By train from the UK to Italy
It is surprisingly affordable and straightforward to travel from the UK to Italy by train, as long as you are prepared to research and book your rail trip in advance. Just how straightforward your journey is will depend on your final destination in Italy and whether you prefer to travel overnight, break your journey in an intermediate city, or arrive in one day – which is just about possible for some Italian cities. This article provides information on routes, trains and timetables to help plan rail travel to and from Italy.
There are a number of ways to break your journey down into separate legs, and to buy tickets. Shopping around is complicated but can sometimes save money: for example, the Italian railway website (see our links at the foot of the page) sometimes offers very cheap deals on international journeys from Italy to other parts of mainland Europe. Booking your Eurostar journey separately may mean you can find special offers, and be more flexible with your travel arrangements. A more simple option, though, is to visit Rail Europe, where you can book tickets from London to major Italian cities in one transaction.
You can read more about travelling by train within Italy in my article Trains in Italy.
Why travel by train to Italy?
There are many advantages to travelling by train to Italy. If you travel by day, or break the journey in an intermediate destination, the experience could become an enjoyable part of your holiday. Train travellers are not subject to the same stringent luggage restrictions as air travellers (although the Eurostar does have its own rules and checks). Many find rail travel more relaxing and enjoyable than flying, and it makes your holiday more environmentally-friendly and slow-paced. You avoid delays which may affect air travel – recent examples include strikes and closed airspace due to volcanic ash clouds.
Would-be rail travellers should note that trains do have their own disadvantages. Obviously the duration of the journey makes rail travel impractical for a short break in Italy. Travelling from the UK to Italy means you could be affected by rail strikes in any one of the UK, France or Italy. Bad weather, too, can cause delays. The easiest journeys involve night trains which won’t suit every traveller, with comfort and privacy being issues in shared compartments. Trains can also be more expensive than flights, although by advance booking you may find competitive deals.
London to Paris
The first stage of a rail journey from the UK to Italy is travel by Eurostar train under the Channel to Paris. Departing from London St. Pancras International, the journey takes two hours and 15 minutes, though you must allow at least 30 minutes for checking in and baggage screening. France and Italy are one hour ahead of the UK, so if you leave London at 4.02pm, you’ll arrive in Paris at 7.17pm. You can get the best-value fares by booking well in advance, and being flexible about which service you take. Tickets go on sale 90 days before travel.
Alternatives to this London-Paris journey are ferry travel, or leaving the Eurostar at Lille and changing to a train heading for the south of France.
From Paris to Italy
In Paris, travellers must change stations to embark on the second stage of the journey to Italy. This can be done by direct Paris-Italy trains or by changing in Switzerland.
Artesia trains – a joint venture between the French SNCF and Italian Trenitalia – operate direct services between Paris and Italian cities several times a day. Daytime trains leave from Paris Gare de Lyon and night sleeper trains depart from the Gare de Bercy.
If you want an interesting train journey to be part of your holiday experience, you’ll probably become absorbed in researching the many different route combinations. Instead of taking the direct Artesia service, it is possible to change in Basel or Zurich, reaching Milan via the Gotthard Pass. The timings of these routes via Switzerland can be tempting for travellers wanting to make the journey in a day, but these journeys can depend upon perilously-short changes between trains. These three-country journeys are best researched on the efficient German railways website (see links below), but buying tickets will be more complicated and you’re unlikely to find such cheap offers on prices. Note that if you have any visa restrictions when travelling in Europe, you should be aware that not just the Zurich trains but also the overnight Paris-Italy trains pass through Switzerland and you should have the correct paperwork.
Rail journey suggestions
The times and prices here are intended as an illustration – although accurate when written, railway companies change their schedules from time to time, so you should always confirm the latest details when making a booking.
How to get from London to Venice
At the time of writing, the only direct trains between Paris and Venice are overnight services. This is a time-efficient way to travel (and saves on hotel costs) but doesn’t allow you to enjoy the scenery. Leave London in the early afternoon – or earlier if you fancy a bit of time in Paris. The evening Artesia train leaves Paris Gare de Bercy at 8.33pm and arrives in Venice at 9.34 the following morning. A daytime option, with one change in Milan, leaves Paris Gare de Lyon at 7.42am (too early for the earliest Eurostar, so you’d need to spend a night in Paris), and arrives in Venice at 5.40pm.
A scenic but more complicated route is to travel via Switzerland, with a change at Zurich. You can leave London on the 5.25am Eurostar, catch the 10.24am TGV to Zurich from Paris Est, and then change in Zurich to the 3.09pm train for Milan (this is a very rushed change). With another change in Milan, this journey should get you to Venice at 9.40pm. A more relaxed option would be to break your journey with a night in Zurich.
Venice to London
Returning to the UK overnight
The Artesia overnight train leaves Venice in the evening (7:57pm), arriving at Paris Bercy Station early in the morning (8:19am). The standard ticket price is 127 but a cheap advance ‘Smart price’ ticket costs just 45. By travelling across Paris and getting straight on the Eurostar, you could be in London for lunch. This train also stops in other Italian cities: Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia and Milan.
At present the best option for enjoying a daytime journey from Venice to London, enjoying views of Italy and France, is to break your journey in another northern Italian city. There is a very early train from Milan, stopping in Turin, which arrives in Paris at lunchtime. This would allow you optional time to sightsee for a few hours in Paris before boarding a Eurostar train to London.
Another option, which would mean arriving late in Paris and spending the night there, is to catch the 4.10pm train from Milan Centrale, arriving at Paris Gare de Lyon at 11.28pm. You can easily travel from Venice to Milan in time for this train, perhaps with some time to see Milan. There’s a choice of trains and prices from Venice to Milan; with the swiftest connection being the 12.50pm train from Venice, arriving at Milan Centrale at 3.25pm.
It is possible to make the journey in one day if you are prepared to risk several tight changes. A 6.20am train from Venice to Milan, followed by a 9.10am train to Zurich and then a 1.02pm train to Paris Est will get you to Paris in time to transfer, catch a Eurostar and arrive in London just after 8pm. A later departure from Venice, at 7.50am or 8.09am, changing in Milan and in Basel, should get you to Paris in time for the last Eurostar, arriving in London at 10.34pm.
London to Milan
How to get from London to Milan
Milan is a key transport hub for nothern Italy, with connections to the Italian lakes and other northern Italian destinations. It is possible to travel between the UK and Milan in one day without any overnight stops, although direct trains are not at the most convenient times for long-distance travellers. The Milan-Paris trains can be a useful leg of a journey from other parts of Italy. The direct daytime trains also stop in the city of Turin.
There are direct trains to Milan from Paris Lyon at 7.42am, arriving at 2.50pm (this one is too early for a Eurostar connection), and at 3.24pm, arriving at 10.25pm. This latter connection means you only have to leave London at 10.25am, offering a comfortable start to your journey. Travellers can also opt to travel with a change of trains at Zurich, as detailed above in the Venice directions.
If you prefer to arrive in the morning, you can leave London around 4pm and catch the 8.33pm sleeper train from Paris Bercy, which arrives in Milan at the rather brutal time of 5.38am.
Milan to London
Returning to the UK overnight
The Artesia overnight train to Paris leaves Milan Stazione Centrale at 11.25pm and arrives in Paris at 8.19am (this is the train from Venice).
There are currently two direct daytime trains from Milan to Paris. The morning train to Paris leaves Milan Stazione Centrale at 6.40am, arriving in Paris at approximately 2pm – ample time for catching an afternoon Eurostar train to London. The second option is a 4.10pm train, which arrives at Paris Gare de Lyon at 11.28pm. This is too late to catch a Eurostar onwards to London, but might be a practical option if you fancy spending a night in Paris with some sightseeing the next day.
It is also possible to travel with a change in Switzerland – for example, leaving Milan at 9.10am, a very quick change in Zurich, arrival at Paris Est at 5.24 and return to London at around 8pm. Check the connection times for Zurich journeys, though, as they can be dangerously short. A more comfortablely timed option leaves Milan at 11.20am and with a change in Basel, would get you to London at 10.34pm.
How to get from London to Rome
Rome is in central Italy; its status as Italy’s capital and its location make it the gateway for the central and southern parts of the country. There are fast trains from Rome to most Italian cities, and slower trains connecting smaller destinations. Trains from Paris and Milan to Rome also stop in Florence.
To travel overnight to Rome, you can leave London on the Eurostar at around 2pm, getting to Paris for the 6.52pm EuroNight train from Paris Bercy to Rome Termini. This sleeper train pulls into Rome at 10.12am. By catching an onward connection you could get right down to the south of Italy by the second night of your trip.
To make the trip in the daytime, you could travel to Paris in the afternoon or evening, spend one night in Paris, then catch the 7.42am Artesia train from Paris Lyon to Milan. Changing to a high-speed Italian service in Milan will get you to Rome at 6.45pm, in plenty of time for a relaxed Roman evening meal.
Rome to London
Returning to the UK overnight
By leaving Rome at 8pm on a train for Milan, you can change at Milan Centrale to the 11.53pm night train for Paris Bercy (arriving at 8.19am). This journey would get you to London by the middle of the day.
You can accomplish the Rome-London journey in a day if you are prepared to change 3 times. Catching a Rome-Milan train at 8am gets you to Milan in time for an 11.20 train to Basel in Switzerland. Change to a Paris train at 4.02pm, arriving at Paris Est at 7.34pm. Transfer to the Gare du Nord, catch the last Eurostar at 9.13pm and you’ll be in London at 10.34pm.
By leaving Rome at 12.15 on a Rome-Milan service, you can reach Milan in time for the 4.10pm train from Milan Centrale (arriving in Paris Gare de Lyon at 11.28pm, as above).
A European city itinerary
If you have leisure time, you could take a slow journey from Italy stopping off for a taste of European cities. I wanted to travel from Venice to London avoiding the night train. After shopping around for cheap advance fares, I decided to spend two days travelling, with an overnight stay in Milan. Venice to Milan is a fairly short journey; in Milan I had an afternoon for sightseeing before spending the night in a cheap hotel near Stazione Centrale. Taking the early morning train (a 6am start) from Milan to Paris meant I could travel in daylight and enjoy the view from the train windows, followed by a few hours in Paris prior to catching the last Eurostar for London. The cost for my journey was as follows: 30 Venice to Milan; 55 hotel in Milan (single room); 50 Milan – Paris (first class ‘Smart Price’); £45.50 Eurostar Paris – London. This gives a total of approximately £160 sterling.
Tickets and timetables
Please note that times and prices listed above were correct at the time of writing, but timetables and ticket prices are liable to change. Planning an international rail journey will always require fresh research. Note that different railway companies ‘release’ their tickets at varying times – frequently, but not always, three months in advance.
The Trainline: Train tickets within the UK, for connections to London St. Pancras International. The station is alongside King’s Cross overland and underground station.
Eurostar: Eurostar travel from London St. Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord. You can check timetables, look for the cheapest fares and make bookings on their website. You can book up to four months in advance.
Trenitalia: The Italian rail company, for tickets between Italy and France, and within Italy. Check the drop-down list of tariffs and offers to find the cheapest fare to which you are entitled. Although many domestic Italian rail tickets can be printed at home, currently international tickets need to be collected from a machine at an Italian station. So for UK residents, this puchasing method is only practical for the return Italy-Paris leg of your trip, unless ticket conditions change.
Rail Europe: An easy one-stop shop for buying cross-Europe rail tickets. The website doesn’t always offer as many options and special offers as booking your tickets separately, but it is much simpler and easier. They include routes via Lausanne and Zurich. Choose a specific hour rather than a time of day when searching (I found that selecting ‘morning’ did not offer me a cheap 6.40am option).
TGV Europe: The French railway website sells tickets to travellers from other countries, including the UK, who can arrange for tickets to be posted free of charge, or collected at a French railway station ticket machine. Note that the website does not seem to work with all internet browsers.
www.bahn.de: The German railway website is a renowned resource for researching journeys throughout Europe. It’s particularly helpful if you’re planning a route through Switzerland, not covered on the Italian or French booking websites. However, it does not sell tickets for journeys outside Germany.
Italian rail journeys
> Trains in Italy – more information about train travel within Italy
> Italy travel itineraries – my suggested Italy travel itineraries are all based around public transport and most involve scenic railway journeys. Highlights include the picturesque cross-country railways of Puglia in the south.
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On this site
The Man in Seat 61 – European rail travel advice