- Tour the 11th-century University of Bologna
- Taste local prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano in Parma
- Try your hand at Italian cuisine during a half-day cooking class
- Discover Milan's grand piazzas and cathedrals
- Take a day trip to beautiful Lake Como
|Day 1||Arrive in Milan, Transfer to Bologna||Bologna|
|Day 2||Highlights and Tastes of Bologna||Bologna|
|Day 3||Parma Ham and Cheese Tour||Bologna|
|Day 4||Bologna to Milan||Milan|
|Day 5||Lake Como Guided Day Trip||Milan|
|Day 6||Cooking Class and Aperitivo Tasting in Milan||Milan|
|Day 7||Goodbye Italy|
Day 1: Arrive in Milan, Transfer to Bologna
Welcome to Italy! Arrive in one of Milan's two international airports, then take a 1.5 hour train ride to Bologna, the bustling historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. First, check in to your hotel, then celebrate the start of your trip with a cup of Italian espresso or a gelato.
Take it easy today and familiarize yourself with Italian culture by exploring some of the local sights. Our suggestions include:
- Visiting MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, a museum of modern art.
- Strolling the peaceful sanctuary of the Giardini Margherita park, located just south of the city center. It is Bologna's largest park and the design was inspired by romantic English gardens.
- Seeing the Museo di Palazzo Poggi and Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, art museums which house notable medieval and world-famous works from Giotto and Raphael.
- Discovering the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica, a museum of musical instruments, and the Museum of History of Bologna.
- Exploring the Basilica of Santo Stefano complex, which houses several churches, and the hilltop Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca.
Stay in the downtown neighborhood for an aperitivo of full-bodied red or an Aperol Spritz while you snack on a charcuterie board, then sit down to traditional tortellini or mortadella for dinner at a local osteria or trattoria. Piazza Santo Stefano is a lovely place to spend your first evening.
Day 2: Highlights and Tastes of Bologna
Enjoy a good breakfast this morning as you will be heading out for the full day on a walking tour of Bologna. You'll be lead through the city center by a guide with expert knowledge of local history, architecture, and food. Experience the sights, smells, and tastes of the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region.
Walk through the downtown area to see many of the city's notable landmarks. The Piazza Maggiore is a sprawling central plaza surrounded by the city's oldest buildings. You can 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, formerly used by students dissecting 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. This building also houses the Academy of Fine Arts.
Next, explore the city via the medieval porticos, a network of covered walkways that connect city landmarks, museums, and neighborhoods while protecting pedestrians from snow, rain, and the hot summer sun. Visitors with an eye for fashion will enjoy browsing the designer boutiques and the medieval Quadrilatero market district for the perfect Italian leather shoes or for gifts to bring home.
Bologna is famed for its bustling markets and food scene. The Mercato di Mezzo is worth a visit in the Quadrilatero area. Explore the local markets and shop for regional delicacies, such as artisanal tortellini, mortadella, and a variety of cheeses. Visit traditional food shops like a bakery and pasta maker to see the handcrafting process and to sample the final products. Tip: here you can buy tasty foods for a picnic and find a piazza or park to eat and people watch.
Alternatively, after your tour finishes, pause for a late lunch or early dinner and enjoy some of the city's delicious specialties from a restaurant—tortellini and ragu alla bolognese, a rich tomato and meat sauce. Ask your guide for a recommendation for lunch or dinner as they know the city the best. At aperitivo time, around 6 pm, walk to the trendy indoor market Mercato delle Erbe and enjoy a drink with the locals. It was beautifully restored in 2013 and is full of bustling bakeries, restaurants and wine shops. After, head out to dinner and enjoy your evening in Bologna.
Day 3: Parma Ham and Cheese Tour
Head out for a day trip to the capital of Parma ham and Parmesan cheese—the city of Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The city is famous for its ornate medieval architecture, the beautiful countryside and, of course, the food. The easiest way to travel from Bologna to Parma is by train from Bologna Centrale Station. Take in the countryside views for around 1.5 hours. You will meet your guide in the center of Parma to begin the tour.
If you are a real foodie, then you will love this experience! You'll visit the local production sites of Parma prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. You will learn about and see the processes from the beginning and have a chance to taste the final products. Observe the traditional way of producing these foods and the hard work which goes into ensuring they meet high regional standards. The tour will be around 5 hours and, at each stop, you can also shop for your favorite selections to bring home, as a gift to yourself or for your family.
After the tour, get a feeling for the local pace of life with lunch at a small family-run trattoria, then spend the afternoon enjoying the city and check out the following places:
- The 16th century Palazzo della Pilotta is a spectacular space. The building has many corridors and courtyards to be explored. Today, the palace and grounds host the National Gallery, the Palatine Library, and the Archeological Museum, plus monuments in honor of WWII and Giuseppe Verdi.
- Visit the city's main square, Piazza Duomo, where you'll find the Romanesque cathedral and baptistry, both from the 12th century
- Parma's Botanical Garden, founded in 1600, is a calming space within the city. Here you'll find exotic plant species, including the 'Ginkgo biloba' tree which has unique heart-shaped leaves
- The Teatro Regio is a world-renowned opera performance space, commissioned by the Dutchess Maria Luigia. Today, ballets, operas, and classical concerts are still held often.
- Stroll through Parco Ducale, a large green park close to Parma's train station. There are two palaces belonging to the Ducal family, sculptures and impressive water features.
When you work up an appetite for dinner, check out Parma's rustic restaurant scene, accompanied by a glass of locally produced Emilia-Romagna wine.
Day 4: Bologna to Milan
Transfer from the food capital to the fashion capital of Italy after breakfast. The journey by train is 1 hour 15 minutes to Milan. Upon arrival, make your way to your hotel and check in. The city is a center for business, shopping, and culture, as well as medieval art and beautiful architecture. Many of Milan's old monuments and buildings were destroyed by World War II bombings, and painstakingly reconstructed buildings live side-by-side here with modern architecture, representing old and new Italy.
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 and get acquainted with the city. Top sights include: the striking Gothic Duomo, one of the world's largest; the La Scala Opera House; the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, a glamorous 19th-century indoor shopping mall; the Pirelli Tower; and medieval Castello Sforzesco. Milan is also home to one of the world's most famous paintings, Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Last Supper,' housed at the Santa Maria della Grazie monastery. Tip: buy your tickets for the Duomo and the Last Supper ahead of time in order to avoid disappointment, and plan your day around these time slots.
If there's enough time left in the afternoon, a stroll through the downtown district is an excellent way to spend the rest of 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 enjoying aperitivos. Come for the buzzing energy, stay for the wine bars and people watching.
Day 5: Lake Como Guided Day Trip
Enjoy your breakfast and head out for a full day on Lake Como, Italy's third-biggest lake. It's easy to get there by train, departing from Milano Centrale Station and arriving at the city of Como, located at the southwestern end of the lake. The area is known for its upscale resorts, villas owned by celebrities, dramatic landscapes, and views of the Alps.
Meet your guide in the center of Como (the downhill walk from the train station to the center takes around 15 minutes). Wander through the narrow streets and take in the sights and sounds coming from local shops and restaurants. In the center, you'll find the Gothic 14th-century Cathedral of Como and the 12th-century Basilica di San Fedele. Both are spectacular, inside and out. You can take a tour of one or both of these closely located religious sites. Facing the lake is the Piazza Cavour square, with many restaurants where you can sit and take in the view with a coffee, as well as a variety of gelaterias for a cold, delicious treat.
From the square, you will walk for 20 minutes to the sprawling Villa Olmo park and exhibition hall (entrance to the buildings and grounds is free). Your guide will show you around the villa and gardens before giving you some free time. If you would like to relax a while, there is a park near Villa Olmo with a pool and cafe. On a warm, sunny day, you can take a dip in the lake. After walking back to the center, visit the Museo Didattico della Seta (Museum of Silk) to learn about the region's historic silk industry, or head out onto the lake by boat after your tour ends.
You have the afternoon to explore other villages on your own. Buy your tickets for the fast service hydrofoil ferry to Bellagio and Varenna from the office located in front of Piazza Cavour. The journey to Bellagio is 46 minutes on this service, and another 20 minutes to arrive at Varenna.
The resort town of Bellagio is north of Como and sits on a promontory which juts into the lake. Lake Como splits 3 ways at this spot, offering spectacular scenic views. Explore the cobbled streets and elegant neighborhoods, then enjoy lunch at a lakefront restaurant. The streets are lined with elegant boutiques and art shops. Salita Serbelloni is the famous street to check out if you are seeking a classic, iconic photo of Bellagio. Visit the terraced 18th-century gardens of the Villa Serbelloni Park for views of the lake before boarding the ferry back to Como or onward to Varenna (depending on your preference and the time of day).
Varenna is another picturesque village to the east of Bellagio. A short ferry ride brings you to the town's promenade along Lake Como, and the chance to visit Villa Monastero. Entrance tickets to the house and botanical gardens cost 10 Euros, and it's a wonderful place to stroll around. Varenna has a train station, Varenna Esino, with good connections to return to Milan. Alternatively, the ferry returning to Como is more than one hour, but gives you the opportunity to absorb those spectacular views again and take more gorgeous photos.
If you decide to return to Como for the sunset before heading back to Milan, walk along the waterfront promenade to the right of Piazza Cavour (take a left when you exit the ferry) and take a ride on the funicular railway. The Brunate cable car runs every 30 minutes and promises a panoramic view across the city and lake. It only takes 7 minutes to reach the viewpoint, where you can see the historic center and look out over the Alps. It's the perfect place to end your day before heading back downhill and walking or taking a short taxi ride back to the train station.
From here, catch a train back to Milan in time for a well-deserved meal near your accommodation, followed by a visit to a neighborhood wine bar.
Day 6: Cooking Class and Aperitivo Tasting in Milan
A trip to Italy wouldn't be complete without learning to make and tasting at least one homemade pasta dish. Today, be prepared to immerse yourself in Italian cuisine. You'll be in expert hands with a professional chef teaching you the secrets of how to cook traditional and authentic pasta.
First, you'll have a lesson in cocktail making, get ready to shake or stir an aperitivo! This drink is savored before dinner, to whet your appetite. Choose a martini or spritz and settle into the class with a friendly welcome from your host. Familiarize yourself with the venue, set in a unique location, as you enjoy your cocktail.
Next, get ready to learn, step by step, how to make different shapes and fillings for pasta. The chef will tailor your pasta dish based on your requests- vegetarian, as well as halal and kosher meat options, are available. You'll also prepare the homemade sauces to accompany your pasta such as pesto, fresh tomato with basil, ragù, or butter and sage.
The class is around 2.5 hours in duration, and the best is saved for last. Once everyone has finished cooking, you'll enjoy the fruits of your labor as you taste what you've created. To accompany the food, you will be served a variety of drinks including local wine and craft beers. The Italians really know how to cook, and love to pass on the skill, and you're sure to be satisfied with your dish. This cooking class can be done at lunch or dinnertime depending on your preference. Either way, you'll be going home with a few new techniques for your next dinner party.
You've already seen the most popular sights, so before or after your cooking class, you'll have time to discover some lesser-known Milan attractions:
- Learn about Leonardo da Vinci's works and scientific and technological advancements in the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology.
- Go shopping for luxury brands in the fashion district on the Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Montenapoleone shopping streets.
- Visit the 16th-century Royal Palace if you have not yet had a chance to do so.
Day 7: Goodbye Italy
Your journey in Italy will end after breakfast, with a transfer to the airport to catch your flight home or to your next destination. Arrivederci!