Explore the best of Northern Italy on this 7-day trip to Milan and Lake Como. Discover Rennaissance art in Milan, learn how to cook your own homemade pasta, and mix a classic Italian aperitivo. Taste your way through Parma's famous food scene and relax on Lake Como as you visit magnificent villas and the villages of Bellagio and Varenna.

Highlights

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

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 Cooking Class and Aperitivo Tasting in Milan Milan
Day 5 Milan to Lake Como Varenna
Day 6 Varenna and Bellagio Tour Varenna
Day 7 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.

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.

Plan your trip to Italy
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 4: 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 5: Milan to Lake Como

Lake Como Houses

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 6: Varenna and Bellagio Tour

Bellagio Promenade, Lake Como

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.

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 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 local restaurant. In the afternoon, explore some of the town's magnificent villas and beautiful parks:

  • 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 
  • Visit Villa Mylius Vigoni in Menaggio, a small town across from Bellagio easily accessed by taking a short boat ride

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

Day 7: 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!

This trip was selected for kimkim's best itineraries in Europe. See the list here

Map

Map of The Best of Milan, Parma, & Lake Como - 7 Days
Map of The Best of Milan, Parma, & Lake Como - 7 Days