This 7-day itinerary will bring you from the canals of Venice to bustling Milan via Lake Garda. Be charmed and amazed by the highlights of the lagoon city of Venice. Escape the crowds and find tranquility on Lake Garda, and enjoy a day trip to nearby Lake Como, visiting grand villas such as Villa Olmo and Villa Monastero. Explore Milan's rich history on a walking tour of the city through the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the other iconic sites around Piazza Duomo.

Highlights

  • Experience the bustling business, cultural, and fashion capital of Milan
  • Visit magnificent villas in Bellagio and Varenna
  • Explore Piazza San Marco, the Bridge of Sighs & the Doge's Palace in Venice
  • Visit regal castles and villas on Lake Garda

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Venice Venice
Day 2 Venice Walking Tour Venice
Day 3 Venice to Lake Garda, Guided Tour Desenzano del Garda
Day 4 Malcesine & Monte Baldo Cable Car Day Trip Desenzano del Garda
Day 5 Lake Garda to Milan Milan
Day 6 History & Art Walking Tour Milan
Day 7 Goodbye Italy  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Venice

Gondola on the Grand Canal
Gondola on the Grand Canal

Welcome to Italy! Arrive in Venice Airport, then transfer to the city center to your hotel. Settle in and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city on your own. 

Venice in northern Italy is famous for both industry and tourism. With nicknames like "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", and "The Floating City", it's clear that the city's myriad canals are its main draw. Stretching across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea, the city has long been a commercial and cultural hub thanks to its strategic placement. Silk, grains, spices, and art were traded through the Middle Ages, making Venice very wealthy.

The city is also famous for its many beautiful historic attractions, such as the Piazza San Marco and San Marco Basilica, the Grand Canal, and the ornate Doge's Palace. The Lido de Venezia is a popular luxury destination that attracts actors, critics, and other cinema industry celebrities.

In the evening, head to the Cannaregio District, site of the former Jewish Ghetto. The area is filled with great restaurants, bars, & shops offering kosher Venetian specialties, a Jewish museum, and several tourist-friendly synagogues. Eat and drink your way through regional specialties as you celebrate your first night in Italy. Buon appetito!

Day 2: Venice Walking Tour

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Experience Venice's highlights with a guided walking tour. Start at Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), the heart of the city's cultural and administrative district. There, see Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), a Venetian Gothic palace built as the primary residence for the Doge of Venice in 1340. The palace stands on the Piazza San Marco, but don't just view it from the outside- its resplendent interior decor and priceless works of art make it a must-see for history and architecture buffs.

Adjacent to the palace is the San Marco's Basilica, originally the Doge's personal chapel. The building is one of the best surviving examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture and features a stunning collection of Byzantine art, gold mosaics, and exquisite marble floors. Your tour includes a visit inside, where you'll be able to see for yourself the incredible art and architecture it holds. 

Away from Saint Mark's Square, you'll delve deeper into the heart of Venice and away from the crowds. You'll be guided through the maze of streets and canals that makes Venice so unique as your guide shares fascinating stories. Admire the incredible views over the Grand Canal, and feel free to ask your guide for a dinner recommendation before your tour's end!

After the morning's tour, grab lunch at one of the city's many cafes before spending the afternoon exploring.

  • Tour the 18th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta (also known as I Gesuiti) in the Cannaregio district and the baroque 17th-century Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Venice's second-most renowned church.
  • Ride the elevator to the top of the Campanile di San Marco for a bird’s-eye view of Venice.
  • Dive into history at the Correr Civic Museum to see art and artifact displays from Venice's history as well as the former royals' quarters.
  • Go shopping at the famous Rialto fish market, located at the heart of Venice. The smell of seafood and sound of vendors vying for shoppers' attention make this colorful and hectic market a must-see for any Venice traveler.

Around the Rialto Market are restaurants and bacari wine bars serving good food all day long.  At dinnertime, be sure to try cichetti, small plates of Venetian tapas, and order the fresh seafood dishes.

Day 3: Venice to Lake Garda, Guided Tour

Colorful houses on Lake Garda

Today you'll leave the city behind and make the 2-hour journey by train to Lake Garda, where spectacular natural beauty meets charming Italian villages. Upon arriving check in to your hotel and in the afternoon you will meet your guide in the center of the town. Desenzano and Sirmione are somewhat larger than other villages around the lake, with vibrant bars and restaurants, but they are also steeped in history. Your guide will take you on a tour of these two villages on Lake Garda, hopping between them using the lake's ferry service. If you'd like to visit other villages with your guide, that can also be arranged in advance. During your tour, admire how the landscape changes around the lake, noting that the south is much flatter and less mountainous than the north, but also beautiful.

Explore the lakefront, old port, and winding streets of Desenzano. Learn about ancient Roman history from your guide when visiting the castle and Roman Villa. If you're interested in delving even further back in time there is also the Bronze and Stone Age museum in Desenzano (the G Rambotti Museo Archeologico). Wander through the center and check out the variety of high-end designers to smaller boutique shops, and if you are there on a Tuesday don't miss out on the market. 

On a scenic boat ride across to you'll notice that Sirmione juts into the lake on a long peninsula, making its location and views unique. Sirmione is a very pretty town, with colored houses and cobbled streets to charm you. The two main sites to see are the Grotto of Catullus and Scaliger Castle. The grotto is actually a large Roman mansion built for the poet Catullus. It was very common for rich families to construct their villas around the lakes as they were inspired by the tranquility of the water and Alpine nature. The 14th century Scaliger Castle overlooks Sirmione and Lake Garda.  For an unrivaled view across the lake, you can climb to the top of the castle up narrow stairs.  

Towards the end of the day, enjoy some leisurely free time to explore at your own pace. We suggest hopping over to Peschiera del Garda, where you can pick from the following activities:

  • Visit Roman archeological sites, the Palazzina Storica Museo, and the Sanctuary of Madonna del Frassino
  • Hike to see the Waterfall of Varone, and after enjoy wine at Cantina Zeni and the Museum of Wine, set inside the Zeni Winery overlooking Lake Garda
  • Enjoy nature in Peschiera at the Hruska Botanical Garden where you can find species from every part of the world, from the Himalayas to Africa
  • Shop for, and sample, local food and wine. Producers sell sweet and savory treats, including tortellini, formaggella di tremosine (a soft cheese), honey, and sbrisolona (a delicious crumble cake). Vineyards surround Lake Garda, producing Bardolino wine, Grappa, and Limoncello.


We'd recommend finding a great spot for dinner in either Sirmione's square Piazza Carducci, or Piazza Cappalletti in Desenzano. Fish is a specialty here- try delicious fresh trout, fish risotto, or alborelle pasta.

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

Day 4: Malcesine & Monte Baldo Cable Car Day Trip

Cable car on the top of Monte Baldo
Cable car on the top of Monte Baldo

Today, you'll venture north on Lake Garda to the picturesque village of Malcesine. The best way to arrive is by boat, as you will see more of the spectacular beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains to the north. The charming, colorful houses and cobblestone streets heading uphill from the fishing harbor of Malcesine lead up to Monte Baldo, the highest mountain around Lake Garda. Malcesine is small but filled with great local artisan and craft shops; the olives and lemons are particularly delicious.

Spend some time wandering the winding streets and enjoy a coffee or gelato before visiting the majestic Scaligero Castle. Locals know it as the sister of the castle in Sirmione. Soak in the romantic atmosphere of both Malcesine and its castle, emanating from the beauty of the village itself and the spectacular views you'll encounter here, as well as from the top of Monte Baldo. You can take a cable car to reach the peak. The station is located on Via Navene Vecchia, up from the harbor, and from there you'll enjoy a peaceful ascent up the mountain. The cable car stops once at San Michele (560 meters up), where you can take a quick photo and change to a larger cabin for the final part of the journey. This cable car has a rotating floor to give all inside equally stunning 360-degree views. Once you reach the top, you'll be able to look out over the surrounding area from an elevation of 5,774 feet (1,760 m).

Monte Baldo is great for trekking, paragliding, and biking. The area is known as the "Garden of Europe" due to its excellent variety of botanical species and alpine flora. Surprisingly to many, there are 62 types of orchids growing on Monte Baldo. If you are interested in a more relaxing day, there are some short trails to walk as well as several mountain hut cafes and restaurants where you can sit and enjoy views of the lake. The food is slightly different than typical Italian cuisine, so be sure to try some local dishes. 

When you're ready to descend, take the same cable car back down the mountain and enjoy the panoramic view over Lake Garda and the Alps once again. Malcesine makes great limoncello- give it a try before returning to Desenzano del Garda by ferry. Raise a delicious toast to a beautiful day!

Day 5: Lake Garda to Milan

 Duomo di Milano at night
Duomo di Milano at night

Take a final photo of Lake Garda, and after breakfast get ready to travel to Milan and check in to your hotel. By train, it's a 1.5-hour journey from Lake Garda to Milano Centrale Station. 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.

Many 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. Top sights include the striking Gothic Duomo, one of the world's largest, La Scala Opera House, 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—da Vinci's 'The Last Supper', housed at the Santa Maria della Grazie monastery. 

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. 

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 6: History & Art Walking Tour

Views from the top of the Milan Duomo

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 wait in line. 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 7: Goodbye Italy

Cozy street in Trastevere, Rome
Depart 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!

Map

Map of Venice to Milan via the Lakes Region - 7 Days
Map of Venice to Milan via the Lakes Region - 7 Days