7 day trips from Milan: hidden gems in Northern Italy

May 8, 2024

Milan isn't just a bustling metropolis famous for its fashion and art scene – it's also an excellent home base for exploring the riches of northern Italy. While the city itself is brimming with attractions, there's a whole world waiting beyond its borders.

Picture this: quaint towns, stunning landscapes, and cultural gems just waiting for you to discover them. So, why not kickstart your adventure with some unforgettable day trips from Milan? Trust me, you'll be amazed by the diverse wonders that are practically on your doorstep.

1. Bologna

Nestled in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna is renowned for its rich history, exquisite cuisine, and well-preserved medieval architecture. And it's just an hour away from Milan! So, you can hop on a train and be there in no time. Once you arrive, stroll through the city's labyrinthine streets adorned with elegant porticoes, visit the iconic Piazza Maggiore, and marvel at the towering Two Towers, symbols of Bologna's medieval heritage. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!

What to do

Explore the University of Bologna, one of the oldest universities in the world, and delve into the city's intellectual legacy. Admire the stunning architecture of the university buildings and soak in the vibrant atmosphere of student life. Make also sure to visit the historic libraries and lecture halls to get a glimpse into the city's prestigious academic tradition.

As you wander through the streets, take in the charming medieval architecture and picturesque squares that give Bologna its unique character. And if you're a history buff, don't miss the chance to explore the city's fascinating museums and galleries, showcasing everything from ancient artifacts to contemporary art!

What to eat

Bologna is a haven for food enthusiasts, offering a tantalizing array of culinary delights that will tempt your taste buds. Here's a list of some must-try local specialties!

  • Mortadella: a flavorful Italian sausage made from finely ground pork, seasoned with spices, and traditionally studded with small cubes of pork fat.
  • Crescentine fritte: small, golden-brown balls of fried dough, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
  • Tagliatelle al ragù: a classic dish of fresh pasta ribbons served with a hearty Bolognese sauce.
  • Tortellini in brodo: small, ring-shaped pasta parcels filled with a flavorful mixture of meat, cheese, or vegetables, typically served in a clear, savory broth.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano: also known as Parmesan cheese, it's a hard, granular cheese with a savory flavor and a crumbly texture.

2. Pavia

Just half an hour by train from Milan, Pavia is situated on the banks of the Ticino River. The town exudes a serene ambiance characterized by its picturesque landscapes and architectural marvels. Make sure to include the town in your day trips from Milan to immerse yourself in the city's medieval charm as you wander through its historic center adorned with elegant palaces and churches.

What to do

Visiting Pavia offers a plethora of activities to immerse yourself in its rich history and enchanting surroundings. Start your exploration by visiting the majestic Certosa di Pavia, a stunning monastery renowned for its exquisite architecture and tranquil gardens. Next, make your way to the Castello Visconteo, a medieval fortress that offers panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside. Explore the castle's ancient walls and towers, and learn about its fascinating history as a stronghold during the Middle Ages. 

And after exploring the castle, take a leisurely stroll across the iconic covered bridge, Ponte Coperto, which spans the Ticino River!

What to eat

Indulge in Pavia's gastronomic delights by savoring local specialties!

  • Risotto alla certosina: a creamy and savory risotto made with locally sourced sausage and mushrooms, cooked to perfection and bursting with flavor.
  • Torta del paradiso: a light and airy almond cake with a hint of lemon zest, known as "Paradise Cake" for its heavenly taste. 
  • Ossobuco: a hearty dish of braised veal shanks cooked with vegetables, white wine, and broth until tender and flavorful.
  • Salame piacentino: a traditional dry-cured sausage made with high-quality pork meat and seasoned with spices, herbs, and red wine. 
  • Amaretti: almond-flavored macaroons made with ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar, baked until crisp and golden.

3. Lake Garda

Embark on a scenic journey to Lake Garda, Italy's largest lake, renowned for its crystalline waters, picturesque villages, and verdant landscapes. And here's the kicker - it's just a 1 hour and a half train ride away from Milan! So, hop on board and get ready for an unforgettable adventure.

Sirmione, a beautiful day trip rom Milan on lake Garda

What to do

Explore the enchanting lakeside towns of Sirmione, Bardolino, and Malcesine, each offering its own unique attractions. Start your journey in Sirmione, where you can wander through the cobbled streets and admire the medieval Scaligero Castle, boasting panoramic views of Lake Garda. Then, head to Bardolino, renowned for its picturesque waterfront and world-class wines. Finally, visit Malcesine for its quaint charm and stunning vistas from Monte Baldo. Take a ride on the scenic cable car to the summit of the mountain and marvel at breathtaking views of Lake Garda and the surrounding countryside. If you still have time, round off your experience with a leisurely boat cruise to soak in the beauty of Lake Garda's azure waters!

What to eat

Immerse yourself in the culinary delights of the region, where the bounty of the lake meets the rich flavors of the surrounding countryside!

  • Risotto ai frutti di mare: a creamy and flavorful risotto dish made with Arborio rice and mixed seafood such as shrimp, mussels, and clams.
  • Filetto di lavarello: delicately grilled lavarello fillet, a freshwater whitefish native to Lake Garda, served with a drizzle of lemon juice, fresh herbs, and a side of seasonal vegetables.
  • Olive oil: sample the region's olive oil in a variety of dishes, from salads and pasta to grilled meats and vegetables, and experience its rich, golden goodness.
  • Trota alla gardesana: freshly caught Lake Garda trout, seasoned with olive oil, garlic, parsley, and lemon zest, then grilled to perfection.
  • Limoncello: a lemon liqueur made from the region's famous lemons, Limoncello is a refreshing and zesty digestif perfect for sipping after a meal.

4. Lake Como

Just an hour away from Milan and renowned for its serene beauty and glamorous allure, Lake Como has long captivated travelers with its tranquil waters, lush gardens, and opulent villas. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and verdant hillsides, it offers a picturesque escape from the hustle and bustle of city life!

What to do

Explore the charming towns that dot the shores of Lake Como, each with its own unique allure waiting to be discovered. Begin your journey in Bellagio, often referred to as the "Pearl of Lake Como," where narrow cobblestone streets wind through picturesque squares adorned with colorful flowers. Explore the exquisite architecture of Villa del Balbianello, and then make your way to Varenna, a quaint village known for its pastel-colored houses and tranquil atmosphere.

Continue your exploration with a visit to Como itself. Explore the historic center of Como, with its charming cobblestone streets and elegant architecture, and discover hidden gems such as the Como Cathedral and the Broletto, a medieval town hall.

What to eat

Delight your palate with local specialties as you soak in the enchanting ambiance!

  • Risotto al pesce persico: creamy risotto made with Arborio rice and locally caught perch, delicately seasoned with white wine, shallots, and fresh herbs.
  • Polenta uncia: traditional polenta served with a generous dollop of melted butter and grated Bitto or Parmesan cheese.
  • Missoltino: salted and dried lake fish, typically agone or shad, that is grilled or fried until crispy and served with polenta.
  • Pizzoccheri: flat buckwheat noodles cooked with potatoes, cabbage, and Casera cheese, then layered and baked until bubbly and golden.
  • Resta: a traditional dessert consisting of delicate almond cookies filled with apricot jam and dusted with powdered sugar. 

5. Cremona

Discover the enchanting city of Cremona, nestled in the Lombardy region, just a bit more than an hour away by train from Milan. Renowned for its rich musical heritage, historical landmarks, and culinary traditions, this beautiful town invites you to explore its charming streets lined with elegant palaces and artisan workshops while immersing yourself in its vibrant cultural scene.

What to do

Step into the museo del violino, a tribute to the art of violin-making that stands as a testament to Cremona's prestigious musical heritage. Immerse yourself in the intricate craftsmanship behind these timeless instruments and marvel at masterpieces created by legendary luthiers like Antonio Stradivari.

Afterward, ascend the Torrazzo, Italy's tallest brick bell tower, and embark on a journey through time as you climb its ancient steps to catch glimpses of Cremona's storied past through panoramic views that stretch across the cityscape.

What to eat

Indulge in Cremona's culinary delights by sampling local specialties!

  • Torrone: a sweet confection made from honey, sugar, and toasted almonds or hazelnuts.
  • Mostarda di Cremona: a traditional condiment made by candying fruits such as pears, apples, and cherries in a syrup infused with mustard oil.
  • Tortelli cremonesi: a traditional pasta dish filled with a savory mixture of beef, pork, and Parmesan cheese, then simmered in a rich broth until tender.
  • Salame cremonese: Sa cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic, black pepper, and spices.
  • Sbrisolona: a traditional crumbly cake made with flour, sugar, almonds, and butter.

6. Verona

Steeped in history, romance, and Shakespearean lore, Verona captivates visitors with its ancient monuments, charming piazzas, and timeless elegance. Just an hour and a half by train from Milan, the town is a perfect day trip that will allow you to immerse yourself in its captivating atmosphere.

What to do

Visit the iconic Arena di Verona, a magnificent Roman amphitheater where you can witness world-class opera performances and concerts under the open sky, surrounded by the ancient grandeur of this architectural marvel.

Continue your exploration with a visit to Juliet's House, a charming medieval residence that has captured the imagination of visitors for centuries, and end your trip by taking a leisurely stroll across the scenic Ponte Pietra, a picturesque bridge spanning the Adige River and offering panoramic views of the city!

What to eat

As you visit the town, you can’t miss their traditional cuisine.

  • Risotto all'amarone: a creamy bowl of risotto where the rich and complex flavors of Amarone wine infuse every grain of rice with depth
  • Pastissada de caval: a traditional stew made with tender horse meat simmered in a rich sauce of red wine, onions, and aromatic herbs.
  • Baccalà alla vicentina: a traditional dish featuring salted cod simmered in a creamy sauce of onions, milk, and anchovies.
  • Tortellini di Valeggio: small handmade pasta parcels filled with a savory mixture of meats and cheeses.
  • Pandoro: a traditional Veronese Christmas cake made with butter, eggs, and sugar, and enjoyed with a dusting of powdered sugar.

7. Bergamo

Just an hour from Milan, Bergamo enchants visitors with its medieval charm, artistic treasures, and breathtaking vistas. Divided into the historic Città Alta (Upper Town) and the modern Città Bassa (Lower Town), this perched town offers a captivating blend of old-world charm and contemporary allure.

Bergamo, a perfect day trip from Milan

What to do

Explore the winding streets of the Città Alta and admire architectural marvels such as the majestic Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, with its intricate façade adorned with delicate carvings and elaborate frescoes, and the imposing Cittadella fortress, standing as a silent testament to Bergamo's strategic importance throughout the ages.

As you wander through this ancient citadel, take a moment to pause and reflect atop the Venetian walls, where sweeping vistas of the surrounding landscape unfold before you like a masterpiece painted by nature itself. 

What to eat

Delight your palate with Bergamo's culinary specialties!

  • Casoncelli: small, handmade pockets of pasta filled with a savory mixture of ground meats, breadcrumbs, cheese, and aromatic herbs.
  • Scarpinòcc: delicate dumplings of pasta filled with a savory mixture of meats, cheese, and herbs. 
  • Capù: a traditional dish made with pasta, potatoes, and cheese.
  • Polenta e Osei: a classic dish featuring creamy polenta topped with small birds such as quail or thrush, typically seasoned with herbs and spices and roasted.
  • Salame Bergamasco: a dry-cured salami made from finely ground pork seasoned with garlic, black pepper, and spices.

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