Top 10 cities to visit in Italy by train
It’s tough to create any list of top 10 cities in Italy. The country has 20 regions, a great many of them worthy of their own list. Thankfully, your Eurail pass puts you in position to chart a course that is all your own. Odds are at least a few of the below destinations will make the cut.
What’s remarkable about Italy’s most beautiful city is how compact it is. When you arrive at Firenze Santa Maria Novella (listed as Firenze S.M.N. on the Eurail timetable), the city’s main train station, you are standing within walking distance of almost all of Florence’s main attractions, including the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo. I recommend taking just a few steps more, across the river into the Oltrarno area. These days, Oltrarno is one of the top places young Florentines go to let loose and escape the tourist masses. Start your evening at Piazza Santo Spirito with a panino from Gustapanino, which is best eaten at the steps of the church on the square. Follow the crowds through neighborhoods like San Frediano to take in the nightlife and enjoy the real Florence.
Palermo (island of Sicily)
Trains departing from Roma Termini to the island of Sicily take some 12 hours to reach Palermo, Sicily’s capital, but the effort pales compared to the rewards. (Which start the second the train crosses from the mainland to the island on a ferry, giving you a great chance to step onto the deck and take in the views of land and sea.) The seaside city teems under crumbling baroque facades and architecturally stunning theaters, but some of the most unforgettable experiences in Palermo are to be found in the city’s markets. Make your way to Castellammare, one of Palermo’s historic central neighborhoods, and lose yourself in the surreal array of bright colors, unusual shapes and joyful shouts of the Vucciria market.
If your Eurail pass takes you to South Italy, you will almost certainly pass through the maddening delight that is Naples. The city is a tour through some of Italy’s best culinary traditions. Take the metro number 1 to Materdei and find Starita, a historic pizzeria made iconic on the silver screen. Naples also has a vaunted pastry tradition. The city’s high rollers shop in the Chiaia neighborhood, which you can reach by metro at the Piazza Amedeo stop. Your destination: Moccia, where for pocket change you can order a baba. Your taste buds will thank you.
From the Coliseum to Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome’s monuments are a storybook of European greatness, decline, opulence and mystery – it can all be quite overwhelming. Find a moment for a relaxed stroll through the Monti neighborhood, easily reached from the Roma Termini station with a walk down Via Cavour. Wrapped in ivy and sheltered from the city streets by cobbled, picturesque side streets, the neighborhood is a chic place to relax. Monti has independent designer galleries, pocket-sized wine bars, and one of the city’s coziest squares, Piazza Madonna dei Monti.
Turin’s compact city center, nestled on the banks of the Po River, celebrates the birth of the Italian nation. The city has the feel of an old capital (which it was, in the early days when Italy was a kingdom). While you’re strolling through the arched arcades of downtown Turin, don’t miss a visit to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema. Even if you’re not a movie buff, you will want to spend plenty of time snapping pics of the complex’s iconic spire, the Mole Antonelliana.
The city needs little introduction and just a bit of advice: Visit San Marco of course, chart the canals of the city on a gondola, but whatever you do, don’t overbook your time in Venice. This is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, so set out on a walk and just get lost. Venice can be quite expensive, but for more affordable boarding options, take the train to Venezia Mestre station – one stop and ten minutes away from the central Venezia Santa Lucia station.
Lecce is the main city of Salento, a stunning sea-kissed area at the very southeastern corner of Italy. The city’s sandstone architectural wonders shine with an otherworldly brightness under the summer sun, then come alive at night with the city’s thriving movida, or nightlife. Check out the Santa Croce basilica, a masterpiece of baroque architecture. To satisfy your sweet tooth, try a pasticciotto at a cafe on Piazza Sant’Oronzo. If you have time to go farther into Salento, hop a train to Otranto, a port city where time seems to have stopped somewhere in the 12th century.
The five towns of Cinque Terre, nestled in cliffs falling straight to the sea, offer much of what makes the Italian peninsula so unique. Boats in the brightest shades of green, blue and pink answer the colors of the huddled houses of Riomaggiore. Vernazza’s quaint main street is a perfect place for an aperitivo, while Levanto’s beach is party headquarters. Hike along the nature trails connecting the towns, stop for a swim in the warm waters and when you tire, catch one of the trains that connect you easily to whichever town you are staying in.
If photography is your hobby you should use your Eurail pass to take full advantage of the ease of connection between Florence and Perugia, the capital of the Umbria region, using Trenitalia’s regional trains. Perugia’s architecture is a medieval response to Florence’s renaissance splendor, and as the city rises on a hill it gives way to panoramas, streetscapes and details that lend themselves to the kinds of compositions your viewfinder was created to capture. The architecture may be ancient, but thanks to its universities, Perugia boasts a fun, youthful vibe. If you travel there in July, take in a show at the Umbria Jazz festival.
Few cities in Europe combine monumental architecture with high-end shopping quite like Italy’s fashion capital, as Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II attests. Before you set off on your Gucci-inspired quest, though, stop a moment to take in the Milano Centrale station. Italy’s second-largest train station far surpasses its rival for that title, Roma Termini, in aesthetic beauty and belle époque grandeur. The ceiling-high glass panes and large stone arches create an ideal atmosphere to take in the uniqueness of a rail-driven journey through Europe.