During this 10-day trip, you'll experience the best of Milan and visit two of the most beautiful lakes in Northern Italy. Admire the mix of Gothic and Renaissance art and architecture in Milan, and taste local street food. On Lake Como, enjoy a guided tour of the traditional lakeside villages of Varenna and Bellagio, and take the scenic route by boat to the town of Como and visit its cathedral. On Lake Maggiore, discover the picturesque town of Stresa and the island of Isola Bella, and take a cable car ride for views out over the lake at sunset.

Highlights

  • Explore the beautiful little island of Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore
  • Experience the bustling business, cultural, and fashion capital of Milan
  • Spend time relaxing on beautiful Lake Como
  • Visit magnificent villas in Bellagio and Varenna

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Milan Milan
Day 2 History & Art Walking Tour Milan
Day 3 Milan to Lake Como Varenna
Day 4 Varenna and Bellagio Tour Varenna
Day 5 Varenna to Como by Boat Como
Day 6 Walking Tour & Funicular Ride Como
Day 7 Lake Como to Lake Maggiore Stresa
Day 8 Free Day in Stresa Stresa
Day 9 Lake Maggiore to Milan, Evening Aperitivo Tour Milan
Day 10 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.

A large number of Milan's old monuments and buildings were destroyed during World War II 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 so it's straightforward to explore on your own today while you get acquainted with the city. 

After you settle in, visit some lesser-known attractions and explore Milan's art and culture. Depending on your interests, we recommend the following options to make the most of your time: 

  • Stroll leisurely around the cobbled streets of the bohemian Brera District to see art academies, galleries, and fine dining restaurants and bars. Find a nice place you'd like to return to for dinner and make a reservation.
  • Castello Sforzesco is a castle located in the heart of the city. The Duke of Milan built this magnificent structure in the 15th century which now contains historic and artistic masterpieces from around the world. 
  • Stop to taste local street food. Arancini (delicious deep-fried risotto balls) are great as an on-the-go snack. 

The rest of the afternoon and evening is all yours to find a great restaurant for dinner. Milanese food is quite rich and luxurious, renowned for delicious risottos. Try out a local osteria or a trattoria in the arty Brera district.

Day 2: History & Art Walking Tour

Views from the top of Milan Cathedral

Milan has a rich history, and much of it is visible in the city's art and architecture, including sites from the Roman, Gothic, and Renaissance periods. Today you will experience the main highlights on a walking tour with a local guide, beginning at the Piazza del Duomo to visit the iconic Milan Cathedral. It took almost 600 years to complete the Duomo's shiny marble facade and striking late Gothic architecture, and today it is the symbolic monument of Milan. We recommend heading to the roof to enjoy panoramic views across the city (definitely worth the climb).

As you exit the Duomo, you'll walk towards the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a 19th-century shopping mall. Take a stroll through the airy halls and admire the ornate architecture and skylights. Be sure to look up at the beautiful glass ceiling as you pass by the historic restaurants, bars, and trendy shops. You will recognize the famous Italian designers and brands housed in this mall, as Milan is the fashion capital of Italy.

Continuing onward, your next stop is La Scala Opera House, one of the most renowned in Europe. It was first built in the late 18th century and was beautifully restored in 1943 after it suffered great damage during World War II. Today it is an emblem representing the history of art in Milan, and is still at the heart of the city's artistic scene. Tip: although it requires planning ahead, we recommend buying tickets to enjoy a show.  

Next, you will come to the highlight of the day, the chance to see Da Vinci's "The Last Supper." As you will already have tickets ahead of your arrival, you won't need to queue. The renowned work is highly regulated and the painting can only be viewed by appointment. The masterpiece is located in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, painted in Milan by Leonardo da Vinci between 1495 and 1498. Marvel at the painting and admire the architecture of the convent until you're ready to head back into the 21st century. 

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 3: Milan to Lake Como

Colorful Houses on Lake Como

The best way to travel in Italy is by train, and today you'll depart from Milano Centrale Station to Lake Como. Trains run regularly, and the journey is around 1 hour 15 minutes, so you don't need to rush your breakfast. After enjoying a final walk through the city streets, you'll head north into rural Italy.

Lake Como is one of the three main lakes in Italy's Lake District, alongside Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. Lake Como is grand yet peaceful and quiet, surrounded by forests that add to the serenity. The lake is popular with travelers from around the world and has attracted numerous celebrities who own villas along its shores, including George Clooney and Madonna.

You'll be based in the extremely picturesque village of Varenna while you spend the next few days exploring. Varenna is a charming traditional Northern Italian village on the eastern shore of Lake Como, divided into a grid of streets that slope steeply down towards the lake. After you check into your hotel, go for a walk among the colorful houses that brighten the village streets and along the beautiful waterfront path that connects the ferry dock and the heart of the village.

In the late afternoon, visit Villa Monastero, one of the area's most iconic villas. The sprawling property features impeccable landscaping and a terraced botanic garden. Spend a peaceful few hours in the fragrant gardens and enjoying the shaded benches and pavilions as the sun descends towards the mountains across the lake. After exploring the villa and its grounds, there are lots of good restaurants along the waterfront to watch the sunset over dinner.

Day 4: Varenna and Bellagio Tour

Winding Streets of Varenna

Spend the day exploring the beautiful lakeside towns of Varenna and nearby Bellagio. You'll meet your guide in Varenna and begin your tour here, then take a scenic boat trip together to Bellagio, on a three-hour guided tour to see the little-known vantage points and sights which many visitors miss.

Walk the cobblestone streets of Varenna, stopping at Piazza San Giorgio square in the center.  Here you'll see the Church of San Giorgio and its locally-sourced marble paving. Leading off the square are narrow streets with small shops selling leather and other local products. As a typical lakeside town, Varenna has many beautiful and extravagant villas built by wealthy families. Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi attract many visitors each year, and the latter is now a luxury hotel. Both villas are famed for their botanical gardens containing many rare plant species, including cypress trees.

Jump on the ferry to cross the lake, arriving at Bellagio in around 20 minutes. Bellagio is renowned for its beautiful villas and scenic shoreline. Stroll through the village to see grand buildings and picture-perfect cobblestone lanes lined with cafes and shops. Tour the botanical gardens of Villa Serbelloni and the neoclassical Villa Melzi, 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 local restaurant. In the afternoon, explore Bellagio's center at your own pace. We suggest the following activities:

  • Stroll around Punta Spartivento and gaze out at Lake Como
  • 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 

Return to Varenna by boat and walk into the center, to Piazza San Giorgio. Here you'll find family-run restaurants for a tasty and wholesome dinner.

Plan your trip to Italy
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

Day 5: Varenna to Como by Boat

Ferry Service on Lake Como

Village hopping on Lake Como is accomplished easily via the regular ferry service, so you don't need to rush your breakfast. Enjoy a leisurely morning before checking out of your hotel, and then hop on the boat for the scenic 1 hour and 15-minute trip heading south to Como. Located on the southern end of the lake, Como is much bigger than Varenna and offers a wide variety of things to do.

City highlights include the Gothic 14th-century Cathedral of Como, sprawling Villa Olmo park, and the Museo Didattico della Seta (Museum of Silk), which chronicles the region's historic silk industry. See the sights from above with a ride on the funicular railway 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 and enjoy the views with a stroll on the waterfront promenade. 

In the afternoon, spend the rest of the day exploring Como's historic and natural sites with these suggested activities: 

  • Learn about local history in the Museo Archeologico
  • Experience the elegant charm of Villa Balbianello - Lenno and Villa Serbelloni as you tour the terraced gardens and beautiful interiors
  • Rent an electric bike and go for a ride along the lake
  • Go rock climbing on the granite and limestone cliffs that surround Lake Como 
  • Rent a kayak and enjoy a few hours on the water
  • Go wine tasting at Cantine Sorsasso, Lake Como's oldest winery 

You'll find good restaurants close to the lake, but also in the center of Como near the cathedral. There are plenty of options to choose from, so take your pick of a rustic trattoria or something more sophisticated depending on your taste.

Day 6: Walking Tour & Funicular Ride

Brunate, Lake Como

Enjoy your breakfast, then meet your guide in the center of Como and head out for a full day exploring Lake Como's biggest town. Wander through the narrow streets and take in the sights and sounds coming from local shops. In the center, you'll find the Gothic 14th-century Cathedral of Como and the 12th-century Basilica di San Fedele. Both are spectacular from the outside as well as inside. As they're near each other, you can take a tour of either or both of these local landmarks. Facing the lake is the Piazza Cavour square with many restaurants to sit and take in the view with a coffee.

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 pool and cafe near Villa Olmo. On a warm, sunny day, you can also take a dip in the lake. Upon walking back to the center, visit the Museo Didattico della Seta (Museum of Silk) to learn about the region's historic silk industry and then find a perfect spot for lunch after your tour ends.

In the afternoon, take some time to do some shopping in Como. There are many boutiques and a weekly market on Saturdays around the Porta Torre medieval gate. Enjoy walking through the winding streets and stop at a gelateria to grab an ice cream on the go. 

Just before sunset, you should head along the waterfront promenade to the right of Piazza Cavour and take a ride on the funicular. The Brunate funicular 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 of Como from above, and look over the Alps. At the top, you'll enjoy a beautiful sunset. It's the perfect place to end your day in Como.

After heading back downhill, get ready for a well-deserved dinner. If you still have energy after your meal, be sure to stop into a local wine bar.

Day 7: Lake Como to Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore

After breakfast, you'll travel to another classic Italian lake, Lake Maggiore. The nearby mountains shelter Lake Maggiore from cold northern winds, making the lake and its 11 islands a popular year-round destination. For centuries, both Italian and foreign artists have favored the serene environment of this lake.

Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are connected by train from Como's San Giovanni station to Stresa via a connection in Milan. Stresa is the main town along the lake and will serve as your home base. Enjoy lunch at a lakeshore cafe, then in the afternoon visit 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. Be sure to stroll around the palazzos and villas that decorate the port and take photos of the fantastic views from the center of the lake.

Back in Stresa, enjoy a leisurely 1-mile walk along the lake's promenade at your own pace. Pause for a gelato or coffee and admire the beauty of the lake. The town is home to great markets and shops selling local products. 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).

In the evening, enjoy a dinner of Mediterranean seafood or pizza, accompanied as always by a glass of local wine. Afterward, grab a cocktail and enjoy the sunset over Lake Maggiore.

Day 8: Free Day in Stresa

Lake Maggiore Lakeside

Lake Maggiore is one of Italy's most beautiful lakes and has long enchanted artists who favor the mild climate. It's the largest of the pre-Alpine lakes, hence the name "Maggiore." The area, once a peasant settlement, has been transformed over the centuries into an exclusive holiday resort for the aristocracy, and later for wealthy bourgeois entrepreneurs from Lombardy. In 1748, Stresa and the western shore of Lake Maggiore came under Savoy rule, launching the region into a long period of prosperity and construction, including a new road across the pass and a railway tunnel. 

Spend some time exploring the streets of Stresa. The Main Tower or Castellana was built on a square plan and offers a sweeping view of the mountains and the shores of the lake. Adjacent to the main tower is the Ala Viscontea (Wing of Viscontis), and on the opposite side sits Ala die Borromei, named after the Borromeo family responsible for most of the alterations after the 15th century. The small 13th-century palazzo, Alla Scaligera, sits between the outer walls and the remains of an older tower. The fifth part of the castle is the 14th century Tower of Giovanni Visconti, near the southern end of the Ala Viscontea.

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
  • Visit Villa Taranto and Villa Pallavicino 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.  See tree-lined avenues, terraced pools, and vibrant flower gardens. Villa Taranto is in the town of Pallanzan and accessible by local ferry.
  • Learn about the region's ceramic history at the Museo Internazionale Design Ceramico
  • Enjoy a ride on the Stresa to Mottarone cable car offering fantastic views over the Borromean Islands and Lake Maggiore. The cable car ride is about 20 minutes, but once at the top of the Mottarone mountain, you can walk around the trails and return to Stresa whenever you're ready.

In the evening, trust your sense of smell and wander the narrow side streets to find a good restaurant for dinner. In Italy, the best food can come from the smallest kitchen.

Day 9: Lake Maggiore to Milan, Evening Aperitivo Tour

Say goodbye to Lake Maggiore

Catch a train from Stresa to Milan after a nice breakfast and one last look at Lake Maggiore. The 1 hour and 15-minute train journey is short and smooth. Check in to your hotel when you arrive in Milan and have a relaxing afternoon strolling through Parco Sempione. This large park is located close to the center, between the Castello and Sempione districts. Stand underneath the decorative and grand Arco della Pace, a grand arch built for Napoleon, and walk through tree-lined paths towards the equestrian monument also dedicated to Napoleon. It's easy to spend a few hours wandering here as there are many interesting things to see, plus cafes and bars to pause for a late lunch break.

In the early evening, you will head out to meet your guide for a small group tour of the Navigli district, famed for the best food and cocktails. As the sun sets you will join the locals at "aperitivo o'clock" to enjoy a classic cocktail, snack on delicious bites, and share stories. It's a popular tradition in Italy and an easy way to immerse yourself in the culture.

After an initial drink, you will begin your walking tour to check out the best local spots in the trendy and fun Navigli area. It's typical for people to hang out on the bridges with an aperitivo as they relax after a day at work. You'll have a chance to stop at around four bars and try different cocktails and foods. Milan is renowned for great bars and producing spirits used around the world. For every drink you have, you'll be guided through tastings of Italian cheeses, charcuterie boards, and street foods such as a fried Milanese cutlet. Savor the flavors of the high-quality ingredients as you wander the streets around the canals of Navigli. 

After your tour, you're free to enjoy the city as you'd like. Maybe pay another visit to your favorite restaurant or ask your guide for a recommendation of where to find more good food and fun.

Day 10: 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 airport for your connecting flight home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Historic Milan, Romantic Lake Como & Charming Lake Maggiore - 10 Days
Map of Historic Milan, Romantic Lake Como & Charming Lake Maggiore - 10 Days