- Experience the bustling business, cultural, and fashion capital of Milan
- Admire magnificent castles and villas on Lake Garda
- Spend time relaxing on beautiful Lake Como
- Visit magnificent villas in Bellagio and Varenna
- Soak in Milan's nightlife in the Navigli District
|Day 1||Arrive in Venice||Venice|
|Day 2||Venice Walking Tour||Venice|
|Day 3||Venice to Lake Garda||Desenzano del Garda|
|Day 4||Malcesine & Monte Baldo Cable Car Day Trip||Desenzano del Garda|
|Day 5||Lake Garda to Lake Como||Varenna|
|Day 6||Varenna and Bellagio Tour||Varenna|
|Day 7||Lake Como to Milan||Milan|
|Day 8||History & Art Walking Tour||Milan|
|Day 9||Goodbye Italy|
Day 1: Arrive in Venice
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
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
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. Lake Garda is the biggest lake in the region, and you'll have time to discover what makes it so special. The northern villages of Bardolino, Riva, Malcesine, Gardone, and Limone are smaller and have a more romantic mountain village feeling. The southern towns of Sirmione and Desenzano Del Garda are somewhat bigger, with a vibrant nightlife, trendy bars and restaurants, and plentiful accommodation options.
You'll be based in Desenzano at the southern end of the lake. Once you've settled into your hotel, head out to explore the lakefront, old port, and winding streets of the town. Learn about ancient Roman history with visits to the hilltop castle and Roman villa. When walking between these two sites, you will also come across the Duomo, which is worth a quick visit. 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 shops ranging from high-end designers to smaller boutiques, and if you are there on a Tuesday don't miss out on the market. As you're exploring today, don't be afraid to get lost in the maze of old streets, find a nice cafe in a square to enjoy a coffee, and grab an Italian gelato for a walk along the promenade.
In the evening, join the locals in sitting outside and indulging in an aperitivo while overlooking the lake. We'd recommend finding a great spot for dinner in Piazza Cappalletti to end your day.
Day 4: Malcesine & Monte Baldo Cable Car Day Trip
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 Lake Como
After your breakfast, take one last look at Lake Garda and the streets of Desenzano as you depart for another Italian lake renowned for its natural beauty. A 2.5-hour train ride will bring you to the charming village of Varenna on Lake Como.
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.
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
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 Giorgio. Here you'll find family-run restaurants for a tasty and wholesome dinner.
Day 7: Lake Como to Milan
Take a final photo of Lake Como, and after breakfast get ready to travel to Milan (1 hour by train). After you arrive, check in to your city center 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.
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 8: History & Art Walking Tour
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 9: 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!