Unique & Local Experiences on a Train Journey from Rome to Switzerland

Published October 30, 2023 by Rileigh Tower
Journal
Unique & Local Experiences on a Train Journey from Rome to Switzerland
woman walking on street

After living in Italy for almost 2 years and exploring its endless beauty through authentic local experiences, I’ve come to appreciate this country in a way that goes far beyond typical tourism. There’s no better way to dive deep into the richness of Italian culture than by taking a train journey from Rome to Switzerland. This route takes you through some of Italy’s most magnificent cities and allows you to discover their hidden gems while indulging in the delicious local cuisines.

As an avid traveler who savors authenticity, I’m thrilled to share my insights from this unforgettable train trip that will inspire you to embark on your own adventure of a lifetime. From the eclectic streets of Rome to the rolling hills of Tuscany, this journey offers an unparalleled perspective into the heart of Italy.

Rome: A Gateway to an Exceptional Journey

brown concrete buildings

Our journey kicks off in Rome, Italy’s historic capital overflowing with classical ruins, Baroque churches and lively piazzas. As one of the oldest inhabited cities in Europe, Rome’s stratification of millennia-old architecture offers an enchanting glimpse into its complex past. Lose yourself in the city’s labyrinth of narrow cobblestone alleys that reveal charming fountains, galleries and medieval houses around every corner. No visit to Rome is complete without seeing iconic sites like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Vatican City.

Finding Authentic Italy in Rome

Beyond its ancient wonders, Rome rewards those looking to veer off the beaten path. Trastevere is a quaint medieval neighborhood with exquisite hole-in-the-wall trattorias and pizzerias serving up melt-in-your-mouth classics like cacio e pepe and supplì al telefono. Meander through the vintage boutiques and artisan workshops of Monti, or browse the stalls of Campo de’ Fiori market snacking on some roasted chestnuts.

When it comes to Roman food, look no further than the Jewish Ghetto district for a taste of carciofi alla giudia, deep fried artichokes that emit a satisfying crunch with every bite. Be sure to try golden-crusted pizzas from historic Pizzarium Bonci, the inventive gelatos at Fatamorgana and creamy rich cups of coffee at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè.

Rome’s Train Connections

Rome’s central location and extensive railway connections make it the perfect starting point for our onward journey. The main stations of Roma Termini, Roma Tiburtina and Roma Ostiense offer speedy access to destinations across Italy and Europe. High-speed Frecce trains connect major cities like Florence and Naples while slower regional trains are ideal for sightseeing along the coast or in the countryside.

For our purposes, Roma Termini station is where we will begin by boarding a train headed north towards Florence, first stop on our route. As one of Europe’s busiest railway hubs, Termini can seem overwhelming but just look for signs pointing you to the correct platform. Settle into your comfortable seat, enjoy views of the Roman aqueducts whizzing by and prepare for the scenic journey ahead.

Florence: The Cradle of the Renaissance

a statue of a man in a building

In just 90 minutes, we arrive in Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region and home of the Renaissance. Step off the train straight into the city center and gaze in awe at Brunelleschi’s iconic dome capping the Florence Cathedral. Wander through the Uffizi Gallery’s endless halls showcasing works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael who were inspired by Florence’s creative free spirit. Marvel at Michelangelo’s statue of David in the Accademia Gallery then cross the Arno River on the scenic Ponte Vecchio bridge lined with glittering jewelry shops.

Capturing Authentic Florence

Away from the busy museums, pedestrian-only neighborhoods like Santo Spirito and San Niccolò transport you back to medieval Florence. Sip velvety Chianti wines at hidden enotecas and try schiacciata, olive oil-drizzled Tuscan flatbreads. Join locals on a passeggiata evening stroll and hunt for the perfect cone of creamy gelato.

Foodies shouldn’t miss the Mercato Centrale near the train station, an indoor wonderland of fresh cheeses, cured meats, seasonal produce and food stalls whipping up mouthwatering sandwiches. Truffle lovers will think they’ve reached nirvana at specialty shops like Tartufi & Co selling decadent truffle-infused pastas, olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

Boarding the Train from Florence

After sufficient doses of Renaissance masterpieces and Chianti, we’ll make our way back to Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station for the next leg. Regular trains leave Florence for Pisa, just an hour west along the spectacular Tuscan coast. Admire views of rolling vineyards, cypress trees and hilltop villages as you’re rocked to sleep by the gentle rhythm of the train.

Pisa: More than just a Leaning Tower

white concrete building near body of water during daytime

The university city of Pisa often gets reduced to its iconic architectural mishap – the Leaning Tower in the Piazza dei Miracoli. But beyond this tilted Romanesque bell tower, Pisa rewards visitors with charming bridges spanning the Arno river, Renaissance palazzos and the show-stopping Duomo cathedral.

Wander through Pisa’s historic quarter to the east bank, lined with pastel-hued houses and peppered with churches dating back to medieval times. Compared to Florence, Pisa moves at a more relaxed pace perfect for long lunches of local delicacies.

Pisa’s Authentic Experiences

For the quintessential Pisan food experience, stop by a traditional cantina to try cecina – garbanzo bean crepes served piping hot with a drizzle of olive oil. Pair it with a glass of bold Sangiovese wine from the surrounding Tuscan vineyards. Indulge your sweet tooth with castagnaccio cake made from chestnut flour and pine nuts or sample creamy gelato sandwiched between crunchy biscotti.

As the sun begins to set, join locals on lungarni riverside promenades and bridges as street musicians strum classic Italian tunes in the background. It’s the perfect way to conclude your Tuscan sojourn before catching the late evening train to Genoa.

On the Rails Again: Pisa to Genoa

After an action-packed day discovering Pisa’s character, we board the train for our longest journey yet to the port city of Genoa. Settle in for the three hour ride as the train snakes its way past the marble quarries of Carrara then the beaches of Cinque Terre before hugging the rugged Ligurian coastline.

As night blankets the water, the gentle rocking of the train combined with the sound of waves crashing soothes you into a peaceful slumber. Wake up to your first glimpses of Genoa – a colorful medley of pastel buildings tucked between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.

Genoa: The Underrated Gem

a small village on the side of a cliff

Arriving in Genoa feels like uncovering Italy’s best kept secret. From its ancient harbor dotted with yachts to its maze of medieval caruggi alleyways unwinding from grand Renaissance palazzos, Genoa seduces with its gritty maritime charm. Genoa, the capital city of the Italian region Liguria, is known for its rich history, impressive architecture, and inviting neighborhoods. In the heart of the city, you’ll find Portorosso, a fictional seaside town that served as the inspiration for Pixar’s animated film ‘Luca’. While you can’t actually visit Portorosso, as it doesn’t exist in real life, it’s clear that the creators of the film drew heavy inspiration from the coastal region of Liguria, particularly Cinque Terre and Genoa, capturing their enchanting architecture, vibrant colors, and the urban-meets-seaside atmosphere that is so characteristic of these places. As one of the Mediterranean’s most important port cities, Genoa has an eclectic culture influenced by seafaring travellers from around the world.

The city also boasts Italy’s largest historic center recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its magnificent palaces and rollercoaster-like topography. Spend days getting happily lost in this urban labyrinth and stumbling upon hidden architectural treasures around every turn.

Diving into the Local Culture

Genoa provides endless opportunities for unique local encounters. Start your day with cappuccino and warm focaccia bread stuffed with cheese, herbs and olives. Then meander through the antique stalls at Piazza dei Banchi flea market where you never know what treasure you might unearth. For lunch, try the Genoese specialty panissa – a hearty chickpea polenta – or salted anchovies drizzled with olive oil.

In the afternoon, visit the family-run Fratelli Klainguti pastry shop for nostalgic treats like pandolce fruitcake and baci di dama hazelnut cookies. As evening falls, join locals on pre-dinner aperitivo bar crawls trying creative cocktail infusions and Ligurian wines.

Leaving Italy: Genoa to Switzerland

After discovering Genoa’s hidden corners, we’ll make our way to Genova Piazza Principe railway station for the last Italian leg to Switzerland. Night trains depart in the evenings offering private sleeping cabins so you can rest as the train crosses the border and traverses the Alps. Wake up to snow-capped mountain vistas streaming past your window announcing your arrival into Switzerland.

Arrival in Switzerland

white and brown concrete building near body of water during daytime

Stepping off the train in Lugano or Zurich, after departing from Genoa, Switzerland’s idyllic beauty is immediately tangible. With Lugano’s pristine lakes and Zurich’s picturesque streets, the pure essence of Swiss charm and elegance is captured in an instant. Emerald hills dotted with cows and sheep roll into lush valleys and pristine lakes. Quaint villages with timber chalets and flower boxes feel like something from a fairytale. There’s no better way to soak up these alpine views than by train – sit back, relax and let the panoramas unfold outside your window.

Culinary Tour of Switzerland

After the train journey worked up your appetite, indulge in Swiss delicacies. Stop at an artisanal chocolatier and sample velvety truffles, fruit creams and melt-in-your-mouth pralines. Hearty comfort foods like fondue, raclette and rösti make ideal belly warmers on cooler days. And you can’t visit Switzerland without trying rich hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.

For an authentic Swiss experience, spend a day exploring the vineyards, dairies and creameries of Appenzell cheese production. Sample creamy cheeses paired with fruity Rieslings at family-run farms and learn about the art of Swiss cheese making.

Ensuring a Smooth Return Journey

Switzerland and Italy are well connected by rail, making returns stress-free. For utmost comfort, opt for a 1st class Swiss Travel Pass which provides unlimited train travel plus perks like free museum entry and dining cars. While your actual route can vary, we recommend stopping in Bellinzona to admire its three medieval castles before continuing on to Milan. From there, high-speed Frecciarossa trains whisk you back to Rome in just 3 hours.

Enjoy the Beauty of Slow Travel

a train traveling through a lush green countryside

This taste of slow travel by train from Rome to Switzerland provided an enriching opportunity to experience Italy’s regional diversity. By venturing beyond the obvious sites and embracing authentic local encounters, I gained a deeper understanding of Italian culture. Though this particular journey has ended, Italy’s beauty and hidden depths will continue tempting me to return and uncover more.

I hope sharing the highlights of this route inspires your own exploration by rail. Italy rewards those with an insatiable curiosity and willingness to diverge from the guidebooks. By weaving your way through its labyrinth of towns aboard trains, you’re bound to create your own unforgettable adventure.

Here are some helpful resources I recommend:

[Trainline](https://www.thetrainline.com/trains/italy/rome/switzerland) offers general information about taking a train from Rome to Switzerland, including ticket prices, schedules, and travel times.

[Eurail](https://www.eurail.com/en/get-inspired/train-routes/rome-basel) provides valuable tips and useful insights for planning a rail journey from Rome to all parts of Switzerland.

The [Italian State Railways](https://www.trenitalia.com/en.html) website includes comprehensive details of domestic and international train services departing from Rome.

[Rick Steves’ Europe](https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains) is a reliable source for European train travel tips.

[Lonely Planet’s Italy Travel Guide](https://www.lonelyplanet.com/italy/train-travel) can provide you with a broader perspective on Italy and some of its hidden gems.

From first-hand experiences and tips to planning details, these resources should provide a satisfactory springboard for your train journey from Rome to Switzerland.