Feast on fabulous Italian culture, history, food and wine on this journey from the top to the toe of Italy by train in just one week – sampling some of the highlights of one of my favourite countries in the world. Starting among the canals of Venice, you’ll head south as you experience Renaissance art in Florence, 28 centuries of history in Rome, delicious pizza in Naples, sunset views from Sorrento, and temples and beaches in Sicily. This itinerary will show you which trains to take, how much they cost, how to book and what to see along the way.
One-week Italy by train itinerary
Day 1: Venice
Start your Italian rail adventure with a full day in Venice. You might have to dodge the crowds at St Mark’s Square, the Doges Palace and Rialto Bridge, but Venice still has plenty of charm to go around. Climb to the top of the Campanile for a bird’s eye view of the city. You’re guaranteed to get lost in Venice’s maze of canals and bridges, so embrace it and see what you can discover – a tucked-away chapel, crumbling palazzo or shady square to stop in for an Aperol Spritz.
Venice is built on 118 islands, so take to the water to explore, whether that’s in a traditional gondola or on board one of the vaporetto public water buses which shuttle people around the city and out to the islands – choose from Lido with its sandy beach, Murano with its glassmakers, Burano with its brightly painted houses or Torcello with its historic cathedral.
Where to stay in Venice: Live like a Doge for the night in a 13th-century palace – without a regal price tag – at the Hotel Antico Doge, close to the Rialto Bridge. Inside the lavish interiors feature antique furniture, chandeliers, gilt mirrors and jewel-coloured brocade fabrics.
Day 2: Venice > Florence
Early the next morning, take a 2-hour high-speed Frecciarossa train to the Tuscan capital Florence, departing Venezia San Lucia at 07.25 and arriving into Florence Santa Maria Novella at 09.30. Then spend rest of the day exploring Florence (if you need to store your bags before checking in to your hotel, there’s a left luggage office near the station at 1a Via Valfonda).
The birthplace of the Renaissance is heaven for art and architecture lovers, with its cobbled streets, grand palazzi, frescoed churches, museums and galleries. Admire artworks by Carvaggio and da Vinci at the Uffizi Gallery (book in advance if you can though as queues can be crazy in high season) or visit Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia.
Climb up the 436 steps to the top of the Duomo or check out the views over Florence’s rooftops from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Or you can cross the River Arno on the city’s most famous bridge – the Ponte Vecchio, a covered bridge lined with shops which dates back to 1350. And try fresh local produce at San Lorenzo Market, the city’s oldest and biggest food market.
Where to stay in Florence: The 4-star Hotel Santa Maria Novella is only five minutes’ walk from the train station. Its 71 rooms are spread across three townhouses, with marble bathrooms, a bar and a rooftop terrace looking down on the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella.
Day 3: Florence > Rome
The following day, take a short 90-minute train journey on to Rome. High-speed trains run from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station to Rome Termini around every 15 minutes, so you can decide how early a start you want to make today. There’s so much to see in Rome that one day is never going to be enough, so choose a few of the city’s highlights to focus on.
Follow in the footsteps of the Ancient Romans at the Colosseum, Pantheon and Roman Forum, and find out what the Romans did for us at the National Roman Museum. Or leave Italy behind and head to a new country for the afternoon with a trip to Vatican City, where you can admire the artworks at St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums.
Tick off some of the classic Roman experiences – throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, climb the Spanish Steps, listen to street performers in Piazza Navona and stroll through the gardens of Villa Borghese. Or head across the River Tiber to the bohemian neighbourhood of Trastavere with its boutique shops and terrace bars, which are perfect for a sunset aperitivo.
Where to stay in Rome: The eco-friendly Beehive is a luxury hostel close to Rome Termini, with a mix of dorms and private rooms with shared or en-suite bathrooms. There’s an organic café and the friendly owners organise communal dinners and pizza/pasta-making sessions.
Day 4: Rome > Naples > Sorrento
Follow the coast south on the 70-minute high-speed train journey to the gritty city of Naples, departing Rome Termini at 08.53 and arriving at Naples Centrale at 10.33. Store your bags at the station for the day and head out to explore the historic buildings of the centro storico before stopping for lunch – Naples is famous for its food and is where pizza was first created.
Then head underground to explore the network of catacombs and wartime shelters underneath the city streets. Or visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale to see some of the archaeological treasures unearthed from sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum. Then catch the Circumvesuviana train from Naples Garibaldi station (which is beneath Naples Centrale) to Sorrento.
Circumvesuviana trains run every 30 minutes and take just over an hour to reach Sorrento. The trains are fairly basic, don’t have air conditioning and can get pretty busy, but the views of Mount Vesuvius and out across the Bay of Naples make up for it. Aim to arrive into Sorrento in time for sunset and head to the clifftop Villa Communale Park where you can watch the sun dip down into the bay before dinner (make sure to leave room for the amazing local gelato).
Where to stay in Sorrento: If you feel like splashing out, the uber-stylish Maison La Minervetta is built into the cliffs above the port of Marina Grande, just outside the centre of Sorrento. Owned by an interior designer, it mixes whitewash and splashes of colour, with multiple terraces to soak up the view – one with a whirlpool bath – as well as access to a private beach.
Read more: Sirens and sunsets: Things to do in Sorrento
Day 5: Day trip from Sorrento
Spend the day exploring the Sorrento region, with a good range of day trips to choose from. You can take the Circumvesuviana train north to visit the ruined Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, buried and preserved underneath metres of volcanic ash in 79 AD. It takes 45 minutes to Ercolano Scavi station or 30 minutes to Pompeii Scavi station. And you can catch a bus from either station to Vesuvius and climb to the top of the volcano which destroyed them.
Another option is to catch a boat from Sorrento and explore some of this beautiful stretch of coastline’s islands and cliffside towns. Ferries run along the Amalfi Coast to the towns of Positano and Amalfi. Or you can visit the islands of Capri and Ischia, shopping with the A-list and visiting the dazzling Blue Grotto sea cave in Capri or soaking in Ischia’s thermal baths.
Read more: 8 of the best day trips from Sorrento
Day 6: Sorrento > Sicily
Make an early start for a long travel day to Sicily. First take the Circumvesuviana train from Sorrento back to Naples, allowing time to change stations before catching the 09.50 InterCity train from Naples Centrale south along the coast to Sicily. It’s one of Europe’s most unusual train journeys as the whole train gets on board the ferry for the short crossing to Sicily.
Once you’re back on land, the train carries on through Sicily where you have a choice of final destination. There’s the resort town of Taormina (arrival at 16.40) where you can visit the Greek amphitheatre and relax on the beach at Isola Bella with a lemony Sicilian granita (crushed ice). Or you can carry on to Catania (arrival at 17.25) where you can explore the city’s spectacular Baroque architecture, shop the foodie street markets and learn to cook like a Catanian.
The train splits into two sections after reaching Sicily, so as well as heading south to Taormina and Catania, you could also head east to the city of Palermo (arrival at 19.25). Palermo is Sicily’s capital, a buzzing city famous for its imposing cathedral, puppet theatre shows, lavish Teatro Massimo opera house and the creepy catacombs with their mummified bodies.
Where to stay in Sicily: In Taormina, the small but perfectly formed Hotel Taodomus is at the heart of the historic centre and comes with a small terrace and honesty bar. In Catania, the historic 4-star Palace Catania UNA Esperienze has a knockout view of Mount Etna from its rooftop terrace and restaurant. Or in Palermo, the Casa Nostra Boutique Hotel is close to the cathedral and has a terrace, outdoor pool and some rooms with balcony spa baths.
Day 7: Sicily
Spend the final day of your Italy by train trip seeing a bit more of Sicily – and make sure to eat a few cannoli before you leave. If you’re flying back home, then both Palermo and Catania have international airports which are connected to each city by bus.
If you’ve got more time to spare, there’s plenty more to see in Sicily – you can climb Mount Etna, visit the Valley of Temples in Agrigento, take a boat out to the volcanic Aeolian Islands, explore Greek and Roman ruins in Siracusa and hike through the Riserva Naturale Orientata dello Zingaro nature reserve. Or if you fancy adding another country onto your trip, ferries run between Sicily and Malta once or twice a day. Take a train or bus to Pozzallo in the south-east of Sicily, where the ferry takes around 90 minutes to reach the harbour in Valletta.
How much does it cost?
When you’re planning a European rail trip, you can either book individual tickets or get a railpass, which can be a better deal if you’re under 28, want more flexibility or are booking late. Here’s how the prices break down for the two different options on this route.
Ticket prices vary depending on how early you book, with a limited number of cheap tickets available. So book as early as possible – on most routes you can book three–four months in advance – but beware these tickets are non-transferable so you’re tied to a specific train. Using the cheapest fares available, the total cost for trains on this route starts at €79 per person.
- Venice > Florence: from €19.90
- Florence > Rome: from €19.90
- Rome > Naples: from €9.90
- Naples > Sorrento > Naples: €9 (can’t be booked in advance)
- Naples > Sicily: from €19.90
The railpass option
InterRail (for European residents) and Eurail (for non-European residents) have a range of rail passes, which cover individual countries or the whole region and are valid for different periods of time. The Italy by train itinerary involves four travel days in one country, so the best option is the One Country Italy pass for 4 travel days within 1 month. This pass costs €153 for adults, €126 for youths (aged 12–27) or €138 for seniors (aged 60+) in second class.
As well as the pass, you also need to pay an extra compulsory reservation fee if you’re using Italy’s high-speed, long-distance trains or sleeper services. For this trip, the extra fees come to €45, broken down as below, meaning the overall railpass cost starts from €171.
- Venice > Florence: €10
- Florence > Rome: €10
- Rome > Naples: €10
- Naples > Sorrento > Naples: €9 (Circumvesuviana trains aren’t covered by railpass)
- Naples > Sicily: €6 (optional if you want to reserve a seat)
I’ve recommended the quickest and easiest routes. But you can often avoid reservation fees by taking local trains which usually don’t require reservations – though beware that these are likely to be slower and you may need to make more changes along the way.
How to book
There are a variety of websites where you can book European train journeys, but often the best deals are though the official railway company sites for each country, which is Trenitalia for Italy. The site is available in English, but you need to use the place names in Italian (so that’s Venezia instead of Venice, Firenze instead of Florence, Napoli instead of Naples, etc).
You can also book tickets for train travel in Italy through ItaliaRail or Rail Europe. The advantage is these sites are in English, you can use international credit cards and often print your own tickets, and ItaliaRail is more straightforward for booking seat reservations if you have an InterRail/Eurail pass, but they do both charge a small booking fee.
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