An epic Northern Italy Itinerary that has everything – lakes, mountains, historical towns,
Italy has always been the centre of attention because of its beauty and culture. Year after year, it ranks in the top 10 as one of the most visited countries in the world. Italy is where you can really experience it all – the best food, beaches, mountains, canals, art, architecture, luxury cars, and history. Can you believe Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world?
Italy’s amazingness isn’t just due to its rich culture or fascinating history, or even the scenic beauty. It is more than that.
It is about experiencing the mediterranean climate, the joy of sitting on a chair along the street in one of the cafes while sipping espresso, tasting the simplicity of food that’s cooked with just 3-5 ingredients, seeing the locals communicate with energetic gestures and listening to the musical sound of Italian chatter.
If you look at the map of Italy, you will notice the country is shaped like a boot. It is surrounded by water on almost all sides, except the top of the boot. As you go down from the top of the boot to the toe, you will see how the landscape changes from mountains and alpine lakes, to vineyards, and to the beaches.
Broadly speaking, the regions can be divided into the below sections, and in brackets are the most famous destinations of the regions so that you can get an idea –
- Northeast Italy, (the Dolomites, Trentino, Venice and Bologna)
- Northwest Italy, (Cinque Terre, Milan and the Alps)
- Central Italy, (Tuscany region and Rome)
- Southern Italy, (Naples, Puglia, Amalfi and Capri)
- The islands – Sicily and Sardinia.
Each region of Italy offers something completely unique, and there is so much to experience in this incredibly exciting country. You don’t even need to go to the most popular destinations to enjoy the beauty of Italy.
Even if you’re in one of the most unknown towns that doesn’t have a single person who speaks English, you will have an incredible time. Italians have a skill of communicating well with their exaggerated hand gestures, so language isn’t usually a barrier.
Moreover, almost all the towns have pretty streets and lovely town squares with something historic. Most of the city centre also have a free water fountain where you can fill up your bottles.
No doubt all the regions of Italy have something to offer, but the north of Italy is where you will find many of the country’s famous destinations and that’s what this post is all about. Yes, I’m talking about the Lake Como, the Renaissance city of Florence, the canals of Venice, Cinque Terre’s colorful coastline, the majestic Dolomites and the fashionable Milan.
You can travel internally in the North of Italy in many ways but getting around by road is the best option to experience the natural beauty.
In particular, getting around by rail is easy and convenient. You can sit back and relax as you gaze out from your window and see the beauty of the country. This is why rail holidays to Italy are super popular. They are relaxing, luxurious and can provide you a good value for money.Check Car Rental Prices in Italy
Another option is to arrive in Italy by air and rent a car from the airport. You can check and compare the car rental prices here from many different car rental companies.
Northern Italian Train Destinations + Itinerary
Northern Italy has an amazingly extensive train network that connect many of the country’s top destinations. We have made a train itinerary for you that can be shortened or lengthened based on your preferences. You can start this itinerary from top to bottom – Venice to Rome, or the other way round from Rome to Venice.
The below map is just a very broad depiction of this route map. At this time Google Maps doesn’t let users create a route map with multiple train stops and this is why I have selected a driving map to give you a general idea.
We have mentioned 5 main parts of Northern Italy and optional destinations around those parts that are worth visiting. For instance, if you’re more into art or history and are super short of time, then you can just do Venice, Florence, and end your trip in Rome. However, we suggest you do a mix of both – the big cities and smaller towns so that you can experience Italy’s true natural beauty.
Here are some of the places that you can visit on a rail itinerary in this part of the country.
Venice (Optional: Trento, Lago di Grada, Lago di Braies) – 3 – 4 Days
When thinking of Italy, Venice is always one of the first destinations that spring to mind. This floating city is known for its network of canals and bridges. Because of its geographical placement, it is the perfect way to start (or end) your Italy by train itinerary. You can explore the northeastern and northwestern parts of Italy very easily with your starting point as Venice.
Being a major tourist destination, Venice is well connected by train routes. In fact, the easiest way to reach this city surrounded by water is by train, and you can take one from Austria, Slovenia or Germany. You can also arrive here on a ferry from Pula in Croatia. Or, you can just fly to Venice airport to start your Italy train trip.
Forget about cars here – Venice is all about getting around via boat. There really is no place in the world quite like Venice, and it should definitely be added to any Italian travel itinerary.
Besides the beautiful canals and gondolas, Venice is also known for many famous landmarks and attractions. These include the Doges Palace, St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Rialto Bridge, the Campanile di San Marco, and many more. The buzz and energy experienced when walking around Venice is unlike any other city. After you spend around 2 days in Venice, then consider getting out to see the mountains.
Venice can is a good starting point for you to see Italy’s mountains to see the Lake Grada or Lake Braies or the Dolomites. You can start off in Venice, head to Lake Grada (stations are Desenzano del Garda / Sirmione). If you have more time on your hands, then you can extend this part of your trip to experience the scenic towns around Lake Garda. Or go further up to Trentino.
If you’d like to see the Dolomites, then we suggest you take a train to Trento and consider going further up north to experience the Trentino region. You can include places like Val di Non, the spectacular lesser known Lake Tovel and also Alpe Cimbra. This part of Italy has some of the best lakes in Europe. We actually drove here from Venice with our rental car in 2018 and loved it.
Lake Como (Optional Lake Orta & Milan) – 2 Days
Italy has some amazing lakes and you can find the most famous ones in the north. These lakes are big, beautiful with the perfect alpine backdrops. They have been attracting travelers for many years.
Thanks to their stunning natural scenery, pretty lakeside towns, ancient villas, perfect gardens, and 19th-century hotels, a holiday along the Italian lakes is all about a luxurious and laid back experience. In the last part we spoke about Lake Grada and Lake Tovel, that are in Trentino region but here we will tell you how to visit Lake Como and Lake Orta.
Don’t let Italy’s more famous destinations like Rome and Venice make you leave out Lake Como in your itinerary. Lake Como (or Lago di Como) is awesome and it will make you fall in love with Italy.
Stay for a few days in one of the little towns along Lake Como and you wouldn’t want to leave. Remember the idyllic Naboo from Star Wars II Attack of the Clones? It was filmed along Lake Como.
Lake Como is the most well known of the lakes in Italy. This enormous body of water is speckled with the most charming towns, speedboats, grand hotels, and phenomenal views. This far northern part of Italy is very close to Switzerland, so it offers a completely different atmosphere altogether.
Lake Como has a shape of an inverted “Y”, so the legs are towards the south. The most scenic villages along Lake Como are up in the north because of the mountains.
If you would like to experience the magnificent lakes, then taking a rail holiday is one of the best ways to do it. You can experience the Lake Como by taking a train to Como Nord Lago, Como Nord Borghi or Como San Giovanni. You can extend this part of your trip to also visit the Lake Orta by taking a train to Pettenasco.
Depending on your route, you may have to stop at Milan or change trains here. Why not stay for a day in Milan and experience the country’s fashion capital?
The Cinque Terre (Optional Turin) – 3 Days
The Cinque Terre is one of the most impressive coastal destinations in Italy. This stretch of scenic coastline is dotted with five of the most magnificent little towns in Italy. These are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso. Out of all these towns, Manarola is the one that you see on most of the pictures.
The Cinque Terre is best known for its beach, harbors, hiking trails, local wines, and perfect pastel-coloured villages. There are no cars in the Cinque Terre, and each town is connected via train. This makes rail travel the best way of reaching this area. If you are planning a railway itinerary in northern Italy, including a stop at the Cinque Terre is easy.
From Milan or Como Nord Lago train stations, you can head to Turin. Either stay here or get on a train to Rapallo. From Rapallo, you can take a ferry to experience the Cinque Terre villages. Alternatively, you can also take a train from Rapallo to Monterosso.
Another option is to take a train directly from Germany to Cinque Terry by travel via the Rhine Gorge and Gotthard Pass to experience the best of Cinque Terre.
Florence, Tuscany (Optional Umbria) 3 – 5 Days
Tuscany and Umbria are two Italian regions that cover some of the most attractive sights and points of interest in the country. Did you know that the Renaissance art movement started from Italy? It happened right here in Tuscany.
Both Tuscany and Umbria form a part of Italy is that’s very green. In fact, Umbria is also called the “green heart of Italy”, so you will get to experience the nature, the history and the art scene in Tuscany and Florence together.
The real beauty of this area is outside the cities and town – that’s where you will get the typical picture postcards style landscapes.
Nestled in the rolling green hills and scenic landscapes of these areas, you will find cities like Florence, Siena, Assisi, Pisa, and Perugia. Between the art, food, wine, history, and natural beauty – there are so many things to experience around here.
Suggested: Visit Lecce, the Florance of South Italy [Puglia]
These regions are conveniently located, being within easy reach of major cities. This makes a train journey around these regions very easy. To experience this region by train, you need to arrive in either Perugia (for Umbria) or Florence (for Tuscany).
If you’re arriving here from the Monterosso or Rapallo train stations because you were visiting the Cinque Terre, then you can take a train directly to Lucca, make a quick side trip to see the leaning tower of Pisa and then head to Florence – a city where it all began. To experience the best of Tuscany, you can stay for a few days in Florence and then take a train to Siena to explore the Chianti vineyards. You may want to read this Florence travel guide to gather more information about this legendary destination.
If you have some time on your hand then you can visit Umbria right after Tuscany. From Siena, you can enter the Umbria region by taking a train to Perugia and head to Assisi and Spoleto from there. You can also make a trip to Lake Lucerne or visit Capri from Florence. If you don’t want to spend too much time in Tuscany, you can just visit Florence for a quick visit from Rome.
Rome (Optional Castel di Tora or Naples, Pompeii) – 2 Days
Rome is Italy’s capital and most well-loved destination. This ancient city has so much going on, and any holiday to the country should definitely include a stop here. Every single thing in Rome has a history, even a bench along the street.
Rome is characterized by its world-famous landmarks and history, delicious cuisine, vibrant streets, and architectural beauty. Wherever you walk in this city, you will be faced with postcard-perfect scenes. With its renowned museums, churches, Colosseum, Vatican City, piazzas, fountains, and more, Rome offers the ultimate Italian experience. Being the capital city, Rome is very well-connected and easy to travel to.
While in Rome, you can also easily visit the Vatican City. You don’t even have to make a day trip because it is right there.
Just 50 KMs away from Rome is the stunning Castel di Tora along the Turano Lake. It is a medieval village with lovely narrow streets and stunning viewpoints. The best part is that it next to the water. Include Castel di Tora in your itinerary if you have a little more time in Rome and you’d like to get away from the maddening crowds.
Rome is also a good starting point to see the Northern Italy if you want to start this itinerary from reverse, that is, from south to north. Start at Rome, head to Perugia, then Florence, then to Bologna and finally Venice. You can also alter this route by heading to the Cinque Terre villages at the end instead. Rome can be a part of many different kinds of train itineraries and you can also consider starting in Switzerland.
In case you want to take a peek at the gems of southern Italy, then you will be happy to know that they’re not far from Rome. It will take you just 3 hours to reach Naples and the Pompeii ruins.
Northern Italy Train Travel
The destinations above are some of the most popular stopping grounds in northern Italy. However, you can still customize your trip by adding stops at places like Milan, Bologna, San Gimignano, Verona, and Trentino. Starting your trip in either Venice or Rome, and traveling between these destinations is easy to do.
Final Thoughts about Northern Italy by Train Itinerary
If you are planning to explore Italy, then getting around by train is one of the best ways to do it. Italian rail holidays are convenient, and they offer fantastic views and experiences along the way. Traveling by train in Italy is quick and comfortable so it makes a lot of sense.
The northern Italy is full of incredible places to visit and varied regions. Visiting some of the above mentioned destinations will give you an excellent taste of Italy that you will remember for life.
Did follow our Northern Italy itinerary?
PS: Drifter Planet contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we will earn a little commission at no extra cost to you. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.