Mild weather, fewer tourists and cheaper prices - a few good reasons to visit Italy by train this winter.
Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world. And for good reason, thanks to cities bursting with culture, pristine beaches, rugged mountains and mouth-watering food. But popularity comes at a price - lots and lots of tourists.
Going in winter is an easy way to avoid the queues and enjoy the Mediterranean weather in its milder months. Low season runs from November to March when you can benefit from cheaper prices and fewer crowds. And in December, hotel occupancy rates drop so it’s possible to find deals on accommodation as well as on trains. We’ve picked a few of our favourite places to visit in Italy by train this winter.
Winter on the Italian Riviera
Exploring the Italian Riviera in low season offers a different experience of the towns and villages that dot the coastline. Almost deserted by tourists, you’ll find everyday life in full swing but without the crowds. Low sun and northerly winds bring clear skies, and average December temperatures of 10°C create good walking conditions.
In May 2015, a new direct train from London to Marseille, which arrives in just 6 hrs 30 mins, means that you can take a Thello EuroCity service from there to Genoa and Milan - routes that pass through the Riviera and stop at picturesque towns and villages such as Savona en route. Marseille to Genoa takes 5 hrs 30 mins by rail.
Winter city break in Venice
Visiting Venice in winter means enjoying popular sights at your own pace. From November to Easter visitor numbers fall significantly, leaving you practically alone to enjoy its beautiful canals and squares. Although it can be cold and wet, your reward is a misty, atmospheric city and a chance to experience Venice as local people do.
Hotels are also refreshingly quiet and cheaper during the off season, making this normally expensive city break better value. During winter months, the crowds do descend during Carnevale and (February), Biennale (usually finishes mid-November), but both are wonderful experiences of course.
There are several options for taking the train from London to Venice, including Eurostar and onward high-speed connections as well as an overnight train from Paris. Once in Venice, you can take advantage of special offers and cheap tickets on Italian trains to go further afield - consider a day trip to Verona in 1 hr 10 mins, Padua in 25 mins or Bologna in 1 hr 15 mins.
Rome in the off-season
In winter, you can have Rome all to yourself. As the temperature drops in Italy’s capital, so too do the number of tourists and the prices. From December to February hotel rates are lower and restaurants uncrowded. During this time, most major tourist attractions reduce their opening hours but are open nevertheless. And it’s a good time for culture too with the opera season kicking off in November and many of the city’s churches playing host to classical music concerts throughout winter.
There’s more than one way to travel by train from London to Rome. One option is to travel entirely by day from London to Rome with Eurostar, TGV and Frecciarossa trains. It’s a long journey, but with an early start you can make it. If this doesn’t appeal, break your journey in Milan or Turin before continuing a day or two later. Alternatively, consider the Thello night train from Paris to Milan, taking a connection to Rome in the morning.
Turin in winter by rail
The perfect winter getaway, Turin is a fantastic choice for a city break by rail since it's easily accessible from the UK. Overlooked by the snow-capped Alps, the city is bursting with baroque and neoclassical architecture, exquisite cafes and fascinating museums - plenty to entertain for a short break. Throughout winter, Luci d'Artista, an event dedicated to the city’s burgeoning contemporary art scene, lights up the whole city with beautiful installations that add a touch of magic to winter evenings. Or if you're there during autumn, check if your trip coincides with the bi-annual Slow Food festival.
Turin is well-connected by Trenitalia's excellent rail network. Travelling from London to Turin by train takes 10 hrs by Eurostar and TGV with a quick change in Paris. It is also possible to travel overnight by Eurostar and Thello night train to Milan, then high-speed train to Turin.
European winter city breaks by train
Our recommendations for fantastic European city breaks by train this winter.
European city breaks by rail from London
It's easier than ever to take the train across Europe - and capital cities are by no means the only destinations available to those planning a city break by rail.