July 23, 2014

To Sicily by a train on a ferry

by Erin McNeaney in Train routes

Sicily is the sunny island at the southern tip of Italy where you’ll find lush green mountains and white sandy beaches, fried street food and decadent desserts, smouldering volcanoes and idyllic islands, and a rich architectural heritage from its history of invasions. The Greeks, Arabs, Normans, and Spanish have all made their mark on this fascinating island that feels part of Italy but with its own distinctive character. Travelling to Sicily with a Eurail pass is easy, if a little time consuming, as there are direct trains from Rome or Naples to various destinations in Sicily. It’s a unique journey as the train is transported on a ferry across the Straits of Messina before being split into two parts and continuing on the rail tracks in Sicily – one heading west and the other east.

How to travel to Sicily

You can take a direct air-conditioned Intercity train to Sicily from Rome or Naples, or connect in these cities from across Italy. It’s a 9 hour journey from Naples to Palermo, 11.5 hours from Rome. You can also disembark at other destinations in Sicily. We got off at Milazzo (6.5 hours from Naples) to take a ferry over to the gorgeous Aeolian islands, before continuing down to Palermo a few days later. You could also stop at the scenic beach town of Cefalu on the way to Palermo, or travel to the eastern side of the island to beautiful Taormina, Catania (the base for visiting Mt Etna) or historic Siracusa. After travelling slowly down to the “toe” of Italy’s boot, the train reaches Villa San Giovanni where it is split into two parts and rolled onto the ferry. It’s an impressive feat of engineering. This can take a while and our carriage lost power (no lights or air conditioning) while they loaded us on, which added an element of adventure to the experience!

Once the train is on the ferry the trip across the water to Messina on Sicily only takes about 30 minutes. You can stay seated in your train carriage in the ferry’s hold or head up on deck for some fresh air and to enjoy the views of Sicily. Just don’t forget your way back to your train! Moving a train onto a ferry and off again is quite a feat and it takes some time. Trains on this route are often delayed – ours was about an hour late – so make sure you take that into account when planning any onward travel.

Making your reservation

You’ll need to travel by Sicily Intercity train to reach Sicily. Reservations are optional unless it’s an overnight train for which it is compulaory to reserve your sleeping accommodation. It’s a good idea to reserve the InterCity, especially in the summer to be sure you have a seat. Reservations can be made in train stations at ticket desks or self-service machines, or online, and only costs 3 euros on the day train.

To make a reservation online go to the Trenitalia website, enter your destination and dates, choose from one of the trains listed and click select. Check the “View other prices and services” box below the fares and continue. Choose your preferred class from the Service drop down menu and choose Global Pass from the Offer drop down menu. The price will update with the reservation cost. Enter your Eurail order number in the “Ticket number support” box. You can continue to pay for the reservation by credit card or paypal.