La bella Italia! Italy is a beautiful country with lots of diversity and is a must on any Europe itinerary. The North is an absolute must-see, with the most beautiful lakes and mountains within reach from just about any city.
Although these lakes are so close to each other, each is different and they all have lots of little towns clustered around them that are unique in identity and charm. Then there are the wonderful cities – from all the best things to do in Venice to the charming streets of Verona!
Don’t forget your Lonely Planet Guidebook, comfortable walking shoes, a camera to capture all your adventures and a car that brings you (fast) to all the places you need to see in Northern Italy!
Not able to drive your own car to Italy? You can hire a car from Milan after flying in. Always book your car in advance so you avoid endless online searching and risking that there are no cars available for renting once you arrive in Italy.
When you pre-book your rental car, it will be ready and parked at the airport. So you can hop from the plane into your rental car and start your trip directly.
Whether you’re with a group or travelling solo in Italy, this North Italy road trip itinerary will show you the best of the country.
North Italy Road Trip Itinerary
After arrival in Milan, start your north Italy road trip in this fabulous city. There’s so much to see in Milan, like the exclusive indoor shopping street Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Here you can find boutiques of famous designers like Versace, Prada and Swarovski. Even if you don’t want to buy the exclusive designer pieces, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is so impressive you have to see it. This street is so beautiful and luxurious!
Close to the shopping street is the Duomo di Milano, which is also something you have to see when visiting Milan. This Gothic cathedral is the second biggest in Europe and is the centre, physically and culturally, of Milan. You can enter the cathedral and marvel at its interior, and also can climb it and see an amazing view over the city. Or walk through the 2300 marble statues of the cathedral.
Staffa – Mountain climbing
(02:20 hours drive – 148 km from Milan)
If you’re seeking nature while on your north Italy road trip, head to Staffa. It’s a small town that lays in the Alps and is only accessible by a winding narrow road. In the winter it is a ski area and totally covered in snow. But during the summer it is a great place to go mountain climbing and have a stunning view over the valleys.
The cable car takes you almost to the top of the mountain, and once arrived you can climb further to the top. Monte Rosa and Monte Moro make the border of Italy and Switzerland and at the top of the mountain, you can see a frozen lake that lays in Switzerland. There might even be snow here in the summer, so make sure you put some warm clothes on no matter what time of year you are visiting!
There are some restaurants at the top, so if you need to warm up, you can get a coffee or cup of hot chocolate there.
Lago Maggiore – Lago di Mergozzo
(02:00 hours drive – 85 km from Staffa to Cannobio)
After enjoying the elegance of Milan, it’s time to begin your journey with a micro Lombardy road trip.
The first lake you will visit is Lake Maggiore. This lake is half in Switzerland and half in Italy. There are lots of things to do in Lake Maggiore, including visiting Cannobio. The old city centre is filled with terraces where you can get all kinds of delicious Italian food. It’s a great idea to take a mountain bike trip to the Oridor di Santa Anna cliff, 10 km outside the city.
Once you’ve seen everything in Cannobio, drive down the lake through Verbania (also worth a visit) to Lake Mergozzo. This small lake was part of Lake Maggiore a long time ago when the water level of Lake Maggiore was higher. You can have a walk around this lake, get an authentic Italian lunch in the little town of Mergozzo and take a swim in the lake – known to be the cleanest lake in the country.
After a swim in Lake Mergozzo, check out the beautiful town of Stresa. It is marked with luxurious hotels near the lake and lots of terraces with beautiful vistas. In Stresa you can take a boat taxi to one of the Borromean Islands – our top recommendation is Isola Bella.
Lago di Como – Bellagio
(01:55 hours drive – 123 km From Stresa)
Lake Como is not far from Lake Maggiore and is visited by tourists for ages. Lake Como marks itself by lots of stunning villas with huge gardens which were built by politicians and royals. Nowadays the villas are popular among Hollywood stars. Even George Clooney has a house on this lake (if you’re lucky you might see him!).
Bellagio is a beautiful place you have stop and visit. This town has an unique location: exactly where the two parts of the lake come together. Bellagio is a perfect place to shop. There are lots of little boutiques selling sunglasses, jewelry, clothes or artworks.
Lago di Garda – Sirmione
(02:25 hours drive – 147 km from Bellagio)
Lake Garda is also a very famous spot; it will always be crowded during the summer, so if you’re seeking a more serene time there, try to visit during the low or shoulder season.
One of the most unique places at the lake is Sirmione, which is called ‘The pearl of Lake Garda’ and is located on a peninsula. When you visit it, you’ll understand why so many people revel in its beauty. If you want to reach the city, you have to walk over the drawbridge (which is the only way to get in Sirmione) and you’ll immediately come across the most notable castle of Sirmione: the Rocca Scaligera.
Walking through the streets, you will see amazing villas in this town and enjoy a great view over the lake.
Next on your itinerary is Peschiera. From here, get yourself a boat to see the lake from another side (a must do). There are lots of stands offering rental boats. You always need to pay a deposit and keep the rules in your mind! I’ve seen people who sailed too close to the coast and broke the (very) expensive motor. It’s a real waste of your money if you have to
pay for the damage you made to the boat.
In the romantic and colourful Lazise you might imagine yourself in a kind of Italian daze. Just stroll through the medieval streets of this old town, with all kinds of small shops and restaurants. There are lots of the restaurants on the waterside, find a nice spot and enjoy the beautiful sunset.
There are also a few places to go when you need an adrenalin boost in the area!
– Canevaworld – a huge aquapark with super high waterslides!
– Gardaland – a family theme park that has attractions for every age.
(00:30 hours drive – 25 km from Lazise)
From Lazise it’s just a 30 minute drive to Verona. In this city you can find the famous Amphitheatre: the Arena. In the summer great operas are performed here, but you can also visit the Arena when there are no shows. If you want to see a show at the arena, check out the programme here.
Also the balcony of Romeo and Juliet is something you have to see. Apparently, if you touch the statue of Juliet (with your love), it will give you great luck in love! You can also buy a padlock to hang at the huge door, next to the balcony, to immortalize your love.
(01:20 hours drive – 120 km from Verona)
And you can’t miss famous Venice. Most people spend at least 2 days in Venice; you may know how it looks like from the movies or you might have seen it on pictures, but you absolutely have to visit Venice if you’re in the area – to see it with your own eyes. There are plenty of things to do in Venice in 2 days – for starters, buy a ticket for a boat that takes you to one of the six districts Venice has.
San Marco is a popular one – In this part of Venice stands the world-famous San Marco Square and the Basilica which you may have seen in famous Hollywood movies. But these aren’t the only ways to spend 2 days in Venice; get into a gondola and let yourself float to the most beautiful hotspots.
As it’s the last stop on your northern Italy road trip, you might want to stay somewhere memorable! There are so many amazing places to stay in Venice, from charismatic budget hotels to fancy five star accomodation; I would recommend booking somewhere in advance, as the top spots can get booked up quickly.