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Northern Italy, the area that looks like the furry lining sticking out of the geographical Italian boot. While the cities of Florence and Rome get much of the tourist attention, many of the pictures of stunning coastline, sharp mountain peaks, and lakeside villas that make Italy a dream destination are located in the north. With that in mind, we’ve constructed an itinerary for those visiting this serene area of the world.
Day 1: Milan
Welcome to Northern Italy. Day 1 is going to be spent in the region’s largest city, Milan. In fact, this will be the only stop in a major city, as we are bypassing the other large cities, Turin and Bologna, while on this trip.
Milan, while known primarily as a fashion haven, has plenty of culture as well. Begin the day by visiting the Santa Maria delle Grazie, where da Vinci’s masterpiece, Last Supper, is on display. From there head to the Duomo, Milan’s main cathedral and one of the most attractive facades in Europe.
Those who are fashionably inclined can take advantage of the Duomo’s proximity to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping arcade and a gorgeous glass-roofed area housing big names like Gucci and Versace.
Day 2: Journey to the Lake Region
Lake Como, the long-time secret escape of the rich and famous, is just an hour jaunt from Milan. The next few days are all about relaxation lakeside.
Como and the surrounding area are ripe with high-class accommodations, many of which feature private docks for boat rides and spas with lake views. Take the day to unwind and soak in the surroundings. The only necessary moves are from hotel room to spa to pool to the fine-dining restaurants common in these hotels. While it would be easy to spend the entire few days in the lake region stationed in one of the luxury spots, best get out and explore as well.
Day 3: Como Day Trips
From Como, a number of other lakes are easily accessible. For day two in paradise, choose amongst the many options like Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore, or Lake Orta.
Lake Garda, arguably the most family-friendly option for lakes in the region is also one of the most popular. Families can see the zoo, amusement parks, and waterparks that skirt along the shoreline. Those looking for more culture can ascend Monte Baldo via cable car or visit one of the public villas and fortresses.
Lake Maggiore is one of the largest lakes in both Italy and Switzerland as it stretches beyond Italy’s northern border. Maggiore is big enough that it has a series of gorgeous islands, the Borromean Islands, contained within its waters. Our favorite of the Borromeans is Isolabella. Stresa is a picturesque town on Maggiore’s shores for those not wanting to take to the water.
West of Como and Maggiore is our final pick of potential lakes to see, Lake Orta. Smaller than the previous representatives, those who visit should enjoy Isola San Giulio, an island with a handsome basilica right on the shore.
Day 4: Como and Departure
It may be hard to pry away from Lake Como and the lavish lodgings and gorgeous views but alas more adventure awaits. Prior to heading to the next destination, spend some time exploring the city of Como. While there are many extravagant villas to visit in town, we recommend Villa del Balbianello — built in the 12th century, it’ll be recognizable to fans of films like James Bond and Star Wars. In the center of town, Como’s cathedral is a nice example of Gothic architecture, but what is really striking is its incredibly ornate interior.
Day 5: Welcome to Verona
Having arrived the night before, it’s time to wake up and take on Verona. Best known for being the home of Romeo and Juliet, those exploring the city by foot are guaranteed to run into various heart-shaped memorabilia or souvenirs. Fans of Shakespeare or of the star-crossed lovers can visit Casa di Giulietta, the 14th-century home said to have inspired the bard.
From there, we highly recommend spending time in the center. Verona is an impressively well-preserved city that still has a number of relics from the Roman times. The Piazza delle Erbe is the main plaza of Verona and cannot be described as anything other than beautiful. The restaurants that surround the town square present a relaxed café culture where it is totally acceptable to pass the time sipping a cappuccino and watching city life unfold.
Those who are in Verona during the summer must check out the Arena di Verona’s summer opera schedule. While it would be amazing to see Italian opera live anywhere, this experience is special. The Arena di Verona is a Roman-built amphitheater that retains its historic structure, and is now also an operational events venue with a 20,000 person capacity. Once the fat lady sings, time at the opera and Verona has ended. After stopping for a glass of wine, or two, get some shuteye: Venice is calling.
Day 6: Verona to Venice
The morning trip from Verona to Venice is easy, whether taking a train or traveling by car, the journey should take under an hour and a half. This quick trip means there is a full day for taking in the sights of Venice. Simply walking around the canal-lined city and over its hundreds of bridges, visitors can get a feel for what an audacious accomplishment the construction of Venice really is.
To begin sight-seeing follow the Grand Canal to its end where it culminates fantastically at the Basilica and plaza named for San Marco. The breathtaking Italo-Byzantine architecture of the square and Basilica di San Marco is enough to keep anyone entertained, but inside the cathedral, and the connecting Doge’s Palace, are golden marvels.
Hey, have we mentioned Italians have good food? Well Venice, which does have its own culinary flair and flavor, is as good a place as any to indulge in great cooking. For lunch find a busy bacaro, a bar more or less, that offers an array of cicheti or Venetian tapas.
As an afternoon activity, take in one of Venice’s many museums. Our recommendation would be Punta della Dogana. This museum, which is named for the tip of land where the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal meet, is housed in a dazzling edifice that used to be Venice’s customs building. For those perhaps seeking better-known art, check out the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
The evening is reserved for sunsets, food, and maybe a touch of romance. Venetian sunsets, which often scatter hues of pink and orange across the skies, are known as some of the best in the world, and have been a muse for artists for centuries. After watching nature’s show, make room for quality Italian cooking. The area around Palazzo Ducale is a good place to find lagoon-side dining. Much of Venice’s customary cuisine does come from the sea, so seafood pasta should be something to look out for. End the night sipping some bubbly prosecco in the back of a gondola.
Day 7: More of the Same or Branch Out to Burano
Unsurprisingly, there is still plenty left to explore in Venice, and there is no shame staying there for more sightseeing, but anyone hoping to see more of the region can take an easy day trip to places like Udine, Trieste, and the Italian Dolomites around Aviano. However, our recommendation is Burano, another city on an island just a quick ferry ride from Venice. If Venice is refined, then Burano is its flamboyant cousin. The town, on the edge of a lagoon, has been put on the map because of its brightly colored homes. A great place to explore and take pictures, the area is also well-known for producing world-class lace.
Day 8: Venice to Cinque Terre
Well, the precise planning and quick one to two-hour car rides are over. The final stop on our Northern Italy adventure requires a trip from one coast to another. The ride from Venice to Cinque Terre takes around four hours by car or five and a half by train. Plan on arriving and having a night of leisure either in Genoa, the nearest large city to Cinque Terre, or Riomaggiore, the northernmost town of Cinque.
Day 9-10: Consume More Carbs and Walk a Few Off
Cinque Terre, Italian for Five Lands, is a series of small, colorful cliffside villages built along the Mediterranean. While many tourists pick and choose two or three of the five main towns, we encourage a different perspective. The five villages, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, are all interconnected via hiking routes. While there is quite a bit of ascending and descending along the coastal cliffs, the hike itself is not difficult and could theoretically be completed, end-to-end, in just six hours. For the final two days, before departing from Genoa or Milan, we encourage travelers to have minimal plans. Instead, hike between the gorgeous towns, see the sites, and choose a favorite place to stay in overnight. Each town has tremendous views, some of the best beaches in Italy, excellent food, and an undeniable charm exuding from its architecture and people.