My trips took me to Northern Italy more than once, sometimes for business, other times for leisure. I fell in love with the lakes at first sight, so I’ve been keen on returning ever since. My first encounter with this area took place in Lugano, Switzerland. Although Swiss, the city felt Italian. People were speaking Italian everywhere around me, the names of places were Italian, and risotto was one of the most popular foods. Based in Lugano, I visited the lakes district of Italy. On my other trips to Lombardy, I’ve set my base camp in Bergamo and I visited Milan, Lago di Guarda, Lago D’Iseo and many other places in North Italy.
While there are at least six day trips from Milan worth taking, you can also choose to spend two weeks on a scenic Northern Italy itinerary that will take you to four lakes, five towns and two countries. You’ll see some of the most beautiful places in Italy, you’ll taste delicious Northern Italy food specialties, and you’ll have a chance to experience the hospitality of Northern Italians first hand.
What You'll Read About
- Best Time of Year To Visit Northern Italy
- Best Way To See the North of Italy
- Venice – Days 1-2
- Verona – Day 3
- Sirmione – Lago Di Garda – Days 3-4
- Bergamo – Days 5-6
- Sarnico – Lago D’Iseo – Day 5 or 6
- Milan – Days 7-9
- Lugano – Days 10-11
- Bellagio – Lake Como – Day 11
- Stresa – Lago Maggiore – Days 12-14
- Conclusions on Choosing the Best Northern Italy Itinerary
Best Time of Year To Visit Northern Italy
The best time to go is by the end of September – beginning of October. The weather is still mild and there are less tourist crowds.
The beginning of June is also a good time to visit Northern Italy. The weather starts to be nice and warm, flowers are blooming, and prices are still lower than in high season.
Funny enough, almost all my trips across these cities in Northern Italy took place in November and December. If you choose this time of year to travel, make sure you dress in layers, so that you can adjust to sudden temperature changes. Winter in Italy has a special charm, thanks to mulled wine stalls, Christmas markets and trade fairs. If you happen to be in Bergamo around Christmas, go to Citta Alta and spend some time there in the afternoon, as there are lots of musicians and various performances happening right there, on the cobblestone streets, in the freezing air of Northern Italian winters.
There won’t be too much snow, but you can expect temperatures below the freezing point. This is one more reason to love hot chocolate, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.
Best Way To See the North of Italy
The train is probably the best option for this trip across Lombardy. Italian trains are comfortable, they come on time, and they can take you even to smaller towns and villages along this itinerary.
Renting a car is not a bad option, either. A car will also save you from having to carry your luggage with you whenever you move to the next place. Beware, though, if you travel with a laptop or other expensive electronic devices and gadgets, avoid leaving them in the car, unattended. There are burglars who can detect the presence of such equipment even if you don’t leave it in sight. They don’t need more than half an hour to break into your car and steal your stuff.
Feel free to adjust the following itinerary to match your personal preferences. If you don’t travel light, you may want to move as little as possible between cities and hotels. If you rely on trains and buses to move from one place to the next, you’ll want to sleep in those cities where the train or bus stations are. If you drive, you may want to choose some lakefront accommodations, regardless of the public transport connections.
Grab a map of Northern Italy and let’s plan your next European adventure!
Venice – Days 1-2
Most probably, you’ll spend the first day of your Northern Italy trip getting from Treviso Airport to Venice, finding your accommodation and wandering through the Old City.
Take advantage of the sunset to capture some amazing shots of the canals, buildings and city lights. Check out some travel guides and blogs to make your plan on the best things to see in Venice. You won’t be able to explore the whole city in one or two days, but you’ll get a gist of this romantic city in Northern Italy.
You’ll sleep two nights in Venice, in order to have one full day to enjoy some sightseeing. You might even be able to take a 5-hour trip to Murano and Burano, the two islands in the Venetian Lagoon.
Verona – Day 3
On the third day of your Northern Italy itinerary, you’ll visit Verona. Stroll around the Medieval City, enjoy some good food and fine wine, and see the famous balcony of Shakespeare’s Juliet.
Next, move on to Sirmione, a neat resort town on Lake Garda, your home for the next two nights. There’s no need to spend one night in Verona, if you don’t want to take advantage of the photo opportunities offered by the sunset.
Sirmione – Lago Di Garda – Days 3-4
While some people may prefer a longer stay in Verona with a day trip to Lake Garda, I’d say that Sirmione is the place to spend at least a couple of days in. This scenic town is partially located on a 4km peninsula in Lake Garda. Sirmione’s old center, with its narrow streets and colorful buildings, will steal your heart.
If you want to relax and unwind, spend two nights in Sirmione. The restaurants by the lakefront are welcoming and romantic and the pizza and pasta are delicious.
If you choose to take this trip in the winter, you’ll still be able to enjoy dinner on a lakefront terrace – there are tents and outdoor heaters to keep you warm. A good Italian wine would also help.
Bergamo – Days 5-6
Bergamo isn’t a big town, but it is definitely worth a short stay. The old part of the town is called Citta Alta and it is located on the top of a hill. You can get there by funicular or by walking. There are also some hotels, should you want to spend your two nights in Bergamo in Citta Alta.
The modern Bergamo, Citta Bassa, is also worth a visit. Its cobblestone streets and romantic coffee shops have a special charm.
Spend two nights in Bergamo, and use one of these days to take a half day trip to Lago d’Iseo.
Sarnico – Lago D’Iseo – Day 5 or 6
Sarnico is at about 30 km from Bergamo. You can get there by bus in almost one hour. If you choose a taxi, you can get to Sarnico in less than 30 minutes.
This can be a beautiful half day trip from Bergamo. There is accommodation, should you want to spend a night here. However, I think that Bergamo is a better place to spend your evenings in.
Milan – Days 7-9
You can see most of the tourist objectives in this city in a full day, self-guided tour of Milan. However, taking into consideration that this itinerary doesn’t allow too much time to visit these objectives properly, you may want to spend two nights in Milan. This will allow you to see the Duomo and climb to its top the very first day of your stay here. Next, you’ll have one full day for the self-guided walking tour that also includes a visit to Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church where you’ll admire Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper mural painting. Here’s how to find it and how to buy tickets.
Sleeping two nights in Milan will leave room for a brief shopping session. Seeing that Milan is the European capital of fashion, you’ll find some amazing clothes and shoes in those little shops.
Lugano – Days 10-11
Lugano is in Switzerland, on the board of Lake Como. It is a neat town, with cobblestone streets, peaceful and smiling people, and impressive views. If you get here during winter, you’ll see palm trees with snow on them. According to Lugano locals, these palm trees belong to a cold-resistant species, so they don’t have problems with ice and snow.
By sleeping here two nights, you’ll be able to explore the town and its surroundings, as well as other villages and towns surrounding Lake Como.
Bellagio – Lake Como – Day 11
Out of all these lake-shore towns, I’d recommend you visit Bellagio. Located in Italy, Bellagio is at 23km distance from Lugano. If you have a car, you’ll be able to reach Bellagio in under one hour by driving and taking the car ferry. If you don’t have a car, you’ll have to take a bus and then the car ferry. In this case, the journey will take one hour and 40 minutes.
Built on a hill by the lake, Bellagio offers an impressive scenery. If time allows, you should consider spending one night here to see Lake Como by night, with the lit houses on the other side of the water.
Stresa – Lago Maggiore – Days 12-14
Ending your Northern Italy itinerary in Stresa will enable you to reach Milan Malpensa airport with ease.
You can get to Stresa from Bellagio by taking the ferry to Varenna, and then the train. You can expect this journey to take about two hours, depending on your connections. Unfortunately, moving between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore isn’t that easy without a car. Here are a few ideas and some possibly useful details on how to use public transport to get to Stresa from Bellagio. I haven’t used any of these, as I was driving my own car (living in Europe pays off big time when it comes to such itineraries).
Conclusions on Choosing the Best Northern Italy Itinerary
This two-week itinerary allows you to visit four lakes and two countries. All these lakes are special, hence my decision to include all for them in this tour.
If you don’t have this much time available, I’d say give up Sarnico and Lago d’Iseo. If I were to give up any of the other three, I’d have a hard time at making a choice.
If you can only afford to spend one week in Italy, you can focus on the area between Venice and Milan and skip Como and Maggiore altogether. Alternatively, you can set your base camp in Milan and cover as much as you can by taking day trips to all these places.
In terms of transportation, my first option would be to rent a car. The second option would be the Italian railway system, which I found to be very comfortable and easy to figure out.
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