How to Travel Italy by Train - A First Timer's Guide incl. Things to do and Places to Stay
Visit the best of Italy with only one rail pass! Getting around by train is a comfortable and fun way to move across Italy, from Milano to Venice, Florence and Rome...
"What are your plans for this summer?" - This was one of the most asked questions I received during the first 6 months of this year. Whenever I replied with "I'm going to travel Italy by train..." people got green with envy and I had to promise to write a blog post about it. I have to apologize because it took a bit longer than I thought, but finally here is my guide for you!
Excellent question. I believe Italy has something for everyone. The country is not only about pizza and coffee, there is so much more. Italy is art, the birthplace of Renaissance history and home
to countless stunning monuments. And if this wasn't enough, Italy has some of the best cuisine in the world, too.
Let's get ready! I promise you, exploring Italy by train is easier than you think!!
It's actually the best way to get around, because Italy has an extremely great train network with super modern high-speed trains that will take you easily and quickly from one city to another, spectacular panorama views included.
If you're still having doubts, I have a video to prove it! My lovely boyfriend recorded our train adventures in Italy the entire time ! I hope the video below will bring you into the right mood!
Get a Rail Pass!
Since I was a teenager I dreamed of traveling parts of Europe by train, meeting cool people along the trip and partying in every city. This trip actually fulfilled one of my oldest dreams, except that I'm not a teenager anymore, nor were there crazy parties on board. But still, it was heaps of fun.
I traveled with a rail pass that allowed me to explore Italy at my own pace. A rail pass is perfect if you want to visit several places in Italy (or even within Europe.) It allows unlimited rail travel and the option to take as many trains as you want on each travel day!
The Italy Pass lets you travel comfortably to Italy's popular cities, like Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan and many others, but also to lesser known regions and smaller towns. You just use one ticket for the whole trip and you have the flexibility to move on whenever you feel like. Sound good?
Eurail or Interrail?
The Interrail pass is for European residents, the Eurail pass is only valid for non-European citizens.
To find out which pass is for you, read this article Do I need a Eurail or Interrail pass?
How much is an Interrail / Eurail pass?
I traveled with the Global Pass as I continued afterwards to other countries, If you're only visiting Italy, a One Country Pass will do. The price for the rail pass depends on many factors, such as the seat class you're traveling in, and also your age. If you're under 26, DO IT NOW, because the pass is a lot cheaper!
There are often promotions on the Eurail and Interrail website, so just click the links below to get more information and the current fare for your rail pass.
Train Schedules and Seat Reservations
My experience with Italian trains were excellent, no matter if I used high-speed or small local trains, they always departed on time. I had no delays thoughout the whole trip. To check the train schedules, go to Eurail Time Table or have a look at the Trenitalia website.
You don't need seat reservations for regional trains, however if you take high-speed or night trains, reservations are required. This can be easily done online at Trenitalia.com. Just enter your departure and arrival and hit search. Choose your preferred train schedule and click on the price.
On the next page open the drop down menu at "Offers" and select "Global Pass" (also select this if you have the Italy pass). Now you will see the price for the seat reservation. Enter your ticket number, tick "choose the seat" and continue. You see, it's easy...
The perfect Itinerary, see the best of Italy
I gotta be honest with you. Italy has so many treasures to explore. Unfortunately I did not have much time so I had to focus on the most popular cities. I started the trip in Milan and later visited Venice, Florence, the Tuscany region and finally Rome. Later on, I traveled down South to the Amalfi and Cilento Coast. For the rail trip I highly recommend the route
Milan - Venice - Florence - Rome
All of these cities are within easy reach.
The high-speed train from Milan to Rome takes only 3 hours,
Rome to Florence only 1,5 hours.
If you have 1-2 weeks to discover the best of Italy, keep reading because the following itinerary will work perfectly for you.
My Interrail trip started in Milan, located in the Northern part of Italy. Milan is also a great hub to start because several low-cost carriers are flying pretty cheaply from many cities in Europe directly to Milan (Ryan Air, Pegasus, Air Berlin - I recommend Skyscanner to compare fares).
In a nutshell, Milano is a modern cosmopolitan city with a rich history, stunning cathedrals, beautiful Renaissance architecture and endless shopping opportunities. In case you didn't know, Milan is one of the fashion capitals in the world. You'll see well dressed people all over the city, promise.
Things to do & places to see in Milan
Most of the following places you can just visit by yourself. Milan has an excellent network of public transportation. If you're scared to get lost, I recommend joining a guided tour. I did the Milan Walking Tour with Walks of Italy, which was fabulous, it covered pretty much all of the following sites.
Duomo of Milan – This is a must-see, the Duomo is the 5th largest church in the world! It took nearly 600 years to complete the Gothic cathedral. The panoramic views from the roof terrace are absolutely stunning!
La Scala Opera House – Italy’s most popular opera house with classic interior and brilliant acoustics opened in 1778. If you love classical music, you should visit this place, at least once in a lifetime, it's like time traveling into the past.
Sforza Castle & Museum – A fascinating castle, now converted into a museum with a dramatic history. If you're not interested in the museum, check out the gardens. It's a charming place for a romantic picnic...
Santa Maria delle Grazie – This is the place where you will find one of the world's most famous paintings: The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. Book in advance, this place is popular!
Brera District – A lovely residential neighborhood where you'll find art and culture in narrow streets, cozy cafés and beautiful old houses. This is the perfect area for a stroll, drinking an espresso and meeting some locals.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Grand shopping mall with fancy restaurants and high-end fashion brands, located between the Duomo Milano and La Scala Opera House. I only did window shopping here, although the mosaic tiles on the ground are pretty impressive.
Map of Milan with top sightseeings
How to describe Venice in one word? Romantic. Yes. You can't leave Italy without seeing this incredibly romantic city. Sure, it's touristic, but for a good reason: It's a place like no other: Venice is made up of more than 100 small islands, charming canals, galleries, palaces and hundreds of bridges.
The best thing to do in Venice is getting lost in it's endless confusing maze of narrow back streets. Don't be scared, go in there, you'll find some cute little shops, colorful markets and fantastic local restaurants...
Things to do & places to see in Venice
Venice is easy to explore on foot, it's a small island. Just take a map with you or use Google Maps on your phone, otherwise you'll get lost. I spent 3 days in Venice, 2 days walking on my own, observing people and eating loads of ice cream.
The third day I did the Venice Walking Tour plus Gondola Ride which covered a big portion of everything you need to see in Venice. These were my favorite spots and things to do in Venice:
Saint Mark's Basilica – located on Piazza San Marco is a must! The church is a great example for breathtaking Byzantine architecture.
Gondola Ride – A lovely experience drifting through the canals and seeing Venice from a different perspective. It's a bit pricey (€80-100) though, however you can share the gondola with max. 8 people.
Rialto Bridge – This is one of Venice's most popular icons! The majestic bridge is lined with small shops and offers an amazing view over the Grand Canal.
Rialto Market – This is the place where locals buy their groceries. You will find beautifully displayed fruits, veggies, and seafood.
Doge's Palace – A masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Visit the residence of the Doges, who ruled the Venetian empire and see their spectacular living quarters.
House of Marco Polo – Visit the courtyard of the house where Marco Polo was born in 1254. Marco was an Italian traveler who left detailed chronicles of his travels and inspired many people to explore the world...
Map of Venice with top sightseeings
Hands down, my favorite city in Italy, and it's not hard to fall in love with. Florence is the place where Italian Renaissance was born, surrounded by some of the most beautiful regions of Italy, Tuscany.
If you're an artist, this place will fulfill all your craziest dreams! You will find spectacular galleries on every corner and iconic sculptures in every square.
Things to do & places to see in Florence
I spent 3 wonderful days in Florence, the first day I just wandered around myself and stopped occasionally for a glass of wine. The second day I did the Florence Walking Tour with David and the Duomo, which was the best tour I did with Walks of Italy! Not only because Florence was wonderful, but also because our guide Bernardo had such a great sense of humor. He's a proud Florentine and explained the history of his city in such an entertaining way. If you book the tour, request to get Bernardo as your guide!!
Galleria dell'Accademia – This is the place to see magnificent statues, especially the one and only: Michelangelo's David, a massive 5 meter tall statue of a perfect nude male. Over 5000 people come every day to see this masterpiece.
Ponte Vecchio – Another picturesque icon of Italy and Florence's most loved bridge. I suggest to go early in the morning there to feel the romantic vibe of this magnificent place.
Cathedral Santa Mario del Fiore – The Duomo is massive, almost unreal. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful churches in the world with exquisite frescos, vibrant mosaics and stunning marble work. If you're not claustrophobic, take the small staircase to the top.
Piazza della Signoria – This square is literally a free open-air gallery where you can admire the Fountain of Neptune, Hercules and Cacus,and many other statues...
Map of Florence with top sightseeings
What is Rome? Expect dramatic history, inspiring art and delicious food on the highest level of excellence. I can't believe that I have waited so long until I visited Rome, the Eternal City.
Italy's capital offers a fascinating, rich heritage, the historic center of Rome is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Believe me, it's astonishing to see so many ancient icons and ruins dotted throughout the city. Not many places in the world offer such an amount of treasures.
Things to do & places to see in Rome
Anyone who's been to Rome, will probably agree with me on this one: 2-3 days is hardly enough! Rome has SOOO much to see, so much to explore, it's hard to fit this into a short visit. I was happy to spend an entire week in Rome and it wasn't enough.
The city is full of beautiful churches, incredible ruins, gorgeous palaces, monuments, statues and countless fountains, the list is just endless. It's easy to explore Rome by yourself, public transportation is fast and reliable.
Colosseum – A must see, just as spectacular as you would imagine the largest amphitheatre in the world to be! Do this on a guided tour, you skip the queue and get some fantastic insider information.
Pantheon – One of the best preserved buildings in the world with a massive dome, apparently the largest brick dome in the history of architecture.
Roman Forum – Wander around these incredible ruins that were once the center for Roman public life and the most celebrated meet up place in all history.
Piazza Navona – My personal favorite and possibly the most lively square in Rome with three sculptural fountains. The place is surrounded by Baroque Roman architecture and little open air cafes, perfect to have a drink and observe...
Spanish Steps – One of the most popular staircases in the world, these elegant 135 steps are attracting thousands of people every day, come early to avoid the crowds!
Trevi Fountain – From all the beautiful fountains in Rome, this is definitely the most spectacular one. Unfortunately, it was under renovation during my visit, so check for updates before you go.
Altare della Patria – The Altar of the Fatherland is a snow-white large monument, located beside Piazza Venezia. Take the elevator to the roof from where you get a fabulous 360° view over Rome.
Vatican City – A city state surrounded by Rome and the world's smallest country. Take a walk across the gorgeous St. Peter's Square and admire the home of the pope.
Map of Rome with top sightseeings
Guided Tours in Rome
Additionally, I did a couple tours in Rome with Walks of Italy, I joined the VIP Caesar's Palace Tour, an intimate tour and the only one that gives exclusive access to the home of Rome's first emperor. It's such a privilege to enter the house of Augustus Caesar. The frescos are amazingly well preserved.
The other day I joined the Rome Food Tour, which I can highly recommend to anyone, not only for foodies! We started in the morning with shopping at a local market, tastings of olive oil, cheese and meat and finished the day by making our own pizza. Good fun and very delizioso...
Day Trip to the Tuscany
If you have some more time, hop on a train and explore Italy's countryside, too. Tuscany is a stunningly beautiful region and just 1-2 hours away by train.
I did a Cooking Class with Wine Tasting at the Fontanaro farm in Tuscany. The family who hosted me that day were very kind, a great team of mother and daughter. They produce their own wine and olive oil, together we cooked some homemade pasta and prepared tiramisu for dessert.
The farm was like a little paradise, a lovely home, away from home. Highly recommend, not only if you're a foodie... Also the Tuscan region is just too pretty to skip...
On this trip in particular I decided to not stay in hotels and booked private accommodations on Airbnb. I thought it would be a great way to meet locals and get a glimpse of how Italians live. Without exceptions, all of my stays were fantastic and I'm happy to show you
exactly the places where I stayed.
By the way, if you use my link, you get $20 credit for your first stay on Airbnb!
My stay in Milan
In Milano I stayed with Eliana, a lovely Italian lady that hosted me in one of her apartments in a beautiful historical building. The place was conveniently located close to a metro stop and just 10 minutes away from the center of Milano.
Here are some photos of the apartment and surroundings. If you would like to book it, here is more info about Eliana's place.
My stay in Venice
I loved this little oasis right in the busiest part of Venice, but still quiet because it was located on a small street. It was a cozy, one bedroom apartment that made me feel like I had went back in time. Look at that telephone, such a rarity nowadays.
My host Yaya was such a kind and helpful woman, she even left a bottle Limoncello in the freezer for me. If you want to stay in this cool retro apartment, check here rates and availability.
My stay in Fiesole (near Florence)
This place was truly a dream home with a wonderful panoramic view, located in Fiesole and only 20 minutes by bus from Florence. A colorful house where artists live, with a relaxed and friendly
atmosphere. Highly recommened for nature lovers or those who want to explore the Tuscan countryside...
If you want to book the place, here is more info and availability.
My stay in Rome
I spent 6 nights in Rome at Dario's place which was centrally located in Rome and within easy reach to all the sightseeing and attractions. Compared to all the other places I stayed before, this place felt more like a guesthouse than staying with a local. However it was a great apartment, spotless and very spacious, I even got my own bathroom. Breakfast included. Oh and I can't forget to mention, the owner has 2 adorable cats...
If you like to request a stay, here is more info about Dario's place.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful for your next trip. If you have more time to spend in Italy, please head further South and explore the beach towns around Amalfi and Cilento Coasts, it's such a stunningly beautiful region. Don't believe me? Here is my video of the Italy's Southern Coast. Happy travels!
Thank you for reading.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sabrina Iovino is the founder of JustOneWayTicket.com. She's half German, half Italian and has traveled to more than 50 countries around the globe. She feels weird to write about herself in the third person, so she'll switch now. Phew...much better! Let's restart:
Hi, I'm Sab! This is my blog and I write about the things I love. Mostly.
Thanks to my editor Shannon Ullmann of Lives Abroad.
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