With iconic cities like Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan and the most number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, it’s no wonder that Italy is top of the list when most people plan a European holiday. One of the most relaxing ways to see Italy is by train and the following 19 day rail itinerary gives you a great overview of the country from Rome right up to beautiful Lake Como in the north.
19 Day Rail Itinerary of Italy
Rome – Cinque Terre – Lucca – Pisa – Florence – Venice – Milan - Como
Day 1 – Arrive Rome
Arrive in Rome and transfer to your accommodation. If you are flying into Rome Fiumicino Airport, the Leonardo Express train is a convenient way to reach central Rome. Depending on your time of arrival, you may be able to begin your Rome sightseeing today.
Days 2 & 3 – Sightseeing in Rome
Rome offers a plethora of sights so your days will be busy. A Hop On Hop Off bus tour is a good way to get your bearings of the city but if you’d prefer to jump straight into your sightseeing, you’ll want to include the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in your itinerary. Pre-purchasing tickets to the major attractions is highly recommended to fast-track your entrance.
Day 4 – Rome to Cinque Terre (Monterosso*) by train (4 hours + transfer time)
From Rome, travel via La Spezia (where you change trains) to Monterosso, the northern-most village of the Cinque Terre. *You might choose to stay in a different village, in which case your travel time will be slightly less.
Day 5 & 6 – Sightseeing in Cinque Terre
Spend your days oohing and aahing at the picture perfect villages that make up the Cinque Terre (five lands). Wander the steep streets, admire the brightly coloured houses clinging to the cliff faces and watch the fishing boats bobbing in the harbours. The more energetic can walk the paths that connect each of the villages but if you’re really in holiday mode, catch the regular train service from one village to the next.
Day 7 – Cinque Terre to Lucca by train (1h15)
Lucca is only a 50 minute train ride from La Spezia but you might like to go via Pisa to view the leaning tower. There are regular services daily between La Spezia and Lucca but only one per day (at 4.20pm) from Pisa to Lucca.
Day 8 & 9 – Sightseeing in Lucca and Tuscany
Lucca offers plenty of sights for the visitor to enjoy. A walk along the city walls, dating from the 16th century and still intact today, is a must. Magnificent architecture dominates the historic centre and for great views of the town, head up to the top of the clock tower. Don’t leave Tuscany without sampling some of the local wines.
If you plan on seeing more of Tuscany during your stay, it would be wise to arrange a hire car or book a sightseeing tour on your arrival. Your hotel or the local tourist office should be able to assist.
Day 10 – Lucca to Florence by train (1hr20)
After the short train trip from Lucca, arrive in Florence. You might like to introduce yourself to this lovely city with a walk over the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famous bridge, or just wander the streets in the historic centre.
Day 11 – Sightseeing in Florence
No doubt you’ve come to see the Statue of David at Florence’s Accademia Gallery but so have thousands of others so be sure to pre-purchase your entrance ticket. Other sights worth visiting include the Uffizi Gallery and the magnificent Duomo (cathedral) - you’ll notice the beautiful Renaissance dome on the city skyline.
If you’re up to it, climb the 463 steps inside the dome for spectacular views over the city. Leave some time for shopping – Florence’s specialties include leather goods, olive oil and hand printed paper.
Day 12 – Florence to Venice by train (2hr05)
If you haven’t visited Venice before, nothing will prepare you for your first glimpse of this water city. After arriving at St. Lucia railway station, a water taxi (vaporetto) is usually the best way to reach your accommodation.
Day 13 & 14 – Sightseeing in Venice
There’s plenty to see in Venice – St. Mark’s Square and Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, the Grand Canal, to name a few sights – but be sure to allow time to wander the narrow back alleys and cross the smaller bridges that the locals traverse each day.
A gondola ride is on many people’s bucket list, and whilst it’s not the cheapest activity, it is, in my opinion, something that everyone should do at least once. If time permits, visit the nearby islands of Murano to watch the local glass makers at work or Burano where the local craft is lace making but the brightly coloured buildings are just as appealing to visitors.
Day 15 – Venice to Milan by train (2hr30)
After leaving Venice, head to the fashion capital of the world, Milan.
Day 16 – Sightseeing in Milan
With just a full day to see Milan’s most popular sights you’ll need to be organized. If you plan to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” you should pre-book your tickets. Entry is allocated at designated times and only a specific number of visitors can view the masterpiece each day, so plan ahead to avoid disappointment.
Other highlights of Milan include the magnificent Duomo (cathedral), the opulent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which houses a high-end shopping centre, Sforza Castle, Palazzo Reale and the Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace).
Day 17 – Milan to Como by train (1hr)
Being just an hour from Milan, Lake Como has long been a place of rest and relaxation for the Milanese and these days it attracts visitors from all around the world for the same reason. There can be no better way to end your visit to Italy than with a couple of days enjoying the beauty and tranquility of Lake Como.
Como, at the south end of the lake, is the largest town on Lake Como and is serviced regularly by trains from Milan. If you prefer to stay further up the lake at Bellagio, Varenna or Tremezzo, for example, you’ll need to catch a connecting train to Varenna and then a ferry to your chosen village.
Day 18 & 19 – Sightseeing at Lake Como
Enjoy your days at Lake Como doing lots or nothing – or something in between. Garden lovers will enjoy visiting some of the grand villas along the lake – Villa Carlotta, Villa Melzi and Villa del Balbianello are three of the most famous gardens on the lake.
Cruises are a popular and relaxing pastime, too, and nothing beats wandering through the narrow village streets, browsing in shops and boutiques and then finishing with an al fresco meal with lake views. Como silk and leather products are the local specialties. They are very well priced and make great souvenirs.
Day 20 – Depart Italy
After 19 wonderful days discovering Italy, it’s time to depart for home or to continue your travels in Europe. Buon viaggio!
Tips for travelling by train in Italy and Europe
To help make planning your Italian rail itinerary easy, you can read my top European train travel tips here. I’ve also compiled all my train travel tips in an eBook which is available for just $4.95 - click on the image below to purchase it.
To make your Italian and European rail bookings before you leave home, I recommend Rail Plus.
Note: All travel times above are approximate.
If you'd prefer to see Italy by car, take a look at my 3 week self-drive itinerary of Italy.
Photos courtesy Italian State Tourist Office except where marked otherwise.