Visiting northern Italy? You’ve come in the right place. Check out the ultimate north Italy itinerary that will bring you through lakes, mountains, cities, and lagoons.
Italy is where I come from and where I keep returning. It’s an always-a-good-time-to-go destination! This became true for me especially since I started living abroad, and I had the chance to visit Italy through the eyes of my non-Italian friends.
An itinerary in northern Italy, in particular, was something I had never done before, and that is why I’m happy to share it with you today! It’s not by chance that it’s one of the best road trips in Europe to take this summer…
I think the best way to experience northern Italy cities like Milan, Venice, and Verona as well as relaxing lakes and stunning mountains is, first, to reserve 10 days for the ultimate northern Italy itinerary.
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Then, decide which wheels you want to use to get around. You may complete this itinerary for northern Italy in the most sustainable way (you can travel through Northern Italy by train and bus) or you can drive a car. You already know what I would ideally choose, but keep in mind that by car your trip will be a lot easier, so it might be worth to rent a car for this trip.
I usually use Rentalcars.com to compare prices for a rental car and book the best deal.
Day 1: Milan
You want to start your 10-day itinerary of northern Italy from its most famous and glamorous city, Milan.
HOW TO GET THERE
Milan is served by three airports, all connected to the city by bus: the Malpensa Airport (1 hour away from Milan downtown by train and where most international airlines stop), the Linate Airport (used for domestic and local air travels), and by the Caravaggio Orio al Serio Airport in nearby Bergamo (low-cost and budget airlines arrive here).
If you aren’t flying, train stations are almost everywhere, starting from the Milano Centrale train station (Piazza Duca d’Aosta 1), known for its beautiful and imposing architecture in addition to its thousands of daily commuters.
In case you are coming to Milan by car, just make sure to have a not too pricey parking lot reserved for you, because parking here is expensive and most importantly, you won’t need to drive during your 1 day+1 night here!
WHAT TO DO IN MILAN
Milan has a lot to offer but an exploration of this norhern Italy city should start from its core, the Duomo Cathedral. As you guessed, this 14th-century church is located at the very center of the city, in Piazza del Duomo.
But it’s not just about the cathedral itself, although that is definitely worth a visit. You cannot miss the view from the top of of the Duomo Terraces, which you can ascend to either by stairs or elevator. This is definitely my favorite thing in all of Milan! Queues at the ticket booth can be pretty long, especially if you visit in the summer or high season.
➤ That’s why I highly recommend buying your skip-the-line ticket in advance here, or joining a skip-the-line guided tour for little extra money. Both are fully refundable up to 24 hours in advance if your plans happen to change.
READ ALSO: Visiting the Milan Duomo: Tickets + Tips (2021)
Once you’re back on earth, look to the north side of the square and enter the luxurious and richly decorated Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Italy’s oldest active shopping mall. I promise, it’ll be a much more satisfying visit that any other shopping mall in the world.
On the other side, the Galleria looks over the circular Piazza della Scala, where Italy’s most famous opera house, the Scala Theater, sits since 1778. Maybe you’re lucky and you’ll spot some celebrity entering the theater.
From Piazza della Scala, you have several options. You can walk through Milanese streets until the Sforza’s Castle. Built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan, this imposing structure on Piazza Castello can really give you a sense of Italian history. It’s also free entrance!
In addition, all around the Castello there’s the beautiful Sempione Park that welcomes strollers and live events. Another option is to visit the impressive Brera Art Gallery (Via Brera 28), a special place for art lovers and art history aficionados.
Since you only have one day (or half day if your flight arrives late) to explore all of Milan, a great option is to join the Best of Milan tour, that will show you the highlights in just 3 hours. You’ll go on a guided walking tour of the city, skip the line at The Last Supper, and visit the Milan Duomo. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Meanwhile, if you are looking to stop somewhere on the way for a quick bite, my suggestion is to search for an easygoing eatery.
On your first night in Milan, do not let an aperitivo opportunity slide by you and take advantage of the Italian way to have happy hour by ordering a drink while snacking for free (the Campari Spritz drink is a great place where to start). If you’re up for a more formal dinner, keep in mind that Milan has really fresh seafood (so sushi restaurants are something to consider!).
For either scenario, I recommend visiting the area called Navigli, starting from Ticinese Gate and walking by Viale Gorizia or along Alzata Naviglio Pavese. The Milanese nightlife will get lively in front of your eyes, you’ll just need to choose your favorite crowd.
Day 2: Lake Como
I suggest spending your second day of this Italian itinerary by Lake Como. Mark as your specific destination Bellagio, a 4000-people village that sits on the shore of Lake Como. Charming Bellagio offers a breathtaking view of lake itself and the nearby Alps, making you doubt anybody who ever said that romanticism is dead.
HOW TO GET THERE
Bellagio is about 70 km from Milan, so it should take just above 1 hour to complete the trip taking State Highway 36.
If you are not travelling by car, take the direct train from Milan to Varenna (train tickets are around 7€), another small town on the Lake Como shore. This trip is also a 1 hour long but in Varenna, you’ll have to take a short ferry to Bellagio (rides are every 40 minutes and last 15 minutes one way).
Otherwise, you can join a no-hassle tour that departs from Milan.
WHAT TO DO IN LAKE COMO
Once in Bellagio, make sure to toddle around the old Borgo, in the northern part of town (if you’re by car, you can park it at Valassina parking lot by the city hall). In the Borgo, you’ll be able to get lost in enchanted alleys and shop in artisanal boutiques. The 12th-century San Giacomo Basilica, by the little harbor, is also worth a visit.
And why not really immersing yourself in Lake Como atmosphere by taking a peak of Villa Melzi, built in early 19th century and surrounded by the most precisely designed and beautiful park (tickets are 6,5€ at the time of writing and the Villa is open from March through November).
Not into self-guided traveling for once? You can book the Lake Como, Bellagio and Varenna: Full-Day Tour from Milan and in one day, you’ll visit Como and the neoclassical Villa Olmo with a guide, you’ll go on a short boat cruise on the lake, and you’ll have free time in Bellagio and Varenna. By nightfall, they will bring you back to Milan on a private bus. ➥ CHECK IT OUT
Day 3: Verona
Hit another romantic cord by visiting Verona on your third day.
HOW TO GET THERE
The city is about 170 km from Bellagio and 160 km from Milan, so by car you should take into account at least 2 hours of travelling on the A4 Highway.
By train, make sure to be back in Milan after the trip to Lake Como, so you can take a direct train to Verona (ticket prices range but usually start from 12,75€ for a 2-hour trip to 26€ for half the time).
WHAT TO DO IN VERONA
Verona’s highlights are Piazza Brà, where the famous open-air Arena di Verona is also located, and Piazza delle Erbe, where local merchants and customers have been conducting their shopping for centuries.
Another unmissable landmark of this city in northern Italy is the Lamberti Tower (you can buy your skip the-line ticket here). You’ll find this medieval tower on the eastern side of Piazza delle Erbe (Via della Costa 2) and a trip up its stairs will grant you a wonderful view of the whole city.
But your day in Verona should include, of course, also a trip to Juliet’s balcony. Casa di Giulietta is the home where Shakespeare’s most famous tragic character allegedly lived and where she heard Romeo’s loving praises while hiding in her balcony (address is Via Cappello 23).
➤ Entrance to Casa di Giulietta and the famous balcony, as well as the ticket to Lamberti Tower and a skip-the-line ticket for the Arena di Verona, are all included in the Verona Card. It could be useful since you have limited time!
Throughout the day, I also recommend trying at least a couple of the many typical Veronese dishes. A stop at Osteria Caffé Monte Baldo (Via Rosa 12), for instance, will allow you to taste their wonderful Amarone wine risotto, while at Locanda 4 Cuochi (via Alberto Mario 12) their ever changing menu makes it possible to experience traditional cuisine with a creative spin.
➤ You can easily walk around the city and explore on your own. If you prefer to join a small group walking tour though, the Highlights of Verona tour only lasts 2 hours and is a great introduction to the city, but leaves you time to explore on your own.
If you really want to find the best that Verona has to offer (history and food!), check out this 2.5 hour walking tour that mixes history with food and wine tasting. You’ll taste pasta, olive oil, wines, prosciutto, and sweets. Yum! ➥ CHECK IT OUT
Day 4: Lake Garda
Only 40 km separate Verona from the shores of Lake Garda, your 10 days in Italy itinerary’s fourth stop (and the largest lake in Italy!).
HOW TO GET THERE
Depending on your precise destination, you should cover the distance in 30-40 minutes by car on the same A4 Highway or in 20 minutes by train (train tickets to Lake Garda are between 4,40€ and 15€). Get off at either Peschiera del Garda or Desenzano del Garda- Sirmione and go from there.
➤ Another option is to to just go for a day trip and sleep in Verona one more night. You can do so by joining a guided tour that departs from Verona such as this one. You’ll visit the beautiful town of Sirmione with a guided tour, and you’ll go on a relaxing boat ride around the lake. ➥ CHECK IT OUT
WHAT TO DO IN LAKE GARDA
By all accounts, Lake Garda is a very magical place and hikes all around its perimeter, with marked trails for all levels, are a great option to see its beauty while getting some exercise.
A more historical visit can start with a walking tour of the medieval fortress in Peschiera del Garda (a UNESCO site, by the way!), on the lake’s southern side, where you can also depart for a boat tour of the whole lake. If you stay on the boat long enough, you will have the opportunity to visit the northern and eastern parts of Lake Garda and the precious lemon tree houses that grow on its shores.
In Tignale, for instance, go ahead and visit an actual lemon-based eco-museum established in a local lemon tree house, Limonaia Pra de la Fam.
To make the most of your time, consider this full day Lake Garda guided tour starting from Peschiera del Garda (they also offer tours from other lakeside cities, if Peschiera doesn’t fit your itinerary).
All tours feature a guided visit to the most famous locations around the lake, a boat ride on the lake and an exploration of the local towns and their architectural beauties. ➥ CHECK IT OUT
Days 5 & 6: Venice
A northern Italy itinerary cannot be considered complete without a trip to unique, mysterious, and captivating Venice.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Verona or Lake Garda, Venice can be reached by car in a bit more than 1 hour (take the A4/E70 Highway) but because of Venetian topography, you should reserve a parking spot in advance and park your vehicle on the mainland, in Mestre. From there, hourly ferries will easily take you to Venice.
By train the trip is in this case a bit easier, as Venice’s main train station, Santa Lucia, gives you direct access to its famous canals and bridges (train tickets from Verona to Venice start at 9,45€).
WHAT TO DO IN VENICE
Just make sure to dedicate 2 full days to Venice because highlights are in abundance here!
DAY 1: The Highlights of Venice
Among the city’s many top destinations, you should choose the Saint Mark’s Basilica, where you can gaze at mosaic floors and climb the church tower, and the Doge’s Palace, the ornate and lascivious residence of the city’s ruler, also home to the old Venetian prisons. By visiting the Doge Palace you’ll be able to walk on the famous Bridge of Signs as well and you’ll learn that those “sighs” are not calls for love but for escape from prison (sorry to ruin the myth here!).
Other touristy attractions are the Rialto Bridge, Venice’s most famous bridge on the Canal Grande (if you get there in the morning, you’ll find a busy fish market, too), the Gallerie dell’Accademia (another wonderful museum of Italian visual art, if you didn’t get enough in Milan), and almost all the churches on the island.
Since you have only 2 days and there is a ton to see, I recommend going on the comprehensive Venice in A Day Tour on your first day.
The tour will bring you to the St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace with skip-the-line access, and on a 30-minute gondola ride, before exploring the backstreets of Venice led by your guide who will tell you all about the city’s history. I’ve gone on multiple tours led by Walks, and the guides were always amazing. Highly recommended. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
➤ Otherwise, you can also book a Venice pass that includes access to the main museums and attractions, with the option of adding a transportation pass as well.
DAY 2: The Islands of Venice
One of the highlights of any trip to Venice is a day trip to the islands of Venice, Murano and Burano. These islands, just a short boat or water bus ride away from Venice, are very different from each other.
Murano is famous all around the world for its glassmaking tradition. You can see how this colorful glass is made, and bring home a souvenir. Burano, my favorite island, is famous for its brightly colored houses – impossible to go there and not take a million pictures! There is also a third island, Torcello, that is less popular then the main two, although many tours include a quick stop there too.
To visit these island, you can take the water bus and stroll around each island on your own, or you can opt for a (quite affordable) guided tour to learn more about their history and traditions.
The Murano, Torcello & Burano Boat Trip with Guide provides the perfect introduction to the Venetian islands. You’ll get a guided tour of each island + free time to take pictures and stroll around, pus a boat transfer so you won’t have to take the (usually cramped) water bus. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Throughout your stay, do not forget to munch on the traditional “cicchetti” or small bites in local restaurants such as Ostaria dai Zemei in the San Polo neighborhood and the Osteria al Bacareto in the San Marco neighborhood (in Venice, street addresses are a bit special and only include the neighborhood’s name and a number…but no worries, it’s easier that it sounds!).
By night, Venetian nightlife happens around Campo Santa Margherita, next to one of the city’s universities, as well as in bar and restaurants. If you’re down to spend some cash, a night tour on a gondola is also a very valid option (40-minute gondola tours are 80€ by day and 100€ by night for 35 minutes).
Days 7 to 9: The Dolomites
Next to cities and lakes, northern Italy shows its best with its mountains, the Dolomites. Part of the eastern Alps in northern Italy and marking the border between Italy and Austria, these natural beauties are another UNESCO heritage site. They’are also a top destination for hikers, mountain bikers, and skiers from all over the world.
ALPE DI SIUSI
From Venice, make a plan to base your trip in Alpe di Siusi (Seiseralm in German), Europe’s highest alpine pasture and the ideal departing place for all explorations regardless of the season.
If you are completing your trip by car, consider at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of driving on the A27 Highway and Provincial Highway 251.
Once you’re set on the Alpe di Siusi at one of the many hotels, b&b, or private apartments, consider a hike across the 300 km of marked trails, which will lead you through pastures and mountain peaks. Hiking in Northern Italy is a dream for hikers! If you need a comparison, somehow hiking here reminds me of some landscapes in Yosemite National Park.
If you don’t feel experienced enough to wander through Italian Alps, local guides are also available through hotels or organizations that operate in the area. In the wintertime, skiing is obviously encouraged and if you’re a beginner, skiing schools for kids and adults abound.
And of course, if you don’t feel like hiking you can certainly relax at a luxury spa, or participate in a cooking class – just ask your hotel.
Over your 3-day stay in the Dolomites, and depending on the season, you may be lucky enough to spot traditional celebrations and festivities. In October, for example, you may spot farmers helping their herds migrate to new their stables during the Almatrieb. During Silenzi d’Alpe, on the other hand, local companies bring theater, puppet, and musical performances to the Dolomites.
For travelers coming from Venice and relying only on public transportation, I recommend instead booking a trip to the “pearl of the Dolomites,” Cortina d’Ampezzo, which you may reach via train and bus (a ticket combination from Venice to Cortina start from 15€ for a 5-hour and a half trip).
In Cortina, you can sip the best hot chocolate in the world, complete a 1-hour hike while surrounding the nearby Lake Misurina, or catch a bus to arrive on the Dolomites best mountain peaks and practice some skiing. Regardless of your transportation means, the Dolomites won’t fail to amaze you.
Day 10: Back to Milan
Spend your last day of your northern Italy 10-day itinerary heading back to Milan and gathering your memories from this great trip!
I hope this post was useful to plan your north Italy road trip! Do you have any questions? Leave them in the comments!
Do you have more time? Less time?
Trust me, it’s NEVER a problem to have extra time in Italy, as there is sooo much to see.
If you want to stay in the same area of Italy, some other things to do in Northern Italy include eating all the food and drinking all the wine, as well as soak up the history that permeates seemingly every little town in Italy.
👉 Another city that’s not far and deserves some time on your Northern Italy road trip is Bologna (and yes, it’s my hometown, but everyone who visits says so so it’s not just my bias talking!).
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👉 Another spectacular place you can visit on your northern Italy trip is Cinque Terre, a coastal area in Liguria (in the northwest of Italy). Here you’ll find fishing villages, colorful building, and incredible views over the Mediterranean.
👉 Florence is also pretty close by (just 30 minutes from Bologna by fast train), and I mean, Florence and Tuscany need no introduction!
The Ideal 2 Days in Florence Itinerary
5 Unusual Things to do in Florence Off the Beaten Path
👉 And lastly, there is Rome. Located in central Italy, it might look very far away if you look at a map, but in reality it’s just 3 hours from Milan by fast train, so you can definitely make it work. You could for example add Florence to your itinerary, and then take a day trip to Rome from there.
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A Guide to Visiting the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums
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NORTHERN ITALY ITINERARY – 14 DAYS
With 2 full weeks available, I’d add this to the previous itinerary:
DAY 10: Back to Milan and take the train to Bologna
DAY 11: Explore Bologna
DAY 12: Head to Florence and visit this beautiful city
DAY 13: Either spend more time in Florence (there’s a lot to see!) or take a day trip to Tuscany
DAY 14: Take a train back to Milan and depart from there
If instead you don’t have 10 days to complete the full itinerary, you could do this:
NORTHERN ITALY ITINERARY – 7 DAYS
DAY 1: Milan
DAY 2: Lake Como
DAY 3: Verona
DAY 4: Lake Garda
DAY 5-6: Venice
DAY 7: Go back to Milan
NORTHERN ITALY ITINERARY – 5 DAYS
DAY 1: Milan
DAY 2: Lake Como
DAY 3: Verona
DAY 4–5: Venice
Northern Italy Travel FAQ
In my opinion, the best places in northern Italy are Venice, Verona, Milan, Lake Como, Lake Garda, Cinque Terre, Bologna, and the Dolomites.
According to me, driving in Northern Italy is pretty easy. Drivers tend to respect the rules, although you certainly need to pay attention. If you’re an experienced driver, you won’t have any issues. Driving in Southern Italy can be more difficult depending on your destination.
Uff, that’s a difficult question! I will say that Venice is the most unique city, you won’t find anything like Venice anywhere in the world. However, people like different things! My boyfriend for example fell in love with Verona, because it’s more peaceful and lovely to walk around its streets.
As many as you can, there’s so much to see in Italy! Joking aside though, I recommend spending a minimum of 10 days in Italy. 10 days would be enough to complete this north Italy itinerary, or you can see the most famous cities in Italy such as Florence, Rome, and Venice. However, don’t try to see everything in just 10 days. It would be a stressful trip and you wouldn’t end up enjoying it.
There are 3 airports in Milan: Malpensa Airport (where most international airlines stop), the Linate Airport (used for domestic and local air travels), and the Caravaggio Orio al Serio Airport in nearby Bergamo (low-cost and budget airlines arrive here). Otherwise, you might land at Marco Polo Airport in Venice (international airlines fly here).
It’s definitely colder and greyer than southern Italy. It’s usually very warm in the summer, but if you’re visiting in the winter definitely bring your winter jacket and an umbrella!
Sure you can. You’ll just have to head to Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites rather than Alpe di Siusi (it’s much easier this way), but they are both beautiful places. Just keep in mind that traveling by train and bus will take longer, so plan your itinerary accordingly.
You definitely can’t miss adding Venice, Milan and Verona to your 10 day northern Italy itinerary. If you have more time, definitely add Bologna and Florence (which is in central Italy) as well.
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