Milan’s position in Western Lombardy puts it within easy reach of several centers with many tourist attractions and things to do. The Alps are so close that you can see them from the roof of the Duomo. The famous Lake Como is less than an hour away by train, and there are several cities near Milan with beautiful churches and cathedrals. The beautiful cities of Verona and Bergamo are easily accessible, as is Lake Garda. As Milan is northern Italy’s rail hub, getting to any of these places by train is easy, and high-speed trains make it possible to take a day trip from Milan to Venice or even to the Cinque Terre. Packaged day trips often make it even easier to explore the city.
1 Lake Como
Direct trains from Stazione Nord or Stazione Centrale in Milan are about a 30 minute ride to the small town of Como, on the southern shore of Lake Como. Boats depart regularly from here, stopping at one after the other of the lakeside towns, each more beautiful than the last and each with its own attractions for tourists. Within a few minutes’ walk of the landings are beautiful gardens and villas, art-filled churches and narrow streets lined with smart shops. One of the prettiest towns on Como is Bellagio , located on the tip of a peninsula that divides southern Lake Como into two long arms.
Como itself is worth seeing the cathedral; the rare frescoes in the 11th century Basilica of Sant’Abbondio ; and the view from the top of the Brunate funicular, which ascends from the lakeshore at the landing stage. You can easily see Como’s Roman origins through the neat grid of streets; an impressive Roman gate survives. Once an important center for silk production, Como is still a good place to shop for silkties, scarves and clothes. You can combine a guided walking tour of the city of Como with a scenic cruise on the more than 9-hour Lake Como Day Trip from Milan. The tour varies from season to season, with a stop in pretty Bellagio from April to October and a funicular ride up to Brunate for stunning lake and mountain views from November to March.
Read also: 9 top-notch day trips from Venice
2 Verona and Lake Garda
The cheerful mix of Roman antiquities, medieval streetscapes and the romance of Shakespeare’s tragic (though fictional) heroine Juliet puts Verona at the top of everyone’s list in Italy. At the center of the historic district is one of Italy’s best-preserved Roman arenas , the site of a major summer opera festival. A few blocks away, the riverside castle has been beautifully transformed into an art museum, with a great view of the beaded bridge below. At least four of the city’s churches are monuments of Italian architecture and decorative arts. There are several Roman gates and underground excavations from the same period to explore, but few of Verona’s landmarks get as many visitors as Juliet’s House and Balcony.
The two-hour train ride from Milan to Verona goes along the southern shore of Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake. The well-kept town of Sirmione , on the tip of a peninsula that extends into the lake, is worth a visit for its moated castle and the extensive remains of Grotte di Catullo, a Roman villa and spa. Or you can combine romantic Verona with a visit to Sirmione on a day trip to Verona and Lake Garda from Milan. The two-hour guided walking tour of Verona is highlighted by visits to the Roman arena and the house commemorating the story of Romeo and Juliet. There will be plenty of time to explore Sirmione and its castle before the bus returns to Milan.
3 Bernina Express to St Moritz
It’s a long day, but you can get a taste of the beautiful Alpine scenery north of Milan by taking the two-hour train ride to Tirano and boarding the scenic Bernina Express. In two and a half hours, you’ll cross 196 bridges, pass through 55 tunnels and through breathtaking gorges as you climb the Bernina Pass and descend into Switzerland. The “Little Red Train” has wide vista windows for good visibility and photography from any seat. The Bernina Express ends in the legendary Swiss ski resort of St. Moritz, overlooking a lake and the Engadine Alps. The train runs all year round, and the view is equally good in summer and winter. On the guided Bernina Express train tour of the Swiss Alps from Milan, you can travel by coach to catch the train in Tirano,
4 Bergamo’s Citta Alta
Bergamo’s Citta Alta
On a steep hill directly above the tidy street grid of new Bergamo, the old town is a warren of narrow, cobbled streets lined with medieval and Renaissance buildings. Reach it by funicular or by winding streets to the impressive gates in the 16th-century bastions . This atmospheric walled village is home to most of Bergamo’s artistic and historical sites, many of which are grouped around the slope of Piazza Vecchia .
The 12th century Palazzo della Ragione , with its three-arched loggia and impressive stone staircase, joins the tall tower, Torre del Comune , to form the top of the piazza, which is bordered on the other side by noble houses and a renaissance palette. At the top of the town, just behind the Palazzo della Ragione, are the Duomo and Santa Maria Maggiore , a Romanesque basilica begun in the early 11th century. The latter church is luxurious inside and out, with Gothic gateways, baroque stucco and beautiful renaissance choir stalls. Adjacent is the Cappella Colleoni, an early Renaissance burial chapel decorated inside and out with multicolored marble inlay, and a ceiling painted by Tiepolo. Opposite the chapel is an unusual octagonal baptistery dating from 1340. About 40 kilometers from Milan, Bergamo is on a direct railway line.
Venice is only 2.5 hours from Milan and it would be a shame to visit northern Italy without seeing this legendary city. On a day trip, you can easily see the highlights – St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Grand Canal, the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge’s Palace and the Rialto Bridge – and wander through the maze of streets and along the colorful canals. You can get there by train or bus on a day trip to Venice from Milan, with a guide who adds historical insight to your visit. The 14-hour trip includes a guided walking tour and a visit to a glassblowing workshop, along with plenty of free time to sample Venetian restaurants and take an optional gondola ride.
Pavia grew into an important Roman capital and grew into an important university town, known today for its medieval and Renaissance buildings, and for the remaining examples of its original 100 medieval towers. The impressive 14th century Castello Visconti retains two of its immense towers and now houses history and art museums. Emperors, including Charlemagne, were crowned in the Romanesque church of San Michele and Pavia Cathedral is based on the designs of da Vinci and Bramante. To see the remaining medieval watchtowers , go to Piazza di Leonardo di Vinci, where there are several. The Ponte Copertois a covered arch bridge over the Ticino River, rebuilt after the bombings of World War II destroyed the 14th-century bridge. It was itself a reconstruction of the original Roman bridge.
Pavia’s crowning glory is eight kilometers to the north, the Certosa di Pavia , whose cloister is one of the finest Renaissance buildings in all of Italy, showing the transition from Late Gothic to Renaissance styles. The facade is a riot of marble inlay, friezes, delicate columns and statues of saints. Designed as the mausoleum for the Milanese Visconti family (you can see the beautiful tomb of its founder, Gian Galeazzo Visconti), it used many of the same artists and architects who created Milan’s Duomo. You can visit the church on your own, but to see the beautiful little cloister and the artistic highlights of the monastic buildings, you must join one of the monks’ frequent free tours.
Due to Italy’s high-speed trains, you can whiz from Milan to the Renaissance city of Florence in just two hours, giving you plenty of time to see the main tourist attractions. Several of the top attractions are within walking distance of the train station: the Piazza del Duomo, with the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistery; Santa Maria Novella; Michelangelo’s beautiful Medici Tombs in San Lorenzo; Piazza della Signoria; and the Palazzo Vecchio. An easy and time-saving way to get from one attraction to the next is with a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket, included in a day trip to Florence from Milan by train. This tour does not only stop at the attractions in the old Centro Storico (Historical Center), but also takes you across the Arno to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens and to the picturesque view of Piazzale Michelangiolo. If art is on your agenda, add a skip-the-line entrance ticket to the legendary Uffizi Gallery to this tour package.
8 Cinque Terre
The journey between the five villages known as the Cinque Terre, whether by boat, train or on foot, is one of the most enjoyable experiences in Italy. The small towns are separated by sweeping sheer cliffs and connected by a narrow and often steep hiking trail and by a train line that tunnels through the rocky headlands between towns. The colorful villages exude charm, and while they are clearly not undiscovered, they still look much as they did before they became one of Italy’s most popular destinations.
While exploring the Cinque Terre in a day alone is more difficult, take a 12-hour Cinque Terre day trip from Milan from April to October to see the highlights of this beautiful coast. The five villages of this UNESCO-listed region sit on a steep, cliff-lined coast south of Genoa, and after a scenic carriage ride along the Mediterranean coast, you’ll travel between them by boat and train. There is free time to explore Monterosso and Manarola, have lunch at your choice of local restaurants or take a walk on the coastal path for more breathtaking views. The journey between the five villages, whether by boat, train or on foot, is one of the best routes in Italy.
At the foot of Monte Campo dei Fiori, Varese is best known for the Sacro Monte di Varese , a series of 17th-century chapels with frescoes and larger-than-life figures depicting biblical scenes. The tradition of the Sacro Monte is unique to the north of Piedmont and Lombardy, and Varese joins eight other hilltop pilgrimage sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Unlike the others, Varese is surrounded by a village that climbs the escarpment climbs and surrounds the chapels with shady streets and Art Nouveau style villas – called Liberty style in Italy. In the center of Varese, Palazzo Estenseis the lavishly decorated former villa of the d’Este family, built in the 1700’s amongst a hillside and terraced gardens.