Our Italy by train guide suggests you visit stick to the northern cities. They’re well connected to the rest of Europe so you can continue your journey elsewhere. We’ve also suggested a few easy-to-reach destinations outside the cities so you can experience life a little off the beaten track.
Our journey starts in…
A beautiful city, but plan ahead to arrange visits to the popular sights, sometimes 6 weeks in advance is required for the Uffizi Gallery. Explore on foot and stroll along the Arno, across the Ponte Vecchio and head to the Boboli Gardens for a view of the Duomo.
If you miss the Galleria dell’Accademia, climb the steps leading to the Piazzale Michelangelo for a life-size replica of David.
Try youth hostels in Florence close to the Santa Maria Novella station. The Arno and main attractions will only be a short 10-15 minute walk away. Alternatively, Alex House can offer you more independence and is located in the historic quarter, close to the dramatic Piazza della Signoria and Santa Croce.
If you want to escape the usual tourist route, read our blog on the best budget bars, restaurants and things to do in Florence.
Siena 1.5hrs by regional (R)
The famous Palio bareback horse race is held here in July and August around the Campo. Cars are banned from main areas and the city has an intriguing Gothic history. There is a beautiful cathedral to visit and climbing the 400 spiraling steps to the top of the Torre del Mangia, you will be rewarded with a view of the city and surrounding vineyards. Instead of hostels in Siena, try a guesthouse or B&Bs. They are great value for money and have a homely atmosphere.
Where next? Florence – Venice 5hrs by R (with change at Bologna), 3hrs by InterCity (IC) or 2hrs Eurostar (ES).
What’s the alternative? Take the train to Genoa (with a change at Pisa) and enjoy the dramatic view out of the window along the Ligurian coast.
The Venetian labyrinth is hard to prepare for. No matter how hard you try you’ll stray from your mapped-out, well-intended trail. This is a good thing – many of Venice’s treasures lie off the beaten track. The waterways give this city its unique and complicated layout but thankfully, 3 of the major sights are all located in a single square – Piazza San Marco with St Mark’s basilica, Doge’s Palace and Torre dell’Orologio.
A 40-minute punt down the waterways in an iconic gondola will set you back a whopping €80, so try the traghetto, a gondola ferry, instead.
Your best view is from the Campanile which takes in the Lido, the whole lagoon and even the Dolomites on a clear day. The Gallerie dell’Accademia is your one-stop shop for Venice’s most prized art pieces.
A good way to escape city life and the rabbit warren alleyways is to hire a bike from the Lido, about €10 a day, and cycle along the beaches, dunes and pine trees to Alberoni. With so much to see during the day, it is perhaps fortunate that the nightlife is relatively low key. Venice’s main train station is Santa Lucia and you can book a private or shared room at a Venice youth hostel.
Verona 2hrs by regional or 1hr ES
Shakespeare’s inspiration for R&J, Verona is a romantic city. The grand, skeletal Colosseum is less crowded than Rome’s and if you are lucky enough to be here in the summer, productions of Aida or Tosca might prove to be your most dramatic and glorious experience of opera. The Giardino Giusti is a fabulous Renaissance garden hidden on the other side of the Adige river with panoramic vistas.
You won’t find many hostels in Verona but for a more personal touch, stay in a B&B from €19 a night.
Where next? Venice – Milan 3.5hrs by R or 2.5hrs ES.
What’s the alternative – €10 ferry supplement to Greece and Corfu. Or the sleeper train to Croatia.
Arguably the city is lacking in Renaissance charm by comparison to other Italian cities. There is certainly much more industry based here, but locals are perhaps too quickly pigeon-holed as workaholics. The Duomo took half a millennium to complete and a clamber to the top is a good way to start your trip. Da Vinci’s infamous Last Supper hangs in the church of Santa Maria della Grazie. The Quadrilatero d’Oro shopping areas host top designers but the lovely glass-roofed arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is also a luxurious spot too. You won’t need more than a few days here and we suggest you catch a train and explore the Lakes in the north. If you stay in a youth hostel Milan and its many bars and restaurants will be affordable on a tight budget.
The Lakes 1hr by regional train
Villas, ostentatious gardens and spas surround the 5 major lakes are favorites of the rich and famous– Maggiore, Lugano, Como, Iseo and Garda. The area makes a nice change from Italy’s often regimented coastlines, so often cluttered with sun loungers. The town of Como is a good place from which to explore. From here, take a boat to explore other destinations around the lake, particularly the beautiful town of Bellagio that sits on a promontory and offers steep cobbled alleyways and boutiques. You can find hostels in Maggiore and save your money for an aperitivo overlooking the lake at sunset.
Milan really is the gateway to the rest of Europe. From here you can travel to the bordering countries France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
- Circumvesuviana services to Pompeii or Sorrento from Naples not included
- Regional trains (R) are free
- InterCity trains (IC) €3 supplement and seat reservation is often compulsory
- Eurostar (ES) €10 supplement and reservation compulsory
- Minoan Lines International – Free deck passage for 2nd class Pass holders travelling to Greece. Mid-high season surcharges from €10