Take a 12-day trip across Northern Italy and the Lakes region with this itinerary. Start your trip in Venice with a guided walking tour of Piazza San Marco and the canals of the 'Floating City'. Visit two Italian lakes rich in natural beauty, Lake Garda and Lake Como, and enjoy a cable car ride to the top of Monte Baldo for panoramic views and walking trails. Take a day trip to the romantic city of Verona, and tour elegant villas in the villages of Varenna and Bellagio. Explore history and art at Milan's Cathedral and eat your way through Turin's street food scene.

Highlights

  • Browse through lively markets and taste local foods in Turin
  • Spend time relaxing on beautiful Lake Como
  • Visit magnificent castles and villas on Lake Garda
  • Experience the bustling business, cultural, and fashion capital of Milan
  • Admire the romantic city of Verona and see Juliet’s balcony

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
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 Day Trip to Verona, Walking Tour Desenzano del Garda
Day 6 Lake Garda to Lake Como Varenna
Day 7 Varenna and Bellagio Tour Varenna
Day 8 Lake Como to Milan Milan
Day 9 History & Art Walking Tour Milan
Day 10 Milan to Turin, Street Food Tour Turin
Day 11 Visit Sacra di San Michele Abbey Turin
Day 12 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

Dine at a waterside restaurant in Venice

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

Garda Lake
Garda Lake

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

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: Day Trip to Verona, Walking Tour

Arena di Verona
Arena di Verona

Today you will travel by train to Verona. The journey takes less than half an hour to get you to the center. After you arrive, you'll take a 2-hour guided tour of the romantic city with a local guide. You'll see for yourself why this city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and get to know firsthand the culture and history behind Verona. Apart from being the setting for the most famous Shakespearean love drama, Verona is rich in history and archaeological importance. 

Your walking tour will start with one of Verona's most notable landmarks, the Arena in Bra Square. Still used today, this ancient Roman amphitheater is one of the best-preserved of its kind. From there, wander through the cobblestone streets and arrive at the central Piazza Bra, the largest square in the city and the perfect spot to delve into the importance of the ancient economic and political life in the quaint market Piazza delle Erbe.

Nearby, you'll visit the house of Verona's famed lovers and see Juliet's balcony at the Casa di Giulietta, said to have inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. However, Verona isn't only known for its romance. Continue your tour and learn more about why Verona holds such an important place in Northern Italy's medieval history and visit the former political center Piazza dei Signori.

Crisscross your way through side streets and back alleys as your guide points out the best local cuisine and traditional food to add to your list of places to try. Make your way to the River Adige, where you'll be able to admire a beautiful view of the Ponte Pietra, The Roman Theatre, and the Archeological Museum.

After your tour, take the rest of the day to explore on your own. Spend some time exploring inside the Roman Theater and Archaeological Museum. Admire the impressive archaeological feats before heading over to the Castle Vecchio. First, cross the Castelvecchio Bridge, constructed centuries ago in the 1350s. You'll travel back in time as you walk over its red brick and take in the incredible scenery of the Adige from this ideal vantage point. As you reach the other side, you can visit the Castelvecchio Museum. This small castle built for military purposes is a lovely example of the Gothic architecture of the time. 

You can stay for dinner in Verona, or head back to Lake Garda to find a waterfront restaurant. If you opt to eat in Verona, we recommend that you return to Piazza Bra in the evening where restaurants and bars are buzzing with locals and visitors alike.

Day 6: Lake Garda to Lake Como

Villa Monastero
Villa Monastero

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 7: Varenna and Bellagio Tour

Varenna's winding streets

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.

Day 8: Lake Como to Milan

Rinascente
Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele shopping mall

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 9: 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 10: Milan to Turin, Street Food Tour

Turin
Turin

After breakfast, you will travel through the Piedmont region to Turin, a city famous for its sophisticated and historic architecture, museums, and food (notably chocolate). Traveling by train, you'll arrive in Turin in just over 1 hour. It's one of Italy's most fascinating cities, named in the New York Times "52 Places to Visit" in 2016. 

After checking in to your hotel, one great way to experience Turin is through a street food tour. Your guide will lead you through Turin's old town and Europe's largest open-air market, Porta Palazzo. You'll snack your way through the city's historic streets while visiting markets, bakeries, and various street food stalls, on the hunt for sweet and savory delicacies. 

Piedmont is famed for producing products such as truffles, cheeses, and meats, and you will taste many local specialties that incorporate these ingredients. Your guide will show you some of the best local eateries and provide you with insight into Turin's historic food culture.  Sample Italian breadsticks, called grissini, agnolotti (fresh stuffed pasta with meat and vegetables), and bicerin (a special coffee with chocolate), in addition to fine pastries, chocolates, and more. In around 3 hours, you will explore the streets and tastes which are unique to Turin. 

When the tour is finished, you are free to explore the city at your own pace. We recommend visiting the historic center with many interesting monuments, or walking across the river over the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele I bridge to the Santa Maria del Monte dei Cappuccini church. The walk is uphill but not steep, and you'll have panoramic views across the entire city of Turin. 

In the evening, you'll find many restaurants serving great food for dinner. Feel free to ask your guide for a local recommendation.

Day 11: Visit Sacra di San Michele Abbey

Sacra di San Michele
Sacra di San Michele

A short drive from Turin is Sacra di San Michele, an ancient Romanesque monastery surrounded by the snowcapped peaks of the Alps. Sacra di San Michele is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Piedmont region and is considered one of Europe's leading examples of Romanesque architecture.

The monastery dates back to the late 10th century, when it was built in dedication to the cult of Archangel Michele, the defender of the Christian people. The monastery is strategically located on a pilgrimage route that runs from Saint-Michel in France to Monte Sant'Angelo in Puglia. 

Your introduction to the monastery is via the 243 steps that lead to the Doorway of the Zodiac and the entrance to the building. From here, the surrounding panorama of the snowy Alps is well worth the climb. From the entrance, continue up the wide 12th-century stone staircase to the church, passing by an 18-meter-tall (59 feet) pillar that supports the church above it. One of the niches on the staircase was used to display skeletons of several of the monastery's monks, lending the staircase its name: Great Staircase of the Dead. 

The perimeter wall of these ruins ends in a tower which overhangs the precipice of the mountain. This structure, the Tower of the Beautiful Alda, gets its name from the tragic legend of Alda, a local peasant girl. After coming to the monastery to pray, she was cornered by enemy soldiers and trapped atop the tower. To escape certain death, she threw herself into the ravine while invoking the help of St. Michael and the Virgin, and miraculously survived the fall. Thrilled by her survival and with a hunger for financial gain, she imagined herself able to make a second jump and offered to repeat her flight for unbelieving villagers. She leapt to her death at the scene of her former miracle. 

Return to Turin and spend the afternoon exploring on your own. One of the city's main attractions is the National Museum of Cinema, one of Turin's architectural landmarks. The building was designed as a synagogue, before being purchased by the Municipality of Turin and turned into a monument of national unity. Explore the unique exhibits and creative educational activities, then head to the rooftop terrace for panoramic views of the city and surrounding Alps.

Later, enjoy a quiet evening in the San Salvario neighborhood with drinks at a local wine bar or piazza cafe, and dinner at a family-run trattoria in the same area.

Day 12: 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 Turin via the Lakes Region - 12 Days
Map of Venice to Turin via the Lakes Region - 12 Days