If the thought of driving around a foreign country on vacation sounds terrifying to you, or maybe you want the freedom of traveling from place to place without the rigidity of a tour schedule, then you are in the right place! I am going to share with you how to travel Italy by train and include my 9-day Italy itinerary for you to model your own trip after.
Of course if you live outside Europe, you are probably going to need to take a plane ride to get to Italy first. Just as a note: I am not including the 2 travel days (to Italy and home) in this itinerary, so your total trip is 11 days, spending 9 full days in Italy.
1. Tips for traveling Italy by train
2. Italy itinerary day 1 – Venice
3. Italy itinerary day 2 – Venice
4. Italy itinerary day 3 – Florence
5. Italy itinerary day 4 – Tuscany
6. Italy itinerary day 5 – Pisa & Cinque Terre
7. Italy itinerary day 6 – Travel/Sorrento
8. Italy itinerary day 7 – Sorrento
9. Italy itinerary day 8 – Pompeii/Rome
10. Italy itinerary day 9 – Rome
11. Packing List for Italy Trip by Train
How to Travel Italy by Train
We actually took an overnight train from Paris, France to Venice, Italy because we flew into Paris to attend the French Open at Roland Garros. It was a bucket list item for Wes so that was a big reason for us to take this trip over the Atlantic in the first place.
As a brief side note: the Thello overnight train from Paris to Venice ended up being more enjoyable than I thought it was going to be. I would recommend a sleeper cabin if you are traveling as a pair. Otherwise, in the couchette compartment you may be sharing a room with strangers. We were booked on the standard sleeper cabin but that train car was not functioning so we got downgraded to a couchette room, but we had it to ourselves. You can read more about the different compartments here, and book your tickets on the Thello website.
Italy Trains: Everything You Need to Know
There are different kinds of trains that go from city to city in Italy. For travel in Italy between major cities, the Trenitalia website is the best place to find train departure times, as well as book your ticket. There is also a Trenitalia app that is helpful.
Most of the high-speed trains between major cities have reserved seats in different classes. We traveled in the standard class on all these trains and they were crowded but comfortable. They all had A/C and power outlets.
Be aware that there are usually multiple train stations in the major cities. When booking your ticket, you will need to determine which train station name (not city name) you are going to. For assistance, contact your hotel and ask which station they are closest to.
If you are traveling between smaller cities (for example day 5 on the itinerary below), you will likely be on regional trains. Some of these you can’t purchase far ahead of time. This is where the app becomes helpful because you can look at train departure times and book your tickets while you are already on your trip. You can also buy train tickets at the station. During high season if you are on a tight schedule you probably don’t want to wait to buy your ticket at the station because they will sell out.
Between some cities in Italy there are trains called Circumvesuviana. I would recommend avoiding these if possible. We took this train from Naples to Sorrento and it was not a pleasant experience. Read our day six itinerary to learn why.
6 Tips for Traveling by Train in Italy
- Use the bathroom before going to the train station because they are hard to find and usually cost money to use at the station.
- When looking for your train departure track number at the station, use the train number instead of the destination city. They post the final destination city, not necessarily the stop you are getting off on so it can get confusing.
- Grab some snacks and drinks at the station before boarding the train.
- Don’t get there too early. It’s not like the airport where you have to check-in hours before departure. If you have a pre-booked ticket with you, then arrival 20 minutes before departure is plenty of time. The track numbers usually don’t post on the board until 15-20 minutes before plane departure, so if you’re there too early you’ll just be standing around in the crowds.
- Remember that the European dates are DD-MM-YY. For example, if you are booking a ticket for August 4th, the date would read 04-08-19
- If your train ticket does not have a time of departure attached to it and only a day of travel (you can take any of the available train times during that day) then you must validate your ticket at the station BEFORE getting on the train. There are little machines throughout the station where you can do this.
Italy Day One – Venice
We arrived in Venice (Venezia S. Lucia train station) following our overnight train from Paris at 9:35 AM. Venice is unique because there are no cars. You have to either walk on the few streets, take a private water taxi, or take the public water bus to get anywhere.
We decided to take a private water taxi to our hotel from the train station, costing us about 75 Euros. If you are traveling on a tighter budget, you can take the public water bus for usually less than 20 Euros, but be prepared to wait in line.
We stayed at the Hotel Columbina, in the center of Venice and only a 5-minute walk to the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). Since we arrived early, the hotel allowed us to check our luggage with the concierge and we set out to explore before checking in. They also informed us of some private tours the hotel was offering to their guests, some at a cost and some for free.
We decided to sign up for a sunset boat ride through the canals that evening, as well as transportation to the Island of Murano for a glass factory tour the following day. I did not pre-book any tours or activities for us in Venice so everything we did there was planned once we arrived.
The first day we walked all around the city and checked out some local shops. We are not big shoppers but there are plenty of shopping options in Venice if you are! From high-end luxury brand stores to small tourist shops. I loved walking through the cobblestone streets and over the many bridges.
Italy Day Two – Venice
We took a water taxi provided by the hotel to Murano, about a 30 minute ride. We first stopped at the New Murano glass factory and watched a glassblowing presentation and toured their shop. After the tour, we walked around the Island for a bit before catching the water taxi back to Venice.
When we got back to Venice, we did some more exploring. One of the best things we did in Venice was to go to the top of the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square. It doesn’t cost much and the view of Venice is great!
We decided not to go into St. Mark’s Basilica or Doge’s Palace because the line was too long and we did not purchase tickets ahead of time. You can buy tickets ahead of time for both the Basilica and the bell tower online.
The gondolas in Venice are not really used for transportation, but there are tons of them wandering through the canals as a must-do tourist trap. We of course couldn’t leave Venice without riding in one. I’m glad we did it but be prepared to pay a high price…I think we paid 100 Euros for a 30-minute ride in the evening. You can negotiate the price/length of the trip with the gondolier, but make sure you do so before you get in the gondola.
Noteworthy activities in Venice:
- Glassblowing factory tour in Murano – a quick 3-hour trip is all that’s really needed. It’s cool to see the glass blowing in action and learn about the history of the craft in Murano.
- Bell Tower in St. Mark’s Square – Also called the Campanile, an elevator will take you to the top of the bell tower for an incredibly scenic view of St. Mark’s Square and the rest of Venice.
- A trip to Venice is not complete without a gondola ride, and seeing the Bridge of Sighs (ask someone about the history) and the Rialto Bridge overlooking the Grand Canal. Best thing to do in Venice is to just wander around and get lost in the streets.
Recommended restaurants in Venice:
We found this hole-in-the-wall pizza place called Pako’s pizza that had the best pizza for cheap! We recommend the personal pizza there. Be aware, it is a walk-up and take-away place so there are no tables to sit at. We picked up some pizza here a couple times and walked back to a bridge or spot on the water where we could sit and eat.
Venice hotel review:
Check out my review of the Hotel Columbina
Italy Day Three – Florence
On day three in Italy we took a water taxi back to the train station and then caught the train from the Venezia S. Lucia train station to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station in Florence. The train was about a 3-hour ride.
Once we reached the station in Florence, we took about a 20 minute walk to our hotel. I had bought tickets to climb up the 463 steps up Brunelleschi’s Dome at the Duomo (you have to pick a climb time) so we headed over the the Duomo, which was conveniently located about 5 minutes walk from our hotel, Hotel Laurus Al Duomo.
You can buy a cumulative ticket to all the monuments of the Grande Museo del Duomo online before you leave for your trip, as well as reserve your dome climb time. After that we didn’t find the need to wait in the line for the cathedral because you can see most of the cathedral during the dome climb.
Italy Day Four – Tuscany
Depending on where you want to go in Tuscany will determine whether you should take trains or if you need a car. Because we only had 1 day in Tuscany, we decided to hire a private driver/tour to take us around Tuscany for the day. If you are planning on staying in Tuscany for more than a day, then taking a train into the town would probably be the best option, and then you can take the local buses from town to town.
We spent most of the day in Siena on a private tour learning about the 17 different districts, which made me think of the Divergent series.
We also went to San Gimignano for a quick lunch stop, and made a quick stop in Chianti where I got some of the famous gelato at Gelatoria Dondoli. The line went a lot quicker than it looks.
Noteworthy activities in Florence:
- The climb up Brunelleschi’s Dome at the Duomo is a workout but definitely worth it for the views.
- Would also recommend at least a day trip to the hill towns of Tuscany. We are not wine drinkers, but this is one place where you might want to consider taking a wine tour as well.
- If you want to see the famous David sculpture, then make sure to buy tickets to the Academia before your trip.
Recommended restaurants in Florence:
The most noteworthy places I remember in Florence were the gelato places! I think I had gelato 3 times while we were in Florence and Tuscany and they were all delicious!
Florence hotel review:
Check out my review of the Hotel Laurus al Duomo .
Italy Day Five – Pisa & Cinque Terre
On day five in Italy we walked back to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station that morning and took the train to Pisa and then to La Spezia (Spezia Centrale station), which is a town near Cinque Terre where we got a hotel for the night.
Our stop in Pisa was quick, but gave us time to take a 5-minute taxi ride to the leaning tower of Pisa. It’s only about a 20-minute walk from the train station to the tower, but since we had our backpacks with us and were short on time, we opted for a taxi ride.
The town of Pisa looked really cute, and I wish we would have had a little more time there. But, we were off to Cinque Terre for the rest of the day!
When we arrived in La Spezia that afternoon, we checked into our hotel and then hopped on the ferry boat (within walking distance from our hotel) that took us around to the 5 seaside villages that make up Cinque Terre (which means “Five Towns”). With our ferry passes, we could get off at 4 of the 5 towns (Corniglia is not accessible by the ferry boat) and then get back on the boat to go to the next town.
We hopped off at the furthest town called Monterossa and walked around the shops and restaurants until we were ready to catch the train back to La Spezia. The train runs between all the towns, so you can get the ticket that allows you to get off and on at the different towns, or you can just purchase a one-way ticket from one village to the next, which is what we did for our way back. While the train may be the quicker way to get between the villages, I much preferred the boat.
The view of the towns from the boat was way cooler for me than actually being in the town itself. If you’re up for a bigger adventure (and have more time) then the Senriero Azzurro hiking trail (“Blue Path” in English) connects all the villages. Check out Greta’s guide for how to hike the Blue Path of Cinque Terre in one day.
Noteworthy activities in Cinque Terre:
- If you have the time, take the boat from La Spezia (or one of the other seaside cities) around Cinque Terre. Our hotel gave us the boat and train schedule for the day when we checked in.
- For more adventure, try the hiking trail between villages!
Cinque Terre hotel review:
Check out my review of the CDH Hotel La Spezia
Italy Day Six – Travel/Sorrento
We left on a morning train from Spezia Centrale to Napoli Centrale. This was our longest travel day, about a 5-hour train ride from La Spezia to Naples because we had to travel back through Pisa and Florence. We were very close to missing our train connection in Florence, but luckily we made it in the last second.
Once we arrived in Naples, we had to head through the Napoli Centrale train station to the Circumvesuviana station, buy tickets, and get on the train to Sorrento. This was the only part of our train travel experience that I wouldn’t do again. This train has no A/C, is extremely crowded, and the train itself is dirty. There are also no amenities, such as a restroom. We were on this train for an hour with standing room only. We decided not to take this train on our return trip from Sorrento to Naples to Rome (more on what we did instead below on day eight).
If you don’t mind the heat and no personal space, you can find the train schedule to Sorrento here.
Once we arrived at the station in Sorrento, we took a taxi to our hotel, Villa Garden Hotel because it was actually in Sant’Agnello, not within walking distance of the Sorrento train station. I was so excited when we arrived at this hotel because it was outside the city in a quiet area and the views were gorgeous! After a long travel day, we decided to have dinner at our hotel restaurant, which included a beautiful seaside sunset view.
Italy Day Seven – Sorrento
I had no tours booked in Sorrento because I knew by this point in our trip that we would likely want a relaxing day. And I was right! We spent the day in Sorrento by walking into downtown Sorrento (about a 30-minute walk), shopping, and having lunch. The town of Sorrento is really cute and a lot more chill, much more our speed than some of the bigger cities of Italy.
Once we got back to our hotel, we took afternoon naps by the pool and then walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner before catching another beautiful sunset.
Noteworthy activities in Sorrento:
- My recommendation in Sorrento would be to splurge for a hotel on the water with a view and take some time to relax and walk around.
- If you are up for some activity, try booking a blue grotto tour, or go to the Island of Capri.
Recommended restaurants in Sorrento:
While this is actually in nearby Sant’Agnello near our hotel, the Il Ruttino restaurant was where I had the best pizza in Italy! It was so good! I got the buffalo mozzarella pizza and it did not disappoint. I wish I could go here right now.
Sorrento hotel review:
Check out my review of the Villa Garden Hotel
Italy Day Eight – Pompeii/Rome
As I mentioned before, we decided not to take the Circumvesuviana train from Sorrento because it was terribly uncomfortable on the way down. Our hotel informed us of 2 other options: a high speed ferry boat to Naples (where we were catching a train to Rome), or a private car transfer from Sorrento to Pompeii (with a 2-hour stop in Pompeii) to Naples. We decided on the private car transfer because we wanted to be able to see Pompeii on the way.
At the Pompeii entrance you can buy your ticket and also hire a guide if you want. The guided tours are about 100 Euros. Or, you can download a Pompeii tour app and try your hand at a cheap smartphone tour. We did the app tour of Pompeii but it wasn’t very easy to use. I would recommend going for a guided tour instead. The Pompeii ruins area is huge. We spent about an hour and a half there but you could easily spend half a day if you want to see it all.
Our driver dropped us off at the Napoli Centrale train station in Naples and then we caught the train to Rome (Roma Termini), which was only about an hour train ride. Once we arrived in Rome, we walked to our hotel and then walked around the city, got some dinner, and went to bed in preparation for a full day.
Italy Day Nine – Rome
With only 1 full day in Rome, I opted for a comprehensive private tour of the major monuments which I booked on Viator.com.
It ended up being a long day, but just what we needed to ensure we got to see everything we wanted to in Rome. If you are traveling in Rome in the summer months, expect big crowds and heat. It was nice to be able to hop in a car in between the sites and get a break for our feet as well as some air conditioning. The guide we had was also very knowledgeable about the sites and provided us with a lot of history. My husband asked him tons of questions, while I was just enjoying the unique experience.
The most impressive monument in Rome for me was Trevi fountain. I didn’t realize how big it was!
Noteworthy activities in Rome:
- Definitely take a skip-the-line private tour of Vatican City. Otherwise, you are going to spend a lot of wasted time in line, and won’t really know what you’re looking at.
Rome hotel review:
Check out my review of the Relais Santa Maria Maggiore hotel (hint – I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are on a budget).
And just like that, our Italy trip by train was over. We stayed the night in Rome again and then took a flight from Rome to home to the U.S.A the following day.
Packing List for Italy Trip by Train
It is really important that you don’t pack a lot if you plan on traveling through Italy by train. Trying to roll a suitcase through the crowded train stations and lift a heavy suitcase on and off the trains, and many times above the seats on the train (in an overhead compartment) is not going to be enjoyable. Also, if you are planning on visiting Venice, you will have to lug your large suitcase on and off the boats and roll them along the cobblestone streets..
I highly recommend only packing a backpack on your trip to Italy. You may not think your backpack will fit everything you need, but I promise you it will. And, if you can’t fit a clean outfit for every day of your trip, plan on doing laundry halfway through your trip and then you need to only bring half the clothes. If you are staying in a 3, 4, or 5-star hotel, many of them have laundry services available. They will pick up your laundry in the morning and have it ready for you clean and folded by the end of the day. You won’t have to waste any time at a laundromat. Check your hotel amenities before leaving on your trip to determine which hotel you’ll plan on doing laundry.
Here is exactly what I brought on our trip to Italy:
- 4 T-shirts
- 3 Pairs of capri pants
- 1 Long-sleeve shirt
- 1 lightweight jacket sweater
- 1 Button-up shirt
- 1 Rain coat
- 1 Pair of tennis shoes
- 1 Additional pair of comfortable shoes (I LOVE these travel shoes and probably could have only brought these for the whole trip)
- Travel-size toiletries (I did not bring a hair dryer and just relied on the hotel-supplied hair dryers)
- 10 pairs of undergarments (so I wouldn’t have to worry about washing these)
- 4 Pairs of socks
- A day pack with supplies such as hand sanitizer, tissue, tylenol, sunglasses etc. (I have this one and it’s perfect)
- Noise-cancelling headphones for plane and train travel
- Power pack for charging iPhone and headphones
- iPhone and charger
- Passport and credit/debit cards (we used the ATMs in Italy to withdraw cash)
- A cheap hat I bought in Venice
- I used a backpack from eBags on this trip, but I have my eye on this 40L backpack from Eagle Creek for our next trip
I had a few extra items of clothing also packed in this bag, which I used on the first part of our trip to London and Paris. So I KNOW you can fit everything listed above and more of what you need for the 9-Day Italy trip.
I also spent 10 days in Thailand with only a backpack. You can do it!
I hope this helps you plan the perfect trip to Italy! If you have more time in Italy than we did, I would recommend an extra night in Sorrento, Cinque Terre, or Rome.
Be sure to tell me about your trip to Italy below, or tag me on Instagram! @fitlifepursuits
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