The suggestions of locations, from which it’s possible to explore multiple other must-see destinations by train, factor in how easy it will be to make those journeys.
When SMTJ is on holiday a leisurely beginning to a day is essential, so having to race to the station to board a must-catch train, is a scenario best avoided.
Hence frequent trains are ideal, as they minimise the need for advance planning and give the confidence that one will be easily able to manage the return to the starting point towards the end of the day.
Because northern Italy’s denser population requires fairly regular train services, it’s why these three suggestions are all located there.
One destination further south, which has fairly frequent trains to multiple beautiful places, is Florence/Firenze; ideal if you want to spend time in Lucca, Siena, Assisi and Perugia on a single holiday.
But Florence is already a popular holiday locale and this guide is an attempt to spotlight less obvious locations in which to linger while in Italy.
Though something to keep in mind is that the local and regional trains in Italy tend to head away from cities less frequently between 09:00 and midday.
So confirming a departure time with a quick check on the ItaliaRail website, before heading off to the station in the morning, is highly recommended.
Top image - clockwise from top left:
Milano Centrale station; Parma; Venezia S. Lucia station, Venice; Parma station; Lake Maggiore on a train from Stresa to Milan
Second image - clockwise from top left:
Lake Lugano on a train heading to Colico; Parma; on the Centovali Railway; Lugano; Lake Maggiore north of Arona; Milano Centrale station.
Views on the train journey from Tirano to St Moritz
Fourth image - clockwise from top left:
Parma; Parma (again); Florence; Parma; Venice and Modena
Unfortunately the holiday in Vicenza was taken more than five years ago and despite an extensive search through the archives, the images taken can't be found, but trust me, it was incredible!
For a destination for an extended Italian holiday, Milano tends to be overshadowed by Italy’s multitude of more beautiful cities, but as a base for seeing the best of northern Italy by train, Milan is a second to none location.
Stunning locations within easy reach of Milan by train
Regionale trains can transport you from the centre of Milano, on journeys which take under 90 minutes, to the likes of Bergamo, Brescia and Piacenza.
If you’ll be willing to make a journey of under two hours by Regionale train, you can also make spontaneous day trips to the likes of Parma, Torino and Verona.
Taking the Regionale trains is recommended because when making journeys by them, the tickets won’t be any more expensive if booked at the station just before boarding.
The ticket machines scattered around Milano Centrale station are also comparatively easy to use.
Though it’s best off to look up the departure times before heading off in mid-morning, as the Regionale trains tend to depart less frequently between 09:00 and noon.
Though when travelling to the suggested cities (Bergamo excepted) you will reach your destination faster if you take a high speed Frecce or Italo train.
However, journeys by those high speed trains will be (much) cheaper if you book ahead and commit in advance to taking specific trains, so you will then have to travel by them, even if the weather is poor.
Simnple access to other Italian cities
Because Milano is the hub of the network of Italian high speed lines, it’s feasible to see the likes of Bologna, Firenze/Florence, Padova/Padua and Venezia/Venice on day trips by train from the city – setting off after breakfast on the Frecce or Italo trains.
Though even if you book tickets a day or two before making these journeys, you will still save money compared to booking at the station just before boarding.
To the Italian Lakes
But what makes holidaying in Milano particularly special is that you can experience additional attractions than other beautiful cities, because its railways also offer multiple options for accessing the lovely Italian lakes by train.
There are also multiple options for accessing Lake Como, hourly local trains from Milano Cadorna station will take you a station in the town of Como, which is located right by the lakeside.
Or head to the eastern shore of Lake Como in around 70 minutes by taking a Regionale train from Milano Centrale to Lecco, or to Colico, or Varenna-Esio – from Varenna it’s possible to take ferry services on multiple routes across Lake Como.
When heading to Colico or Varenna by train, take a seat on the left hand side for the stunning views over the lake from the railway.
Experience beautiful Switzerland on day trips from Milan
Taking the train to Lugano involves heading over the border to Switzerland, so Milano is also a great location for seeing the best of southern Switzerland by train.
Those trains to Lugano also call at Capolago Lago station, where easy transfers are available to the stunning Monte Generoso railway.
They also carry on beyond Lugano to Bellinzona, where easy connections are available on to Locarno.
From Locarno it’s possible to take a journey on the wonderful Centovali Railway, but this railway also has as connection with direct trains from Milano at Domodossola station – and the railway between Domodossola and Milano also offers wonderful views over Lake Maggiore.
So a Milan > Bellinzona > Locarno > Domodossola > Milan round trip by train is a fantastic day out.
Trains heading to Tirano from Milano Centrale station travel a spectacular route along the shore of Lake Como, a prelude to the most beautiful train journey which can be easily accessed from Milan, namely a ride on the Bernina Railway from Tirano on to St. Moritz.
The journey from Milan to St Moritz will take around five hours, but the ride is an absolute treat!
For those with deep pockets or a Eurail or InterRail pass, it’s possible to make a second-to-none day trip by train.
Take the train which departs Milano Centrale for Tirano at 09:20 and with simple as can be connections in Tirano, Pontresina, Samedan and Chur, it’s possible to be in Zurich in time to take a EuroCity train back to Milano.
During these journeys, you’ll experience more than 10 hours of near continuous beautiful views from the train windows.
Despite its many charms, Bologna tends to be eclipsed by the likes of Firenze, Napoli, Roma and Venezia as locations of where to stay in Italy; though its reputation as a food lover’s paradise has been gaining prominence in recent years.
But despite being very partial to Italian cuisine, that’s not why ShowMeTheJourney chose to holiday in the city.
Bologna Centrale is the busiest junction station on the entire Italian railway network, so it’s possible to spend more than a week in the city and head off to some different magical destination by train every day.
Bologna Centrale also benefits from a plethora of quality hotels that are within a 5 min walk of the station.
It can pay off to target these in more ways than one, as the station is on the northern edge of the city centre and buses are the only public transport option in Bologna.
Though the heart of the city is only a 20 -25 minute walk from the station.
Easy access to Italy’s stunning beauty
Many of northern Italy’s most beautiful towns and cities including Ferrara, Modena, Padova, Parma, Prato, Ravenna, Rimini, Venezia and Verona, can all be accessed on direct journeys from Bologna by fairly frequent Regionale (REG/RGV) trains on journeys which will take between 30 mins and two hours.
Because of the fairly short distances, it’s also relatively simple to experience multiple locations in a single day.
For example, Modena can be combined with Parma, while Ravenna also has trains to both Ferrara and Rimini, which makes for an easy round day trip to three, or even four, locations.
The tick in the box for taking the Regionale (REG/RGV) trains is that the tickets won’t be any more expensive if you book them last minute at the station.
So you can be spontaneous and react to your mood or the weather, when choosing where to go each day.
Most of those destinations listed also have faster express trains from Bologna, but tickets to travel by those Frecce, InterCity and Italo trains will only be cheaper if you book ahead before arriving in Bologna; and if you do you’ll also then be committed to travelling by specific departures.
So, if for example, you take the Regionale Veloce train to Venezia instead of the Frecce train, the journey time will be around 30 mins longer, but you’ll save money when booking at the station and won’t be committed to returning by a specific train.
Though plan ahead for a trip to Florence
You can be experiencing the wonders of Florence/Firenze less than 45 minutes after departing from Bologna Centrale, thanks to the high speed trains which rush through the tunnels between the two cities, providing the only direct city centre to city centre service.
So if you want to take a day trip by train from Bologna to Firenze, the balance tips in favour of taking the Frecce or Italo trains, despite the need to book ahead to save money.
If you’d rather leave booking the trip to Florence until the last minute, you will typically save more than €20 each way, by taking the Regionale trains, but you will need to make a connection in Prato and the journey time in each direction will be more than an hour longer than the high-speed trains.
A day trip from Bologna to Rome
Leave Bologna early in the morning and return late in the evening by high-speed train and it’s also possible to spend more than 10 hours in Rome; though if you book this journey at least a couple of weeks ahead, you will typically save more than €50 on the price of tickets.
Beautiful cities are strung along the railway which connects Milano to Venezia/Venice, with wonderful Verona roughly at its mid-point, so ShowMeTheJourney considered it as an ideal location for an extended break.
But finding somewhere to stay with easy access to Verona Porta Nuova station proved a tad tricky, because the station is cut off from the city centre by busy a ring road and the remnants of the city walls.
So there are comparatively few ideally situated hotels by Verona’s main station and they were fully booked, which provoked a re-think.
On the day trip destination wish list were Desenzano on Lake Garda, Padova/Padua, Treviso, Venezia and Vicenza.
So then the realisation began to kick in that the gorgeous city of Vicenza was actually the better base location for the explorations.
The journeys to Padova and Venezia would be 40 minutes shorter and Vicenza station has direct trains to Treviso, but Verona doesn’t; plus the journey from Vicenza to Verona would only take around 35 minutes.
Direct Regionale trains could be taken to all four of these destinations, which meant no need to book in advance in order to save money for journeys by these trains.
Though on the Verona – Vicenza – Padova – Venezia route there are also faster Regionale Veloce (RV) services, which cost the same price as the slower Regionale services, but are worth targeting because they skip some stations, so are faster.
Taking the Regionale trains from Vicenza to Desenzano, required a connection in Verona and this was easily managed on the way there, but coming back a direct Frecce train was a better, but more expensive option.
Though generally there’s little point in booking ahead to save money on the more expensive tickets required when taking a Frecce or Italo train from Vicenza to the likes of Padova, Verona or Vicenza/Venice.
The journey times will only be around 10 minutes faster and those cheaper Economy tickets for the express trains commit the traveller to taking specific trains, so money can’t be refunded if the day you happen to have chosen has bad weather.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.