One of the best ways to explore Italy is by train. Trenitalia’s high-speed services are great for hopping between cities, while regional trains open up smaller destinations and coastal towns. But where should you go and how long will it take? We asked our experts to put together an itinerary that showcases the best of Italy, with three variations depending on whether you want to travel for one week, two weeks or three weeks. Like all of our itineraries, these are just ideas. They can be chopped and changed to suit you – if you want to take things slower and spending longer in a particular destination, or skip one of our suggestions to do something else, you can do. Read on for our one, two and three-week Italy by rail itineraries…
Fly into Pisa Airport and jump on the shuttle to Pisa Centrale train station. From here, it’s about an hour’s journey to Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station. Spend your first evening in the Oltrarno district. Wander up to Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset – it has the best views of the city – then opt for dinner at one of the restaurants around Via San Miniato and Via di San Niccolo.
Start your day with a strong espresso. Italians drink standing at the bar, but we’re rather partial to taking a seat and sipping slowly while people-watching. Spend the morning exploring the city – climb the cathedral’s dome or campanile for fantastic views and peek inside beautiful basilicas like Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce. In the afternoon, we’d recommend our walking tour, which will take you to some of the city’s standout sights before finishing with a guided tour of the famous Uffizi Gallery.
A 90-minute high-speed train will take you from Florence to Rome (click here for what to expect on Italy’s high-speed trains). After dropping your luggage at your hotel, head straight out to begin exploring the Eternal City. Start in the centro storico (historic centre), where you’ll find sights including the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.
Set your alarm to make the most of your full day in Rome. Explore the Roman Forum and Colosseum in the morning (top tip: buy your ticket at Palatine Hill to avoid the queues), then head across the river for an afternoon tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. If you’re a bit of a foodie, you could opt for our Rome tasting tour instead; it starts at 4.30pm and takes you around the city’s best foodie neighbourhoods, sampling local delicacies as you go.
Travel south to Sorrento today. The high-speed train takes about an hour and 10 minutes to reach Napoli Centrale. From there, we can arrange a transfer to your hotel, or you can take the local Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento – both take around an hour.
After a hectic few days in the cities, take it easy today. Wander into Sorrento’s old town for some shopping, relax by the pool, stroll down to the marina – whatever you fancy.
Today, why not explore the Amalfi Coast, one of the most beautiful parts of Italy. Our Amalfi Drive excursion will take you along the famous coast road (try to get a seat on the right-hand side for the best views), stopping at the pretty towns of Amalfi, Scala and Ravello.
Your rail trip has come to an end – unless we can tempt you with our two-week itinerary, in which case you’ll be continuing south…
Follow the one-week itinerary.
From Sorrento, travel to Naples (either on the Circumvesuviana train or by car) to catch the train south to Palinuro (direct services take a little over two hours). This lovely seaside town is set within a national park in the lesser-known region of Cilento. There are some beautiful beaches in the area, so once you arrive, we recommend unpacking your towel and heading down to the sand for a few hours.
You’ve got a full day to explore Palinuro and its surroundings today. Hit the beach again, take a boat trip to the Blue Grotto cave, or lace up your trainers for a hike along the coastline.
Today you’ll have a train journey with a difference as you head south to Sicily. The journey from Palinuro to Taormina (via Sapri, where you’ll change trains) takes between five and six hours in total – opt for the morning train and you’ll arrive in Taormina at around half four. As well as enjoying views of the unspoilt countryside and coastline, you’ll get to experience the ‘train ferry’. For the short crossing to Sicily, the entire train will be loaded onto a ferry, then off at the other end and back on to the tracks for the rest of the journey.
With four full days in Taormina, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the town and beyond. In Taormina, we’d suggest a visit to the Greco-Roman amphitheatre, a trip down to the beach on the cable car, and an afternoon stroll in the Villa Comunale gardens. In the evenings, seek out somewhere to try the local wine. Although not as well-known as those from Tuscany or Veneto, Sicily’s wines are delicious. When it comes to day trips, you could head to historic Syracuse for the day, tour the UNESCO-listed temples at Agrigento, or climb the slopes of Mount Etna in time for sunset.
After a fortnight of Italian adventures, it’s time to head home.
Skip the airport and make your way to Italy by train instead. The first leg will be a short hop across the Channel to Paris. You’ll then catch an overnight train from Gare du Lyon down to Italy. There are luggage storage lockers at Gare du Lyon, so if you’re on an early train from the UK, you can leave your bags there and have a few hours free to explore Paris.
Top tip: If you want a really special experience, you could opt to travel from London to Italy on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Instead of arriving into Milan, you’ll go straight to Venice – but you’ll have a fantastically luxurious journey.
After an overnight train journey, you’ll arrive into Milan nice and early, ready to start exploring Italy. Kick off with coffee in one of the city’s historic cafes – we love Caffè Cova and Taveggia (which featured in our best coffee shops in Italy post). Then hit the boutiques – Milan is famous for its shopping scene.
You’ve got a full day to see Milan’s sights today. Visit the Duomo (and scale the steps to its panoramic terrace), stop by the famous Teatro alla Scala opera house, or tour some of the city’s beautiful churches. For aperitivo, head to the trendy Navigli neighbourhood, where bars and restaurants sit alongside revamped canals.
This morning, take the train east to Verona (the fastest services take about 75 minutes). You won’t be staying overnight, so leave your suitcases at the left luggage facility at the station when you arrive. Verona’s centre is fairly compact, so it’s easy to see its highlights in a short space of time (take a look at our guide to spending one day in Verona for sightseeing ideas). Once you’re finished in Verona, it’s another 70 minutes or so to Venice. For your first meal here, seek out a canal-side restaurant or graze on cicchetti (Venetian-style tapas) at a backstreet wine bar.
Enjoy a leisurely day wandering along Venice’s canals and stopping for coffee in its sunny piazzas. For a sightseeing hit, you could explore St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, or board a water bus for a slow, scenic journey along the famous Grand Canal.
After a relaxed morning in Venice, make your way to Santa Lucia station to catch the train south to Bologna. It takes just under an hour and a half, so if you leave just after lunch you’ll arrive mid-afternoon. Bologna is a great city for walking – many of the buildings in its centro storico are edged by ancient porticoes, now protected by UNESCO.
Bologna is Italy’s gastronomic capital, so make sure you save some time today to sample its specialities. The market in the Quadrilatero is a good place to pick up tortellini, mortadella, Parmigiano Reggiano and bottles of balsamic from nearby Modena. For dinner, you can’t go wrong with a plateful of tagliatelle al ragu – proper spaghetti Bolognese.
After a final morning in Bologna, hop on the train down to Florence (35 minutes) to begin the two-week itinerary.
For more Italy inspiration, take a look at our collection of multi-centre holidays.