Explore Italy’s cultural and natural delights with our top selection of Italian scenic rail routes.
Tied with China for having the most UNESCO World Heritage sites, Italy is a country brimming with historic, artistic and natural wonders. Italy’s iconic boot kicks the cultural competition to the curb with myriad museums, monuments and landscapes. And, while Italy might also be better known for its racing cars than rail schedules, its fleet of high-speed and regional trains is the best and most scenic way to access the country’s varied and vibrant culture. From city-hopping to Alpine adventuring, here are some of Italy’s most scenic train routes.
Rome to Sicily
The journey from Rome to the Sicilian capital Palermo is one of Europe’s best kept train secrets. This long journey takes around 11 hrs, but brings you directly from the Eternal city to the island of Sicily. This is one of the few train journeys in the world where the train gets shunted onto a ferry, allowing adventurers to cross the Straits of Messina without ever leaving the train. If high seas voyaging isn’t enough of a draw, this scenic journey will also take you along Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea coast, with sweeping scenery of Mount Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples, and the rugged Calabrian landscape. Within Sicily, the train continues to Catania and Syracuse, or west to Palermo.
Venice to Florence
Two of Italy’s all-time greats, Venice and Florence are best enjoyed when exploring them together by train. Combine these two colossuses of culture by either taking a Trenitalia Frecciarossa or Frecciargento high-speed train between them, or for a slower, more scenic route, choose a regional train to carry you from canals in Venice to dreamy duomos in Florence. Slow is by far the best way to go between these two cities, taking in scenic spots along the way like Bologna, Prato and Ravenna, as well as sprawling natural landscapes as the train climbs up through Emilia-Romagna and dips back down towards the iconic cypress topped hills of Tuscany. Travel between Venice and Florence in 1 hr 58 mins.
Reggio Calabria to Scilla
Roll into the heart of the Mediterranean with a train journey connecting Reggio Calabria with Scilla. After soaking up the views from Reggio Calabria’s lungomare (promenade) out towards the Messina Straits and Mt. Etna, take a short 13 mins train ride to Scilla, famed for being the home of Sylla, the Greek mythological monster who snacked on unsuspecting sailors. The route between Reggio Calabria and Scilla is one of legends and luscious landscapes, with islets and fishing boats dotting the passing horizon.
Cinque Terre between Levanto and La Spezia
Once simply known as a cluster of villages clinging to the Ligurian cliffs, the Cinque Terre (five lands) have since become one of the most admired, and most visited destinations in the world. Just up the coast from La Spezia, these five pastel-coloured villages have UNESCO World Heritage site status. Admire the soaring cliffs tumbling into the aquamarine waters of the Ligurian Sea as you take the Cinque Terre Express (buy locally) from Levanto to La Spezia, passing through vineyards, villages and olive groves along the way. Travel from Levanto to La Spezia in 20 mins.
Milan to Bolzano
Travelling from Italy’s fashion capital of Milan to the dramatic Alpine scenery of Bolzano in the South Tyrol is a journey along the country’s natural catwalk. Taking between 3 and 5 hours, pass through sweeping countryside and medieval towns before arriving in the historically romantic city of Verona. From there, a train transfer is required before cutting up through the jagged Dolomite Mountains towards the German-speaking city of Bolzano. Don’t miss the city’s annual Christmas market, where German-inspired stalls sell Tyrolean treats beneath the shadow of the awe-inspiring Alps. Travel from Milan to Bolzano in 3 hrs 4 mins.
Tirano to St. Moritz
Hailed as one of the most spectacular train routes in the world, the Bernina Express between the Italian city Tirano and the Swiss Alpine resort St. Moritz is not one to be missed. As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage route, the Bernina Express is the highest train in Europe with its winding track reaching peak altitudes at Ospizio Bernina station (2,253m). Relax behind panoramic windows as you sweep between the contrasting scenery of Italian palms and Swiss glaciers, taking in the many cultural landmarks and engineering highlights along the way. Travel from Tirano to St. Moritz in 2 hrs 11 mins.
Image credits top to bottom: Terraced vineyard in Cinque Terre Flickr Commons ©Sergio Boscaino (cropped), Trapani and Paceco Salt Ponds iStock ©font83, Taormina by anams reproduced with thanks under a Creative Commons 2.0 NC-ND licence, Streets of Florence iStock ©baratroli, Chianalea di Scilla iStock ©nata_rass, Vernazza Flickr Commons ©Fred Bigio, Val di Funes, Italy, Dolomites iStock ©DieterMeyrl, Langwieser Viadukt by Kurt Zwahlen reproduced with thanks under a Creative Commons 2.0 NC-SA Licence
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