italy by train itinerary

This one comes to ya from my friend, Elissa. She’s been to Italy twice in the last year, once with her family and once to visit her cousin, Ali. And she did it all by train. She’s here to share her best Italy by train itinerary guide, starting with Turin and ending in Rome, as well as some Italy train tips because it can get a little tricky. Enjoy!

In late June of 2018, I traveled around Italy by train with my parents and two younger sisters. As a family, we were extremely excited to finally travel internationally together, since my sisters and I grew up going on road trips all over the U.S. and our family trips were always so much fun.

My dad, being an architect, was especially excited to visit Italy since he has such admiration for the achievements of Roman architecture. My sisters had both previously traveled internationally. One studied abroad in Scotland, and the other visited me while I was living in South Korea, and we traveled around Japan together.

I was pretty much jobless at the time, so I took on the job of planning the whole trip, with the input and approval of my family of course. I’ve also added in some spots I visited when I returned to Italy this past winter, so all in all, you should have a nice itinerary for as long as 18 days or less depending on what you want to prioritize.

Getting to Italy

Since we were in Paris before we went to Italy, we were able to take a train to Turin. However, if you fly in, you could easily fly into Milan and take a train over. You can also do this itinerary backwards and start in Rome instead of finishing there.

Tips for Train Travel in Italy

Italian public transportation is not only efficient and comfortable, it is super affordable! Instead of renting a car, see if you can do your entire trip by train. Here are some tips on what to do and expect.

How to Book Tickets

You can book tickets either online or at the station. I have done both depending on the situation.

Long distance trains that have reserved seating (i.e. Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca & InterCity trains), I would book in advance.

Regional train tickets can be bought at the station, and I wouldn’t stress about the trains getting sold out since I have often just shown up to the station and bought tickets for the next train about 10 mins prior to departure.

If you book online, I would use the following websites. I would also recommend comparing prices between the websites.

  • Trenitalia – Input city names in their Italian names (e.g. Roma, not Rome)
  • Loco2
  • Italo – Private company as opposed to the state-owned Trenitalia.

If you book at the station, either go to the ticket office or use the multilingual self-service ticketing machines that are in the entrance to the station. They’re big and red and there are usually a bunch of them. You can’t miss it.

What to Expect from Inside the Trains

The trains have nice high backed seats, some of the seats have tables and there are some sets of four seats facing each other. I have only seen compartments once on a train and that was from Florence to Rome. There was also only one instance where I didn’t see a bathroom. It may have been because it was probably a regional train so shorter distance or I didn’t look hard enough. My cousin, Ali, says she’s always seen a bathroom.  

Getting on the Train

ALWAYS validate your train ticket.

If you buy your tickets at the booths at the station, you must validate them at the little boxes by the platforms. Don’t worry about doing this if you’ve booked online. Basically it’s so the workers on the train know what time you entered and for where, so you’re not joy riding on trains all around the country!

Sometimes two separate trains will come to the same platform.

In our summer trip, there were often two separate trains on the same platform so make sure you are on the correct train before you board. The one you should be on may be further down the platform. We usually realized we had the wrong train because the doors wouldn’t open on the train we were trying to get on, so we would just move down the platform until we got to the other train.

You won’t know your platform until about 10 minutes before departure

While we were waiting for our trains we kept seeing people hover around the train schedule boards and then once the platform was posted there would be a mad dash to the trains. It was hysterical. We first encountered this on our train from Paris to Turin and stressed about it until we realized that it’s totally normal. Everyone always gets on their train so we just started to find it amusing.

If you want more in-depth or specific information, I highly recommend checking out this Seat61. It really helped in planning our trip.

An Italy by Train Itinerary Guide

Itinerary Overview:

While I structured the itinerary to be about 18 days, you can, of course, shorten it big time if you want to leave out certain cities! You could also make it much longer by both including more cities in northern Italy and extending the itinerary below Rome! Here’s a rough overview:

  • Turin- 1 day
  • Milan- 2 days
  • Venice- 2 days
  • Verona- 3days
    • Dolomites 1-day
  • Florence- 3 days
    • Pisa-1/2 day
  • Siena-1 day
  • Rome – 5 days
    • Pompeii – 1 day

Day 1: Turin

Check here for more complete guide on how to spend one day in Turin

one day in turin
via pixabay

Coming From: Paris by train

We stopped in Turin on our way from Paris to Venice, mainly to see the Egyptian Museum as I love all things ancient Egypt. This city is so beautiful, and the people are very friendly! It also didn’t feel touristy like Venice or Florence. We felt like we were experiencing the real Italy. My family definitely plans to return to Turin and explore it more. 

Where to Stay in Turin

We stayed at Casamartina, and it was so nice having an apartment. We had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room area to split between five people. It’s also in a quiet area but still close to many of the sites. Check rates & availability here

Tours in Turin

Things to Do in Turin

  • See the Egyptian Museum (get tickets here)
  • Visit the Shroud of Turin
  • People Watch in Piazza Castello
  • Visit Mole Antonelliana
  • Check out the Fiat Lingotto Factory
  • Tour the Palazzo Reale (tour here)
  • Try bicerin
  • Check out the Royal Crypt at Basilica Superga

Where to Eat in Turin

  • Caffe Torino
  • Al Bicerin

Get Around Turin

You can easily get around by foot, but if you need transportation, there’s always a hop-on, hop-off bus

Days 2-3: Milan

See how to spend 3 days in Milan here

via Unsplash

Coming From: Turin by train 

Sam Note: While Elissa didn’t visit Milan during her trip, I went when I was a student in 2012 and loved the city, so I thought I’d add it in as an option. It’s between Turin and Venice, so if you did want to add it to your Italy by train itinerary, this is when you’d want to go! You could also start here if you’re flying into Italy, as Turin doesn’t have its own airport. If you have more time than just 2 days, take a day trip out to Lake Como.

Where to Stay in Milan

So, when I was a student, I stayed at Hotel Panizza, but I swear it must’ve done some major renovations and changed up its branding since I stayed there! I was in a 4-female dorm, shared bathroom, and now all the rooms are private and obviously more expensive than I would have spent as a student. It was decent when I stayed there, but it’s rating on Booking is only an 8.3, so I thought I’d put another option for mid-range. The one I put for budget is actually the one I wanted to stay at, but it was booked.

Tours in Milan

Things to Do in Milan

  • See the Arco della Pace 
  • Walk through the Castello Sforzesco (book a tour here)
  • Visit the Pieta Rondanini Museum
  • Experience apertivo
  • Relax in Parco Sempione
  • Walk around the different fashion streets
  • Visit the Duomo di Milano (get tickets here)
  • See the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • Check out The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie (book a tour here)

Where to Eat in Milan

  • Chocolat Milano for the best chocolate and strawberry gelato
  • Duomo dal 1952 for apertivo. I’m *guessing* this is where we went based off looking near Arco della Pace. This looked the most like what I remember
  • Pizza Club No Limits for unlimited pizza. So we went to a place near Naviglio Grande, but I think it either shut down or merged with this place. This is what came up when Laura told me to try searching “giropizza” in Milan. It’s a little ways from the city center, butttt pizza buffet in Italy!

Get Around Milan

It’s pretty easy to walk around the biggest sites, but you can also buy tickets for the metro and tram. You can also use the hop-on, hop-off bus if you need more assistance getting around.

Days 4-5: Venice

Check here for my best Venice travel tips and here for why I prefer Venice in winter

Venice Itinerary

Coming from: Milan by train

I basically wanted to see this city before it sinks. But, for real, there is no city in the world like it and despite the insane amount of tourists that flock to this floating city, it’s a charmer.

The one major street, is super touristy, but once you step away into the confusing alleyways, Venice is quiet and full of unique beauty and hidden charms. While we only spent a day, you could easily spend 2+ days to see nearby areas like Murano, Torcello, and the Burano Islands.

Where to Stay in Venice

We stayed in the hotel, Hotel Mezzo Pozzo. This charming hotel, once a 17th century noble house, is tucked into a back street of Venice off of Strada Nova, one of the main streets in Venice. There are a lot of steep stairs (we were in the “Tower”), but our room had a great view overlooking the quiet rooftops of Venice. It is also near Rialto Bridge and Ca’d’Oro.

Tours in Venice

We did the Venice Free Walking Tour and consider it one of the highlights of our whole trip. While free, donations are encourage, and we paid about €50 for all five of us. Locals lead the tours to off the beaten path destinations. The company is great as they promote sustainable tourism — encouraging tourists to visit local artisans, eating at authentic restaurants, and teaching them about Venetian history and culture.

At the end of the tour we received a map of local shops and restaurants as well. Our guide also told us a great spot to eat dinner, right along a canal and full of locals. We sat right next to the canal as the sun was setting and watched as locals passing by on motor boats chatted with people along the streets. Such an amazing experience!

Things to Do in Venice

Where to Eat in Venice

  • Trattoria Casa MiaRecommended to us by our hotel and so good!
  • Osteria Bea Vita This restaurant sits right on the canal, away from all the main tourist spots so it’s quiet and the food is amazing!

How to Get Around Venice

WALK! With all the winding and small streets, walking is a must since there are no cars in the city. Plus, all of the small alleys are so fun to just wander and explore!

If you want to take public transportation, take a Vaporetto, or water bus, which takes you to places along the Grand Canal; into the Lagoon; and the islands of Lido, Punta, Sabioni, and Treporti. Get a ticket that allows you total use of public transport here

Days 6-8: Verona

Check here to see all the best things to do in Verona in 2 days

Coming from: Venice by train

I went to Verona while I was visiting Ali and we decided on doing a weekend trip to Verona because neither of us had been yet. We also thought it would be fun for Valentine’s Day weekend with it being the city of Romeo and Juliet. It worked out because they had some two for one deals! We got into the Arena for half the price!

A day or two for the main city, but there is a lot to see in the area so you could do day trips to the Dolomites/ Trentino region and Lake Garda. If you want to skip staying in Venice, you could also just do a day trip there as well.

Where to Stay in Verona:

We stayed at The Hostello and it was great! Super clean and run by friendly and helpful staff!

Sam Note: I just stayed at Albergo Trento on my most recent trip, and it was lovely! It’s about middway between the train station and the Arena, so you can easily walk there. The rooms were comfortable, the breakfast quite delicious, and the hosts were super sweet.

Tours in Verona

Things to See in Verona

Where to Eat in Verona

  • Caffe Borsari

The quaintest little café. There are maybe three tables so you have to fight for a seat, but 100% worth it! We got hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream and jam filled croissants (or brioches in Italy), and they were delicious! Also, you could tell this was a local favorite because everyone who entered was warmly greeted by the people who worked there.

  • Caffe Dante Bistrot
  • Tokyo Sushi

Getting Around Verona

We took a bus from the train station to our hostel, but it’s easy to walk from place to place in the old city. Also, the city is so lovely, you’ll want to walk and explore it! If you need more assistance getting around, you can also use the hop-on, hop-off bus. Get tickets here

Day Trip from Verona: Dolomites

I recommend doing your day trip on Day 7 so you have Days 6 & 8 to be in Verona

We splurged and did a day trip with Veronality to see the Dolomites and it was one of the highlights of the trip! Since the tour was very new, Ali and I ended up being the only ones on the tour.

Our guide, Alessandro, was extremely knowledgeable, kind, and wonderful to talk to. Not only were the views from the top of the mountain spectacular, but the views on the drive to the Dolomites were incredible. It was such an amazing experience to see a different side of Italy. 

I would recommend doing this tour on day 2 of your stay in Verona, so you have one full day before and after to be in the city.

Days 9-11: Florence

Read More: Where to Eat in Florence & How to Spend 3 Days in Florence

Coming from: Verona by train

Why not Florence? It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world and has a magic all it’s own.

My family also has a personal connection to it as it was the home of my great-great aunt until she died. Basically, an Italian fell in love with her while she was taking a group of college students to Italy on a school trip and he asked her to marry him every summer she went until she eventually said yes and left her overbearing parents. She spent the remainder of her days in this gorgeous city. Also, her husband’s medical practice overlooked the Arno River, and they had a summer home on the island of Elba, so who could say no to that?!

When I visited Ali in Florence, we actually were able to visit our great-great Aunt Ceci and Uncle Baldo at the cemetery. The 20-minute bus ride from Florence to the cemetery had views of the Tuscan Hills and the cemetery itself has amazing views of the countryside. I wouldn’t mind being interred there!

Depending on what you want to do, you could spend a few days or a week here. If you just want to spend time in Florence, you only need 2-3 days to see the basics. But, if you want to explore more of Tuscany, then I’d stay a week.

Where to Stay in Florence

We stayed at Soggiorno Primavera. Located just behind the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence and a little out of the city center so it was in a quiet neighborhood. The hosts were so sweet and gave great tips for seeing the city!

Tours in Florence

Things to Do in Florence

Where to Eat in Florence

Since Ali studied here for a semester, there’s a lot of places to choose from, and I split it by regular food and gelato.

For Food

  • Mercato Centrale Firenze – a fancy food court but so good. You can even do wine tasting.
  • Osteria Dell’Osso – such good food! Funny story – the World Cup was on, and our waiter asked if he could play the game on his laptop while he served us. Of course, we all got caught up in the game with him!
  • Panini Toscani – I’m still dreaming about this panini. It’s behind the Duomo, and you get samples of cheeses and meats to make the perfect one for you.
  • Pizza Napoli 1955 – not only is the pizza good, it’s shaped like a heart! Eat outside to really soak in the atmosphere.

For Gelato

  • Vivoli – in less touristy area, such a good gelato shop!
  • La Strega Nocciola – some interesting flavors but still good. Try the bergamot!
  • Antica Gelateria Fiorentina – Get the tiramisu here. Ali also recommends the pistachio and amaretto.
  • Gelateria dei Neri – Definitely get the pistachio and amaretto!

How to Get Around Florence

There are buses and a tram, but walking is the best way to really see the city since it’s small. If you want to take the bus you have to buy a ticket from a Tabacchi shop first and then validate it once you’re on the bus. For those who need more assistance, you can also use the hop-on, hop-off bus. Get tickets here

1/2 Day Trip from Florence: Pisa

Again, I’d recommend doing Pisa on Day 10 of your time in Florence. It should really only be a 1/2 day trip, so you still have the afternoon as well.

via Unsplash

It has a tower that leans. It’s cool, but you only ever have to go once.

We visited Pisa as a half day trip from Florence. We arrived first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds and left by noon. It was so nice to wander the quiet and empty streets and watch the city wake up for the day. You can get around best by walking since the city is small.

When we went up into the Leaning Tower (right when it opened) it wasn’t crowded and by the time we came back down (about a half hour later), the area around the Tower was packed! So get your pictures with the Tower before it officially opens! 

Book a tour from Florence here

Day 12: Siena

Coming from: Florence by train

My sister, Jen’s, best friend studied abroad in Siena and loved it, so I had to put it on my list. Siena may be small, but it’s gorgeous. The city has this orange hue to it and during sunset it glows golden orange. There’s no place like it!

We only spent a day here and pretty much saw everything. However, the surrounding countryside is so beautiful, that you could easily spend a few days here. If you do stay an extra day, try a day trip out to San Gimignano!

Where to Stay in Siena

We stayed at Albergo Tre Donzelle, right in the heart of Siena. It was cute, quiet and very affordable! The bathroom was not connected to the room, but we had a sink in our room so it wasn’t an issue.

Tours in Siena

Things to Do in Siena

Where to Eat in Siena

  • Tenuta Torciano

We had a wine tasting and lunch here for only €30 and it was amazing. The winery is family owned and run, and has been in the family for centuries. We had a multi-course meal and were able to try 8 glasses of wine, and the olive oil and balsamic that is made there as well. All of the wine was really good, I wanted to finish each glass, but Ali reminded me that it’s a wine tasting….The truffle oil was a standout though, especially since I don’t really like truffles.

  • Pasticcerie Nannini

Jen’s friends recommended this place to us and it was so good! Ali and I both have massive sweet tooths, so for dinner one night we just ate all of the pastries that looked good to us. No regrets. We also ordered the hot chocolate, and the people who worked in the caffe thought we were nuts for eating so many sweets.

  • Taverna Di Cecco

Delicious and authentic Tuscan food that was recommended to us by our hotel.

How to Get Around Siena

Walk! It only takes about 45 mins to walk from one end to the other, plus it’s the best way to explore the city.

Days 13-18: Rome & the Vatican

Coming from: Siena by train (You’ll actually transfer in Florence)

Rome has always been my favorite city. As a Catholic and lover of ancient history, it’s just fascinating. My father, the architect, was also especially excited to see it since he is a big fangirl of Roman architecture and engineering. I’ve never seen him so happy as when he was marveling at the structural beauty and ingenuity of the Pantheon.

We spent just under a week, but I once met someone who spent two weeks there and said that was not enough time. To see the basics, give yourself about five days. However, every time I go back, I realize there is so much more I want to see.

Where to Stay in Rome

We stayed in an apartment, Caesar Felix Suite, near the Vatican and it was comfortable for all five of us and in such a great and convenient location. Note: It looks like they’re not currently taking reservations, as of April 2019.

Check for more hotels in Rome here

Tours in Rome

Things to Do in Vatican City

Rome and the Vatican are very touristy so I recommend getting to these places either first thing in the morning or right when they’re open to avoid the crowds. You can also book a tour to skip the line at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

  • Vatican Museums
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Wednesday Papal Audience
  • Sunday Angeles
  • Sistine Chapel
palatine hill & elissa

Things to Do in Rome

  • Explore the Colosseum (book a tour here)
  • Roman Forum
  • Palatine Hill
  • Pantheon
  • Make a wish at the Trevi Fountain
  • Hangout on the Spanish Steps
  • Check out Rome’s prettiest neighborhood, Trastevere.
  • Visit the Villa Borghese Gallery and Gardens (get tickets here)

Where to Eat in Rome

How to Get Around Rome

There is a metro, but it doesn’t go to every part of the city, like Trastevere. So you’ll want to plan for a mix of walking, buses, and metro. If you do need more assistance, there’s a hop-on, hop-off bus with panoramic views.

However, if you can walk, definitely walk as much as you can. I overheard tourists talking about taking cabs, which I do not recommend solely on the fact that this is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world! It’s best seen on foot. How else can you marvel at the fact that there is a quintessential European looking building right next to 2,000 year old Roman ruins.

Also, many of the streets are so narrow and winding that you won’t be able to easily get dropped off super close to many of the things you would want to see.

Day Trip from Rome: Pompeii

While this is a day trip, if you were extending your Italy trip to the southern regions, it’s near Sorrento and Napoli, so instead of a day trip from Rome, you could go on your way down.

pompeii and mt vesuvius
via Unsplash

If you have the time, Pompeii is a must! We went as a day trip from Rome, but I’d love to spend a few days there to explore the region. It’s such a beautiful place, and you can actually hike to the top of Mount Vesuvius!

If you want to explore the whole city, it will take the whole day. We arrived when it opened and were there until about 2/3pm. There’s a lot to see so take your time and prioritize what you really want to do because you probably will burnout.

How to Get There from Rome:

We took a train from Rome to Napoli Centrale and then a Circumvesuviana train from Napoli Garibaldi (beneath Napoli Centrale) to Pompei-Villa dei Misteri (final destination Sorrento). The ruins are about 100 yards up the road from the station. Be careful in Napoli! So many people we met were pickpocketed there and especially in the train station.

You can also book a tour from Rome

Final Notes

Of course, any Italy itinerary is going to be missing something because it’s hard not to want to visit every city, town, and region in this country! If you want to add more spots to your own itinerary, here are some more recommendations.

Northern Italy (Above Rome):

  • Genoa
  • Cinque Terre
  • Parma
  • Bologna
  • Trento
  • Parma

Southern Italy (Below Rome):

  • Sorrento
  • Capri (Sam Note: One of my FAVORITE places)
  • Amalfi Coast
  • Lecce
  • The Whole Puglia Region
  • Palermo

Sam Note: All in all, though, prepare yourself to eat a lot of delicious food and spend your days wandering around some of the prettiest historic cities in the world. Elissa’s been back twice now, her cousin, Ali, studied for a whole semester in Florence, and I’ve been twice and am going back this June! The saying really should be, Italy is always a good idea. 

Have you traveled Italy by train? What would you include in your itinerary?


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