It’s one of the most widely beloved destinations on the tourist map, and yet rail travel in Italy remains a rather underrated form of experiencing the country’s glamorous cities and splendid countryside. Here is everything you need to know about exploring Italy by train.
People just don’t seem to know it, but Italy actually has one of the most well-developed rail networks in Europe. High-speed trains have existed here since the 1970s, with current trains reaching speeds of 300kmh (186 mph) and offering a comfortable, reliable and efficient service. The main operator is TrenItalia, who offer high-speed routes interconnecting major cities, as well as the majority of the country’s regional operations. There’s also Italo, a private company running exclusively high-speed trains between Milan, Torino, Venice, Florence, Bologna, Rome and Naples.
Why should I travel Italy by train?
From the alpine heights of the north to toasty Mediterranean beaches in the south, Italy is littered with desirable destinations, from bucket-list classics to little hidden gems. It’s hard to choose just one place, or even one region to visit. Do you prioritise the stylish cities of Venice and Milan, along with the surrounding mountains and lakes? Do you stick to Tuscany, its medieval towns and endless vineyards? Maybe you’d rather a coastal jaunt in the south? Sicily alone offers an entire island of adventures. We think a proper trip to Italy requires getting around a bit, seeing the landscapes evolve in front of you, experiencing the country’s many different faces. Travelling by car – perhaps a cute little Fiat – is a romantic idea and a classic image, but in actuality it can be a logistical nightmare. It’s time consuming, energy draining and often very costly.
This is where our old friend the locomotive comes in. Cover vast swathes of country in an afternoon, at relatively reasonable prices, and open the door to a whole world of adventure. Without wasting too much time or energy, you could be swapping the cocktail bars of Milan for the wineries of rural Tuscany, or the lively streets of Naples. The best part? The journey in itself is a treat, as you wind down coastlines, through rolling hills and epic mountains – wherever you are, your window seat offers a glimpse into the kinetic life of Italy, with a backdrop of lock-screen-worthy landscapes.
Is it easy to travel Italy by train?
The simple answer is yes! High-speed trains in particular are efficient and reliable, not to mention fast, so you can get around simply and quickly. It’s definitely easiest if you’re focusing on the major cities. Getting between Rome, Milan, Turin, Bologna, Naples and Florence is extremely easy. Regional connections are a little less frequent and not quite as reliable, but they will take you to the quainter spots both inland and on the coast. It’s pretty easy to navigate, with tickets available online and on app, as well as ticket counters and self-serve kiosks. Timetables are fairly consistent, running from early morning to late evening. Once onboard, etiquette is pretty standard. There are different class carriages and high-speed trains will always have specific seat reservations – try to always book these in advance – while regional trains are a little more relaxed, simply grab your ticket and pick the most scenic seat!
How much does train travel cost in Italy?
As you’d expect, prices vary depending on the scale of your journey and the type of train you’re travelling on, as well as what time you choose to travel. Generally for a wealthy European nation, with a high-quality rail network, average fares in Italy are pretty reasonable. High-speed trains are more expensive, but the shorter journeys on those lines – say Rome to Florence – can be as little as €30. Longer journeys, such as Rome to Milan or Venice to Naples, will most likely be somewhere in between €50-€100.
Fortunately there are lots of discounts, special offers and age-group related travel passes that can save you significant sums of money. We recommend avoiding peak times, booking well in advance and shopping around – the Omio app is a good comparison tool – and you can cover a lot of ground on a fairly tight budget. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the tracks, consider investing in a Trenitalia Pass, which starts at €129 and comes with a choice of 3, 4, 7 or 10 journeys.
Regional trains are a different story, and can actually be a really cost-efficient way of getting around. Hopping from town to town, say Pisa to Florence or Milan to Genoa, can be as cheap as €5 and rarely sets you back more than €30. If you’re wanting to see a lot but in a relatively small region of Italy – exploring Tuscany’s many medieval towns, for example – you can do so on an absolute shoestring.
What are the best train routes in Italy?
In terms of ease and accessibility, the main routes lie between Venice, Milan, Turin, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples, with only the real behemoth treks taking more than an hour or two. Bologna is a particularly well-connected starting point, as is Milan and Rome.
In terms of the most scenic train routes in Italy, you truly are spoiled for choice. Rome to Florence is one of our favourites – those famous rolling hills, adorned with luscious vineyards and neatly trimmed olive groves, look especially resplendent when whizzing past your window. A lot of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful routes are on smaller regional lines. The Tirano to St. Moritz train, from northern Italy across into the Swiss Alps, is a famous one, while few train rides on Earth are as picturesque as any route along the coast of the Cinque Terre – look one way to enjoy rows of pastel-coloured hilltop houses, face the other to gaze out at the stunning ocean horizon.
Perhaps the coolest journey of them all is the long-haul route from Rome to Sicily. It’s a trek, and not a high-speed one, but you get to trace pretty much the entirety of the southwest coast, passing through Naples, the Amalfi and Calabria. In order to cross the Straits of Messina into Sicily itself, you’ll get to experience the unique wonder of being ferried across by a ship, while still onboard the train. It’s one of the few places on Earth that you can still experience this quirky travel experience.
Classic Northern Italy by Train
While we also have trips in Southern Italy and Sicily, it’s our Classic Northern Italy by Train itinerary that best encapsulates the sheer number of iconic Italian destinations, utilising the excellent high-speed network to visit Rome, Florence, Siena, Bologna, Parma, Milan and Lake Como all in just nine days.
We’ll visit ancient landmarks in Rome, stroll the pretty little streets of Florence and explore the rolling hills of Tuscany, with stops in Siena and San Gimignano, including lunch at a nearby winery. Then we’ll wind further north along the tracks to Bologna – the culinary capital and a must-visit for any lover of Italian cuisine. The foodie adventures continue throughout Emilia Romagna, with visits to balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano producers, as well as a slice or two of ham in Parma. Our final destination is Milan, where you’ll get to explore the city’s lively and ever-fashionable streets, either side of a day trip to nearby Lake Como, reached by a gorgeous regional train ride.
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