How to Explore the Italian Lakes Region from Milan

Milan may not be on everyone’s must-see list when first planning an Italy trip, but it’s an ideal base for exploring the popular Italian lakes region in the northern part of the country. Whether you’re interested in a simple day trip to nearby Lake Como, a combination trip including a lake visit and another town, or a multi-day excursion to several lakes there’s something to appeal to you.

The picturesque town of Bellagio on Lake Como is a little more than 43 miles from Milan. One of the most visited towns on Lake Maggiore is Stresa, which is about 55 miles from Milan. Both of these towns can be reached by coach in about an hour on an organized day trip. On the other side of the spectrum, Milan can be the starting point for an excursion that includes Lake Maggiore, Lake Como, Lake Orta, Lake Iseo, and Lake Garda in the span of a week. The only thing you need to decide is how long you want to spend in the area.

There are affiliate links below, which means I get a little something if you book one of these tours – but it won’t cost you anything extra.

Self-Guided Visits to the Italian Lakes from Milan

Isola dei Pescatori on Lake Maggiore || creative commons photo by kkmarais

Isola dei Pescatori on Lake Maggiore || creative commons photo by kkmarais

Some of the lakes are fairly easy to visit on your own without an organized tour, especially if you only want to visit one or two places during a day trip from Milan and those places reachable by Italy’s robust train network. Trenitalia connects Milan’s Centrale station with the town of Como at one of the southern tips of Lake Como, and from there you can take boat excursions to see other towns if you like.

The train from Milan to Como takes a little over a half-hour, which is about how long it takes to drive there. Lecco is on the other branch of Lake Como’s upside-down Y, and that’s about 40 minutes from Milan by train. Getting to Bellagio from Milan requires a train trip to Varenna, which takes a bit more than an hour, followed by a 15-minute ferry ride.

The pretty town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore is roughly an hour from Milan by train. Reaching Lake Garda by public transportation is a bit more involved, as it usually means taking a one-hour train from Milan to Desenzano del Garda and then taking buses to get to the smaller lakeside communities.

Travelers who rent a car have much more freedom to explore the lakes region at their own pace, not to mention reaching towns that are otherwise only reachable by bus or boat.

Tours of the Italian Lakes from Milan

To take all the guesswork out of travel, you can choose from a variety of guided tours to the Italian lakes. I’m generally in favor of planning trips myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take advantage of the convenience of guided tours. That’s especially true if it means getting to places I wouldn’t otherwise see without renting a car.

Here are a few organized tour options for your perusal, so you have an idea of what’s available. Some of them include additional destinations before or after the lake stops – like Verona, or wine tasting – which may make them even more appealing.

Lake Day Trips from Milan

Lake Garda || creative commons photo by Renato Bonomini

Lake Garda || creative commons photo by Renato Bonomini

Visiting Lake Como from Milan is probably the most common day trip into the lakes region from the fashion capital. As mentioned, it’s an easy day-trip distance from Milan at about an hour’s drive to pretty Bellagio (and even less to the bigger city of Como, also on the lake).

Lake Maggiore is another easy day trip destination from Milan. The town of Stresa is a great place to start and, like Bellagio, can be reached in about an hour’s drive. From there, you can explore the beautiful Borromean Islands including Isola Bella with its stunning villa.

For a lake trip that’s a bit further away, consider venturing all the way into the Veneto region with a day trip to Lake Garda and Verona from Milan. Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and typically more popular with tourists from elsewhere in Europe. It’s also close to the historic city of Verona, which makes for an interesting combination of destinations on a day trip – see the natural beauty of a northern lake and a wonderfully-preserved Roman amphitheater in the city that served as the setting for “Romeo and Juliet.”

Explore a less-visited lake in combination with visits to an historic town and wine tasting with a day trip to Bergamo, Franciacorta, and Lake Iseo from Milan.

You can also visit two countries – and two lakes – in one day with a trip that includes Lake Como and Lake Lugano from Milan. Lake Lugano straddles the border between Italy and Switzerland, giving you a chance to add one more nation to your trip checklist.

Multi-Day Lake Excursions from Milan

Bellagio on Lake Como || creative commons photo by Gian Luca Ponti

Bellagio on Lake Como || creative commons photo by Gian Luca Ponti

Go big with a 7-day tour of the Italian lakes and the Dolomites from Milan to make the most of your time in northern Italy. Visit popular Lake Como, Lake Garda, and Lake Maggiore, as well as less-visited Lake Orta and Lake Iseo. Then head into the imposing Dolomites to explore some of Italy’s most majestic mountains.

With a bit less time, you still have plenty of great options. Choose a 4-day tour of the Italian lakes that includes Verona to see Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Lake Garda, and Lake Orta. Or stick strictly to the lakes with a 4-day Italian lakes tour from Milan to see Lake Maggiore, Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Orta, and Lake Iseo. To include the romance of the canal city, add a day with a 5-day tour of Lake Como and Venice from Milan. There’s even a 2-night trip to Lake Garda and Verona from Milan if you want something more than a day trip but not much more.

2 responses to “How to Explore the Italian Lakes Region from Milan”

  1. Robert Curley says:

    Something is still wrong here!! :o). I did read the letter about visiting the lakes from Milan in your last email. What was not there was the article about The Godfather sites in Sicily which was the subject of the post. I was interested in reading that because my wife, son and I did visit the church and the Bar Vitelli in Savoca this past March. We did not go to the other sites which were nearby. We spent 5 weeks in Italy, 3 of them in Aci Trezza.

    You might mention to your readers if you already haven’t that a cheap was of visiting Italy is booking a tour deal for the cheap airfare and then extending your stay. For example a our deal was for $520 we had roundtrip airfare from NY to Milan, 5 nights at a hotel in Tuscany, and a rental car. We asked if we could extend our stay until the end of March, keep the car, and return for the same rate. The answer was yes and we were on our way. We will probably do the same thing next year when the deal comes up.

    • Jessica says:

      The article about Godfather filming locations in Sicily was last week’s article – it was correctly linked in the previous newsletter, and you’ll find it if you click on “Blog” at the top of any page and scroll down a bit. It’s also still highlighted on the website’s front page. I hope you enjoy the article! 🙂

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