This blog post is also available in German.
The cold season is definitely here. Dark, foggy and icy days are approaching. Are you dreaming of sun and warmth already? Maybe you`re yet in the middle of planning your holidays for 2020? I’m just thinking about where we want to go next summer. Let’s be honest, despite our sustainable lifestyle, we still don’t want to live without travelling. Good there are trains! And even better, you can travel practically anywhere in Europe by train. If you`re already thinking about where you want to go next year, I have an idea for you.
How does Northern Italy by train sound to you? Would that be something? The perfect trip, be it as a couple, single or with family. In order for the organisation to work, I`ve compiled the most important information and tips for you in this blog post. Since we travelled Northern Italy by train last June, I can share my own experiences with you. You`re also welcome to contact me if there are any specific questions that this post doesn`t answer.
If you`re interested in train travel in Europe in general, then have a look here. In that article I`ve already compiled some practical and helpful information for you.
The early bird catches the worm
Our trip took us from Bern to Venice, Florence, La Spezia and Cinque Terre. The latter may already be known to you from the innumerable instagram pictures. Cinque Terre is considered a hotspot, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the destination of many influencers and travel bloggers (although the hype is getting less now). Venice is also an incredibly popular holiday destination.
To formulate it simply, try to book as early as possible. Especially if you travel with children or have a limited budget. I booked rather short notice and then still over a holiday weekend… Well, what can I say, we had to reschedule the route several times and our favorite train connections were already booked out. Therefore I would recommend to plan and book 3 months in advance.
The same is true for the accommodations, but I’ll get to that.
If you want to travel Northern Italy by train alone or without children, you might be more flexible and can book spontaneously.
The route and connections
I`ve already explained these topics in detail in this article. There you should actually find all information concerning this.
As a guide or recommendation I`ll briefly introduce you to our route. We took the train to Venice, then to Florence and from there to La Spezia. Of course always with 1 to 2 days between the individual train journeys, so that we had enough time to explore a city. We had only 7 days for our trip to North Italy by train.
It`s important – as I already wrote in the other article – to plan your route logically. Choose several places/cities you want to see. Define how many days you want to stay there and then study the map of Italy. From Venice to La Spezia and back to Florence is a waste of time and money. Choose a route where you have the shortest travel time between the destinations.
The right ticket and reservations
I already explained economy tickets, country/global passports and train reservations in the above article. Here again specifically for Northern Italy by train. You can choose between a regular ticket, an economy ticket and a One Country Pass. Regular tickets are more expensive than Spartickets. Depending on the route, regular tickets can be cheaper than One Country Passes. It is therefore important to take a close look at all options.
Economy tickets are reduced tickets. With a economy tickets you can save a lot of money, but then you are obliged to take exactly the train you booked. Unfortunately, there are not economy tickets for all connections or destinations. The best way to find out about this is online or from your train company. Swiss citizens can easily look up the SBB online timetable. Important; Check all train connections for the respective day of travel, the prices of the economy tickets may vary.
One Country Pass
With a One Country Pass you can travel freely by train for a specific number of days within the selected country. You can buy your pass for 3, 4, 5, 6 or 8 days. Prices for Italy can be found here (in Euro) or here (in Chf).
We have chosen such a passport for our trip as it is very easy to travel with it. You don’t have to carry a lot of different tickets around and you`re more or less flexible (except for the express trains where you have to make reservations). So we only had this pass for the whole trip in Northern Italy by train. But be sure to inform yourself about the ticket prices beforehand. Depending on the itinerary, it may be that single tickets cost you less than the One Country Pass. Especially if you can get hold of economy tickets.
Here you`ll find an overview for which other countries One Country Passes are also available. If you`re planning a more extensive trip through Europe instead of Northern Italy by train, there is also the Global Pass. This one allows you to travel up to 31 countries in Europe within a certain period of time.
Very important; on Italian express trains reservations are mandatory. You cannot travel without a seat reservation. With regional trains you can travel without a reservation. Therefore it makes sense to book and reserve the trains in advance. Unless you are super flexible. For example, we wanted to take a train from Florence to La Spezia early in the morning. Spontaneously we decided to leave later. At the last moment we noticed that the new train connection would have been a fast train which needed reservation. We ended up taking a later train, which was a regional one.
Of course you can make reservations directly at the Italian stations.
Northern Italy by train – Tips for Venice, Florence & Cinque Terre
Since we travelled to these three destinations, I would like to give you a few specific tips.
Venice has its own charm. Despite the masses of tourists and the rather high prices, I love the city.
Venice is more expensive than La Spezia and Florence. This applies to accommodation as well as gastronomy. If you want to be close to the tourist attractions, there are some hotels directly in Venice. The cost of an overnight stay there will be in the higher price category. We paid almost 400 swiss francs for 2 nights in a 1 star hotel and that was the cheapest option directly in Venice. I have to mention though it was a bank holiday weekend and I booked relatively late, whereby the prices turned out probably also somewhat higher. But at least we only had to walk 5 minutes to St. Mark’s Square.
All in all, however, I would say; accommodations directly in Venice are rather expensive (also applies to Air BnB). If you want to save money and don’t mind taking public transport to drive into Venice first, you can stay overnight in Mestre (outside Venice). There it`s much cheaper.
Gastronomy & vegan food
The knowledge about the vegan nutrition concept is not exuberant in Italy. This applies to all 3 destinations. In regular restaurants you will find few to no vegan dishes, but many vegetarian options. The Italians are also incredibly hospitable and I never had a problem ordering a vegetarian dish without cheese or veganized. A Pizza Marinara (without cheese) can also be found in almost all pizzerias. I can also recommend the Happy Cow app. So you`re guaranteed to find a restaurant with vegan options. I almost always use the app, except on this trip. We wanted to be a little more relaxed on the way and spontaneously decided to go to the next nearby tavern. But I saw in the app that there were several vegan options in Venice.
In general, the gastronomy prices in Venice itself are higher than in Florence and La Spezia.
Murano, Burano and the Lido
As I already said Venice is a city strongly frequented by tourists. Those who want to visit something in peace have to get up early. If the masses of tourists become too much for you, then simply take the ferry and drive to Murano, Burano or to the Venetian beach the Lido. It’s a bit quieter there. In addition, the lagoon towns are incredibly charming. We spent a whole afternoon at the Lido and enjoyed it very much. By the way, it`s also a great destination if you travel with children.
Compared to car-free Venice, Florence is loud and noisy and people maneuver their vehicles through the streets like crazy ones. Nevertheless, the city radiates a unique charm, you immediately feel like you’re back in time. And the architecture is simply beautiful.
Accommodation & Gastronomy
In Florence you eat and sleep much cheaper than in Venice, as long as you avoid places close to tourist attractions. In Florence we stayed at a cheap Air BnB. When choosing the restaurant, we decided on small gastronomies in side streets. There you`ll find delicious and cheap meals.
In Florence there is even a great bulk shop, which we discovered by chance. You can hardly resist the scents from the Florentine bakeries. Those who want to save some money or like us also have a kitchen can stock up in a supermarket. We mainly cooked ourselves in Florence.
Ponte Vecchio, Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Medici & Fiesole
Florence is the city of museums. It offers an incredible number of exciting and great museums. Also the cathedral is certainly very recommendable by judging the queue in front of it. Also the famous statue of David by Michelangelo should not be missed. Honestly people, unfortunately we didn’t see any of it from the inside, as we were travelling with a small child and museum visits in this age category are not very amusing. But if you have the possibility, I would take advantage of the opportunity and visit as many museums as possible. By the way, I find the Muesum of the Medici very recommendable. Which is probably because I am a big fan of the TV show *lol*. So if you want to experience Medici in Real Life, don’t miss the Muesum.
Also worth seeing is the Ponte Vecchio, one of the most beautiful bridges in Italy. Here, as actually with all places of interest, a large tourist crowd can be expected. If you want to visit the cathedral, a museum or the Ponte Vecchio in piece, you have to get up early.
If you have enough time to explore Florence, then my recommendation is Fiesole. Fiesole is situated on a hill above Florence, it`s considered a noble suburb and is a little off the beaten track. Surrounded by noble villas and an impressive floral splendour, the street meanders through Fiesole. Crowned by a breathtaking view. Fiesole was my absolute highlight in Florence.
La Spezia – Cinque Terre
Accommodation & Gastronomy
Spending the night in Cinque Terre is relatively expensive. Cinque Terre is also a massive tourist area, which is why I would rather suggest an overnight stay in La Spezia. There the accommodations are cheaper, there are many Air BnB and La Spezia is generally less crowded. La Spezia itself is not very interesting, but quite nice to look at and exudes the typical flair of a holiday city at the Mediterranean Sea. There are cosy cafés and cheap food possibilities. Compared to the villages of the Cinque Terre, La Spezia is clearly cheaper.
By train you reach the first village of the Cinque Terre within 20 minutes. I personally would recommend that you stay in La Spezia and explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site from there. You can take a ferry or boat directly from the port of La Spezia, which will take you along the waterway past the five villages.
The villages of the Cinque Terre live from tourism. Therefore there are many souvenir shops and restaurants. The food is very tasty, partly with an emphasis on fish, as the Cinque Terre are fishing villages and more expensive than La Spezia.
Traveling the 5 villages of Cinque Terre
As the name suggests, the Cinque Terre are 5 different villages along the Italian Riviera. Namely Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Manarola is, by the way, the village that you can see on all the pictures. How you visit the five villages is up to you. However, it is possible to see everything in one day, because the villages are only 2-4 minutes away from each other by train. If you want to see everything in one day, buy the Cinque Terre Card for 7,50.- . Otherwise every train journey from village to village costs 4 Euro.
If we hadn’t been with a toddler, we would have done a Cinque Terre hike. The trails take you along the coast and picturesque countryside with breathtaking views. Depending on how many villages you want to visit, you may need 2 days for the complete tour. In the summer months, however, there is a high frequency and many people on the trails.
As mentioned above you can visit the villages from the coast by ferry or boat. But the ferries and boats cannot dock at Corniglia, because this village has no harbour.
my personal favourites
In general, the villages of the Cinque Terre are very busy, especially during the warmer months. Since the villages are rather small, the squares and alleyways are crowded. Monterosso was the least convincing to me personally. But you`ll find a beach to swim on. Corniglia lies on a cliff and the train stops near the village, but you have to take a bus or climb 377 steps to the cliff village. With toddlers still sitting in the pram, there is only the bus option. Expect longer waiting times, as most tourists want to take the bus and it doesn’t have much space.
All five villages are really worth seeing. But if I had to decide which are the most beautiful, it would be Manarola, Vernazza and Corniglia.
Swimming in Portovenere
As a little tip, if you want to spend another afternoon at the beach, then drive to Portovenere. The beach promenade there is much longer than in Monterosso and the town is also architecturally very beautiful. You can reach Portovenere from La Spezia by ferry or bus within 20 to 30 minutes. In the bus you may have to expect a big crowd.
I hope the tips and information concerning the trip to Northern Italy by train were helpful. For more specific information or information on which Air BnBs and hotels we have booked, please contact me via email or leave a comment below this post.
See you soon,