Explore Northern Italy's cities and landscapes in this packed 5-day trip. Start in Milan, the fashion, culture, and business capital of Italy, to see the 16th-century Royal Palace-turned-art-museum and enjoy buzzing nightlife at the Navigli canals. Continue to Lake Como to enjoy a day on the lake and a trip on the funicular to see views of the snow-capped Alps. End in Bologna and Turin to explore medieval churches, the National Cinema Museum, and endless cafes and aperitivo bars.

Highlights

  • Sample Northern Italy's varied cuisine: tortellini, aperitivos & wine bars
  • Explore the medieval city center and churches of Turin, visit the Cinema Museum
  • Tour the 11th-century University of Bologna
  • Relax on a day visit to Lake Como & go for a steamboat ride

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Milan Milan
Day 2 Lake Como Milan
Day 3 Discover Bologna Milan
Day 4 Explore Torino Milan
Day 5 Depart Milan  

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. 

Make the most of your day in Milan with visits to the top sites. Start at the Cathedral, which took nearly 600 years to complete and whose 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.

Head to see the 16th-century Royal Palace, a sprawling neoclassical palace located in the heart of the city which now houses an art museum. Although the building suffered great damage during World War II, it has been beautifully restored and is now a renowned cultural center. 

Continue to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a cross-section covered pedestrian shopping area which houses historic restaurants, bars, and trendy shops. The building is famous for its ornate mosaic floors and skylight roof windows. 

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: Lake Como

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

After breakfast head out for a full day on Lake Como, Italy's third-biggest lake. The area is known for its upscale resorts, dramatic landscapes, and views of the Alps. Start your day with a guided tour of the city of Como, which lies on the southwest branch of the lake. Tour the Gothic 14th-century Cathedral of Como, sprawling Villa Olmo park and exhibition halls, and the Museo Didattico della Seta (Museum of Silk) to learn about 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. 

The rest of the day is self-guided. Take a tourist boat north to the resort town of Bellagio, which sits on a promontory which juts into the lake. Explore the cobbled streets and elegant neighborhoods, then enjoy lunch at a lakefront restaurant. In the afternoon visit the terraced 18th-century gardens of the Villa Serbelloni Park for views of the lake before sailing to the opposite shore to Cadenabbia. From here, catch a transfer back to Milan in time for a relaxed evening stroll to the neighborhood wine bar.

Day 3: Discover Bologna

Local shop with traditional cheese & prosciutto
Local shop with traditional cheese & prosciutto

In the morning take a 2-hour train ride to Bologna, the bustling historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Arrive in mid-morning and start your day with a cup of Italian espresso and head out to explore the city on foot. 

Walk through the downtown area to see many of the city's notable landmarks. The Piazza Maggiore, a sprawling central plaza surrounded by the city's oldest buildings, is a beautiful 20-minute walk from the train station. Visit the City Hall, the 14th-century Basilica di San Petronio,  and the medieval Asinelli and Garisenda Towers which flank the Piazza. 

Head to the 11th-century University of Bologna to view the Anatomical Theater, used in older times for students to dissect cadavers, and stroll the medieval university grounds. On the way, stop to see the former Jewish Ghetto, then continue to the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, the National Art Gallery, housed in the former Saint Ignatius Jesuit novitiate near the university. This building also houses the Academy of Fine Arts

Pause for lunch and enjoy some of the city's delicious specialties—tortellini and ragu alla bolognese, a rich tomato and meat sauce. In the afternoon explore the city via the medieval porticos, a network of covered walkways that connect city landmarks, museums, and neighborhoods and protect pedestrians from snow, rain, and the hot summer sun. 

Explore the local markets and shop for regional delicacies, such as artisanal tortellini, mortadella, and a variety of cheeses. Visitors with an eye for fashion will enjoy browsing the designer boutiques and medieval Quadrilatero market district for the perfect Italian leather shoes or for gifts to bring home. 

In the late afternoon return to Milan by train.

Day 4: Explore Torino

Piazza Vittorio Torino
Piazza Vittorio Torino

In the morning take a 1-hour train ride to Torino to the west, known as Turin to the English-speaking world. The capital of the Piedmont region, Torino is known for its elaborate architecture and local cuisine. The train station is centrally located, so spend the morning exploring the city with a guided walking tour, starting with 16th-century Palazzo Reale, the Torino Royal Palace. Enjoy a guided tour of the stately rooms, then continue to the next-door Palazzo Madama to see medieval antiques and artwork. 

The city center is full of churches, including the 15th-century Renaissance Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist which houses Jesus' alleged burial shroud, the 17th-century baroque Royal Church of San Lorenzo, and the baroque Chiesa di San Filippo Neri, Torino's largest church. A leisurely walk around the city center is a great way to see them all. 

Head to a city square—both Piazza Castello and Piazza San Carlo are good options—for coffee and baked sweet treats for a midmorning pick-me-up, then continue the tour with a visit to the interactive National Cinema Museum, housed in a 19th-century Jewish Synagogue. 

In the afternoon head to the Turin Egyptian Museum for a self-guided tour, then stop by the Parco Archeologico Torri Palatine to see the Palatine Towers, the world's best-preserved Roman city walls from the 1st century. 

If there's time, head to the Parco del Valentino for a late afternoon stroll through the sprawling medieval riverside park. Check out the replica medieval village, then walk over to the hip San Salvario neighborhood drinks at an aperitivo bar before dinner in the same neighborhood. The train station is conveniently located nearby, so catching a late-night train back to Milan is a breeze.

Day 5: Depart Milan

Modern high-speed trains at Milan Central Station
Modern high-speed trains at Milan Central Station

Time to say goodbye to Milan - for now! Catch up on some last-minute souvenir shopping, enjoy a cup of Italian coffee in a sunny plaza, then head to the Malpensa airport for your connecting flight home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Explore Northern Italy from Milan - 5 Days
Map of Explore Northern Italy from Milan - 5 Days