When you think of Italy and transportation, what comes to mind? Most travellers think of fast cars when it comes to Italy; Alfa Romeos purring around cobblestone streets, Porsches flying down the highways, or “autostradi” and herds of Vespas zipping through a piazza. However Italy is also a great country to explore by train. Some of the greatest train journeys snake through Italian cities, passing by Tuscan landscapes and hovering over the Amalfi Coast.
To discover the very essence of Italy, start in the Eternal City of Rome, arriving either by air at the major airport, or crossing the borders via Eurostar from Paris, Switzerland or London. Here, stop by the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the ornate Trevi Fountain. Swing by the Vatican City, the world’s smallest city state, and explore St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum.
Take the high speed train from Rome to Pisa for a day or two and stop by the famous leaning tower for the mandatory photo ops. The rail network continues on easily to Renaissance Florence from Pisa and on the way, you can watch the cypresses and ochre hills of Umbria and Tuscany fly by from your train window. Florence is famous for its Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, an old medieval bridge. Enjoy a bistecca alla Florentina, or Florentine steak, a t-bone cut of meat cooked to perfection. There is art aplenty in Florence – the great masters of the Renaissance and the marble perfection of David, carved by Michelangelo.
The Grand Tour by train continues with the next stop, Lucca, one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. Here are quintessential views of red brick roofs and delicate Roman Catholic church spires. Lucca is but a short rest stop for the next great destination by rail: Venice. Arriving by rail to Venice, visitors step foot straight into the lagoon’s famous island. The train station is located right on the Grand Canal, with views of graceful bridges spanning turquoise blue waters. Famous sights in Venice include St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. Visitors can also take a boat across to the Murano and Burano islands, famous for glass and lace making respectively.
From Venice, the train line continues onto Milan, where you can shop for high fashion, marvel at the Duomo or take a short rail trip to see Lago Como, home to celebrities and the setting for many a movie scene. Milan is also a good gateway to the Cinque Terre, or Five Villages, a string of tiny coastal villages perched on cliffs in Liguria. Stunning views and natural landscapes, and great regional food and wine are the draw here.
If you work your way south along the Cinque Terre, you can catch a direct train back to Rome, but why stop there? Continue on your rail journey south to Naples where you can catch the Circumvesuviana line to Pompeii to see the famous buried city. Naples is also close to Sorrento on the Amalfi coast, which is easily accessible by train. Return to Rome by train, having gone on a Grand Tour by train through Italy.