5 amazing day trips from Milan

These easy day trips from Milan will lead you to medieval cities and lakeside towns straight out of a postcard
We've found the most amazing day trips to take during your next visit to Milan.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Juan Rubiano
By Emma Harper |
Advertising

Yes, there are plenty of things to do in Milan itself, but once you've exausted the citys top attractions and are ready to travel, sightsee and eat like a local, a bounty of beauty awaits just outside the city limits. The ring of mountains to the north of Milan, visible on a clear day, suggest that you won’t have to go far to find some stunning vistas. 

Hemmed in by the region’s mountains are what locals call simply “the Lakes,” dreamlike bodies of water that straddle Italy and Switzerland, most of which are an easy day trip from Milan. Most famous is perhaps Lake Como, where the rich and famous flock in the summer; but equally intriguing is Lake Maggiore, home to three otherworldly islands that will take you back in time a couple hundred years.

Similarly stunning from a natural viewpoint is Camogli, a small fishing town just south of Genoa on the Ligurian coast. There are also culturally and historically significant towns (Cremona) and cities (Turin) within a stone’s throw of Milan, and since most tourists flock to Rome, Florence and Venice, you’ll have these gems all to yourself.

Day trips from Milan

Camogli
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Michal Osmenda

Camogli

The seaside town of Camogli is the perfect antidote to landlocked Milan. It offers trompe l'oeil palazzi, pine forests and azure water in spades; and while nearby Portofino is a popular spot with luxury travelers, this equally pretty town retains a more working-class feel and doesn’t get quite as crowded, which is why in the summer it’s filled with well-heeled Milanese and Turinese who come on their annual holiday for some peace and quiet. (As they always say, the best travel finds come when you go where the locals go.)

EAT:

De Laura serves the best food in the tiny beachside hamlet of San Fruttuoso. Be sure to try whichever pesto pasta dish is on offer—Liguria is Italy’s most famous basil-growing region and the home of pesto. 

DRINK:

Grab an outside table at Pub la Cage Aux Folles, which is located on the main coastal drag in Camogli, and sip an Aperol spritz as you watch the sun go down.

DO:

Hire a private boat or hop on the ferry from Camogli to Portofino. The area’s vertiginous hills and cliffs of the Ligurian coast are even more stunning when seen from the water. 

STAY:

Housed in an impeccably restored 1907 palazzo, the Villa Rosmarino has welcoming staff, an outdoor pool and great views from its perch above the historic centre of Camogli. 

If you do just one thing…

Hike the trail from Camogli to the 10th-century San Fruttuoso. The abbey is in a stunning location, abutting a small pebble beach and with a hillside forest as its backdrop. Only accessible by foot or by boat, San Fruttuoso feels like a hidden paradise.

Turin

Turin

Despite being the fourth largest city in Italy, Turin flies under the radar. The historic centre contains clues to Turin’s royal past (it was a seat of the House of Savoy and the first capital of the Kingdom of Italy): radiating from Palazzo Reale, one of two splendid House of Savoy palaces situated on Piazza Castello, are long porticoed arcades, allegedly instituted by the monarchy to keep the royals dry. It is also home to a world-class soccer team–Juventus–and boasts a distinguished culinary scene due to its location in Piedmont, a region famed for food and wine.  

EAT:

The relatively simple interior of Ristorante Consorzio, reminiscent of an old country house, belies the wow factor of their menu, which pays homage to Piedmont producers. This is a place to be adventurous: try one of their raw meat dishes and order from their impeccable natural wine list.

DRINK:

The bar at Astoria is always a good spot for a drink with friends, but what makes this place special is the basement stage that attracts Turin’s hipsters with various live music and DJ sets.

DO:

Perhaps more exciting than its royal heritage is Turin’s past life as a hotbed of resistance during the Second World War. The wonderful Museo Diffuso Torino (Museum of the Resistance) charts these defiant groups that opposed the occupying German forces and the Italian Fascist regime.

STAY:

The excellent staff at Tomato Backpackers Hotel gives this spot, which has both dorms and private rooms, an inclusive and relaxed feel.

If you do just one thing…

Visit one of the city’s historic cafes, which were revolutionary and literary hotbeds in the 19th century. The refined Baratti & Milano, complete with crystal chandeliers and bow-tied bartenders, is a prime example of Turin’s unique café heritage.

Advertising
Lake Como
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/chensiyuan

Lake Como

Its steep wooded shoreline and pristine sapphire water make Lake Como the most beautiful of the northern Italian lakes. The destination draws in visitors who are seduced by the ample opportunities for villa hopping, lavish lunches and long boat rides—a jaunt in nature has arguably never been so luxurious. A day trip usually means either a day spent in the larger town of Como, located on the southern tip of the lake, or a day that begins in smaller Varenna and involves hopping over to Bellagio on the ferry; both Como and Varenna are an hour train ride from Milan.

EAT:

Located in the backstreets of Como, Ristorante Sociale offers the best bang for your buck in this pricey region, with its home-cooked meals attracting a large crowd of locals. The restaurant’s interiors, not least its massive stone fireplace, more than make up for the fact that it’s not lakeside.

DRINK:

The outside terrace at Bar Il Molo in Varenna is the most sought-after spot come aperitivo hour, as it affords incredible views of the lake. 

DO:

Como has been Italy’s silk capital since the 16th century, and while the spun thread is now imported from China, the fabrics woven by Como’s artisans are still coveted. Stop by A Picci in Como, one of the last remaining silk shops in town, to get your own silk tie or scarf.

STAY:

A lakeside hotel not far from Como, Villa d’Este, was originally built as a summer palace in the 16th century and turned into a hotel in the late 19th century. It’s understandably pricey, but a perfect spot for a romantic getaway. 

If you do just one thing…

Spend some time on the lake. This can be done on the cheap—riding one of the ferries between towns—or in a more upscale setting, like on one of the mahogany cigarette boats operated by Barindelli in Bellagio.

Lake Maggiore
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Markus Bernet

Lake Maggiore

The main draw of Lake Maggiore are its three distinct islands: Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola Superiore. The centrepiece of Isola Bella is the baroque Palazzo Borromeo; while the interiors are sumptuous, the ten-tiered garden is a true masterpiece of baroque garden design that has miraculously remained intact. Isola Madre is also home to a fabulous palace and gardens, while Isola Superiore harbours a quaint fishing village. The islands are a short ferry ride from the lakeside town of Stresa, which is one hour by train from Milan.

EAT:

Isola Superiore is home to some excellent seafood restaurants; Restaurant Casabella is the best of the bunch.

DRINK:

The swanky Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees in Stresa was the backdrop for part of Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms, making it a well-known name all over the world. Room prices are astronomical, but you can always get a drink on the terraces that overlook the lake.

DO:

Take the Funivia Stresa-Alpino-Mottarone, a cable car that runs between Stresa and Monte Mottarone with a stop at Alpino midway. The 20-minute journey affords some incredible views of the lakes region. 

STAY:

La Palma Hotel, a lakeside property, has an old-school façade but modern interiors. Amenities like the Sky Bar and the panoramic spa will have you feeling like you’re in the lap of luxury.

If you do just one thing…

Go on a search for the Borromeo family’s flock of white peacocks that are roaming the grounds on Isola Bella. It’s not every day that you can peep a white peacock, is it?

Advertising
Cremona
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/trolvag

Cremona

In the Middle Ages, musical activities in the town revolved around the 12th-century Cremona Cathedral, which contributed to its rise as a musical centre in the 16th century–it was here that the modern instrument was invented and Antonio Stradivari made his world-famous violins, making Cremona a must-visit for music lovers. Just over an hour south of Milan by train, the town boasts one of the most beautiful piazzas in northern Italy—the Piazza del Comune—and is mostly off tourists’ radar. So even if you don’t have a passion for stringed instruments, Cremona is worth a visit for its quiet scene, all-around impressive architecture and vibrant food scene.

EAT:

Cremona has several local specialties, such as marubini (stuffed pasta) and gnocchi vecchia Cremona (giant, sausage-stuffed gnocchi). The best place to get all things local is Osteria La Sosta.

DRINK:

Centrally located on the Piazza Della Pace, Hobos Cocktail Bar whips up a mean pisco sour, and its outdoor terrace is popular in the warmer months. 

DO:

Museo Civico “Ala Ponzone” is the town’s best art gallery with a fine collection of excellent paintings dating from the 15th to the 19th century. If your interest in stringed instruments lies beyond the violin, their collection of guitars and mandolins is sure to delight. 

STAY:

Cremona Hotels Impero is located very close to the historic centre of Cremona and within easy walking distance of many of the town’s sites. The rooms are spacious and simple, but it can get noisy on weekend nights.

If you do just one thing…

Visit the Museo del Violino. Opened in 2013, this high-tech museum allows visitors to get up close and personal some gorgeous Cremona-made violins. Be sure to ask about recital dates and concerts in the auditorium.

Take in some more sights

Things to do

10 great Milan tours

Each of these tours—on everything from medieval architecture to regional cuisine—is led by an expert local guide, so you know you’ll be getting an insider’s take on marvellous Milan.

Advertising
This page was migrated to our new look automatically. Let us know if anything looks off at feedback@timeout.com