STEEPED in history and beauty in equal measure, you can easily get as lost in the cultural riches of Italy’s architecture as you can its stunning landscapes and beaches.

Whether it’s the art cities of Florence, Venice and Rome, or the coastal delights of the Cinque Terre and Amalfi regions, Italy has it all. And with such a variety of scenery at its disposal, it is easy to see why the country is one of the most popular destinations for Interrail travellers.

It was the variety that lured my girlfriend and I into spending our entire 14 day holiday here, rather than what was initially meant to be a multi-country trip. The difficult part is trying to decide on which cities to leave out. The great thing about Italy it that the country has a good network of Intercity and regional train services, as well as new high-speed Le Frecce trains, making it blissfully easy to navigate to most cities and towns.

Intercity trains will have you connecting to major cities from Milan and Venice in the north, to Rome and Florence as you head further down, and in faster times than the regionals too – and with fewer stops. But those looking to arrive in style can take the speedy and comfortable high-speed routes, which make trips from the likes of Rome to Naples achievable in around 70 minutes. All worth knowing when planning your route.

Interrail passes are accepted on high-speed trains as well as the Intercity and regionals, subject to the mandatory reservation fee which costs €10 each trip. But that reservation is free for those on the Interrail Italy Premium Pass and you can make free advance e-ticket reservations too, which is handy when you want to plan ahead the night before. This may make the Premium Pass a good option for travellers making multiple trips on the high-speed network.

As with all Interrail passes, there is a variety of options in what you can purchase. It all depends on whether you want to use your pass on three days within a month, four days within a month, six days within a month, or eight days within a month. The lowest Premium Pass starts at €124/£115. At €211/£188 the six-day travel was a good option for us, but there are plenty of cheaper alternatives, with standard Interrail passes starting from €92/£82.


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(ABOVE: Florence's stunning Tuscan scenery)

While Italy has plenty to offer, and it’s tempting to cram in as much as you can, it’s best to be realistic in your planning. For us, a two-week exploration of Italy by Interrail offered just enough time to stay in a handful of cities and explore a dozen all together. Two weeks is the bare minimum you need, factoring in rail journeys and, of course, ensuring you stop off at each city at your own pace and not in a rush against the clock. For our Interrail trip we planned feasible routes that take roughly an hour minimum by train to a maximum of just over three hours. But where to start?

Now it is no secret Italy has long held connotations of romance and love. And be it its association with star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, beautiful landscapes, or fine wines, it’s not hard to see why. Even when planning this trip I discovered one friend proposed in Florence, while another spent their honeymoon in Venice. Both destinations are filled with romance – and feature on this itinerary – but it is the floating city where our Italian love story begins.


Two nights, arrival by plane to Venice Marco Polo Airport, and incorporating a day trip to Lake Garda.

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(ABOVE: Gondolas connect the city of Venice)

Famous for its gondola rides on the waterways, Venice is one of the most popular cities in the world for its natural beauty and romance. Its gondolas help connect the city’s 118 islands in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon and are the quintessential must-do activity here. They can set you back around €80 though, which is about the only stumbling block, but it’s an experience like no other, and – on the right occasion – makes for a magical setting.

Navigating the walkways on foot is just as gratifying, whether you’re taking in the hustle and bustle of the wine bars and day markets, or finding yourself blissfully alone off the beaten path. Although Venice is overly-touristy, there’s always a quite spot you can find. It’s particularly worthwhile waking up just a touch earlier and leaving your residence early morning, allowing you to soak in Venice for all its glory at a relaxed pace.

Whichever route you take, make sure you wind up wandering through to the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco. The city’s principle square is a hive of activity. Dominated by the gothic architecture of St Mark’s Basilica, it’s 85,000 square feet plus of mosaic and golden Byzantine retable pala d’Oro makes for a stunning setting. You’ll need to dress appropriately and visits inside are fairly short due to demand, but the entrance fee is free, unless you pay a modest €2 in advance to reserve and skip the line. Add in the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge and Doge’s Palace, and you’ve pretty much ticked every tourist box here. We spent two days in the city which is recommended. It’s compact and packs a punch, but there’s only so much to see.


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(ABOVE: Desenzano del Garda's many boats)

Lake Garda on the other hand is a holiday destination all in itself. I didn’t quite appreciate its enormity until we arrived. Generally its northern areas are more mountainous, while there are more resorts in the south. With its fishing villages backed by huge cliffs, peaceful lakeside promenades and breathtaking beauty, it is fast-becoming an option for Brits to spend a weeks’ holiday or more.

Our visit was only a day trip from Venice to Desenzano, sadly, for I could have spent far longer. Desenzano and neighbouring Pescheira are the only stations on the southern side but easily accessible from Venice at roughly one hour 30 minutes away. Boat trips operate at both but more so at the former. Ferries can take out large chunks of your day, so it’s best to plan. A shorter round-trip from Desenzano to Sirmione takes 45 minutes and costs between €5-10, which may be a better alternative.

Desenzano as a resort has a perfect mix of leisure and sights. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and nightlife, and for the explorers its Roman Villa and impressive harbour are worth checking out. On our day visit we were also greeted by a busy street market which runs every Tuesday morning and is filled with a variety of goods from leathers to local produce. The resort quietens down after midday but becomes a popular spot for Italians by night. Seal of approval for Desenzano by the Italians themselves tells its own story.


One night, one hour 25 minutes train travel time from Venezia San Lucia to Bologna Centrale (direct).

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(ABOVE: The medieval architecture of Bologna)

Travelling an hour and 25 minutes from Venice, the next stop on our list was Europe’s oldest university city, Bologna, one of the most welcoming surprises on our trip. It is just off Italy’s main tourist map but, wedged between Venice and Florence, the lively, historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region makes for a perfect pit-stop for a day or two.

While expensive, it retains a working-class feel. The north is a hotspot for dishevelled academics, scruffy but absorbing piazzas, and street cafes, while south side is home to upmarket fashion brands, fine cuisine and glorious green parks such as Giardina Margherita and Parco di Villa Ghigi. At the heart is Piazza Maggiore, lined with medieval and Renaissance architecture dating back to the 13th century, the gothic Basilica di San Petronio, the famous Fountain of Neptune, Bologna’s town hall, and a handful of palazzos.

The city is filled with decadent architecture and sights to see, so the Bologna Welcome Card – costing just €20 – is worth looking into. It gives you free access to the most museums for 48 hours, free use of public transport and discounted exhibitions.

Bologna is also a haven for foodies. Its food markets are renowned as the best in Italy, and there’s plenty of choice when looking for freshly prepared local cuisine of an evening. Trattoria Valerio in the northern side was recommended to us by a friend as a welcoming family-run eatery with comfort food at good prices. The dishes are simple but prepared with care. I had a tasty tagliatelle al ragu costing just €6, and you'll be hard pressed to find better value.


Five nights, three hours 25 minutes train travel time from Venezia San Lucia to Bologna Centrale to La Spezia Centrale (one connection at Parma), and exploring the Cinque Terre.

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(ABOVE: Manarola's coloured boxed houses)

Away from the fast-paced city stops, our Italian coastal retreat came in the form of the Cinque Terre’s five fishing villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Cornigila, Vernazza, and Monterosso – a highly-anticipated highlight of the trip which didn’t disappoint. The picture-postcard villages are filled with pretty pastel-painted houses and dramatic steep terraces, overlooking fishing boats and harbours on pristine blue waters. For restaurants, seafood is an obvious speciality, but second is the Liguria region’s famous pesto sauce, which accompanies a number of pasta dishes.

Our base – Monterosso – at the tip of the region, is the only village with a proper stretch of sandy beach. It has two, in fact, one on the door step of the old town and a second larger one spanning across a promenade of cafes and small shops. Its old town boasts a dozen or so restaurants, wine bars and bakeries, and there are some real gems to eat overlooking the coast too.

Vernazza and its picturesque harbour is a highlight among the other villages and can even be reached from Monterosso along the Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail in around an hour and 30 minutes. Corniglia is the region’s ‘quiet village’ which sits amongst a rocky promontory surrounded by vineyards, while Riomagorrie is the largest and most visited. Not to say the others in the Cinque Terre are quiet – quite the opposite in fact, with the region now firmly on the tourist map.

All are linked by the hiking trail which offers sweeping panoramic views, but the Cinque Terre Pass covers all train travel between Levanto and La Spezia and costs just €12, compared to €4 for each trip. If you’re visiting more than one village in a day, then this is easily worth your while. All villages are accessible within just a few minutes travel of each other, too. Additionally, Levanto’s beach and La Spezia’s shops at either end of the Cinque Terre are worth visiting with this pass. La Spezia is also the hub for trains to the region, so chances are you’ll pass through as some point.


Two nights, one hour 55 minutes train travel time from La Spezia Centrale to Firenze Santa Maria Novella (one connection).

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(ABOVE: A sunset view from Piazzale Michelangelo)

Travelling a couple of hours back inwards took us to the next leg of our journey to Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region and the birthplace of the Renaissance. From Michelangelo to Donatello, Florence is filled with masterpieces of art to admire and architecture to astonish. The iconic terracotta-tiled Duomo stands tall over the city’s skyline and draws in the biggest crowd on the ground with snaking queues in the peak season.

But Florence’s tourist map is well spread out. Where there’s a crowd avoid there’s a quieter spot to find, meaning it’s stress-free to navigate. While the historic centre is dominated by the Duomo, heading cross river will take you along the medieval Ponte Vecchie arch bridge, the oldest on the Arno River and lined with shops – of which there are plenty of in Florence. The city also has a reputation for good food. Try Osteria Vecchio Cancello Florence for delicious Tuscan cooking at a good price. Quail Risotto comes highly recommended and was the best meal of our Italian voyage.

Back at Ponte Vecchie and just a short walk away is the Palazzo Pitti, offering a fascinating insight into the ruling Medici family, while the adjoining 16th century Boboli Gardens is considered the green heart of Florence with extravagant expanses to explore and stunning views city views. But the best view by far is found from Piazzale Michelangelo. Visit during sunset for a honey-tinged panoramic view of Florence and you won’t be disappointed.


One night, one hour 20 minutes train travel time from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Roma Tiburtina (direct).

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(ABOVE: The iconic gladiator's arena, Colosseum)

A visit to Italy is not complete without Rome. With a history dating back 28 centuries, the country’s capital is packed with ancient ruins and Roman monuments, from the iconic Colosseum, the vast Roman Forum, to the influential Pantheon – one of the best preserved buildings from ancient Rome. Colosseum and Roman Forum tours normally come in two and it’s worth grabbing a combination ticket to include admission, which incorporates Palatine Hill and the museum.

The Eternal City is the third most visited in the European Union so expect it to be busy all year around, which means the inevitable queues. But there’s also plenty to see for free in Rome too with the elegant Piazza Navona, butterfly-shaped Spanish Steps, and Baroque Trevi Fountain top of the list. Further out from the crowds try the extensive Villa Borghese Gardens and the charming Trastevere district across the Tiber River, home to trendy artisan workshops and authentic Italian dishes.

Of course, there’s also the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel with admission tickets covering both, but the last entry time is 4pm so early-morning slots are recommended. Admission ticket permits entry to both but you need to dedicate half a day to this site alone. In fact, while our itinerary set aside 24 hours in Rome, this really isn’t enough for the full experience. Three to five days is best, but 24 hours allows you to pick through the free attractions and discover the jaw-dropping Roman Catholic churches dotted around the city – there’s more than 900 in fact.


Three nights, one hour train travel time from Roma Tiburtina to Napoli Centrale (direct), incorporating visits to Ischia and Pompeii.

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(ABOVE: Colourful streets of Naples)

The hustle and bustle of Rome is a breeze compared to the vibrant, chaotic, tumbledown city of Naples, with its narrow backstreets and hectic roads. The capital of the Italian South is enjoying a booming rise in the tourist market, which is needed to shake off its crime-laden reputation. That said, there’s no smoke without fire, with our hotel host on arrival – a life-long Naples resident – quick to alert us to their pickpocket problem on arrival, so be aware with cameras.

But he also helped us discover the finer delights the fascinating city has to offer. Its underground art stations Roman Duomo di Napoli, and the Spaccanapoli street – literally meaning ‘Naples splitter’ – that traverses through the heart of the city to the historic centre, passing churches, sights, and characterful residential backstreets along the way. Neapolitans also cook up the best pizzas, so be sure to check them out, although dining in the city is oversubscribed, with the best restaurants booked in advance.

Naples can also be enjoyed as a base due to its connectivity to Ischia and Pompeii. Ischia is the tiny volcanic island Neapolitans visit for their holidays – and with good reason. Just a short ferry ride from the port, the island is a perfect escape for those seeking sun, sand and sea. Whether it’s sun-swotting, hiking trails, or exploring its village offerings, there’s solace aplenty. Whatsmore, with your Interrail pass, you get a 20 per cent discount on SNAV ferries booked online.

Pompeii is also just a short 45 minute journey on the Sorrento-Circumvesuviana train line. Arriving at Pompei Scavi-Villa dei Misteri station is your best bet with the train direct and faster. Just head north on arrival to Pontificio Santuario della Beata Vergine del Santo Rosario di Pompei, the main cathedral, for access to most areas. Of course, the incredible ruins of Pompeii and nearby Mount Vesuvius are a must, and it’s best booking the Vesuvius EAVBUS which is just a few euros, as opposed to pushy touts offering five times the price.

The modern Pompeii also has a superb selection of fine restaurants, perfect to end your day of exploring the ancient city (and it will be a day, trust me, as the ruins itself take up at least six hours to fully explore). Our recommendation is Mercato Pompeiano and its juicy steaks, ordered from a glass display per 100g. It’s a little on the pricy side, but mouth-wateringly tender and a perfect way to spend our final night. There’s enough dining and sight-seeing to stop here a couple of nights too, if you prefer.


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(ABOVE: The beautiful Monterosso al Mare)

With its ancient architecture, sweeping landscapes and gastronomic delights, Italy is a country which excites, enthuses and entices you to go back for more. And that’s certainly how we left. Planning a trip could not be easier with Interrail's timetable website. So if your appetite for adventure the Italian way is whet, check out Interrail Italy to begin your journey.