Thirteen is considered a lucky number in Italy, so take time off and explore Northern Italy for thirteen days. Take in the history and amazing street food in Milan, then head to beautiful Lake Como for a week of sunshine, sprawling lakeside gardens, and wine tasting. Continue to Lakes Maggiore and Garda for Sunday mornings at the market, Napoleon-era villas, and the stunning Dolomite Mountains.

Highlights

  • Go shopping at the Corso Venezia and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • See da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’
  • Make—and eat!—the quintessential Italian dish, handmade pasta
  • Visit spectacular Lake Carezza deep in the Dolomite Mountains
  • Spend 3 days on beautiful Lake Como

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Milan Milan
Day 2 Full Day Milan Tour Milan
Day 3 Milan to Lake Como Como
Day 4 Bellagio Walking Tour Como
Day 5 Pasta Making Class in Como Como
Day 6 Free Day in Como Como
Day 7 Lake Como to Lake Maggiore Stresa
Day 8 Free Day on Lake Maggiore Stresa
Day 9 Lake Maggiore to Lake Garda Peschiera del Garda
Day 10 Dolomites Day Tour Peschiera del Garda
Day 11 Verona Day Tour Peschiera del Garda
Day 12 Free Day on Lake Garda Peschiera del Garda
Day 13 Goodbye Italy!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Milan

Naviglio Grande canal in the evening
Naviglio Grande canal in the evening

Welcome to Milan! Arrive at the Milano Malpensa or Linate airport, then transfer to the city center and check in to your hotel. Milan is known as the non-official capital of Italy, the place where everything happens. The city is a center for business, shopping, fashion, and culture, as well as medieval art and beautiful architecture.

Many of Milan's old monuments and buildings were destroyed during the Second World War bombings, and the new construction and modern architecture give Milan a sophisticated vibe. Because of this, Milan is known as Italy's "new" city and represents modern Italy. 

Many of Milan's famous historical sights are clustered together in the heart of the city with easy access from the train station, so it's easy to explore on your own today while you get acquainted with the city. Top sights include the striking Gothic Duomo, one of the world's largest, La Scala Opera House, Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, a glamorous 20th-century indoor shopping mall, the Pirelli Tower and medieval Castello Sforzesco. Milan is also home to one of the world's most famous paintings—da Vinci's 'The Last Supper', housed at the Santa Maria della Grazie monastery. 

If there's enough time in the afternoon, a stroll through the downtown district is an excellent way to spend the day. A visit to the 16th-century Royal Palace, a sprawling neoclassical palace turned art museum, is a great way to explore the city's history and art. Although the building suffered great damage during World War II, it has been beautifully restored and is now a renowned cultural center. 

In the evening head to the Navigli at Porta Genova, Milan's ancient network of canals and passages used for transporting goods and supplies across the city. At night these streets transform with crowds of locals and tourists meeting friends at bars and aperativo bar. Come for the buzzing energy, stay for the wine bars and people watching.

Day 2: Full Day Milan Tour

The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci

Spend the day discovering sights and history in Milan on today's combination bus and walking tour. Start on the bus to see panoramic views of the city, then hit the streets with an expert guide to see the city up close. 

The bus tour starts at Foro Bonaparte, built to celebrate Napoleon's victories, to see the Arco della Pace (arch of peace), the Santa Maria delle Grazie and Sant'Ambrogio churches, as well as the San Babila and Fontana Piazzas.
Drive by the Corso Venezia, a luxury shopping street in the Quadrilatero della Moda district. 

From here, leave the tour bus behind and walk to see the 18th-century Neoclassical Teatro alla Scala and the iconic gothic Cathedral (local's tip: head to the roof for panoramic views of the city). The Cathedral took nearly 600 years to complete, and its shiny marble facade and striking late Gothic architecture make it the symbolic monument of Milan. The massive church is the largest in Italy and the fourth-largest in the world. 

Stroll through the airy halls of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a spacious indoor shopping mall famous for its ornate architecture and skylights, which now houses historic restaurants, bars, and trendy shops. 

Continue to the Castello Sforzesco, a 15th-century castle and fortress which now houses a large art museum and works by Leonardo Da Vinci. 

After this, take a bus transfer for today's tour highlight: a guided visit to see Da Vinci's "The Last Supper", a world-famous fresco located in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The renowned work is highly regulated and the painting can only be viewed by appointment.

Day 3: Milan to Lake Como

Springtime in Bellagio,
Springtime in Bellagio, "The Pearl of the Lake"

Lake Como is one of the three main lakes in the Lake District, alongside Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. While the other two lakes are famous for their grand atmosphere, Lake Como is peaceful and quiet, surrounded by forests which add to the serene atmosphere. The lake is popular with travelers from around the world and has attracted several celebrities, including George Clooney and Madonna. 

You'll be based in the town of Como on the southern end of the lake while you spend the next few days exploring. City highlights include the Gothic 14th-century Cathedral of Como, sprawling Villa Olmo park and exhibition halls, and the Museo Didattico della Seta (Museum of Silk), which chronicles the region's historic silk industry. See the sights with a ride on the funicular railway and enjoy the views with a stroll on the waterfront promenade. 

In the evening catch the sunset show on a 3-hour cruise, passing quiet bays and elegant villas with the Rhaetian Alps in the background. Enjoy hearing stories of Lake Como as you watch the first few stars appear above the lake, then return to the shore for a four-course dinner and wine.

Day 4: Bellagio Walking Tour

Botanical garden on the lakeshore
Botanical garden on the lakeshore

Spend the day exploring the beautiful lakeside town of Bellagio, which sits on Lake Como about an hour to the north. You'll take a scenic boat trip to reach Bellagio, then go for a three-hour guided tour to see the little-known vantage points and sights which many visitors miss. Stroll around Punta Spartivento and gaze out at Lake Como. Walk to the village of Aureggio to see rare 19th-century Larian gondola boats in the sleepy fishing harbor.

Tour the neoclassical Villa Melzi and the surrounding botanical gardens, which are filled with spectacular rare and exotic plants and a Japanese pond. The residence was built for Francesco Melzi d’Eril, vice president of the Italian Republic during Napoleon's time. Head inside the elaborate home to see works by Antonio Canova, Andrea Appiani, Giovan Battista Comolli and Giuseppe Bossi, then step into the adjacent Orangery to view a small museum of Napoleonic memorabilia. Spend some time here enjoying the views of Lake Como from the elegant terrace and gardens. 

Round out your tour with lunch at a Michelin-star local restaurant. In the afternoon, explore some of the town's magnificent villas and beautiful parks:

  • Go shopping for leather goods, clothing, and street food on the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi 
  • Tour the 12th-century Romanesque Basilica of San Giacomo 
  • Soak in the sunshine at the Lido di Bellagio and San Giovanni beaches 
  • Visit Menaggio, a small town above Bellagio 
  • Rent a paddleboard and head onto the water to explore the lake 
  • Get a rush of adrenaline on the zip lines of the family-friendly Jungle Raider Adventure Park 

For dinner, enjoy a traditional Mediterranean meal accompanied by local wine before taking the boat to Como for the night.

Day 5: Pasta Making Class in Como

Making pasta by hand
Making pasta by hand

Today you will learn how to make the quintessential Italian dish—handmade pasta. Discover why, exactly, handmade pasta tastes so much better during this 4-hour cooking class. Learn to make three different kinds of regional pasta—as well as pizza and other local specialties—before sitting down to enjoy your hard work, accompanied by a selection of wine.

In the afternoon, explore the city on your own. Recommended activities include:

  • Tour the gothic Duomo Cathedral and Lombard Romanesque Basilica di Sant'Abbondio 
  • Learn about history, art, and archaeology in the Museo Storico Giuseppe Garibaldi and Civic Art Gallery 
  • Explore Villa d'Este in Cernobbio, a beautiful villa built originally for an English Queen, with terraced gardens climbing the steep hill behind it
  • Visit the botanic garden at Villa Carlotta, which sits in Lake Como's mildest spot, the Tremezzina Riviera, where foliage remains green all winter
  • Visit the 13th-century Cluniac Abbey of Piona, which surrounds the 11th-century church of San Nicola and its beautiful Romanesque cloister
  • Canoeing at Porlezza or Lenno, a fun way to explore Lake Como

Day 6: Free Day in Como

Rent a kayak for a day on the water
Rent a kayak for a day on the water

Spend the day exploring Como's historic and natural sites with these suggested activities: 

  • Learn about local history in the Museo Archeologico
  • Take the funicular up to Brunate, a small town located high up in the mountains above Lake Como
  • Tour the  terraced gardens and beautiful interiors of Villa Balbianello - Lenno and the Villa Serbelloni
  • Visit Menaggio, a beautiful small town above Bellagio 
  • Go rock climbing on the granite and limestone cliffs that surround Lake Como 
  • Rent an electric bike and go for a ride along the lake
  • Go paragliding at Monte Cornizzolo to see Lake Como's beauty from above
  • Get an aerial view of the landscape with a flight on a seaplane with aeroclub Como 
  • Rent a kayak and enjoy a day on the water 
  • Go wine tasting at Cantine Sorsasso, Lake Como's oldest winery 

Day 7: Lake Como to Lake Maggiore

Harpsichord in the Borromean Palace
Harpsichord in the Borromean Palace

After a delicious breakfast, you'll travel the 1.5 hours to Lake Maggiore, one of Italy's favorite lakes. The nearby mountains shelter Lake Maggiore from cold northern winds making the lake and its 11 islands a popular year-round destination with tourists. Both Italian and foreign artists also favor the serene environment of this lake. 

Enjoy lunch at a lakeshore cafe, then head out for an afternoon visit to Isola Bella—the 'Beautiful Island'—with a hop-on-hop-off ferry ticket departing from Stresa. Visit the most famous of the Borromean Islands and tour the Palace Museum and Gardens, grab a bit to eat, or simply stroll around the palazzos and villas that decorate the port.  

Tour the exquisite villa gardens to see a variety of rare and beautiful flowers and animals, including the largest Kashmir cypress in Europe. The gardens are exceptionally beautiful with colorful camellias, rhododendrons, white peacocks, exotic birds, and tropical flowers on display. 

In the evening, enjoy a dinner of Mediterranean seafood and pizza, accompanied as always by a glass of local wine. Afterward, grab a cocktail at a downtown bar. 

Day 8: Free Day on Lake Maggiore

The beautiful gardens of Isola Madre
The beautiful gardens of Isola Madre

Today is a free day to take advantage of the beautiful weather and explore the area. Select from the following suggestions for a full day of sightseeing:

  • Take in the panoramic scenery with a ride on the 'Bucket Lift' funicular above Laveno
  • Admire nature at the Villa Taranto gardens and see tree-lined avenues, terraced pools, and vibrant flower gardens  
  • Go shopping for fresh-cut flowers, fish from the lake, clothing, gifts, and everything in between at the Luino and Cannobio Markets (Luino is open every Wednesday, Cannobio on Sunday mornings)
  • Visit the charming summer garden and flower meadows at Pallavicino Park
  • Learn about the region's ceramic history at the Museo Internazionale Design Ceramico 

For a full lake experience, sit down to a dinner of freshly caught fish at a lakeside restaurant, then go for a stroll along a lake promenade in the evening to watch the stars come out.

Day 9: Lake Maggiore to Lake Garda

Malcesine Castle on Lake Garda
Malcesine Castle on Lake Garda

After a delicious breakfast, travel the three hours to Lake Garda and check into your lakeshore accommodation. Lake Garda is large, and its northern villages of Bardolino, Riva, Malcesine, Gardone, Limone are smaller and have a more romantic mountain feeling. 

The southern villages of Sirmione and Desenzano are somewhat larger, with a vibrant nightlife, trendy bars and restaurants, and plentiful accommodation options. 

After lunch, explore Lade Garda's shores on a hop-on-hop-off combination bus and ferry tour. See the many lakeside villages and villas along the shore, cross to the other side of the lake by boat, and soak in the sunshine and views. The tour conveniently departs from many locations around the lake, giving you the flexibility to stop and explore wherever you want.

Day 10: Dolomites Day Tour

 Lake Carezza in the Dolomites
 Lake Carezza in the Dolomites

Hit the road today to explore the Dolomite Mountains, which form part of the Southern Limestone Alps and extend from the River Adige to the Piave Valley. 

Start your trip in the Gardena Valley, a world-famous sports area in South Tyrol. Visit the enchanting village of Ortisei, famous for its traditional houses and skillfully carved and painted wooden sculptures. Take the cable car up to 7,600 ft (2,500 m) and enjoy spectacular views of the Dolomites. Then, enjoy a typical Tyrolean lunch in town. 

After lunch, take a ride up to Sella Pass to see the views and take photos. Head down the other side of the pass towards Canazei and drive through the Fassa Valley into the Ega Valley for the last stop of the day at Lake Carezza. The lake, which is a spectacular shade of blue, is famous in the Dolomites area for its panoramic view of the Catinaccio and Latemar mountain chains.

In the evening, you'll return to Lake Garda.

Day 11: Verona Day Tour

The famous Juliet balcony
The famous Juliet balcony

Today you will visit the romantic city of Verona for a full-day city tour. Highlights of today's walking tour include the central Piazza Bra, the quaint market Piazza delle Erbe, and the former political center Piazza dei Signori. See the Roman Arena, the typical Roman houses of the Mercato Vecchio, and the gothic Scaliger tombstones, which house the remains of the Della Scala family. 

End the tour with a visit to Juliet's balcony and the Casa di Giulietta, said to have inspired Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". 

Afterward, shop for souvenirs and gifts or simply stroll around the narrow city streets.  Transfer back to Lake Garda in the afternoon, and spend the evening relaxing by the water and sitting down to a delicious dinner at a lakeside restaurant.

Day 12: Free Day on Lake Garda

Small town on Lake Garda
Small town on Lake Garda

Today is a free day to explore Lake Garda on your own. Make the most of your time with these following suggestions: 

  • Visit the Castello Scaligeri fortress, one of Italy's most complete and well-preserved castles 
  • Tour Grotte di Catullo, one of Northern Italy's most extensive Roman villa ruins 
  • Hike to see the Waterfall of Varone 
  • See Castello di Arco, a beautiful and impressive medieval fortress that sits atop a rocky tower 
  • Enjoy nature in the Hruska Botanic Garden where you can find species from every part of the world, from the Himalaya to Africa 
  • Visit the Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, a hillside estate in the town of Gardone Riviera and Torre di San Martino, erected in 1859 to commemorate the Battle of San Martino
  • Enjoy wine at Cantina Zeni and the Museum of Wine, set inside the Zeni Winery on the slopes of a hillside overlooking Lake Garda  
  • Get your thrills at the Gardaland Amusement Park

Day 13: Goodbye Italy!

Little details of life in Rome
Little details of life in Rome

Time to say goodbye to the country of love! After one last cappuccino over breakfast, head to the airport for your connecting flight home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Discover Milan and the Italian Lakes - 13 Days
Map of Discover Milan and the Italian Lakes - 13 Days