Explore the best of Northern Italy on this 6-day trip to Milan and Lake Como. Start your trip in Milan to learn about Rennaissance art and history, and discover the secrets of making your own homemade pasta and classic cocktails from a local expert. Spend a day in Parma eating prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, then escape the city with a day trip to the villages of Bellagio and Varenna on Lake Como, before heading home from Milan.

Highlights

  • Soak in Milan's nightlife in the Navigli District 
  • Spend time relaxing on beautiful Lake Como
  • Explore the business, cultural, and fashion capital of Milan
  • Taste local prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano in Parma

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Milan Milan
Day 2 History & Art Walking Tour Milan
Day 3 Day Trip to Parma, Food Tour Milan
Day 4 Lake Como Guided Day Trip Milan
Day 5 Cooking Class and Aperitivo Tasting in Milan Milan
Day 6 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 the 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.

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

Day 3: Day Trip to Parma, Food Tour

Parma prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

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 Milan to Parma is by train from Milano Centrale Station, taking in the countryside views for around 1.5 hours. After you arrive, you will meet your guide in the center of Parma to begin the tour.

Whether you are a real foodie or simply enjoy Italian delicacies, you will love this experience as you visit the local production sites of Parma prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. You will learn about and see the production processes in action and have a chance to taste the final products as you discover the traditional way of producing these foods, and the hard work that goes into ensuring they meet high regional standards. The tour will last 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.

Get a feeling for the local pace of life with lunch at a small family-run trattoria, then spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the city. Explore some of 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. Relax on the train back to Milan after dinner.

Day 4: Lake Como Guided Day Trip

Bellagio, Lake Como

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, 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 Esinowith 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 cablecar 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 5: Cooking Class and Aperitivo Tasting in Milan

Making Fresh Pasta in Milan
Making Fresh Pasta 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 safe 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 6: 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 The Best of Milan, Parma, & Lake Como - 6 Days
Map of The Best of Milan, Parma, & Lake Como - 6 Days