This post was updated on 8th May 2016.
So you have just two weeks holiday to spend in Italy. You want to make the most of your time while still seeing as much as possible but not heading home feeling like you need another holiday to get over the holiday. This is where travelling Italy by train is the perfect choice for you.
If your from the US, Australia or maybe other parts of the world, you will know that our countries long distance rail systems are not what you would call efficient, time or money saving. Visit Europe or Asia and you will wonder why we just can’t seem to get it right because really it seems so simple over there.
Europe is perfect for train travel and Italy is no exception. It’s services are fast, efficient, reasonably priced and generally run on time.
Being able to hop on the train in the centre of one place and arrive in the centre of another in a matter of hours is much more convenient and less stressful that negotiating busy airports. The seats and carriages are clean and comfortable plus you get to spend some time relaxing and gazing out the window watching the stunning scenery pass by.
Italy’s train network runs to every major city and most smaller cities and towns making it easy to get from place to place. There is a lot to see in Italy but with only two weeks you will need to be selective in the places you visit.
So, we’ve have put together what we think is the perfect first time visitors itinerary of Italy based on two weeks vacation using the weekends before and after to give you 15 nights of Italian goodness.
This itinerary takes in four of the country’s major cities, one small town, one stunning coastal region, offers plenty of time for day trips to nearby regions and allows you just enough time to see the major sights in each place without making you rush around from place to place.
Italy Train Two Week Itinerary
Day 1 to 3 – Rome
Day 1 arrival in Rome. This itinerary assumes that you arrive in the morning giving you three quarters of a day to start seeing the sights.
Rome is the capital of Italy and once capital of the Roman Empire. This sprawling city is famous for its Roman ruins, incredible architecture, collection of world class artworks and home to the worlds smallest country, Vatican City.
What to See & Do in Rome
- Vatican City – The home of the pope and catholic church. Inside you will find incredible architecture and world class art including Michelangelo’s famous painted ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. Take a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica to save you time queuing for hours.
- The Colosseum – The largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire and the world. While not still in tact today, it still gives a fascinating glimpse into its past. Join the guided tour queue to save time and be well informed by the excellent guides.
- Roman Forum – As the heart of ancient Rome, the Forum was, and still is, one of the most celebrated meeting places in the history of the world. Your ticket to the Colosseum also includes entry to the Forum where you can wander around the ruins and take a walk up Palatine Hill for views over the Forum and the city.
- The Pantheon – One of the best preserved Roman buildings remaining in the world. What is most incredible about the Pantheon is that most of its original features remain including the marble floors.
- Spanish Steps – The worlds most famous staircase is constantly abuzz with people day and night.
- Trevi Fountain – Do as the legend says and throw a coin in the fountain to ensure you one day return to Rome.
- Piazza Navona – The city’s most beautiful square, featuring three spectacular fountains and surrounded by some of the city’s best baroque architecture.
Where to Stay in Rome
Read More: 30 Things to See & Do in Rome
Be Inspired: Rome Photo Gallery
Day 4 – Assisi
Train: Rome to Assisi – approx. 2 hours with about half a dozen direct departures each day. Take an early morning departure from Rome giving you most of the day in Assisi.
Assisi is a small town perched high on a hill in the region of Umbria approximately half way between Rome and Florence. It is a UNESCO World Heritage listed town that is famous for is magnificent medieval architecture and for being the birth place of Saint Francis.
What to See & Do in Assisi
- Rocca Maggiore – Hike up to the ruins of a castle perched high above the town. It was rebuilt in the 14th century but originated from the times of Charlemagne.
- Basilica of Saint Frances – Construction began on the basilica two years after the death of Saint Francis in 1228. The complex consists of two churches built on top of one another with frescoes on the walls dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Saint Francis is buried in the crypt under the basilica.
- Piazza Santa Chiara – Perfect place for views over the Umbrian countryside and olive groves below. It’s always buzzing with visitors and locals. Also check out the basilica of the same name in the square.
- Piazza del Comune – Take a seat on the stone steps of the Temple of Minerva for some people watching while eating a gelato.
- Wander the streets – The most rewarding thing to do in Assisi is simply wander its steep cobblestone streets, stopping in local artisan and food stores and admiring the pink hued architecture of this beautiful town.
Where to Stay in Assisi
Day 5 to 7 – Florence
Train: Assisi to Florence – approx. 2.5 hours with about half a dozen direct departures each day. Take an early morning departure from Assisi to maximise your time in Florence.
Florence is a Renaissance city in the heart of one of the most beautiful regions in the world, Tuscany. It is home to some of Italy’s most incredible churches and some of the worlds most famous works of art.
What to See & Do in Florence
- Duomo, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – This massive cathedral in the heart of Florence is a must see for it’s pink and green marble exterior, interior that holds 20,000 people and bell tower which you can climb for views over Florence.
- Piazza della Signoria – The heart of Florence’s old town. Visit to see the free open-air sculpture gallery including a copy of Michelangelo’s David and to check out the impressive medieval Palazzo Vecchio.
- Pont Vecchio – Florence’s first bridge built over the Arno river in 1345 and the only one that survived WWII bombing of the city. It is lined with shops selling gold and silver jewellery. Make sure you view it from one of the adjacent bridges as well as walk over it.
- Galleria delgi Uffizi – Home to the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art including painting, sculptures and tapestries from medieval times up to the modern day.
- Galleria dell’ Academia – If you want to see the original Michelangelo’s David, then this is where you will find it. Along with this famous statue are paintings and sculptures from the 13th to 16th centuries as well as a collection of instruments started by the Medici family.
- Mercato Centrale – If your looking to do a bit of shopping in Italy then this market in Florence is the perfect place to purchase genuine leather goods, souvenirs, antiques and food.
- Day Trip to Tuscany Wine Region – Enjoy a day outside of the city visiting some of the wineries and hill towns this region is famous for. Check out these tours offered on Viator.
Where to Stay in Florence
Read More: Things to Do in Florence
Be Inspired: Florence Photo Gallery
Day 8 to 9 – Cinque Terre
Train: Florence to Le Spezia – approx. 2.5 hours with about half a dozen direct departures each day. Take a mid afternoon train from Florence, arriving in Le Spezia (the best town to base yourself for walking Cinque Terre) early evening. Get a good nights rest ready for a day of walking.
Cinque Terre translates to Five Lands and comprises the five small coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Each charming and colourful village clings to the cliff face overlooking the ocean and is accessible only by boat, train and on foot.
What to See & Do in Cinque Terre
First thing in the morning, head to La Spezia train station and go to the tourist office on platform number one and purchase a €12.00 Cinque Terre hiking and train pass. Then take the train to the first town, Riomaggiore. From there you have three options in terms of exploring these five villages which are all easily achievable in one full day.
Option 1 – Train – You can continue to take the train from village to village using your pass getting off in each village to explore and then taking the train back to La Spezia at the end of the day.
Option 2 – Walking – This is the most popular option but does require a moderate to high level of fitness to complete the whole track in one day. There are four walks, one between each of the villages, and each one has a different degree of difficulty based on how steep and long the trail is. All four walking trails are not always open due to landslides and weather conditions. Here is a brief description of what to expect on each trail.
- Riomaggiore to Manarola – The easiest and shortest of the trails. It is relatively flat and takes the average walker around 20 minutes.
- Manarola to Corniglia – A bit more challenging. The walk takes about 45 minutes and is mostly skirting along beaches before climbing up to Corniglia.
- Corniglia to Vernazza – Arguably the most challenging of the four trails. This trail takes about 90 minutes and requires a lot of walking up and down. But you are compensated for your hard work by the best views the Cinque Terre has to offer.
- Vernazza to Monterosso – Pretty close in toughness as the trail before but this time a bit more flat. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views back on Vernazza.
You would then take the train back to La Spezia from Monterosso at the end of the day.
Option 3 – Combination of Both – If you don’t think your fit enough to conquer the whole trail then you have the option of combining both walking and taking the train. The first trail, from Riomaggiore to Manarola is a simple flat walk that is suitable for most fitness levels. And if after completing that section, you feel up to it, you can continue on to Corniglia by foot or just jump on the train. Then taking the train back to La Spezia at the end of the day.
As for sightseeing in the villages, there isn’t anything specific that I would suggest you see. Instead wander up and down the cobblestone lanes checking out the small churches, local food and artisan stores and stopping for food, coffee and gelato in the restaurants and cafes. Enjoy a swim at the beach in Monterosso at the end of your day.
Where to Stay in La Spezia
Day 10 to 12 – Milan
Train: Le Spezia to Milan – approx. 3-3.5 hours with around 10 direct departures each day. Take an early morning train from Le Spezia to maximise your time in Milan.
Milan is often overlooked by visitors to Italy in favour of visiting some of the more historic cities and regions. But this shouldn’t be the case. It’s a city full of beautiful Renaissance architecture, incredible cathedrals, world class works of art and it is one of the fashion capitals of the world. It’s also the perfect place to base yourself for day trips to the Italian Lakes and Southern Alps region.
What to See & Do in Milan
- Duomo of Milan – The largest gothic cathedral in the world can be found right in the centre of Milan. Construction began in 1386 taking 500 years to complete. It’s an impressive sight both inside and out plus it offers a great vantage point from the roof.
- Santa Maria delle Grazie – Home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper fresco. If you want to see this incredible work of art it is necessary to book two months in advance.
- Sforza Castle – Situated in the centre of the city is Milan’s Castle which is home to a bunch of art museums including one containing Michelangelo’s last sculpture. Even if you don’t want to visit the museums, the castle is a great place for a stroll through the courtyards and surrounding parklands or to see the very animated fountain out the front.
- La Scala Opera House – Italy’s finest opera house can be found in Milan. If you can’t afford the exuberant prices to see a show then you can enter the museum during the day to see paintings, musical instruments and get a glimpse at the stalls and backstage areas.
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – This huge glass roofed shopping arcade links Duomo Square with La Scala. The stores you will find inside are mostly high end fashion brands and expensive cafes. Take a wander through to admire the roof and the mosaic tiles.
- Day Trip to Lake Como – An easy 30-45 minutes train ride from Milan is spectacular Lake Como. When you get off the train and Como Nord Largo (beware, there is three train stations in Como), hop on one of the ferries that goes up and down the lake stopping at the small towns along the way and passing houses owned by Clooney and Branson just to name a few. It’s a beautiful day out with mountain peaks and sheer cliff faces towering over the lake. Hop off at the town of Bellagio, at least, and explore it’s cobblestone streets and charming stores and cafes.
Where to Stay in Milan
Be Inspired: Milan Photo Gallery
Day 13 to 15 – Venice
Train: Milan to Venice – approx. 2.5 hours with at least one direct departure each hour. Take an early morning train from Milan to optimise your time in Venice.
Italy’s sinking city, Venice, is made up of 118 islands connect by bridges and separated by canals, and is literally sinking into the marshy ground it was built on. It’s a city renowned for it’s beauty, architecture and artworks and is best experienced without a map, getting lost in the maze of cobblestone streets.
What to See & Do in Venice
- Piazza San Marco – The city’s largest square and main meeting place. It is surrounded by cafes, shops, museums and some of the city’s best architecture. Beware of the very tame pigeons!
- Basilica San Marco – Located in Piazza San Marco, this basilica is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the city. Inside you will find incredible mosaics and paintings by some of the areas best artists.
- The Grand Canal – This is the main and largest canal that snakes it way through the centre of the main island. It’s always busy with boats and barges running up and down carrying goods and people from dock to dock. A great way to do a quick sightseeing tour is by jumping on a vaporetto (Venice’s public transport) at one end and hopping off at the other.
- Doge’s Palace – Once the residence of Venetian leaders, now a museum where you can get a glimpse at some of the rooms used in it’s day including stately reception rooms, offices, living quarters, prison cells and torture chambers.
- Rialto Bridge – This ornamental stone bridge spans the Grand Canal and is the most popular of Venice’s bridges. It’s a very lively spot where you will find shops and markets lining the bridge.
- Take a Gondola Ride – While prices for a private gondola ride are close to €100.00 these days, to me, it is still worth the cost for this quintessential Venetian experience. If your lucky to get a chatty gondolier, he will entertain you with stories and maybe even serenade you as you punt along the canals. Most gondola’s seat 6-8 people, so sharing with others is a great way to save money.
- Explore the Islands – Just a short boat ride away from the main island of Venice are a number of popular islands you can explore. Murano is know for it glass makers, Burano it’s canals lined with coloured houses and lace making and Lido is lined with beaches, restaurants and shopping. You can reach all of these islands from the ferry terminal near Piazza San Marco.
Where to Stay in Venice
While travelling by train is never going to be as cheap as taking a bus, or in some cases flying with a budget airline, it is going to be more comfortable, scenic and time saving.
There is a lot of debate about whether purchasing a rail pass is the most cost effective option when travelling by train in Europe. Really, it all comes down to the amount of travel days you plan on taking during your trip.
For this exact itinerary above (not including day trips), you will have five travel days, Rome to Assisi, Assisi to Florence, Florence to La Spezia, La Spezia to Milan and Milan to Venice. Here are the average prices based on one adult travelling alone for both point to point tickets and rail pass.
Point to Point – Adult point to point tickets including seat reservation fee where applicable for all of the five journeys – 1st Class €176.00 or 2nd Class €119.00.
Rail Pass – Adult Italy Rail Pass for 5 days of travel in a 2 month period – 1st Class €321.00 or 2nd Class €269.00 including seat reservation fees where applicable.
The cheapest option by far for this itinerary is to purchase point to point tickets.
You can purchase your tickets with the required seat reservations in advance from the following websites:
Alternatively, tickets are available at all Trenitalia train stations across Italy on the day or in advance but prices will likely be higher and there may not be availability for specific trains.
A few things to note:
- Flying into one city and out of another will save you time rather than having to double back to your original destination to fly home. The way airlines work in terms of pricing these day you should not be penalised for doing this.
- Pack light. A backpack or light weight soft case is a good option as it makes getting on an off trains much easier.
- Discounts are available on train tickets when traveling in groups of 2 or more, as a family unit, or for people aged under 26. Prices for point to point tickets above are averaged and may be cheaper or more expensive depending on how far in advance you book and whether there is a sale on at the time.
- If you have an extra few days to spend in Italy then I suggest heading south from Rome at the beginning of the trip to Napoli, Pompeii, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.
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