Lake Como, lake Maggiore but also Parma, Bologna, Bergamo and much more. Whether you are into nature, art or city breaks, this is our round up of the best day trips from Milan and best organised day tours from the city.
Milan is one of those cities people tend to use as a base, rather than a destination in itself. Small enough to be visited in one day, Milan is indeed in a fantastic location and the area around it is packed with interesting cities and sites.
Within two hours from Milan you have stunning lakes, mountains and beautiful cities and, if you are not shy of longer journeys, you can even get to the wonderful coast of Liguria and 5 terre, one of the most famous area in the whole of Italy.
This is our round up of the best day trip and day tours from Milan.
Best day trips from Milan: guided or self guided?
To choose the best day trips from Milan it is worth considering the season you are travelling and the means of transport you have available.
In the Milan area, winters see low temperature, grey sky and precipitations while summers are hot and usually dry.
The best time to pursue outdoor adventures is in the spring and summer months, while historical towns can be great destinations at any time. Actually, some of the arts cities in the area I would argue are at their best in the fall or early spring. In the fall, the autumnal foliage matches the red of the roof tiles of Italy’s traditional built and the smell of earthy food fills the street. This is the best time for foodies and those seeking a more intimate experience.
In terms of transport, Italian trains work well and many localities can be visited independently. However, if you prefer not to have to worry about the logistics or want to get in a lot in one day, several organised day tours are available.
For day tours from Milan, my go-to website is GetYourGuide. They have an extensive list of activities offered by several providers and priced at different price points, to suit most travellers.
In this post, I have selected a mix of guided day trips and destinations you can easily reach independently,
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links and if you make a purchase through them, we might make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Fabulous Lake Como is one of the most popular and well known destinations in the North of Italy and a wonderful place to visit on a day trip from Milan.
The Lake lies at the bottom of the Italian Alps and has a distinctive Y shape, with arms stretching along beautiful valleys.
Lake Como appears in the incipit of the famous Italian novel ‘I promessi sposi’, which opens with the dreamy description of the Southern arm of the lake, and it is easy to see why this place has such an important role in Italian literature.
Even now, when the quietness of the lake has made space for tourism, the place has an idyllic soul. Weather you are here for boating, strolling along the lakes or visiting villas, it is hard to resist its charm.
Famous locations along the lake are glamorous Bellagio and Varenna, regularly featuring among the best day trips from Milan but Como itself is also worth a visit. The funicular up to Brunate offers spectacular views.
Some organised tours of the area to consider are:
Day trip from Milan to Lake Como, including a visit to Bellagio and Lugano, in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.
To the West of Lake Como and a short drive to the North West of Milan lies stunning Lake Maggiore (Lago Maggiore), the other jewel in the crown of Northern Italy.
Glamorous, elegant and plain beautiful, Lake Maggiore is a great day trip from Milan if you like architecture and enjoy strolling around elegant gardens overlooking a placid lake scenery.
The places to see here are Stresa, Santa Caterina del Sasso and the Borromean islands, in particular Isola Bella, about which Dickens said ‘For however fanciful and fantastic the Isola Bella may be, and is, it still is beautiful’.
Organised day trips from Milan head to Lago Maggiore regularly. Here are some to consider:
Stresa and Borromean islands hop-on hop-off boat tour for those who prefer to make their own way to the lake and explore at their own pace.
The last lake I am going to recommend as an easy day trip from Milan is Lake Garda, to the East of the city.
Lake Garda is beautiful and varied. If you had a week in the area you could easily spend it all exploring its shores, towns and villas. However, if one day is all you have you can still enjoy some of its more famous sites.
From Milan, the easiest and best to visit are Desenzano and Sirmione, where you have the stunning Castello Scaligero, Aquaria (thermal baths) and of course the lake itself with its beautiful shores.
The best way to visit Lake Garda from Milan is by car since this allows you to explore several town in one go. If you prefer not to drive, you can take an organised tour: check out this one which also includes the famous Catullo caves
People flock to gorgeous Verona. Two main landmarks, the Roman amphitheater and the so called Juliet’s balcony, are visitors magnets but the city has a lot more than them to offer, from medieval squares to sunning palazzi and beautiful gardens.
Verona is easy to visit independently so if you don’t mind making your own way there, I would advocate allocating a day for the visit and allowing yourself to get lost in its centre and soak up the atmosphere.
Trains depart from Milan at regular intervals during the day (sometimes as often as 3 times per hour) and take between 1 and 2 hours to reach Verona.
Lovely Bergamo is one of the easiest and most pleasant day trips form Milan if you love charming old towns, beautiful architecture and sweeping views.
Bergamo is less than one hour away from Milan and develops at the bottom and a top of a hill: the lowest part of town is Bergamo Bassa and the one on top is Bergamo alta (alta=high).
The city is medieval in architecture and a delight to discover on foot. Piazza Vecchia and Piazza Duomo are among the most beautiful corners of the city but the best way to explore Bergamo is to allow yourself to get lost and let its medieval street take you.
Regular trains connect Milano Centrale to Bergamo in about 50 minutes.
Day trip from Milan to 5 terre
I am in two minds about recommending a day trip to 5 terre from Milan and this is not because I don’t believe 5 terre is worth it.
The area is absolutely stunning and you should definitely try to include it in your Italian itinerary. However, it is one of those places that gets a lot of day trippers and this means sometimes, unless you stay the evening, you may feel its beauty is now overshadowed by the crowds.
I do understand however that time is limited and if a day to spend in the area is all you have, I would go for it. You can, visit 5 terre by train or with an organised tour such as this Day trip from Milan to Cinque Terre by coach but avoid driving over there. Traffic and parking rules are hard to figure out and deal with and if all you have is a day, they can easily suck up all your time.
I first heard about the Bernina express and railway from my parents in law. They visited this area from Ireland with an organised tour and came back with amazing photos of the Bernina pass, which they enjoyed immensely.
The Bernina express is a trains serving the Bernina pass, an alpine pass between Italy and Switzerland and holds the record for being the steepest railways in the world. The train connects Tirano to St Moritz, in Switzerland, and is a great way to spend a day in this glamourous resort town.
If you are staying in Milan, day tours are available to help you reach the train and make you way back home. Check this one, which comes with a handy cancellation policy in case of you need to suddenly change your plans.
International tourism mostly ignores gorgeous Bologna but ask any Italian and they are likely to launch in extensive praise for this city.
Home to the oldest university in Europe and famous for giving the world the sauce visitors call ‘Bolognese’, Bologna is a delight to visit and a very easy day trip from Milan.
The two cities are connected by the high speed train Italo and it takes a little over an hour to get from one to the other.
The train leaves you in the centre of the city and you can easily discover Bologna on foot. From the station, cross the street and simply follow via Indipendenza for about 10 minutes to get to the city centre proper.
Here, allow yourself to get lost or follow the many tourist signs for the city’s main landmarks such as Piazza Maggiore, San Petronio and Torre degli asinell, just to name a few.
Parma is mostly known abroad for its food, namely Parmesan and ham, and indeed if you are into food and produce, there is hardly a better place to be than this quaint and cute Italian town.
However, there is more to Parma than just restaurants and cellars: the city is home to an old University, has beautiful churches and gardens and is home to composer Giuseppe Verdi, still celebrated in Parma opera house, worth visiting.
A fun way to visit Parma is to take a half day bike tour such as this one which includes a food tasting stop.
If you prefer to get a hands on experience, you could also mix sightseeing with a cooking class in Parma city centre where you will learn to make pasta!
Pavia is a university town along the river Ticino, less than an hour South of Milan.
The city was the capital of the Longobard kingdom between 572 to 774 and is home to thee second most ancient university in Italy after Bologna. This long history means that Pavia still retains a lot of interesting and beautiful medieval sights (the duomo, the Basilica di San Michele and the city’s ancient towers are just some examples) and mixes them with a cool, university town type of vibe.
Just outside the city also lies the Certosa di Pavia, famous for being a beautiful example of Italian Reinassance architecture.
Pavia can be easily reached from Milan with a 40 minute drive or you can check out this day tour that also allows to you visit the Certosa and the Oltrepo Pavese countryside
I am fond of the city of Torino. I was there last time with a work trip and to my shame I will admit that I spent the day wondering around the city centre instead than inside the convention centre had been sent to (hurray for being self employed, I can pick my own conferences now!!).
Turin is very different from other Italian towns and has a distinctive Northern charm heavily inflenced by nearby France.
The city has a quiet, elegant atmosphere and has impressive buildings, churches and museums. Some non to miss spots in Turin are la Mole Antonelliana, towering above the city, Palazzo del Valentino, the Egyptian museum and the famous Turin Duomo.
As well as impressive sights, Turin is also a city of indulgence and a trip here wouldn’t be complete without some foodie stops. Turin is famous foor chocolate, meat and truffle and not many realise it is also the birthplace of Italian aperitivo! When visiting, make sure you have enough time for this early evening tradition.
One of my closest friends is from Genova but there is more than personal reasons to make me recommend this day trip from Milan.To put it simply, Genova is stunning.
Famous mostly for its popular port, Genova has both an industrial heart and an elegant one.
My favourite part is the old city centre. Here, you can stroll aimlessly for hours, enjoy the many shops and restaurants of the city, its beautiful churches and get sweeping views over the city and the sea form one of the many city terraces.
As well as the city centre, Genova is famous for its port, which makes for a pleasant stroll, and it large aquarium, the biggest in Europe and a sure hit if you have kids. If you decide to visit, make sure you get skip the line tickets to make the most of your time in the city.
I hope you enjoyed this selection of day trips from Milan. Safe travels!