Italy is home to some of Europe’s richest historical sights and is abundant with museums, religious monuments, paintings, and cultural delights.
The country’s culture is best absorbed by exploring the streets, architecture, rivers and restaurants in each town and city. Here we suggest a train tour of Italy dedicated to its history and its beauty. One of the best ways to explore Italy by train is with the Eurail Italy pass. The pass means you can jump on and off the train at any place you feel like, and see the Italy you want to see.
Begin your tour in Milan at the unforgettable Duomo, one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, and then stroll through the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, known as the Living Room of Milan – a huge double arcade filled with shops and restaurants. Eventually you’ll reach Piazza della Scala, which is a stunning pedestrian square home to the famous opera theatre and a museum, as well as the 16th century Palazzo Marino, the Town Hall. You’ll also find the Ambrosiana Picture gallery and library, which houses works of art by the Italian masters and is the second most important historical library after the Vatican.
The Royal Palace, Palazzo Reale di Milano is the next stop. Recently restored, the Palace is home to the famous Atlantic Code by Leonardo da Vinci and many paintings by Tiziano and Caravaggio. From here, head to Sforzesco Castle, where you can admire Michelangelo’s Pieta’ Rondanini.
From Milan, take the train to Venice. This inspirational city is so different from Milan: you will feel as if you have entered a different time. The most famous sights in Venice are St Mark’s Place (Piazza San Marco) and the Basilica, the Doges’ Palace with its incredible rooms, and the Rialto Bridge.
The best way to explore Venice is to get lost down the old narrow streets, discovering little squares and churches across each glittering canal. Of course a romantic Gondola ride along the Grand Canal is a must, and if you are in luck you may visit during one of Venice’s many colourful festivals: One of the oldest and most popular is the Festa del Redentore, in July, with its wonderful fireworks over the Grand Canal.
From the canals of Venice take the train to the magical city of Florence. Tuscany’s main city is the beating heart of much of Italy’s cultural treasures. Visit the Uffizi Gallery and Piazza della Signoria and the picturesque Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) crossing the Arno River. Make sure you soak up the rich sights of the Duomo, Giotto’s tower, the Baptistery, Signoria Square and the Church of Santa Croce.
It is now time to head to Rome, the Eternal City. There is so much to do and see in here, so it’s best to start with ancient Rome. Take in the Colosseum, the Forum and the Campidoglio. Visit the Vatican museums and St Peter’s Basilica and the magnificent Galleria Borghese. To really get to the heart of the city take to the streets and discover the quieter parts of Rome. Wandering around you’ll discover the central square of Piazza Venezia, the huge Palazzo delle Esposizioni (a large complex in the centre of Rome with cinemas, theatre and restaurants), Villa Torlonia and the Museum Casina delle Civette, once home of Prince Giovanni Torlania.
If you have time for a day go east of the city to Tivoli to visit Villa Adriana or Villa d’ Este, or head south from Rome to the castles (Castelli Romani).
Next stop on your tour is Naples and just outside the city is the Villa Oplontis, the residence of Poppea Sabina (the Emperor Nero’s wife). It’s worth a visit for its well-preserved frescoes and wonderful grounds. From here it is easy to visit Pompei and see how the Romans lived their daily lives -frozen in time by the volcanic eruption all those years ago. You’ll see the Street of Abundance, which features ancient temples and the big Forum with its market place too.
Near Pompeii is the Villa of Mysteries, which houses more well preserved frescoes showing complex initiation rites.
Turin is the last stop on this grand tour of Italy. The largest square in Europe, the Vittorio Veneto Piazza, is a must see, as is the church Gran Madre di Dio. Walk along the main street, Corso Francia, and enjoy the historic cafés. Turin’s cafés are world famous because they were popular with political and artistic characters from the past, including Nietzsche and Mark Twain. Don’t miss the Royal Palace, the Castello del Valentino – a beautiful royal residence in Valentino Park, and the Porta Palatine – the remains of one of the four Roman city gates.
This cultural tour is a great way of seeing the heart and soul of Italy and the best option for train travellers would be to choose the Eurail Italy Pass. Not only does it mean you have unlimited flexible travel across Italy but you can choose how many days you wish to travel at great value.
Italy must be seen to be believed and this grand tour will help you do just that:
Venice – Florence: 1h50
Florence – Rome: 1h35
Rome – Naples: 1h10
Naples – Turin: 5h45
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