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3 weeks in Italy .. rail pass needed? Plus travel advice

3 weeks in Italy .. rail pass needed? Plus travel advice

Mar 25th, 2011, 12:19 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 204
3 weeks in Italy .. rail pass needed? Plus travel advice

I am guessing with all the places we want to go, a rail pass will be necessary. (??) We are thinking of flying into Rome, staying a few days, then going up to Florence. We will also need a train to get around all the most awesome towns of the Tuscany/Umbria region. After much reading an photo browsing, we have fallen in love with places like Lucca, Perugia, Cortona, Montepulciano, Volterra, etc.. and we also want to visit Parma and Bologna. Perhaps a trip to Lake Como or Lake Maggiore, just to take in the beauty and smell other people's money.. and we MIGHT train it up to Venice for the day, maybe an overnight. I mean, we may as well, since we're in Italy, right? Also, we for sure, want to spend time in Cinque Terre. However, for the most part we want to spend the majority of our time in the Tuscany/Umbria region. Not keen on renting a car ... what are your thoughts on that? Did that In Ireland once and it was not especially enjoyable. Also, I hear that parking (if you can even find it) is very expensive. But maybe for a week around the small cities, maybe it is worth it? We are clueless

So, with all that in mind, I am just wondering if it would be cheaper to get separate tickets, or get a railpass. The whole having to reserve seats thing is confusing the heck out of me .. plus extra fees, etc. Ugghh, just trying to make sense of it all. We just want to hop on and get from town to town. Also, is paying more for first class worth the extra money? My husband and I are traveling together, so we can do a "Saver Pass". Just wondering how many days of travel we will need. Also thinking of taking a 3 day vespa tour around Tuscany, that might be fun!

Uggh, we really have to get all this figured out soon as we are going in May. Amazing how 3 weeks seems like a decent amount of time until you realize how much you want to see. We were considering taking the train for a few days in Paris, but that may be pushing it, yes?

We really want to just chill.. Also, I am guessing we need to make arrangements for hotels/villas/B&B's ahead of time? I know it's a good idea for peace of mind, but what if we get somewhere and decide we want to stay longer? Or if we end up not wanting to go all the way up to Venice? Should we just make up our minds now and have it carved in stone? Part of us likes the idea of just booking a few places before we leave, then seeing where our travels lead us and getting places on the fly. Ah, decisions, decisions. The only place I REALLY want to book for sure is Hotel Degli Orafi for a couple romantic nights in Florence. One of my favorite films "Room with a View" was filmed there .. and it would be awesome to book that room. It's not cheap, but would be our "splurge weekend" .. the rest of the time, we're good to go 2 or 3 star. As long as it's clean. I mean, it's ITALY, how can you go wrong??

Thanks again, we really appreciate it so much.
Jinky is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 02:58 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 2,915
With 3 weeks, I recommend-

Week 1- 4 nights Rome, 3 nights Florence

Week 2- 7 nights either Umbria or Tuscany, one base, with a car

Week 3- Split between 2-3 other bases (be sure to include travel time and changing hotels time in making your decisions)

May is a beautiful time to visit the countryside/lakes/shore.

May can also be a tough time to find places to stay when winging it. You may end up wasting valuable time trying to find a place to stay. I'm not saying it can't be done though.

I don't think anyone can answer your question about the train pass until you determine your itinerary. I feel you need to edit down where you want to spend your time. Best to slow down and enjoy the places you are visiting and experiencing.

Yes, Paris is pushing it.
zoecat is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 03:59 PM
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 95
I agree with zoecat that you should slow this down! Her itinerary looks about right to me. You probably do need to book B&Bs in advance if you want to be based somewhere decent.

Train travel is not that hard. If you are staying in Florence for instance you can walk down to the station a day beforehand and buy tickets to wherever you want to go.

There are three kinds of trains: Eurostar - fast, expensive, 2nd class is fine, seats are included but you do need to book more in advance as they can fill up

Intercity - medium fast, cheaper, we often travel 2nd class but prefer 1st, you need to make a separate seat reservation

Regional - the local slow trains, with no seat reservations

You can either buy these tickets at the window or using the self service machine. The window will involve a queue and some waiting so it's best to do it a day in advance. Tickets sellers can be very helpful or very unhelpful, depending on whether their football team won last night!

The self service machines have an English option. They are very easy to use. You can have a play with one of them to see how it works and whether you feel comfortable using them.

You can buy a ticket for an intercity and then get on a regional but you can't use a regional ticket on any other train. All the trains are poor quality compared with German or French ones. Be aware that a lot of locals don't bother to reserve seats so there will sometimes be another person in your seat when you get on and they may not want to move - check that you're in the right carriage and then politely stand your ground.

Timetables are on the trenitalia website - recommend you have a look at that before you go - but otherwise look for the huge poster showing destinations for arrivals and departures posted at the station. They show the final destination with all the stations the train stops at underneath so a Florence train might be listed under Bologna or Venice or somewhere else. This sounds confusing but once you figure it out it's no problem at all.


When you go on the train you have to validate your ticket in the little yellow machine that is outside the ticket office and at the entry to each platform. There are inspectors on the train and you will get fined if it is not validated. If you forget, write the date and time on the ticket and show them that and tell them 'ho dimenticato' = I forget! They often accept that (again perhaps depending on the football results!)

I wouldn't worry about a rail pass because if you're comfortable enough on the cheap slow regionals, you'll be ahead financially.

My suggestion for your third week is somewhere to the north and I recommend Verona. It's a gorgeous city with some lovely walking, beautiful piazze and great eating and shopping. You could easily spend a week there and do some memorable day trips that will give you a real flavour of the north:

You can get a train further north to Bolzano or Trento for a day trip to see the mighty Dolomites (a most spectacular trip up the valley with the mountains looming along each side) and experience the German influence (painted houses, language, food and Otzi the Ice Man)

You can do a trip across to Venice, to Vicenza for its architecture, Bergamo for its glorious setting and even Bologna for its food! The old university city of Padova with the Scrovegni chapel (online reservations in advance!) and Ravenna with its breathtaking Byzantine mosaics are also within reach.

I'm envious just thinking about it. Enjoy yourself!
mbloggs is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 04:26 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 57,890
Trains from one city to another are fine - and point to point tickets should be fine.

If you want to tour the countryside and a lot of smaller towns you will really need a car. Some don;t have trains at all - only buses - and either one can run very irregularly (not really convenient for touring).
nytraveler is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 09:40 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 32,561
You need a car to visit much of Tuscany and Umbria as many hill towns aren't on train lines. While it's possible to bus to some hill towns, buses aren't always frequent.

Point-to-point tickets purchased in Italy will come with your reserved seat on all but the slow R trains. R trains do not have reserved seating and many times don't have 1st/2nd class, only cattle class. For Lucca/CT you will be on R trains which are very cheap although the bus from Florence to Lucca takes the same amount of time as the train and you are more likely to have AC on the bus.

>>>Intercity - medium fast, cheaper, we often travel 2nd class but prefer 1st, you need to make a separate seat reservation <<<

Seats are included on intercity (IC trains) tickets too.

In the Lake Como area you might want some type of boat pass as there isn't train service around the lake. There is bus service around the lake also.
kybourbon is online now  
Mar 26th, 2011, 12:06 AM
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 95
It's been two years since we lived in Italy so perhaps things have changed with the seat bookings. However when we lived there, the choice of whether to book a seat on the Intercity was optional. You paid extra and lots of the locals just didn't bother. We learned about this firsthand when we had to sit on our luggage in the corridor all the way to Florence to Venice because we had bought the ticket but no seat! kybourbon may have more recent information - can you tell me if the system has changed?
mbloggs is offline  

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