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I recently had the pleasure of visiting some brand new destinations in Europe including several in Italy. In this guide, I’m going to share my Northern Italy itinerary for those with limited time.
There are SO many wonderful destinations in Italy but many are spread between the south and centre of the country, requiring extra time and planning. I decided to save them for a future trip, instead focussing on the north.
With vibrant cities, abundant history, delectable regional cuisine, mountain ranges and breathtakingly beautiful lakes, you’ve picked a great destination!
How many days for Northern Italy?
7 days in Northern Italy is enough to see the main cities like Milan, Verona and Venice. If you also wish to visit the Dolomites, Lake Garda and Lake Como, you’ll need at least 10 days in Northern Italy but 2 weeks is better, in my opinion.
However long you have, I have a North Italy itinerary to help you out.
When to visit Northern Italy?
Summer in Italy is a popular time to visit but expect it to be crowded and expensive. In my opinion, the best time is shoulder season: March-May or September-October.
If you can brave the colder weather, winter is of course less crowded with better deals to be found on accommodation. It’s also a good time for skiing in the Dolomites.
Getting around during 10 days in Northern Italy
By car: a North Italy road trip is a fantastic way to explore. Although you won’t need a car in cities like Verona, Milan and Venice, it’s useful if visiting the Dolomites. Use Rentalcars.com to browse prices and book.
By train: these are affordable and efficient in Northern Italy. I use RailEurope and Trainline to compare prices and times.
By bus: admittedly, it’s the less scenic way to travel but I’m a fan of the FlixBus because it’s regular and cheaper than the train.
North Italy itinerary for 7 days
- Days 1-2 – Milan
- Day 3 – Lake Como day trip
- Day 4 – Verona
- Day 5 – Lake Garda day trip
- Days 6-7 – Venice.
North Italy itinerary for 10 days
- Days 1-2 – Milan
- Day 3 – Lake Como day trip
- Days 4-5 – the Dolomites
- Day 6 – Trento en route to Verona
- Day 7 – Verona
- Days 8 – Lake Garda day trip
- Days 9-10 – Venice.
North Italy itinerary for 14 days
- Days 1-2 – Milan
- Day 3-4 – Lake Como
- Days 5-6 – Dolomites
- Day 7 – Trento en route to Verona
- Day 8 – Verona
- Days 9-10 – Lake Garda
- Days 11-14 – Venice.
Public transport adaptations
The above itineraries include exploring the Dolomites by car then driving to Verona with a stop in Trento. If you’re travelling by public transport, take the train from Bolzano to Verona directly or add an extra night in Trento (carrying all my luggage always stops me from seeing somewhere en route to somewhere else).
Milan – 2-3 nights
As the second-biggest city in the country, Milan makes a fantastic starting point for your Northern Italy itinerary. Italy’s fashion capital never stops moving. Although it can be busy, hectic and expensive, Milan is well worth a visit. I’d suggest spending 2-3 days here depending how much you like big cities.
Read next: how to spend 2 days in Milan
Day 1 in Milan – hit the highlights
On your first day in Milan, I’d recommend exploring Milan’s core. Duomo Square is where you can see Milan’s most famous buildings, join walking tours and reach other key attractions on foot.
- Take a free walking tour with City Walkers. I learned so much from our informative guide. The tour lasts 2 hours 45 minutes, departing daily from Duomo Square. Give a tip if you enjoy it.
- Venture inside the famous Duomo Cathedral that took 600 years to complete. Boasting more statues than any other building in the world (around 3,500), a local law prohibiting any Milan building to be taller was only recently lifted. There are several ticket options: I took the skip-the-line stair climb including access to the interior, museum and archaeological area.
- Wander through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – this 19th-century arcade is an architectural masterpiece housing designer Italian brands. The prices are sky-high but it’s a must-see.
- Santuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa – this 13th-century church is not for the faint of heart! Human skulls and bones line the walls of the ossuary chapel.
- Sforzesco Castle – walk through Milan’s 15th-century medieval castle for free or pay to visit the Art Gallery, Archaeological Museum (prehistoric and Egyptian) and other libraries and exhibitions. Closed Mondays.
- Sempione Park – by the castle lies a 47-hectare park with a lake and wide array of bird life. At the back, you’ll find Arco della Pace. Construction began to mark Napoleon’s victories and it was finally completed to celebrate Italian reunification following Austro-Hungarian rule.
Where to eat (affordably) in Central Milan:
- All’Antico Vinaio – truly one of the best sandwiches I’ve eaten in my life! Although the line stretches around the corner, it’s worth it. I paid €7 for a sandwich named ‘the boss’ with black truffle spread, prosciutto, hard cheese and rocket/arugula
- ALDENTE Pastabar – although it’s a budget, no-frills cafe, they offer an excellent package deal of pasta, dessert, a drink AND coffee for €10. Choose from various types of pasta and sauces
- Panzerotti Luini – brave the long line for delicious panzerotti (similar to empanadas) filled with cheese, meat, spinach and other ingredients.
Day 2 in Milan
With a second day in Milan, you can get past the highlights. Explore other neighbourhoods or try a fun class or activity.
- Pasta making class – the best experience of my Northern Italy itinerary was this fantastic workshop hosted by Pietro in his home. We made different types of egg pasta and tiramisu for dessert, learning about Italian food from Pietro and enjoying our creations together with wine
- Relax in Navigli neighbourhood – this part of Milan is more relaxed and affordable than the centre with cool cafes and bars beside the canals
- Monumental cemetery – one of the more unusual Milan attractions is this grand cemetery where the tombs look more like temples, many built by famous architects. Within walking distance is…
- Isola – this quirky neighbourhood is known for its street art and Bosco Verticale, two skyscrapers covered with hundreds of plants, reminding me of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.
Where to stay in Milan
I can vouch for Porta Romana as a central neighbourhood with great food. Milano Roastery is a fantastic cafe to start your day with coffee and stuffed croissants (the pistachio cream one was phenomenal) while Il Trapizzino serves pizza cones oozing burrata cheese. Pastamadre and Dongiò are lovely pasta restaurants.
Another popular neighbourhood is Navigli, all set around a canal network. With lots of outside cafes and restaurants, it’s a cool hood not far from central Milan.
- Backpackers hostel: YellowSquare Milan in Porta Romana is a great hostel with two restaurants, a bar and yoga classes. Although it’s a social place, the dorms (each bunk with its own light and plug socket) remain quiet at night. Check availability from €30 per night.
- Budget hotel: BioCity near Centrale Station includes Wi-Fi, TVs in each room, free daily breakfast, biodegradable toiletries and easy access to public transport connections. Check availability from €118 per night.
- Browse all Milan accommodation on Booking.com and Hostelworld.
Day 3 – Lake Como
Lake Como in the Lombardy region is one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe, attracting celebrity guests from around the world. The 146-kilometre lake is shaped like the letter Y, the three branches lined with picturesque villages drinking in views of the Alps.
How to visit Lake Como as a day trip from Milan: The train from Milano Centrale takes 30 minutes to reach Como San Giovanni. Use Trainline to book from €4.80. For ease and convenience, companies like GetYourGuide offer Lake Como day trips from Milan from €80 including a guide, transport and boat trip.
How to get around Lake Como: by water, of course! An all-day ferry ticket will enable you to visit as many places as you want. At the time of writing (2022), a day pass costs €25.80 (individual tickets cost €4.80).
Stay overnight in Lake Como (for longer Northern Italy itineraries)
With two days in Lake Como, you can get past the highlights and explore the many idyllic and charming places surrounding the lake. As an extra benefit, you’ll avoid the crowds by visiting outside of the typical tourist daytripper hours.
Day 1 in Lake Como:
- Bellagio – often dubbed the ‘pearl of Lake Como’, this village is known for its colourful houses and cobbled backstreets… And receiving frequent visits from George Clooney! Villa Melzi and the Basilica of St. Giacomo are two of the most impressive places to visit.
- Villa del Balbianello – if this 18th-century villa looks familiar, it may be because it’s been used for the filming of major productions such as Star Wars and James Bond. The manicured gardens with sea views are some of the most beautiful you’ll see. Arrive by ferry (followed by a 20-minute hike) or the more expensive water taxi. Entry costs €20.
Day 2 in Lake Como:
- Varenna – just 20 minutes from Bellagio, Varenna is one of the most well-photographed places in Northern Italy. After exploring the beautiful town, you can visit natural attractions including waterfalls and Orrido di Bellano gorge and canyon.
- Menaggio – this beloved town is known for its lakeside promenade where you can admire the views, relax in the many cafes and restaurants, or hire a small boat
- Tremezzina – also easily accessible from Bellagio, this village is full of grand villas such as Villa Carlotta with impressive botanical gardens.
Where to stay in Lake Como:
- Budget – Hotel Borgo Antico is just a 10-minute walk from the centre of Como town with a rustic vibe, air conditioning and homemade breakfast. Check availability from €150 per night.
- Splash out – Le Luci sul Lago di Como is an entire apartment with exquisite lake views from a private balcony, fully equipped kitchen with coffee machine & more. Check availability from €200 per night.
- Browse all places to stay in Lake Como on Booking.com.
Additional day trip from Milan – Bergamo
If your Northern Italy itinerary allows, another worthwhile day trip from Milan is to Bergamo, a small yet charming city just an hour away by train. Visiting the ancient Città Alta (Old City) is akin to stepping back in time thanks to its cobbled streets and Venetian walls surrounding the city.
Things to do in Bergamo include visiting Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, Cappella Colleoni (a shrine to the Italian war hero), riding the funicular and eating at the many authentic snack bars and gelato cafes.
Use Trainline to book a ticket from €4.80.
Dolomites – 3 nights
An undeniable bucket list destination for your North Italy road trip is the Dolomites. This UNESCO-protected mountain range in Northeastern Italy entices visitors with its jutting cliffs, otherworldly green-blue waters and opportunities for hiking, skiing and boat trips.
For the ultimate contrast to big and busy Milan, the Dolomoties can’t be missed!
Bolzano is the largest town in South Tyrol region and where many people choose to base. A car is highly recommended for this section of our North Italy itinerary because there’s little public transport connecting the various points of interest.
The Dolomites region boasts fantastic cuisine, not to mention some of Italy’s best wine from the Eisack Valley.
Days 4-5 – explore the Dolomites
1-3 days in the Dolomites is an optimum amount of time to spend. There are many incredible places to see including:
- Tre Cime – these three striking peaks are almost a symbol for the Dolomites. For an unforgettable hike, take the 10km Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop
- Lago di Braies – as one of the most iconic Dolomite locations after Tre Cime, there’s a 0% chance you’ll have this lake to yourself! Escape after on a nearby hike
- Val di Funes – this vast valley with dramatic mountains towering above the Church of St Magdalena is another of the Dolomites’ most photographed destinations, for good reason.
- Val Gardena region – this is your one-stop for skiing in winter and hiking and rock climbing in summer. There are several hikes with jaw-dropping scenery that can be reached via the cable car.
Day 6 – Trento en route to Milan
Assuming you’re travelling by car in the Dolomites, consider visiting Trento en route to Verona. This mid-sized city of 100,000 takes a little over an hour to reach. After being immersed in nature for several days, Trento provides the perfect dose of culture and history.
What to do in Trento during one day:
- Tour Buonconsiglio Castle built in Romanesque-Lombard style (€10 entry)
- See Trento Cathedral built upon the original 4th-century basilica
- Enjoy the cuisine that takes influence from central Europe (the region was part of Austria for 100 years)
- Take the cable car for panoramic views of the city and mountains
- Visit museums such as MUSE (Science Museum), the Museum of Modern Art and the Diocesan museum
- Attend the Trentino Film Festival in April if your Northern Italy trip itinerary coincides with the dates.
Verona – 2 nights
Verona is a beautiful stop for any Northern Italy travel itinerary. Gone is the hustle and bustle of fast-paced Milan. Verona is small and charming although it gets very busy during peak season.
Day 7 – Verona highlights
Things to do during one day in Verona:
- Verona Arena – this Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra (Verona’s central square) dating back to 30 AD was once used for gory gladiator fights. These days, it holds more peaceful performances: pop concerts and opera in the summer months.
- Romeo & Juliet tourism – Juliet’s Balcony attracts crowds who either visit the courtyard for free and take photos with a golden bust of Juliet OR pay to enter the museum which includes access to the famous balcony. Although Romeo and Juliet probably weren’t real, it’s well documented that their families lived in Verona.
- Summit Castel San Pietro – the castle overlooking Verona can be accessed by a (very) steep climb or a quick cable car ride costing $1.50 each way.
- Find frescos – admire beautiful murals dating back to the 1500s. Since the population was largely illiterate, the frescos visually tell stories with moral and biblical significance.
- Climb Torre dei Lamberti – the best views of Verona, the countryside and castle can be seen from the top of this ancient tower. Pay €6 to climb the stairs or ride the elevator.
You could consider leaving Verona after the day’s sightseeing, arriving in Venice the same evening.
Getting to Verona: the city is well connected to other destinations in Northern Italy by train and Flixbus.
Eat & drink in Verona
I had the fantastic opportunity in Verona to partner with Original Travel and experience one of their tailor-made travel experiences. They create travel itineraries based on individual likes and dislikes, ensuring every detail is carefully considered.
Based on my insatiable love of food and travel, we embarked on a wonderful tour of Verona, learning how the culinary history has shaped the city and vice versa. From salami-themed frescos to cake-shaped statues and a wine, cheese and meat tasting feast to remember, you’ll need to read my Verona food guide for all the details!
Learn more about Original Travel & browse their Italy holidays here.
Where to stay in Verona
- Hostel – the Hostello is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in with spacious rooms, a garden, modern kitchen and relaxation area. Check availability from €25 per night.
- Budget hotel – SALUS Locazione Turistica is near to all the main attractions with comfortable rooms and a lounge area. Check availability from €65 per night.
- Splash out – Theatrum Rooms and Suites have individually-designed arty rooms themed around the city of Verona, alongside all your desired amenities. Check availability from €170 per night
- Browse all Verona accommodation on Booking.com and Hostelworld.
Lake Garda – day trip or overnight
The largest lake in Italy doubles up as one of the most beautiful places to visit. Like Como, there are numerous towns flanking the Lake, each seemingly more picturesque than the last, but none more lovely than Sirmione.
Although you could easily spend a whole week in Lake Como, if you have just 7 or 10 days for your North Italy itinerary, you’ll probably want to visit Lake Garda as a day trip from Verona. To do this, either take the train or a guided day trip inc Sirmione with GetYourGuide (€70).
How to spend 2 days in Lake Garda
There are plenty of villages to spend the night such as Garda and Malcesine. Using one as your launching point, enjoy the following places and activities in Lake Garda:
- Sirmione – as the most popular destination beside the lake, it’s best to visit early or late. You’ll miss the tour groups and see the village slightly less crowded. Wander the castle, churches and excavated Roman villa
- Malcesine is another of the most beautiful towns on the north banks of Lake Garda alongside Riva del Garda and Limone Sul Garda
- Bardolino – what’s the only thing that could make an Italian village in the foothills of the Monte Baldo mountains more perfect? Ah yes, a wine festival!
- Other southern towns including Lazise and Torri del Benaco
- Marvel at Cascata del Varone waterfall and Arco Castle north of the lake
- Market hop: different towns hold weekly markets selling food, crafts and other goods.
Itinerary suggestion: for 2 days in Lake Garda, explore the northern lake towns during one day and the southern towns during the next.
Where to stay in Lake Garda:
Venice – 2-3 nights
Although Venice can be insanely crowded (to the extent that a fee to visit the island is being established from summer 2022), it’s a wonder of our world and a must for your North Italy itinerary… Provided you visit outside of peak tourist season!
Accommodation on Venice island can be expensive so, if you’re travelling on a budget, stay on the mainland and catch the bus or train over the bridge (€1.50). Since vehicles aren’t allowed on the island, public transport leaves you at Tronchetto requiring a 40-minute walk (or a boat ride) to St Mark’s Square. Luckily, getting lost down atmospheric side streets is half the charm of Venice.
Getting to Venice: From Verona, take the train from €10 or the Flixbus from €5.
Read next: 2 day Venice itinerary for first-timers
Day 9 – Venice highlights
What to do during one day in Venice (the main attractions):
- Take a free walking tour of Venice (booking mandatory)
- Go inside Saint Mark’s Basilica. Entry is free or book a ticket for the full shebang (rooftop access, museum, skip-the-line entry and guide)
- Go up the campanile tower for panoramic views
- Wander St Mark’s Square (but don’t eat or drink anything there – the prices and coperto fees are ridiculous!)
- Go inside Doge’s Palace and cross the Bridge of Sighs named after the sound prisoners would make when seeing Venice for the last time. Entry also includes the Correr Museum, National Archeological Museum and Biblioteca Marciana. Arrive early and queue or get a skip-the-line ticket
- Cross Rialto Bridge and wander Rialto Market.
Delicious affordable eats in Venice:
- Tiramisu at I Tre Mercanti – at this iconic deli shop you can see fresh tiramisu being made. Try flavours from original to pistachio, Nutella and salted caramel. Well worth the €4.50
- L’ Bacaro de’ Bischeri – what dreams are made of! With 4.9 stars on Google, this tiny deli in Rialto serves phenomenal sandwiches for affordable prices. I forget which one I ordered but it had spicy pistachio cream, ham and sundried tomato. They also serve €1 wine!
- Farini – there are a bunch of these pizza cafes serving delicious, fresh pizzas by the slice, best washed down with an Aperol Spritz
- Gelato at Gelatoteca Suso – this place is the bomb! You’ll have to queue but it’s worth it
- We Love Italy (fresh pasta to go) – perhaps pasta connoisseurs would turn up their nose at this takeaway cafe but in my opinion, it’s a great place to grab try different types of pasta and sauces including famous duck ragu from €6
- Bacarando Corte dell’Orso – nearby the above two places is this casual restaurant with excellent cicchetti. I had three pieces and wine for €11
- Frito Inn – fresh squid for €10? Yes, please! This takeaway stand serves fresh food in cones
- Dolce Vita Venezia – if you’re on a budget, you can’t do better than 3 cicchetti and Aperol for €5!
Day 10 – visit the Venetian islands
- Murano island – known for producing colourful Venetian glass, this is a wonderful island to browse gift shops (which aren’t outrageously expensive), watch glass-making demonstrations and visit Murano Glass Museum. Entry is €11 but it’s well worth it; the arty glass creations are out-of-this-world!
- Burano island – the rainbow-painted houses of Italy’s most colourful island must be seen to be believed. There are a few things to do like visit the Lace Museum but the highlight is wandering and snapping naturally-saturated Insta pics
- Lido – using our daily transport pass, we spontaneously tagged on a visit to this 11km-long island where we strolled the town and visited the beach. We hadn’t expected there to be time after visiting Murano & Burano but thanks to long summer days in Europe, we visited around 6pm.
How to visit the islands: the islands are connected to Venice island by boat. Either get a daily transport pass (€21) from a ticket vending machine or ticket point at a bus/boat station or book a small group Murano & Burano tour inc guide (€30 with GetYourGuide).
A third day in Venice (optional)
Depending how much time your North Italy itinerary allows for, 2 days in Venice may be enough. However, I enjoyed having a third day to visit the hidden gems and soak up more of beautiful Venice (and eat more cicchetti naturally!)
- Libreria Acqua Alta – if you can’t afford a gondola ride, visit this quirky bookshop with a door leading directly to a harnessed gondola parked on the water. The name translates to ‘high water bookshop’ and, appropriately, the books are stored in bathtubs and waterproof bins in preparation for the regular foods that plague Venice
- Giardini Reali – despite being right beside St Mark’s Square, these hidden gardens are a lovely place to escape the crowds and rest on a bench surrounded by beautiful foliage
- The Jewish Quarter – the Venetian word ‘geto’ evolved to the word we know today as ghetto, originally referring to Cannaregio where the Jewish people of Venice were exiled in the 1500s. It’s now a vibrant area filled with galleries, synagogues and restaurants.
Where to stay in Venice
- Hostel – you can’t do better than AO Hostel Venizia Mestre2 moments from the bus stop transporting you to the island. It’s a clean, modern base with dorms from €29 and private rooms from €50.
- Budget hotel – Hotel Al Malcanton has a grand, retro style within walking distance from all the important Venice attractions. Check availability from €122 a night.
- Splash out – Hotel Carlton On The Grand Canal is a beautiful 4* hotel with a rooftop cocktail bar. Check availability from €175 a night.
- Browse all accommodation on Booking.com and Hostelworld.
Thanks for reading!
Read my other Italy posts:
- How to spend 2 days in Venice, Italy
- The perfect Milan itinerary for 2 days
- A complete guide to Verona food
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TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING ITALY
Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in Italy (and all around the world).
For trains, both RailEurope and Trainline offer excellent service in Italy. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website.
For buses, I use FlixBus. Find journeys from €1!
Use Omio to compare trains and buses in one search. It’s so handy!
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide.
Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.
For Italian food experiences from cooking classes to market visits hosted by locals, use EatWith.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!