Train travel is undergoing a resurgence post-Covid. We believe these are among the best train journeys in Italy. We recommend you book a window seat and relax as you watch the scenery pass by.
My favourite way to travel is by train. I’ve been meandering around Italy this way for years. It has so many benefits – no turning up at least two hours before departing, more leg room, and most importantly the views.
These are just some of the incredible train journeys you can take in Italy. From the islets of Venice to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Florence to Venice
It takes just over two hours to move between two of Italy’s most visited cities. Leaving the meandering Arno in Florence, you head along the Tuscan hills lined with vines, through the Emilia-Romagna mountains and past the Renaissance towns of Bologna, Prato and Ravenna. When you first glimpse the Venetian lagoon, the excitement starts to build. Gulls perch on the wooden stakes that tell the boatmen where the safe channels are. Whether sunlight bounces off the waters or mist covers it in a fine blanket, the feeling that you’re about to visit somewhere special grabs you.
Another way to arrive in Venice, though from a greater distance is aboard the Venice Simplon Orient Express. Hop aboard in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels or Geneva and arrive among the canals of Venice.
The Cinque Terre Express
No-one will argue that the Cinque Terre offer some of the most spectacular scenery in Italy. Express is a bit of a misnomer as it chugs along the coast in Liguria. All five of the UNESCO Heritage listed villages – Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola – can be visited as you hop on and off the train. The route runs from La Spezia to Levanto and you can sample the beauty of these pretty villages with bays and inlets.
There is a Cinque Terre Train Card which allows access to all hiking routes and unlimited train travel between the villages. www.cinqueterre.eu.com
The route from Italy’s Tirano to Switzerland’s St. Moritz is not only one of the most stunning in Italy, but possibly the world. The Bernina Express route is UNESCO-listed and is the highest in Europe as it crosses the Engadine Alps. Waterfalls, glaciers, and head-turning views fill the four-hour train journey. Make the most of the scenery by booking seats in the panoramic carriage in advance at rhb.ch.
Trenino Verde translates as little green train, and the island of Sardinia is home to this dinky transport. Fortunately, these trains move at little more than snail’s pace along narrow-gauge tracks, allowing you to take in the island’s landscape from coast to mountains. Head across the flats of Tortoli to the mountainous Gennargentu national park. Guided Trenino Verde train journeys last a day and include multiple stop-off points and food tastings. www.sardegnatreninoverde.com
Rimini to Lecce
When I was commuting between Veneto and Marche, the saving grace – much as a I love train travel – was the section of the train journey along the Adriatic Coast. The route from Rimini to Lecce follows the coast for six hours, with a couple of inland sojourns along way.
The train takes you from glitzy Rimini via Pesaro, Ancona, Pescara and Termoli (look for the famous Trabucchi fishing machines just before you enter the town) along the coast before dipping inland to Foggia. Back on the coast, you pass Bari and Brindisi before arriving in Baroque Lecce.
Rome to Syracuse
Yes, you can cross the water to Sicily via train. On the opposite side of Italy’s boot to the Rimini-Lecce journey, you have possibly one of the most straightforward routes in Italy. It’s a glorious 11-hours of scenery as you pass Naples and Pompeii onto Salerno. As you reach the Strait of Messina, the train is shunted across water by ferry, allowing you some fresh air on deck. Then a taste of Sicily via Taormina, Catania and finally Syracuse.
This journey is surprisingly good value when booked in advance with super-economy tickets via Trenitalia.
The Circumetnea, Sicily
No prizes for guessing where this train goes. Yep, round Mount Etna on Sicily. Starting in Catania, it circles Mount Etna and ends up in Riposto, all the while offering top views of the live volcano. Built in the 1890s, it take three hours or so to undertake the trip.
Milan to Bolzano
Back in the north of the country, you can move from fashionista’s hub to German-speaking Alpine town, via Shakespeare in a matter of hours. Nestling in the Dolomite Mountains, Bolzano is reached via mediaeval villages and Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet. The dramatic mountain scenery is best viewed when you take the slower routes, which can take up to 5 hours.