There are plenty of reasons to tour Italy by train – forget renting a car – and instead sit back, relax and watch the vistas of Italy unfold as you enjoy a lunchtime glass of chianti on one of Italy’s world-class Frecce trains. Or, take the slower rail route… here’s why train travel in Italy is one of our favourite ways to explore!
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Why Tour Italy by Train?
Mention Italy, and images of red Ferraris (or other glamorous cars) tearing around winding coastal roads, or perhaps a Fiat cinque cento quietly bumbling through the cobbled streets of small Italian towns…. but the real romance of Italy is train travel.
In a country that could be said to take time easy, its rail system is efficient, often punctual, economical and above all: a great way to take in Italy. Train is our favourite way to explore in Italy – it’s perfect for travelling quickly and easily between the cities, and even to smaller towns, too.
After all: what better way could there be to arrive in Venice than by gliding across the lagoon’s bridge on a high speed train?
In case you need more convincing, here are some of our favourite reasons to travel Italy by train.
Top Reasons to Travel by Train in Italy
1. Arrive in Italy, the Scenic Way
Many of the best rail holidays to Italy start before you get to Italy. If travelling from the UK or Northern Europe, the journey to Italy by train is just as spectacular. Most train routes into Italy pass through Switzerland or Austria – take in the spectacular Gotthard or Brenner Passes from comfortable trains, or enjoy the nostalgia of a sleeper train, waking up to new scenery. Our personal favourite is the route from Zurich to Milan (via the Gotthard pass) which takes you past many of southern Switzerland and northern Italy’s beautiful lakes.
2. Beat Italy’s Traffic (and Crazy Drivers)
Traffic in Italian cities is best avoided, and we don’t recommend driving in Italian cities for novices either: It takes a strong command of the horn and a lot of patience to navigate Italy’s tourist centres such as Rome. As for driving in Florence or Venice: Forget it. In many of the historical town centres cars are not allowed, and where they are, parking is very challenging. A car is useful if you are going to stay in rural Italy, but then we suggest booking a rental car from the nearest town rather than relying on a car for your entire Italy tour.
3. Make the Most of your Time in Italy
If you’re short on time in Italy and want to get around, the most efficient way is by train. You can travel from Milan to Naples in under 5 hours or from Florence to Rome in 1.5 hours – all on Italy’s efficient, high speed trains. Just remember to book well in advance, or take a tailor-made rail tour of Italy!
4. It’s All About the Views
If you hadn’t gathered from the first point, train travel in Italy is all about the views. Whichever direction you travel in and whichever train you take, your bound to be delighted by the scenery. Northern Italy wins for mountain and lake views, but journeys along central Italy are continually backed by the Appennine hills, and southern Italy offers sweeping coastal vistas. Not only that, but by train everyone is free to admire the views, vs keeping their eyes on the road!
5. Enjoy the Chance to Mingle with the Locals
One of the reasons we love train travel around the world is the chance that it gives to chat with locals. There’s nothing like a long(-ish) train journey to break down barriers and strike up some friendly conversation – even if there’s no common language! This is especially the case in Italy on the slower, Regionale trains which take their time and stop at smaller towns en route. Locals are usually curious and happy to chat with foreigners on these trains, as we recently experienced on our very crowded regional train from Milan to Verona.
Tips for Travelling Italy by Train
After many train journeys in Italy over recent years, here are a few tips for making your travel by train as smooth as possible:
Buy Tickets for Long Distance Journeys ASAP
Express trains – such as the Freccia Rossa Intercity trains – do get booked up, ahead of time. Many Italians commute for work between cities, and in peak holiday season (July and August) trains can get very full. The main Italian train company, Tren Italia, which is state run operates a tiered pricing system for these trains, which means that the cheapest tickets are sold first. As those sell out and availability decreases the prices rise, sometimes dramatically. For these express intercity trains, do NOT wait to buy your tickets on the day. Routes affected by this include the main intercity lines to/from Venice – Milan – Florence – Rome – Naples.
When it comes to booking train tickets independently by yourself, there are a few options for booking your tickets – you can find a handy overview here! Personally, we book on the Tren Italia website direct and have found that to be fine, but there are some quirks and the translation is not great.
Avoid Travelling at Weekends and other Busy Times
We recommend that those holidaying to Italy should avoid train travel on weekends if possible, especially during summer when trains get very busy and crowded. The same applies to travel between cities during peak times during weekdays, when fares tend to be higher and trains busier with commuters and business travellers.
Train travel in Italy is generally more pleasant outside of the peak summer months, with the exception of May and Easter public holidays which are popular travel times in Italy too.
Enjoy the Journey!
One of the best things about travelling Italy by train is that you can sit back, relax and let the train do the hard work of getting you from A to B. Train travel in Italy is very safe, there’s no need to be overly worried about your belongings, but we do recommend keeping an eye on them – especially so on the regional trains. Always keep your valuables on you rather than stashed on a luggage rack.
Finding the Best Italy Train Tours
Many travel agents offer a range of trips across Europe to Italy – from the classic Venice Simplon Orient Express route, to modern day equivalents that take you through Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy. There are also local train tours on offer within Italy, too – so whatever your ideal itinerary, these train tours can be a great way to relax and let someone else do the planning work for you!
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Have you travelled Italy by train? What were your favourite journeys? Let us know in the comments below!