Northern Italy Itinerary: One to two-week guide to Northern Italy

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So you are thinking about a trip to Northern Italy but you are not sure exactly where to go and for how long. With this guide, you will discover the perfect Northern Italy itinerary including fashionable Milan, colorful fishing villages, breath-taking Alpine vistas, gorgeous lakes, wine-clad slopes, and Venice’s palazzos. Ready for the trip of a lifetime?

Italy is one of the most visited countries in Europe, perhaps even the world. Ancient ruins, ornate churches, pristine beaches, and mouth-watering cuisine are but a few of the main attractions. Il Bel Paese has 20 regions to choose from, each one more enticing than the next. Traveling to Northern Italy entails a mixture of bustling tourist hotspots & rustic tiny villages.

The undisputed starlet of northern Italy is Venice, yet there is plenty to be said for Cinque Terre, Milan, the lake district, and of course the spectacular Dolomites region. This Northern Italy travel guide takes you through the highlights of the region, what to eat, and how to get around, and provides a sample itinerary for a one and two-week trip.


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Northern Italy travel at a glance

SUSTAINABLE PLACES TO STAY

Seiseralm northern italy dolomites

How long should my itinerary for Northern Italy be?

There are a lot of places to go in Northern Italy, one could easily spend a month discovering all the delights on offer. Yet sadly for most of us, unlimited holidays are a pipedream. One week will allow you to see a sprinkling of what there is to see.

ONE WEEK: A tightly packed itinerary can include Milan, Dolomites, and Venice, then renting a car is essential in this case to get around faster.

TWO WEEKS: This timespan provides a bit more breathing room and ensures Cinque Terre and beautiful Lake Garda can also be added to the itinerary without it feeling too rushed. In this case, you could opt for slow travel, and use the local public transport to travel between the various sites

guide to North Italy - Riomaggiore at night
Riomaggiore Cinque Terre is a great place to visit on a 2 week Northern Italy trip

Best time to visit Northern Italy?

A Northern Italy vacation is wonderful any time of the year, however, it will depend greatly on what activities you like to partake in. Northern Italy has cold winters (the average temperature for Milan in winter is 5°C or 45°F) and some of the well-known tourist hotspots are a lot less lively in winter months with seasonal bars & restaurants closing between December and March.

Temperatures start to climb end of March, and the beginning of April and stay warm until the end of October (18°C/65°F). Aim for shoulder season April-June; September – October to stay away from the crowds and to enjoy Northern Italy travel at its best, with ample time for dolce far niente in little villages and towns.

It is not unusual for the first snowfall in the Dolomites to take place in October, if the thought of snow sends instant shivers down your spine (as it does for me) avoid visiting Northern Italy past September.

How to travel around Northern Italy?

Northern Italy is the most well-developed part of Italy in terms of public transportation. Regional busses and trains are readily available to transport you between all the cities in Northern Italy. Getting to smaller villages, especially in the mountainous Dolomites could prove to be less easy and rather time-consuming, therefore if your Northern Italy itinerary is short on time consider renting a car.

Northern Italy has a number of charging stations for electric cars, so if you do opt to rent a car it is possible to look into renting an electric car. Alternatively, look into booking a sustainable hotel in the Dolomites with a charging station.

Renting a car in Italy

Renting a car and going on a Northern Italy road trip is a great idea! It gives you the most flexibility and control over your own schedule. Not surprising, there will be a fair amount of driving involved, to give you an idea Vernazza (Cinque Terre) to Venice is around 340 kilometers (211 miles) and traverses the mountainous Dolomites area.

Roads are well maintained, and locals have a healthy respect for both roadsigns and red lights. Respect that dwindles the further south you travel in Italy. Renting a car in Northern Italy will cost between €30 and €80 euro ($32-$85) a day depending on the type of car & insurance you end up booking.

Budget Tip: Compare rentals via Auto Europe and be sure to book in advance!

Documents needed to rent a car in Northern Italy

AGE: Drivers need to be at least 19 years old. Be warned that drivers between the age of 19 and 25 will be required to pay an additional charge (young driver surcharge).

DRIVING LICENSE: Valid driver’s license. Should you be renting from outside of Europe an International Drivers Permit is required.

INSURANCE: According to Italian Law, a Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Protection insurance for your car is required. These usually come in the standard rental package, though best to check in advance!

Public Transportation in Northern Italy

TRAIN
National and regional trains crisscross through the various different cities in Northern Italy. They will transport you all the way from Milan to Venice, with plenty of stops in little villages. Taking the train in Italy is easy, though a little patience is warranted as trains tend to run late.

Get your tickets: Plan your itinerary and purchase tickets via Omio

BUS
The bus between regions is a bit trickier as each region has its own bus company. Getting hold of the latest up-to-date timetable proved to be a bit of a challenge. The only region where I successfully took the bus was in the South Tyrol and Trentino province (Dolomites), and that was not between regions but to get from point A to point B inside the same region

TIP: For South Tyrol check out Mobil Card and for Trentino look into the Guest Pass. These cards, to be purchased once, allow you access to the vast majority of public transport in the region.

Alpi di Suisi Dolomites Northern Italy

Northern Italy itinerary overview

Where to go in the North of Italy will really depend on the amount of time you have available. To say there is a lot to see and experience is an understatement, squeezing everything into one trip is not feasible.

The distances to cover might not seem huge, but remember there is a whole mountain range separating the Eastern and Western coasts of Northern Italy.

Best of Northern Italy in one week: Milan, Dolomites, Venice

LOCATIONTIME OF STAYRECOMMENDED HOTEL
Milan2 daysStarhotels Echo
Dolomites3/4 daysResidence Altea
Venice 2 daysAirbnb Palazzo DaPonte 03

GETTING THERE: Fly into one of the three international airports in Milan ( Malpensa, Linate, and nearby Bergamo ) and out of the Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE). Get the cheapest price via Skyscanner.

GETTING AROUND: If you are renting a car, pick it up directly from the Milan airport and drop it off as you get to Venice. You will not need a car to get around Venice! Save your pennies for some delicious Cicchetti instead! Compare rentals via Auto Europe

Milan Italy

MILAN (2 DAYS)

Day 1 and 2 of your 7 days in Northern Italy are spent in Milan.

Milan is the fashion and financial capital of Italy, a feat that becomes clear the very second you step off the train. Extraordinarily well-dressed locals – in black of course – dart in and out of upscale restaurants and boutique stores. If you are looking where to go in Northern Italy for a bout of shopping, there is no better place than Milan.

Must see in Milan

Milan is large, no trust me – it is enormous. The most iconic way to get around the city is by hopping on one of the many trams. Pay €4.5 ($4.8) for a biglietto gionaliero (day ticket) at the Metro station or any newsagent around town. This ticket gives you access to all trams, metro, and even buses for the day.

The city has a lot of highlights, prepare to spend 2 full days taking in art, culture, and gastronomy. Starting with the classics, the 14th century Duomo di Milano contains a terrace with views to die for (cathedral + terrace tickets €20/ $17 ($21/$19) can be booked online), walk over to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and marvel at the world’s oldest shopping mall.

Walk one kilometer from the Duomo and visit the impressive Castello Sforzescoa, a 15th-century medieval fortification (Entrance tickets €5 ($5.3)). More history of Milan can be witnessed in the oldest building of Milan, built in 379 AD Sant Ambrogio still stands proudly (Entrance fee €2 ($2.10))

Next up is a spot of art with Da Vinci’s The Last Supper in the Santa Marie delle Grazie Convent (Entrance tickets €6 ($6.40)). Lovers of Caravaggio can head over to the Pinacoteca di Brera to see the artist’s work titled Supper at Emmaus (Entrance tickets €15 ($16)). The cherry on top of the art sundae is without a doubt the renowned ‘home of opera’, La Scala (guided visits possible for €25 ($26.70) or instead splurge and come and watch one of the many shows. Check the calendar)

Make your way to the Darsena neighborhood for a well-deserved aperitivo and spot of dinner.

Tip: Get the most out of Milan with the top-rated walking tour of Milan, including a skip-the-line ticket to the Duomo & the ‘Last Supper’. Avoid the crowds! Check availability

Where to stay in Milan
Accommodations in Milan
Amabilia Suites image courtesy of Booking.com

BEST VIEWS: Amabilia Suites

It is hard to beat a view over the Duomo from your hotel room. The hotel is located 100 meters (109 yards) from Duomo Square and 300 meters (328 yards) from Palazzo Reale, it does not get more central than this!

Where to stay in Milan
Biocity Milan image courtesy of Booking.com

VALUE FOR MONEY: Biocity

Located within walking distance of the Milano Central Train Station and downtown Milan. The Biocity hotel uses exclusively eco-friendly materials on its premises. Serving organic cakes for breakfast and using a certified zero-emissions climate control system.


Driving around northern Italy in the dolomites. Misurina Lake

DOLOMITES (3 DAYS)

Day 3-4 and 5 of your 7 day Northern Italy trip are spent in the Dolomites.

Perched on the Italian-facing side of the Dolomites Alps, Sud Tirol is the northernmost point of Italy and in many senses a natural continuation of Austria, with which it borders. As your Northern Italy vacation is but a week, this is the section of the Dolomites I suggest you focus on!

The connection between the two places goes beyond geographical proximity and extends to culture and language: The feeling Sud Tirol gives is indeed more akin to the one you could experience in Innsbruck or Munich rather than in the neighboring regions of Italy and the region –  although officially bilingual – is primarily a German-speaking autonomous region where Italian is often only a second language for its inhabitants.

Must see in the Dolomites
Bolzano

Start exploring the Dolomites in Bolzano, Sud Tirol’s capital, a lovely city of ancient merchant origins. This heritage is still clearly visible in the city’s buildings and many squares, where today like in the Middle Ages city markets are hosted. The city can be visited in a few hours, enough to enjoy its slow pace and the main sights, among which Walther Square, the 15th-century Cathedral, and Castle Maretsch deserve a special mention.

A note for the passionate mountaineer: Bolzano hosts Reinhold Messner’s Messner Mountain Museum.

Karersee in the dolomites in northern italy
Lago di Carezza/ Karersee


Northern Italy is also famous for the host of gorgeous lakes and Bolzano is the perfect launching pad for the Lago di Carezza/ Karersee, a 30-minute scenic drive from South Tyrol’s capital. The lake is a stunning if small example of a typical alpine lake in the Dolomites, with brimming green water surrounded by evergreen trees and with the Dolomites in the backdrop.

Val Pusteria and Tré Cime

From Bolzano continue driving to the East, towards Val Pusteria. On the way drive by the beautiful Alpi di Siusi, the biggest mountain highland in Europe. They offer kilometers and kilometers of hikes and mountain paths, which will welcome both the novice and the most hardened mountaineer.

The keen observer will notice the many vineyards dotted around the region. Make sure to pass by The South Tyrol’s Wine Route – an area between Nalles in the North and Salorno in the South – a gorgeous stretch where bending roads are surrounded by vineyards full of grapes that will later produce the famous South Tyrol’s white wines.

Arrived in Val Pusteria, consider stopping for the night in San Candido (we stayed in the Leitlhof Hotel) perfectly positioned between the main most well-known Northern Italy highlights: Lago di Braies, Lago di Dobbiaco, Brunico, and the world-famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Words are at fault when trying to describe the beauty of this region.

Naturhotel Leitlhof
Naturhotel Leitelhof image courtesy of booking.com

WHERE TO STAY IN THE DOLOMITES

The Dolomites region is vast and wide, do you know which part of The Dolomites is best suited for you during your stay? These are the best areas I would recommend for all types of travelers.

What to eat and drink in the Dolomites

Let’s be honest: You are planning a trip to Northern Italy, therefore you must already be dreaming of all the food and wine you will be eating. The typical cuisine in the Dolomites is an interesting mix of Austrian, Swiss, and Italian dishes.

Traditionally heavy on the meat, starches, and cheese among its most famous dishes are the Canederli (boiled dumplings, traditionally done with the available leftovers), the Ravioli alla Pusterese/Schlutzkrapfen (stuffed pasta made from rye and wheat flour, and usually served with butter and parmesan) and the Austrian-originated Strudel and Kaiserschmarrn (fluffy shredded pancake with jam).

Practical information for driving in the Dolomites

If you have chosen to explore the best of Northern Italy via a road trip, you need to be prepared for the millions of ‘Tornanti’ (hairpin bends).

If you get carsick (like I do) it might not be a bad idea to hop in the front of the car or even better behind the wheel. Luckily the roads are well kept and drivers respectful of the rules of the road, admittedly to a higher degree than in the more southern part of Italy.

Parking is normally well located (i.e. a short walk from the place you intend to visit) and relatively cheap, but be aware that in high seasons many of the most famous attractions such as Lago di Braies sees the main roads closed from ~9 to ~5 to reduce local congestions and environmental pollution.


things to do in Venice
Doge’s palace in Venice

VENICE (2 DAYS)

Venice hardly deserves an introduction and is an absolute must-see in Northern Italy. Capital of the Republic of Venice for over a millennium, it was a major financial and maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a staging area for the Crusades, as well as an important center of commerce.

Today’s Venice is the capital of the Veneto region and a mandatory stop on any Northern Italy itinerary as it managed to preserve much of its past glory. Built across 118 islands and connected by over 400 bridges, Venice offers its many tourists a unique setting that no other city can reproduce, filled with small alleys, majestic Palazzi, and more churches than one can visit in a week.

Accommodation Tip: Stay in the quieter, more local neighborhood of Venice, Cannaregio. Away from the hordes of tourists and close to all the delicious street food! We stayed in the lovely Grand Hotel Palazzo Dei Dogi (a slight splurge, but worth it for the breakfast and impeccable service).

Must see in Venice
Explore the various neighborhoods of Venice

The first step to exploring Venice is to understand the geography of the city. Venice proper is divided into 6 sestieri (neighborhoods) with the one in San Marco having the lion’s share of architectural beauties. With this primacy, however, comes another one: The vast majority of tourists visiting Venice storm the San Marco area and make it extremely busy.

My favorite neighborhood is that of Cannaregio, the biggest and northernmost neighborhood of Venice. It is full of Bacari (bar) with Venezia’s famous Cicchetti (tapas), and the perfect pied-à-terre for exploring the rest of Venice or going for a delicious aperitivo. Incidentally, Cannaregio is also home to Venice’s ghetto (the world’s first) and its 5 synagogues, an absolute must-see when in Venice.

Visit the various Palazzi and Churches in Venice

But let’s go back to the Palazzi and Churches for which you came to Venice. The first to mention is of course Piazza San Marco, the historical and current heart of the city. Hosting Venice’s cathedral (Basilica di San Marco), Palazzo Ducale (the seat of the Repubblica di Venezia government), and the Clock Tower (the tallest building in Venice, I dare you to reach the top!), the square understand is the focal point of every visit to Venice.

Palazzo Ducale is an architectonical celebration of Venice’s grandeur, built to impress the foreign functionaries who would request a meeting with Venice’s greats and that today continues to amaze the museum’s visitors.

An integral part of it, and accessible during the Palazzo’s visit, it’s the famous Bridge of Sighs, famous for its beautiful design. It must have not appeared as beautiful to the prisoner walking through it to reach the prisons on the other side of the canal, the reason for the Bridges’ name.

Other sights not to miss in Venice are the Rialto Bridge, the Ponte dell’Accademia, the Grand Canal, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which hosts some of the most beautiful oeuvres of 20th European and American art.

Save Time: Book your Dodge Palace and St Mark’s Basillica (with terrace access) tickets in advance and skip the always long cue, which can be gruesome, especially in the boiling summer. Book tickets online.

Burano in Northern Italy
Burano just outside of Venice
Things to do around Venice: Visit Murano and Burano

If you want to take a break from Venice, I recommend you add Murano and Burano to your list of things to see in Venice. The former, just a small 10-minutes boat ride from Venice, is home to the famous glass-makers, who creates marvelous pieces of art by blowing air into hot glass. 

HOW TO GET THERE: Hop on a boat and visit Murano, Burano, and Torcello Island. Make it a day trip with a guide, or simply book your transportation and visit the islands in half a day.

Where to stay in Venice
Grand Hotel Palazzo dei Dogi image courtesy of Booking.com

RECOMMENDED: Grand Hotel Palazzo Dei Dogi

Located in the local neighborhood of Cannaregio, this luxury hotel is an oasis of tranquillity. Set in a beautifully renovated palace with the largest private garden in the city.

Airbnb Palazzo Da Ponte. Image courtesy of Airbnb

THE BEST VIEWS: Airbnb Palazzo DaPonte 03

Not just any Airbnb, one with a spectacular view over the canals and located in the heart of Venice. Rooms are spotless, linens are hotel quality, and the tips we got from our host proved to be invaluable.

What to eat and drink in Venice

No guide would do justice to Venice’s culinary cuisine if the first thing mentioned wasn’t Aperol Spritz. This cocktail – which dates to the early 19th – was finally created in its current form in 1919 in neighboring Pauda by the Barbieri brothers. Today Aperol Spritz is not only a locals’ favorite but a world-famous drink which can be found everywhere in the world but nowhere as good – and as cheap! – as in Venice.

Speaking of it, looking for cheap eats in Venice to fill you up while sipping a spritz? Cicchetti is the term you’ll hear most often referring to the Venetian tradition of antipasti or Venetian tapas, which is served as a small plate (tapas) or finger food during Aperitivo or Happy Hour. Cicchetti is budget-friendly and traditionally served with a little round-shaped glass of wine called an ombra or an Aperol Spritz.

You’ll find all sorts of bites, nibbles, and small plates at bacari bars in Venice. Some of the more common Cicchetti dishes available in Venice include baccalà mantecato, sarde in saor, fritto misto di mare (mixture of fried seafood), or buranelli biscuits for a sweeter taste.

Foodie Tip: Want to learn more about the culinary delights of Venice? Why not take a food and wine tour with Cicchetti tasting or the top-rated Get Your Guide tour for street food in Venice, with a local.

Practical information for visiting Venice
Where to Park in Venice

You’ll be surprised but Venice is a lagoon so no cars are allowed in – unless yours can double as a boat! Therefore I would suggest you return your rental car and continue your Northern Italy Trip without a car from here. If however, you do decide to keep your rental car, par in the Tronchetto Parking (€21 ($21)/night).

How to get to Venice from the parking Tronchetto

This parking is perfectly connected to Venice proper by a little electric train called People Mover that for €1.5 ($1.60) will bring you to Piazzale Roma, from where you will be able to take a Vaporetto (€7.5 ($8) per 75 minutes) to reach the different parts of the lagoon.

Places to visit in Northern Italy in 2-weeks: Cinque Terre, Milan, Lake Garda, Dolomites, Venice, and optional pitstop Verona

LOCATIONTIME OF STAYRECOMMENDED HOTEL
Cinque Terre3 daysAgriturismo Buranco
Milan2 daysStarhotels Echo
Lago di Garda2 daysEco Hotel Ariston
Dolomites3 daysResidence Altea
Venice2 daysAirbnb Palazzo DaPonte 03
Verona1 dayVerona Luxury Apartments

GETTING THERE: As you have decided to spend 14 days in Northern Italy, the possibilities to add on to the above-described 7-day itinerary are endless! My personal recommendation would be to fly into Pisa International Airport (PSA) and out of Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE). Get the cheapest price via Skyscanner.

GETTING AROUND: If you are renting a car, the cheapest option will be to pick up the car in Milan. You will not need a car to get around Cinque Terre. Drop the car off the minute you get to Venice and take a direct train to Verona (1-hour train ride). Compare rentals via Auto Europe

Manarola Cinque Terre

CINQUE TERRE (3 Days)

Day 1,2 and 3 of your 2 weeks in Northern Italy are spent exploring Cinque Terre.

One of the most well-known Northern Italy attractions is Cinque Terre, or rather the five quaint villages that make up the Cinque Terre National Park: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. These pastel-colored villages clinging to cliffs, surrounded by spectacular aquamarine waters are a veritable mecca for the snap-happy tourists.

The little towns are small and can easily be visited within half a day, combining 2 villages a day is very feasible without feeling rushed. Getting from one town to done by train (no cars allowed). Trains run daily and head out every 30 minutes. Purchase the Cinque Terre Treno Card (€18 ($19)/1 day, €33 ($35)/2days, €47 ($50)/3 days) for unlimited access to the trains and hiking trails.

Where to stay: Stay in Monterosso al Mare, it has the best train connections direction Milan and has a ton of lively bars and restaurants. A few great local and sustainable guesthouses include: Agriturismo Buranco (recommended), Villa Tanca (beachfront), and La Serra Sul Mare (those views!)

Riomaggiore at night
View of Riomaggiore village at the Cinque Terre
Must see in Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the village closes to La Spezia and receives the majority of tourists visiting Cinque Terre. The little village is vaguely reminiscent of Rovinj in Croatia, with its pastel-colored houses and dazzling cliff-studded beach.

Highlights include tanning on the Spiaggia di Riomaggiore (a pebble beach), a 3.5 km loop hike to the Sanctuary of Montenero, languorously walking around Via Colombo in the old town and watching the sun set for the day in the harbor (sunset spot can be found here)

Tip: Catch the Cinque Terre Ferry (€27 ($29)/day) connecting the various villages to each other over water. Purchase your tickets on the day itself at the main ticket office.

Hike your heart out: Looking to combine an active holiday with a spot of culture? Why not join a private hiking tour along with ancient villages including Riomaggiore, Groppo, Manarola, and Vernazza. Learn the local tales, and the history of the villages and find the most spectacular viewpoints in all of Northern Italy.

Manarola in Cinque Terre Italy
Manarola at blue hour
Manarola

Quaint in its pastel perfection and rocky beaches, Manarola is a favorite among travelers. The Manarola Scenic Viewpoint (here) is highly popular with photographers, professional and amateur, and an absolute must-around golden hour. Walk around Via Renato Birolli and Via Antonio Discovolo, darting in and out of local stores bursting with artisanal souvenirs. End the day with a – slightly cliché but oh-so-worth-it – pizza at the harbor, watching the sun dip into the ocean.

Corniglia

Unlike its neighboring villages, Corniglia is not located right by the beach. Instead, it soars high atop a hill with the most majestic views every which way you turn. A walk through old town will prove that point perfectly. The main highlight here is the peace and quiet (fewer tourists venture out to Corniglia) and the uninterrupted views.

Vernazza in Cinque Terre Italy
Vernazza at sunset
Vernazza

One of the undisputed most beautiful places to visit in Northern Italy is the little village of Vernazza. Pictures of golden hour at the famous viewpoint (found here) have inspired many a traveler to visit the area. Highlights of Vernazza include swimming and sunbathing around the Harbour, visiting the Doria Castle, marveling at the Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochio and hiking parts of the blue path.

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso al Mare is the most developed of the five villages. It has a well-defined “old” and “new” town, the former glorious in its pastel perfection the latter a treasure trove of bars and good restaurants. Explore the Fieschi castle, the Capuchin Monastery, the church of Saint John the Baptist, and the church of the dead or Oratorio dei Neri

Splurge and get a colorful umbrella and chair at one of the best beaches in the whole region Spiaggia Tragagia or lounge on the only sandy beach available for miles – Spiaggia Fegina. Both are not free, but worth the €30 ($32) fee (includes 2 sunbeds and a parasol, bring your own towel).

Tip: Get away from the crowds and experience the sunset from the water. A sunset boat trip with prosecco and snacks is the perfect end to a day!

How to get to Cinque Terre from Pisa

Once you land at Pisa International Airport make your way to the Pisa Centrale train station, getting there is easy enough with the PisaMover, a high-speed shuttle. Tickets cost €2.7 ($2.9) and the train ride is a quick 5 minutes. Purchase your tickets directly at the departure station.

From the Pisa Centrale train station, your next stop is Cinque Terre. There is no such thing as a ‘Cinque Terre’ train station, instead check for trains going to one of the five villages inside the Cinque Terre National Park: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. For most of these villages, you will be required to change trains in La Spezia

Get your tickets: Check train schedules and purchase tickets online via Omio


Dolomites Garda Lake Italy

LAGO DI GARDA (2 Days)

From Cinque Terre take the train to Milan and spend two days in Milan. From Milan drive towards Lago di Garda and spend day 6 and 7 of your two-week Northern Italy trip traveling around Lago di Garda.

A Northern Italy guide without the mention of at least one of the lakes in the famous Italian lake would be akin to traveling to Belgium and not eating chocolate. Exactly, simply not done! The Italian lake district is home to five striking lakes: Lake Maggiore, Lugano, Como, Isea, and Garda.

Lago di Garda is partially located in the Trentino province (one of the three provinces that make up the Dolomites area). Pick up your car in Milan and drive to the city of Riva del Garda (168 kilometers (104 miles) / 2h22 drive), your base for the next 2 days of exploring.

Budget tip: Look into the Garda Guest Card to get access to a variety of discounts for activities and tickets for public transportation in and around the lake.

 Riva del Garda Street, View of the beautiful Riva del Garda town by night,Italy
Riva del Garda town Lago di Garda
Things to do at Lake Garda

Lake Garda is 370 square kilometers (143 square miles) and is the largest lake in Italy. The pristine lake surrounded by jagged mountain peaks cascading into aquamarine waters offers a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Milan. The picturebook villages nestled on the banks of the make are just waiting to be discovered.

The active traveler has a host of things to do, from hiking the famous GardaTrek (three trails of varying lengths and difficulties) to cycling around the lake on the well-indicated cycling paths to languorously walking around the many towns. Sirmione, Riva del Garda, Desenzano del Garda and Limone sul Garda are but a few.

Travelers keen to partake in guided outdoor activities can choose from a top-rated guided day hike around Lake Garda or a panoramic e-bike tour

Where to stay around Lago di Garda
Eco Hotel Ariston
Eco Hotel Artson image courtesy of Booking.com

RECOMMENDED: Eco Hotel Ariston

This family-run hotel has an incredible view over Lake Garda and some of the town’s oldest waterfront structures and the Scaligeri Castle. Ideally located within ideal proximity to a few trailheads, as well as the old town center.

where to stay in Lago di Garda
epOche Hotel Zanella image courtesy of Booking.com

VALUE FOR MONEY: epOche Hotel Zanella

Stay in a beautiful yet affordable 3-star hotel, with its very own private beach on Lake Garda. This hotel is family-run and offers a gastronomic experience with all organic ingredients


Verona Arena

VERONA (1 Day)

For your last day in Northern Italy venture out and explore Verona for a day.

Verona is an easy day trip from Venice, located a mere 120 kilometers (75 miles) away. While it does not hold a candle to Venice or Florence, it is filled with charm not to mention an impressive Arena that would give the Colosseum a run for its money! If you find yourself with a day to spare on your trip through Northern Italy, pencil in a visit to Verona.

Daily trains run, multiple times a day between Venice (Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia) and Verona (Verona Porta Nuova). The train ride is a comfortable 1h30, tickets start as low as €9 ($9.6).

Book your tickets: Check timetables and book the cheapest tickets online via Omio.

Things to do in Verona

Verone is one of the best places to visit in North Italy for lovebirds. Originally Verona was not on my itinerary, but an unexpected change of plans meant spending half a day in this Medieval city, known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette.

My absolute favorite thing to do in Verona was to get lost in the many little alleys of the Centro Storico with the 1st century Verona Arena being the absolute highlight. Sadly it was closed when we visited, but I was told it still hosts many performances, especially during the summertime. Check their calendar before going or book a guided tour.

Visit Juliette’s house right before closing (18:30 PM) but forego the museum. Remember the balcony is a 20th-century addition and a bit of a tourist trap (quaint enough to merit a quick cheesy snap), clamber up the Torre dei Lamberti (€6 ($6.4)) for a spectacular view over the terracotta rooves of Verona and make sure to catch golden hour while walking across the Ponte Pietra.

SPEND THE NIGHT: Verona is great to visit on a day trip from Venice. If you do want to spend more time in the city, consider booking one night. The best views are to be found in the Verona Luxury Apartments, a splurge of luxury is to be found at Hotel Colomba d’Oro while B&B Tosca is the best value for money.

Extend your Northern Italy itinerary with a few hidden gems

Two weeks is enough to visit the highlights of Northern Italy, but perhaps not to delve a little deeper and uncover some of the region’s darling hidden gems. If time is on your side, consider taking it slower in the Dolomites or take advantage of the additional days to drive through to undiscovered Umbria.

Lago di Braies in the Dolomites
Lago di Braies in the Dolomites

Additional Lakes in the Dolomites

This guide only briefly touched upon the Dolomites recommending a mere 3 days in the region. Yet after 3 trips, each multiple days, I feel like I have touched but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring the Dolomites. One could easily spend a full two weeks driving around this majestic region swimming, hiking, eating, and visiting quaint towns.

Read more: Read up on some of the much lesser-known lakes in the Dolomites or pick one of the region’s finest sustainable hotels to spend a few days chilling out in.

Undiscovered Umbria

Driving down to Umbria from Venice is a stretch (386 kilometers or a solid 4 hours drive) and only to be undertaken if you truly have additional time on your hands. Truth be told Umbria is not considered a Northern Italy attraction by locals, in fact, it is considered central or even Southern Italy. I won’t tell if you don’t!

Umbria is one of my beloved places in Italy. While the vast majority of tourists flock to Tuscany, gushing over the storybook villages entwined by kilometers of vineyards, what is rarely mentioned is how busy it gets. Umbria is very similar to Tuscany in terms of topography, cuisine, and highlights yet somehow have remained marvelously unexplored allowing it to remain wonderfully authentic, and surprisingly budget-friendly.

My favorite places to visit in Umbria include the hilltop village of Todi (those views!), the UNESCO classified Orvieto (a cathedral that will blow you socks off) and the UNESCO classified Assisi (no eloquent words do justice so I will stick with “amazeballs all around”).

Read more: Learn more about all the quaint villages in Umbria as well as the delicious typical foods to eat in Umbria. Be aware, you might want to book a trip to Umbria after reading!

Map of places to visit on a Northern Italy trip

All the places recommended in this Northern Italy Travel Guide can be found on the map. The red pins are for the 7-day itinerary while the purple pins are the additional places you can cover should you decide to spend 14 days in Northern Italy instead of 7. Click the interactive Google Map to zoom in.

Map of Northern Italy
One week to 14 days in Northern Italy Map

Northern Italy itinerary final thoughts

Although a trip to Northern Italy is usually equated with Cinque Terre or Venice, the region has a lot more to offer. Two weeks is the perfect time to spend in Northern Italy, especially if you rent a car. Northern Italy has its fair share of charging stations, so consider renting/driving an electric car for your trip.

Fly into Pisa, spend a few days in pastel perfection or the five storybook villages of Cinque Terre, catch the train to fashionable Milan and take in the sights, rent a car and head out to Lago di Garda for some swimming and hiking before exploring the magnificent Dolomites Area for a couple of days.

Drive over to spectacular Venice, hand the rental car back and continue your Northern Italy vacation by exploring Venice for two days. Drink all the Aperol Spritz and fuel up on tons of the Venetian street food (ciccheti). Pop on the train for a day trip to Medieval Verona, the stage for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette. Et voilà, Northern Italy conquered!


MORE RESOURCES FOR TRAVELING AROUND ITALY

Most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites
Where to stay in the Dolomites
Quaint villages in Umbria you simply cannot miss
A vegetarians foodie guide to the various regional foods in Italy
Little towns in Sicily that usually escape the tourist radar
Where to stay in Sicily for the perfect relaxing holiday

Northern Italy Itinerary: One to two week guide to Northern Italy: Pin it
Caroline Muller

Thanks for dropping in! With this blog I hope to harness the power of travel to do good in the world. Think connecting with local cultures, sustainable tourism and in-depth guides to known and lesser-known adventures. 

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