take you to most places you want to go in Italy. Not only does it connect Italy’s major towns and cities, but it also serves more rural areas.

Italo only connects Italy’s biggest cities and a selection of towns. Using Milan and Bologna as hubs, much of the network is concentrated in Northern Italy, but its services do go south to Naples and Salerno via Rome.

You can check Italo’s rail network here.

tv screen in a train carriage in italy indicating the next stop

Trenitalia and Italo Trains

So what’s it like to travel with Trenitalia and Italo? I have used both operators on several occasions and, like for like, there’s not much to differentiate their high-speed services.

Trenitalia trains

Trenitalia operates a range of rolling stock, from sleek high-speed trains to not-so-sleek regional trains.

Top of the tree are their Frecce (“Arrow”) trains, also known as Alta Velocità (AV). They come in three flavours:

  • Frecciarossa (“Red Arrow”) – the fastest of the bunch, reaching a maximum speed of 300 km/hour (186 mph)
  • Frecciargento (“Silver Arrow”)
  • Frecciabianca (“White Arrow”)
red and white exterior of frecciarossa train in italy

Frecciarossa trains offer four classes: Standard (2nd Class), Premium (Premium 2nd Class), Business (1st class) and Executive (Premium 1st Class).

I’ve travelled in Standard Class on Trenitalia’s high-speed trains on numerous occasions and it’s always been fine. The carriages are airy and spacious and seats are arranged in a 2 + 2 configuration.

You’ll be sitting in the same seats in Premium Class but will receive a welcome drink and snack. 

Business Class buys you lounge access at the station, more leg and elbow room – seats are arranged in a 2+1 configuration – as well as that welcome drink. The solo seat is a super option if you are travelling alone.

One day I will treat myself to Trenitalia’s Executive Class. Who wouldn’t want to travel in a reclining leather-covered armchair?

Frecciargento and Frecciabianca trains have first and second-class cars.

InterCity trains are the next in the pecking order. They are slower, reaching a maximum speed of 125 MPH (200 km/h), and connect mid-sized cities and towns. They also serve some of the major cities on the AV train lines.  

Again, there are first and second-class cars.

For a truly retro Italian rail experience, jump on one of Trenitalia’s regional services.  These Regionale, Diretto and Espresso “milk-trains” can stop at every stick and gatepost along the line. Bring a good book.

grimy exterior of white trenitalia train with red stripe
A Trenitalia regional train

Italo trains

exterior of red italo train in italy

Italo only operates high-speed trains. There are two types, AGV & EVO, which have similar classes & facilities.

AGV (Automotrice à Grande Vitesse) trains are the company’s original 300 km/h services. The newer EVO trains reach speeds of 250 km/h.

Both types of high-speed trains operate three classes: Smart, Prima and Club.

I have travelled in Italo’s Smart and Prima Class, which are very similar to Trenitalia’s Standard and Business Class. Italo Prima Class is worth it if you want to travel in a more comfortable carriage with lower occupancy.

people sitting in a carriage in prima class on an italo train
Italo Prima Class

Italo Club Ambience buys you upgraded catering, access to the Italo Club Lounge and fast-track boarding where available.

Cancelling or Changing Your Ticket

Travel plans can change and it’s reassuring to know that you can change or cancel your ticket if this happens. Your ticket flexibility is determined by which fare type you choose within your travel class.

Trenitalia

The most expensive Trenitalia Base ticket offers you the greatest flexibility. However,

Change ticket?Refundable?
Super EconomyNo*No
EconomyOne free change*No
BaseUnlimited changesYes (80% refunded)

* For a very modest fee, you can add the flexibility to refund the cheaper Economy and Super Economy tickets. Simply select the “tiRimborso” (Ticket refund) option when you buy your ticket.

Italo

Change ticket?Refundable?
Low costOne change (50% charge)No
EconomyUnlimited changes (20% charge)Yes (60% refunded)
FlexUnlimited changesYes (80% refunded)

Ticket Prices

trenitalia self service ticket machine

You will save money if you buy your high-speed train ticket for both companies in advance. This is especially the case for popular routes between major cities, such as Rome to Milan, Florence to Rome, Bologna to Milan and Naples to Rome.

Although you can buy tickets on the day of departure, these are subject to availability and will cost more.

If both Italo and Trenitalia serve the route on which you are travelling, cost may be the deciding factor. I have found Italo to be a bit cheaper than the Trenitalia Frecciarossa service (but not always).

You can search timetables and book tickets for Trenitalia here and Italo here. But a quicker and easier way is to use Omio which will search across both platforms.

Interrail or Eurail are not valid on Italo trains.

How I Book Train Travel in Italy

I take the easy route by first checking train options on Omio. I like the convenience of this one-stop shop, rather than interrogating two websites.

My next step is to complete the booking on Omio or book directly with Trenitalia or Italo. Omio can be slightly more expensive but is hassle-free and convenient.

If the price difference isn’t huge, I will treat myself to the comfort of an upgrade. To find out more, read about my experience of Italo Prima Class.

red cover saying italotreno.it on the headrest of a grey seat

Trenitalia or Italo: Which is the Best Train Company in Italy?

In my experience, Trenitalia and Italo high-speed train services are about the same in terms of comfort. Italo is often less expensive (but not always).  

Ultimately, your choice of Italian train company is likely to be driven by convenience and cost. And if the train operator serves your destination, of course.