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Getting around Italy

Aloha all,

I been wanting to visit Italy for a long time now and I finally booked my ticket for September! It will be my first time in Europe (I'm usually always in Asia) so I'm excited and scared at the same time. I wanted to know more about transportation as here is my plan.

  1. Fly into Milan (should arrive at 9am) and spend day there. (day 1)
  2. Next day, take train to Venice (day 2)
  3. Venice attractions (day3)
  4. Take train to Cinque Terre (day 4)
  5. Cinque Terre attractions (day 5)
  6. Take train to Florence (day 6)
  7. Florence attractions (day 7)
  8. Take train to Tuscany (day 8)
  9. Tuscany attractions (day 9)
  10. Take train to Rome (day 10)
  11. Spend a few days in Rome and fly home from Rome airport

My questions:
---Is this too aggressive? If so, I plan to cut out Venice
---Getting from place to place. Where can I get all this information on what trains to take, where to get off, where to transfer, what time they run, how long it takes, etc? Better yet, does anyone know these nitty gritty details? Basically, I'll need to get from:
-----------> Milan to Venice (if i keep Venice in my itinerary)
-----------> Venice to Cinque Terre (if i keep Venice in my itinerary)
-----------> Milan to Cinque Terre (if i omit Venice)
-----------> Cinque Terre to Florence
-----------> Florence to Tuscany
-----------> Tuscany to Rome

---I've also read about the rail pass, but i'm still not sold as some say yes and others say no. looks like it might not be good on local city trains too.

I just ordered Rick Steves Italy 2015 and I hope that will help, but getting around really gives me anxiety so if anyone can help, please do! I'd really appreciate it!


Posted by
487 posts

It is fast paced, but my husband and I did a similar trip a few years ago and had a lot of fun. One thing to point out is that Tuscany is geographic area, which includes Florence. So you can't take a train from Florence to Tuscany because you are already in Tuscany. You could however, take a train to other cities/towns in Tuscany to see more of the area. The Rick Steves book will have other suggestions. There are also tour companies that can take you out into the country side on different adventures and bring you back to Florence at the end of the day.

Posted by
73 posts

I don't think it's too aggressive. I would change the order of places though. I traveled to Italy for the first time last spring and took the trains everywhere. Upon arriving in Milan I would go straight to Venice, unless there's something you really want to see. I would travel from Venice to Florence. While in Florence, day trips to Tuscany region. Then from Florence go to Cinque Terre. Then from Cinque Terre to Rome.
There are two train companies. Trenitalia and Italo. Italo is newer. I traveled only on Trenitalia so I don't know much about Italo. Best thing to do is play around on Trenitalia's website. Make sure you click on the British flag (top right or left, I don't remember) for English. Choose dates of travel for next month but on the same day of the week you'll be traveling to see the schedule. From there you can gauge how long it will take to get from train station to train station. It will also show whether it's a straight shot or if there are train changes. Use the Italian train station names. Venice - Venezia S. Lucia; Florence - Firenze SM Novella; Cinque Terre will depend on which town you're staying in. And Rome - Roma Termini.

Posted by
10344 posts

Day 8 - "take train to Tuscany"??
I noticed the same thing JenC covered in her post about the "Tuscany" part of your itinerary.

Posted by
32106 posts


Your proposed Itinerary is reasonably well organized, but I'd suggest a few changes, perhaps along these lines....

  • D1 / N1 - arrive MXP - take Malpensa Express from the airport to Milano Centrale (about 52M - DON'T forget to validate your ticket prior to boarding the train or you'll risk hefty fines, which will be collected on the spot - also note that the M.E. has two destinations, Milano Centrale or Milano Cadorna so BE SURE to board the correct train!). You didn't say where you're travelling from, but I'm assuming jet lag will be an issue (I'm guessing Hawaii)??? You probably won't have much energy for sightseeing on arrival day. You might consider going directly to Venice after arrival, as that IS possible. I can provide rail information if you decide to do that.
  • D2 / N1 - Train to Venice (about 2 hours)
  • D3 / N2 - Venice, touring
  • D4 / N1 - Train to Florence (about 2 hours)
  • D5 / N2 - Florence, touring
  • D6 / N3 - Florence, day trip to somewhere in Tuscany (Siena is a good choice - travel by Bus). Since Florence is the capital of Tuscany, it makes a good home base for exploring the area.
  • D7 / N1 - Train to Cinque Terre (about 3 hours, but that will depend to some extent on which of the five towns you plan to stay in)
  • D8 / N2 - Cinque Terre, touring
  • D9 / N1 - Train to Rome (about 4 hours if you connect with one of the direct trains departing La Spezia)
  • D10 / N2 - Rome, touring
  • D11 - Flight home

I'd need some time to fine tune this, as it would probably be better to add one day in Rome. It would be prudent to skip the "Tuscany" portion of your Itinerary as you don't have time for more stops with such a short time frame, and you can also see "Tuscany" from Florence.

It's good to hear that you've ordered the Italy guidebook as that will be an excellent resource. As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd also suggest reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip, as that has a LOT of good information on "how" to travel in Europe. You should be able to find a copy at your local Library.

There are some potentially expensive "caveats" to be aware of when using trains or other public transit in Italy. If you need more information, post another note. When using trains in Italy, you'll have to be aware of the station names in Italian, and know which station you'll be using. Most cities in Italy (and elsewhere in Europe) have more than one station. For example, in Milan you'll be using Milano Centrale, in Venice it will be Venezia Santa Lucia, in Florence it will be Firenze Santa Maria Novella and in Rome it will be Roma Termini.

You can obtain rail schedules and other information on the trains by using either the Trenitalia or websites.

I must get to the gym, but will try and revisit this later tonight.

Buon Viaggio!

Posted by
11613 posts

Forget the rail pass, point-to-point is cheap, especially if you can lock into a super-economy ticket between major cities. Florence is in Tuscany, so rather than move around, take day trips from Florence and add your Tuscany days to Florence.

Posted by
18 posts

JenC - thanks for pointing that out. I will definitely do some day trip tour like you suggested!

amyf - Yes, I think I'll go straight to Venice when I arrive. That seems to be a lot of peoples suggestion as well. Thank you for letting me know about Trenitalia and Italo. I will be sure to go on their sites to see schedules and time tables.

Ken - Wow, a huge Mahalo for all those details!!! Like amyf and yourself suggested, I now plan to go straight to Venice when we arrive. Hopefully, we can avoid the jetlag and try to sleep on the plane so we can make the most of our time in Italy. I will be doing a lot more research once I get my book (monday), but perhaps, like you suggested, one day in Rome and the extra days in Tuscany or Florence. Yes, I've read there are more than one station in a city. My only experience, which has been positive, was the trains and subways in Japan. I'm hoping Italy's is as easy, it not easier to navigate and get around!

Zoe - is super-economy always available? if not, going regular economy still beats the price of buying the rail pass?

Thank you all for your very helpful suggestions. As you can see, I'll be a newbie in Italy, so I have a ton of questions and research to do before departing (I leave in September). I'm sure more questions will come up and it's great to know I can post here and get great information from wonderful people!

Posted by
73 posts

Do not buy a rail pass. It would be a waste of money. Most of your travel segments are on trains where you would be sitting in an assigned seat. We planned our trip and wanted specific train travel times. So, it made sense for us to buy train tickets early and get the cost savings. If you don't want to be locked into a specific time, just buy them at the train station when you're ready to go. I believe train tickets are available for purchase 120 days ahead of time. I could be wrong. But, this is for the assigned seat trains. For us, that was the Venice to Florence, part of the Florence to Cinque Terre and part of the Cinque Terre to Rome. The train stations are very easy to navigate. If you become comfortable using the Trenitalia website, using the kiosks at the train station will be easy.

Posted by
18 posts

amyf - thanks for the insight about the railpass. i will not get the rail pass and i've been getting more and more familiar with trenitalia site so i do plan on using the kiosks at the stations. how does luggage work? do you just keep it with you at your assigned seat? i can only assume it is pretty common to be on those trains with suitcases.

Posted by
32106 posts


Regarding your question on keeping luggage at your seat, the answer is, "it depends"......

Larger luggage items are normally placed on a rack, which will be at one end of the car. If the rack is full, you may be able to keep larger items in the "inverted V" between seats. However the the train is lightly loaded, I often keep all my kit with me at the seat.

Smaller "carry-on" type items are kept with you, and can be placed on the rack above your seat, on the empty seat beside you or on the floor.

You may find it helpful to have a look at the excellent Man In Seat 61 website, which has all the information you will ever need about trains!

As far as "sleeping on the plane", I've never had much success with that and I prefer to avoid using "pharmaceutical means". Even if you do get a few hours, you'll likely find that you're still tired.

I've sent you a PM with some important information to be aware of when travelling by public transit in Italy.

Posted by
16893 posts

Rick's Italy book will have all the info you need about train station locations and schedule frequency, but for the actual train schedules, see How to Look Up Train Schedules and Routes Online. The book also includes the info you need for buses from Florence to Siena, San Gimignano, or another town that might be on your Tuscany plan.

This need not be stressful. You can buy reserved tickets for the faster/longer train segments anywhere from 2 months ahead (discounts available) to just before departure. You don't book ahead for regional trains, such as Cinque Terre to Florence. See also Comparing the price of the rail pass is pretty simple math; it does not save money for your route.

Posted by
4038 posts

If you've done trains and subways in Japan you have some sense of what to expect. Just realize that only in Switzerland will trains run like they do in Japan, so take a breath and expect delays and "issues".
And the language will be much easier to deal with!

If you want some sense of what Italian training is like, look for the books of Tim Parks. He's an ex-pat Brit who has now lived in Italy most of his life and seems to love and hate his adopted country in about equal measure.

Posted by
18 posts

ken - thank you for the detailed information. like you, i'm not a fan of medication to get rest. hopefully the excitement of italy will keep me awake as i try to adjust with the time difference.

Laura - just got my book today and was reading about different cities and so far this book is a gem! thank you for the link about the trains. yup, it does not make sense to purchase the rail pass.

phred - yeah, trains in japan and taiwan were pretty awesome and easy to get around. i'll try and look at the library for some of Time Parks books. thanks for the suggestions!