Milan is Italy’s most cosmopolitan city but if you really want to experience the city like the locals, you will want to take a few day trips from Milan too. The Lombardy region’s most visited city and capital is also the fashion and financial capital of Italy. There are many things to do here like visiting tourist attractions, eating in authentic restaurants and staying in lavishing hotels. This will guarantee that your trip to Milan will make you want even more of the region.
Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Milan, founded around 600 BC, also has a rich and storied history, and today is a global city, meaning it’s a leader in art, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, tourism and more.
Milan, aka “The Drinkable City,” has enough sights to keep you drinking it in for days. Here you will find the iconic Italian Gothic Milan Cathedral, or Duomo, constructed in 1386; the revered Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s most ornate shopping centres; Castello Sforzesco, a 15th-century castle that rivals Versailles; and one of the planet’s most famous and sacred paintings, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
But what do you do after seeing all the city’s sights? You take a day trip. Day trips from Milan are plentiful, as the city is located in close proximity to the Alps and a string of majestic lakes, such as Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda. Other delightful day trips for Milan include Verona, where you can visit Juliet’s Balcony, of Romeo and Juliet fame, and a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre; Bergamo, brimming with medieval buildings; and even stunning Locarno in nearby Switzerland.
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At Lake Como, chances are you probably won’t run into George Clooney, who owns a villa here, Villa Oleandra. However, you will see some of the region’s most awe-inspiring scenery, as the lake is located against the foothills of the Alps.
Lake Como, a mere half-hour from Milan by train, is also home to the city of Como, well-known for its Renaissance architecture, Como Cathedral, Como Archaeological Museum and a funicular that takes visitors up to the small town of Brunate, which has panoramic views of the lake.
Another Lake Como gem is the resort town Bellagio, often referred to as the “Pearl of Lake Como.” Bellagio is world-renowned for its opulent villas, shopping, fine dining, cobblestone streets, Basilica of San Giacomo and the expansive Villa Melzi Gardens. Bellagio is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in all of Europe.
And no day trip to Lake Como is complete without visiting Varenna, a steep hillside village that is frequently referred to as “heavenly.” Varenna can be reached by ferry from Bellagio or directly by train from Milan. This is the perfect place for a leisurely lunch or dinner, as Varenna’s waterfront is lined with restaurants. After eating like a local, walk off some of those calories by ascending the steps to Castello di Vezio, which has stood high above the town and lake for over a thousand years. In addition to breathtaking views of Lake Como, the castle also has live falconry shows and an authentic drawbridge.
One of the most popular day trips from Milan is Lake Maggiore. Just as stunning as Lake Como, Lake Maggiore is less crowded and can be reached by train from Milan in little more than an hour.
Lake Maggiore, part of which lies in Switzerland, is the second-largest lake in Italy, and one of the country’s most beautiful.
One of the most visited towns on the Italian side of the lake is quaint, cobblestoned Stresa. This tranquil village is home to the Villa Pallavicino, which has gardens and a zoo, and the famous Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees, whose past guests include Ernest Hemingway.
Stresa is also the gateway to the Borromean Islands, including the aptly named Isola Bella. This little drop of heaven in the lake has a palace, Italianate garden, diminutive village and one of the most picturesque settings on Lake Maggiore. Two other Borromean Islands that can be visited are Isola Madre, the largest in the archipelago, and Isola dei Pescatori, the only one of the islands that is inhabited year-round.
If you want to add adventure to your trip to Lake Maggiore, head across the border to the Switzerland side’s most popular town, Locarno, home of the Locarno International Film Festival and Visconti Castle, which is thought to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Italy’s largest lake is just one hour and 20 minutes by train from Milan. Lake Garda has something for every visitor, of any age, including Gardaland, an amusement park and aquarium that has thrill-seeking rides as well as rides for kids, restaurants and bars. Lake Garda also boasts the LEGOLAND Water Park Gardaland.
Do you love watersports? If so, Lake Garda is the place for you. Here you can enjoy sailing, swimming, kitesurfing and windsurfing, for which the lake is famous. In fact, due to its near-constant winds, Lake Garda is a world-renowned windsurfing destination. Other outdoor activities popular at the lake include biking, hiking and climbing.
After a day on, in or around the lake, stroll through one of the many enticing towns that line Lake Garda. Its main town, which lies on the south shore at the tip of a peninsula, is Sirmione. This historic town showcases an iconic medieval castle, Castello Scagliero, a charming old district, the thermal baths of Catullus, the ruins of the largest Roman villa in northern Italy, Santa Maria Maggiore church and a number of tranquil beaches.
On the opposite end of the lake on the north shore, you will not want to miss the resort town Riva del Garda, which is surrounded by some of the most dramatic landscapes of any town on any lake in Italy. Riva del Garda, the “Jewel of Lake Garda,” is the windsurfing centre of the lake. From the town, you can also explore the Ponale Road, 6-mile hiking or biking path along the waterfront, through tunnels and over the mountains to the Valle di Ledro. It is one of the most scenic roads in Europe.
If your trip to Italy does not include a visit to Rome, Verona is the next best thing, as it houses the best-preserved Roman-era amphitheatre in northern Italy. The Verona Arena, built in the 1st century, is still used today for operas and concerts, and in 2026 will be used for the closing ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.
In addition to the amphitheatre, Verona is famous around the globe for Juliet’s House, which features a stone balcony that allegedly inspired Shakespeare. Thousands of lovers flock to Verona each year to stand under Juliet’s Balcony at the Casa di Giulietta to pledge their undying love, to rub the right breast on the statue of Juliet in the courtyard for luck in love and to write love notes on the wall.
Other noteworthy sights in Verona include the Centro Storico, the city’s historic quarter, where Roman ruins, the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore, the finest Romanesque building in northern Italy, and Castelvecchio, a 14th-century castle on the banks of the Adige River are located.
Do you love Italian coffee? Then a stopover in Verona’s Piazza Bra, the biggest piazza in the city which is adjacent to the amphitheatre, is the place to be, as it is overflowing with cafes. This piazza is the perfect place to sip cappuccino while admiring the arena’s architectural splendour.
One of the most memorable day trips from Milan is to the Italian masterpiece that is Bergamo, which is only 30 miles away. Its Città Alta, or Upper City, is an encircled piece of the past replete with a plethora of piazzas, trattorias, cafes, narrow alleys, one of Italy’s oldest libraries, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and much more.
The 16th-century Venetian walls that surround the Città Alta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Down in the lower part of Bergamo, the Città Bassa, must-see sights include the Torre dei Caduti (Tower of the Fallen), dedicated to the fallen Italian soldiers of WW I, which at the top has panoramic views of both the upper and lower town; the Gaetano Donizetti Theater, which has opera, ballet and concerts; and the Accademia Carrara Museum, which was founded in 1796 and today exhibits more than 500 paintings and 60 sculptures, including works by Botticelli and Raffaello.
One of the most attractive and accessible day trips from Milan is less than 20 miles away. Pavia is known for its numerous artistic and cultural treasures, churches and museums. It is also home to the University of Pavia, one of the oldest universities in Italy and one of the most ancient in Europe, which was founded in 1361.
Other notable attractions in Pavia include the 15th-century Cathedral of Pavia, whose dome is the third-largest in Italy; Certosa di Pavia, a sprawling monastic complex that is one of the largest monasteries in Italy and an architectural marvel; and the Musei Civici di Pavia Castello Visconteo, a world-class museum located in Visconti Castle.
And no day trip to Pavia is complete without crossing the Ponte Coperto, a covered bridge made of stone and brick over the Ticino River. The bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks of Pavia and the perfect place to stop and listen to the rhythm of the river.
One of the lesser-known day trips from Milan is Varese, which should be on any traveller’s itinerary, if for no other reason than to relax on the shores of Varese Lake, which is mistakenly often passed by for nearby Lake Maggiore.
Varese is also the gateway to Parco Naturale Regionale Campo dei Fiori, which consists of six nature reserves and is ideal for hiking. The park is also home to the Sacro Monte of Varese, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its 15 chapels, which draws pilgrims from throughout Europe. Varese, often called the “Garden City,” is well-known for its Baroque and art nouveau villas and the Palazzo e Giardini Estensi, an opulent palace that features one of the most enchanting public parks in Italy.
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Lugano, not to be confused with the aforementioned Locarno on Lake Maggiore, is another tranquil day trip from Milan in nearby Switzerland. Lugano looks and feels so Italian, you might not remember you’re in Switzerland. In fact, Lugano is located in the Italian-speaking Ticino region of Switzerland, and its architecture and cuisine are also closely related to that of the neighbouring Lombardy region in Italy.
Lugano, about 40 miles from Milan, lies on the shores of the picture-postcard turquoise lake of the same name and is surrounded by towering mountains. Lugano, also known as the “Monte Carlo of Switzerland,” is known for its laid-back lifestyle, and one of the favourite pastimes of visitors and locals alike is boating on the glacial lake, as well as other water activities.
For a commanding view of the town, lake and surrounding Alpine peaks, climb Lugano’s Monte San Salvatore or take the funicular to save your strength. The town itself is renowned for its Italianate architecture, upscale shopping, lakeside promenades and quality restaurants.
Some of Lugano’s top sights include its Centro Storico, which has a number of Renaissance and Baroque churches and arcaded squares, as well as the lively and lovely Piazza Riforma; Via Nassa, just up from the waterfront where you can shop till you drop; the 16th-century Cattedrale San Lorenzo, whose facade is carved from world-famous Carrara marble; and the Hesse Museum, which honours Nobel Prize-winning author Herman Hesse, who lived in Lugano where he wrote his classics “Siddhartha,” “Steppenwolf” and “Narcissus and Goldmund.”
The museum exhibits Hesse’s books, photos, typewriter and correspondences with such luminaries as T.S. Eliot and Freud.
And any day trip from Milan to Lugano should include a visit to Swissminiatur, located at the foot of Monte San Salvatore. This family-friendly open-air museum features miniaturized versions of Switzerland’s most iconic buildings and landmarks, including the Castle Rapperswil, the Federal Parliament in the capital Bern and, of course, the Matterhorn.