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Train Travel in Italy & Switzerland

Our itinerary is 2 weeks in May, Geneva - Gruyere - Bern - Thun - Murren - Sion - Venice - Rome - Naples - Rome - Florence - Cinque Terre - Annecy, France - Geneva. I have done a bit of research on Switzerland trains, reached out to our Swiss hotel that recommended the Swiss Travel Pass which makes fiscal sense because it includes museum entries, boats, etc. I'm now researching train travel in Italy and reading that Trenitalia will take care of most travel needs, but to book the fast legs e.g. Venice to Rome, Rome to Florence in advance. Is what I'm reading correct? Do we need to book train travel in Italy in advance? How do we handle the Cinque Terre local trains? Do we buy these in advance? Is a Cinque Terre Park card worth purchasing since we'll be there only 2 nights, 3 days? Any advice on electricity in both countries? I prefer not to melt another flat iron as I did in Estonia last year (Stockholm, Estonia, Helsinki trip in April - off topic - great trip but don't go before April 15 - too cold) - even with the correct adapters! Any input is appreciated. Thank you in advance.

Posted by
29 posts

Regarding trains, Trenitalia worked great for me in Liguria and Tuscany. For the Cinque Terre local trains I don't think that you would need to buy in advance. When I went last spring, I had my home base in Monterosso and then did day trips from there and an overnight in Florence. For longer trips I bought in advance using the train Italia app. For some train trips I wonder if it's somewhat based on popularity / availability. I did first class to Florence just because I wanted more leg room. Regarding the Cinque Terre park card it might depend on how many train trips and how much hiking you want to do (where a pass is required). Good luck with your planning. Also, for the electrical adapter amazon and other sites have the 2 round prong plug to USA style adapter (might want to make sure it works for your stuff though). Cheers.

Posted by
20287 posts

How are you getting from Cinque Terre to Annecy? That is a very long travel day, at least 10 1/2 hours. Why not go from Geneva where it is only 1 1/2 hours. Why, not fly into Geneva and out of Rome.

Posted by
3138 posts

You have 14 days and have listed 14 places. Are you really going to be moving every day, or are you visiting multiple places from one or 2 bases?

Posted by
23354 posts

I will try to pick out the simple questions ---

  1. All trains except Regionale (think bus on rail) require purchase of the exact train, day and time because you have to a seat reservation. For the Regionale train you buy a ticket the day of or day before, validate it (now good for four hours) and get on the first R train headed in the correct direction. They never sell out. No seat -- stand till one becomes available. I think all the CT trains are Regionale.

  2. Only reason to buy other tickets in advance is to take advantage of any discount ticket that might still be available. Discount tickets are no change, no refund. Miss a train you cannot go on the next one -- need a new ticket.

  3. Electricity is all of Europe is 220-240 volts. Just be sure your item is geared for 240, if not don't bring it. An adapter is only for changing the plug and NOT the voltage as you found out.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you so much for all the great advice. Yes, we will be moving a lot to explore because we enjoy covering a lot of ground, especially in newer locations. We are very active on most of our trips. We also take slow resting vacations in one place but this is not one of them. Although this is our return to Italy, it's our son's first time there. None of us have been to Switzerland. Thoughts on food in Switzerland? We are hunkering down in the Swiss Alps for 3 days, Rome 3 days, and Cinque Terre for 3 days as bases. The last time we were in Venice, we found 2 days was too long for us - a day or less works for this particular trip and our purposes. I appreciate the input on the Italy trains. I do think we'll wait on everything Cinque Terre until we arrive there. I am hoping the Vernazza to Corniglio blue trail is open and plan to take a boat ride along the coast. I did not realize that Cinque Terre to Annecy takes so many hours so an adjustment may need to happen there. Any thoughts on if Annecy is a must-do? Our initial itinerary was to go to Annecy from Geneva the first day but we changed it because of the availability of a chocolate making class that our son was interested in. We had booked 2 hotels, one in Annecy and one in Geneva for the last night, and will cancel one as we see how our timing works out in reality. Any thoughts on comfy shoes for the trip? Our dress is very casual. Apologies for all the questions but I do appreciate your time and comments.

Posted by
15873 posts

A couple of comments:
It would be interesting to see your detailed itinerary. If you've given Rome and the CT 3 nights each, that's 6 nights right there of a 14-night (15 night?) trip. It's also uncertain if your two weeks include departure day from the US and from Switzerland.

So while I understand that your family is "very active", it looks to me like you'll be spending an awful lot of time/$ checking in and out, dealing with train stations and sitting on trains; not my idea of "active" but we're all different!

As you mentioned a Swiss pass that's attractive to you because it includes boats and museums - and your trip is very soon - it's probably worth mention that if you intend to visit any of the big attractions in Rome and Florence that they're going to be overrun and tickets difficult to get. That's unless you've been keeping an eye on their websites for jumping on timed-entry reservations/tickets. As well, as you've not given your destinations a lot of time, be aware of days attractions are closed?

Venice - Rome - Naples - Rome - Florence....

Why two separate stays in Rome? Why not just one to eliminate checking in/out/backtracking to the same city? Venice> Florence> Naples> Rome...? Annecy doesn't fit well and the distance between it and the CT has been mentioned. Any chance of scrapping that and the second stay in Geneva and flying home from Genoa, Pisa, Milan, etc?

I do think we'll wait on everything Cinque Terre until we arrive

That does not include hotel reservations, right? You've made those, right?

The Cinque Terre trails/park:
The website is a valuable resource if you've not found it yet (it's a little glitchy this morning).
The trail map will tell you which are open/closed at any given point. You can pretty much figure the section of the "Blue" you want to do will be closed if it's raining. Assuming it's open (hope so!) you must purchase a Trekking or Trekking/Treno pass to access it. Passes don't cover the ferries.

The Treno card -which also includes access to open segements of the Blue trail - is sold on new price tiers depending on low-to-high park attendance periods. For instance, the card for use on May weekends will cost more than mid-week, and higher seasons will cost more than low season. Explore the costs here per your dates:
The trekking-only pass info in the same link.

Single ride tickets on the regional 5 Terre Express are 5,00€ a pop (and must be validated before boarding) so whether a treno pass works for you depends on how often you intend to use the trains over 2 days.

Posted by
15873 posts

An edit to the above:

Single ride tickets on the regional 5 Terre Express are 5,00€ a pop

That price rises to 10,00€ on weekends, and can be between 10,00€ and 8,00€ during holiday periods such as dates on and both sides of May 1 (Labor Day, a big national holiday). Ouch.

Posted by
15873 posts

LOL, Laurel. I really tried to be diplomatic about the itinerary - it's the RS way, ya know - but oof...

Posted by
3138 posts

I am still trying to imagine how this will work for all you have mentioned, to fit it all in 2 weeks.

You must have 2 nights in or around Geneva for Gruyères and the chocolate class. Then you say 3 nights each in Swiss Alps, Rome and Cinque Terre. That is 11 nights, leaving one night each for Venice, Florence, and Annecy? That is 14, so Sion, Naples, Thun, Bern are day trips from your Rome sand Swiss bases?

I don’t think you have much time for the museums on the Swiss Pass.

You asked about Swiss food. I can tell you it is expensive to eat in restaurants. Most main dishes ( meat and fish) on the menus are 40 francs and up. Pizza and pasta can be cheaper. Hut lunches run 10-15 francs for soup or salad, 15 for Rosti which is a favorite with our family. There is an Asian restaurant in Mürren that is a good option if you are staying in that town.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you all again for your input. What is the "RS way"? Your comments are helpful and I appreciate your "diplomacy" - no worries - I am obviously not familiar with the area and why I reached out helping to tweak the plans. My itinerary includes a lot of town "options" that will likely be cut (e.g. Thun, Sion, Annecy) depending on the weather, time, and how we actually feel when we're there. We are flying into Geneva and going straight to Gruyere for the chocolate class the next day, then a brief stop in Bern, and onto Murren 3 days, then a day in Venice is enough, down to Rome 3 days and during one of these days, we'll visit a friend in Naples. We're only staying in Rome. After Rome, we head to Cinque Terre but will stop off in Florence for a few hours as we've been there before (stayed and been to Uffizi) and not our priority. Then, 3 days in Cinque Terre and head back to Geneva where we'll stay the last night close to the airport. We were so hoping to somehow fit in Annecy but it seems unrealistic. Yes, there's a lot of train time here - likely at least a full day but we don't mind. We are all different. The main legs in Italy have been booked on Frecciarosa trains. I am aware of the museum day closures and hours and have attained needed tickets. We'll visit the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel as we missed it the last time we were in Italy. We'll see David only in Florence. We would like to attend a church service at St. Peter's in Rome but am seeing conflicting information on whether tickets are needed. We don't want to spend much time in museums this trip though we do enjoy them in small doses (although the Vasa Museum was the driver for our trip to Northern Europe recently). It appears that the blue trail in Cinque Terre will be closed from Vernazza to Corniglio and thanks for the train information there. Also, I appreciate the food recommendations in Switzerland. Any food recommendations in Rome for all meals including breakfast? Lunch or dinner places in Cinque Terre? Thank you for your time.

Posted by
15873 posts

LOL, Carolann -
The "RS way" - or Rick Steve's way - means doing one's level best to try and see things from an OP's perspective and offer advice based on their trip versus one of our own. However, that doesn't mean ignoring potential pitfalls altogether & zipping the lip when an itinerary resembles a marathon. To be honest, yours is close enough to one of those to be concerned, and we care so.... There were also enough questions (electricity, train travel) to indicate a first-timer lacking experience in how much time/$ a lot of moving around can consume. As well, all it takes is one train strike, a serious transport delay, day of traveler's tummy, etc. to throw very tight plans into disarray....

It appears that the blue trail in Cinque Terre will be closed from
Vernazza to Corniglio

The Vernazza> Corniglia segment is currently open - no black line on the map - and I expect it to remain so unless it's raining or it sustains unexpected damage. Did you see otherwise somewhere?

Are you in Rome three nights or three days/4 nights? It makes a difference. If it's 3 nights & you're stopping through Florence (great city) en route from Venice, you are pretty much left with just 2 days and spending one of them in Naples; 1 day for Rome and you'll be spending it at the Vatican.

We would like to attend a church service at St. Peter's in Rome but am
seeing conflicting information on whether tickets are needed.

Daily masses at St. Peter's and other important info:
(I assume you won't be there on a Sunday or wouldn't have tickets to the museums):

Here are instructions for visiting for mass inside the church; note that no tickets are necessary:
This isn't for people sightseeing the church.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you for caring Kathy! 4 days/3 nights in Rome - 1 day to Naples from there to visit our friend. A train strike would be tough and hopefully won't happen but we'll have to roll with everything - even the tummy thing..which did happen to our son after eating something bad in Finland. While this is a hopeful itinerary because there's so much we want to see, the reality is the reality and we have some leeway to pivot. Great news on the blue trail. For more fun, what if church were on Sunday at St. Peter's?

Posted by
15873 posts

4 days/3 nights in Rome

In reality 3 nights = 2 full days. Not sure how you're getting 4 days out of it?

Sundays at the Vatican:
In addition to the info I previously gave you - Sunday mass times within the basilica follow the "Holiday" schedule - this should tell you everything you need to know about the usual Sunday Angelus in St Peter's Square.

Regarding the Angelus: it occurs at noon in the square, It is a standing-only event, not a mass, and lasts abt. 15 minutes. Get there early. The Wed. audience - also in St Peter's Square, weather permitting - does require tickets: info is in the link. The Papal calendar for any events involving the Pope is considered "when possible" given his current fragility.