Milan Centrale, your starting point for many day trips || creative commons photo by Paolo Gamba
I have said before that I really do love Milan, though I know it’s not everyone’s Italian cup of tea. (Which is probably not tea at all, but espresso. But I digress.) If you’re staying in Milan for a few days, however, you may need a break – or just be itching to see the sights somewhere else. In that case, you can thank Milan for its high-speed train hub in Stazione Centrale and for the array of picturesque day trip destinations a short distance from the city center.
Personally, I prefer my day trips to involve less than two hours in transit overall. From Milan, that will get you to a number of places, including the famous Lake Como. For early risers or anyone who doesn’t mind a little more time spent getting there and back, there’s an even longer list of possible day trips you could take from Milan. I’ve broken them down below by how long it takes to get there and back. This is by no means a comprehensive list, either, particularly if you’ve rented a car in Milan and just want to explore the countryside.
(And, hey, if you’re not keen on visiting Milan’s sights at all, but you are interested in some of the places you can get to nearby, then this list works for you, too.)
Guided Tours In & From Milan
The places I’ve listed below are all do-able as DIY day trips, but if you’d rather just leave the planning to someone else here’s a selection of tours both in and from Milan.
Quick Day Trips from Milan: 2 Hours or Less in Transit
Bergamo’s historic center || creative commons photo by Jose A.
- Lago di Como – The inverted Y-shaped lake on which George Clooney chose to make his Italian home, Lago di Como, is ringed by postcard-perfect villages and steeply-sloping green hills. In nice weather, you can even see Alps in the distance. The town of Como at the southwestern tip of the lake is just over a half-hour from Milan by train, and the town of Lecco on the southeastern leg is about an hour one-way. Famed Bellagio, right at the point where the Y splits, is only reachable by bus or boat – either of which you can get from Como or Lecco.
- Lago Maggiore – Another of Italy’s popular lakes is Lago Maggiore. It’s Italy’s second-largest lake (behind Lago di Garda), and lies partly in Switzerland. Stresa is the major lake town, and many visitors come to the lake just to see the tiny Borromean Islands not far from the town. Both the towns of Stresa and Arona on the western side of the lake are each roughly an hour from Milan by train.
- Bergamo – The old city center in Bergamo is the one you want to visit, high on the hill overlooking the modern city. It’s called the Città Alta (High City), with medieval streets and buildings and 17th century walls surrounding it that are still intact. Don’t miss the exquisite 15th century Colleoni Chapel. Bergamo is just under 50 minutes one-way from Milan on the train, and then you can take the number 1 bus from the train station to the Città Alta or walk to the funicular at the base of the hill and ride that to the top.
- Pavia – The university city of Pavia is a short half-hour train ride from Milan, and boasts a quiet and pretty historic center. The biggest attraction, however, is about five miles outside the city. The Certosa di Pavia is a Carthusian Monastery built in the 14th-15th centuries, and is one of Italy’s largest monasteries. The buildings themselves are breathtakingly beautiful, and there is also a small collection of artwork in the church.
- Turin – On the Italian national trains, the trip from Milan to Turin is a little less than two hours one-way. But on the newer Italo service, it’s less than 45 minutes. (Trains serve Milan’s Garibaldi Station, not Centrale.) Whether or not you’re a believer, don’t miss a visit to the Shroud Museum to see the history and an exact replica of Turin’s famous relic (the actual shroud is kept in a sealed box in the cathedral). Anyone with a sweet tooth should also pay homage to the chocolatey-coffee called bicerin at the cafe of the same name.
Medium Day Trips from Milan: 2-4 Hours in Transit
Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore || creative commons photo by Matteo Paciotti
- Bologna – I sort of hate having to put Bologna in this middle section, but the official transit time from Milan to Bologna on the high-speed train is 1 hour 2 minutes one-way. Bologna is home to the world’s oldest continually operating university, so it has a youthful energy but doesn’t seem to attract the same volume of tourists as cities like Florence do. It’s capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, a region even many Italians will tell you has the best food in the country. This is where the bolognese you love on your pasta came from, as well as tortellini, and genuine Italian balsamic vinegar is made in nearby Modena. Gearheads will appreciate that the Bologna area is also where Ferrari and Lamborghini have their factories and headquarters.
- Parma – If the idea of a visit to Bologna makes you hungry, then brace yourself – you’ll feel the same way about Parma. Yes, this is the city from which parmigiano-reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma take their names. This is another university city that doesn’t get a huge number of tourists, which is a shame given the architectural and artistic beauty of the historic center. Parma is about 1 hour 10 minutes by train from Milan one-way.
- Lugano – Bring your passport, and in about 1 hour 10 minutes you’ll be on the pretty lakeside city of Lugano in southern Switzerland. The town is on Lake Lugano (which is mostly in Switzerland, but also a bit in Italy), and it’s in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton. The hills and mountains surrounding the city are popular with Swiss holiday-makers – for mountin bikers alone, there is a network of nearly 200 miles of trails.
- Florence – The Renaissance capital of Florence deserves more than a day, but if that’s all you’ve got then you can get there in just under two hours by train one-way from Milan. With just a day, guided tours are highly recommended, especially the skip-the-line variety that lets you avoid wasting time in the queues for popular attractions like the Uffizi and Accademia.
- Genoa – The city of Genoa, the capital of Liguria, is home to Italy’s largest port and is a popular starting point for Mediterranean cruises. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, full of former stately palaces (many of which are museums), Europe’s second-largest aquarium, and a waterfront promenade that simply begs for a stroll. Genoa is roughly 1.5 hours one-way from Milan by train.
Longer Day Trips from Milan: 4+ Hours in Transit
Overlooking Vernazza in the Cnique Terre || creative commons photo by teldridge+keldridge
- Venice – I’m always going to argue for more time spent in Venice, since a day trip doesn’t do the city justice, but I’ve also taken a day trip from Milan to Venice when I wasn’t going to get to the canal city at any other point during a trip. So I get it. Venice has that allure. It’s a little more than 2.5 hours one-way from Milan, but luckily there’s not usually much on the to-do list when you get to Venice except walk around and sigh often. If you’ve never been to Venice before, however, I’d advise booking a guided tour so you see the sights with minimal directional confusion.
- Rome – Given the distance from Milan to Rome, it’s a little surprising to note that in a little under three hours one-way you can be standing in the Eternal City after waking up near Milan’s Duomo. As with some of the other places listed here, Rome is really impossible to “do” in a day – particularly such a short one – but this kind of day trip could be ideal if you’ve been to Rome before and just want to see one or two things you missed the last time, or if you just want to be able to say that you “popped down to Rome for lunch” one day. Here, too, a guided tour is recommended if you’ve not been before.
- Cinque Terre – The five fishing villages clinging to Liguria’s coastline – better known as the Cinque Terre – have been incredibly popular with tourists for more than a decade now. The hiking trail between them is a great way to spend a day if the weather is nice, though the trail has become more crowded with every passing summer. Assuming you’ve been before, there are worse ways to spend a day than by sitting at a cafe table in Vernazza’s town square staring at the sea. The trip from Milan to Monterosso, the northernmost town of the five, is a little less than three hours one-way, and there’s a super slow train that will chug from there to the other four villages.
- Mantua – Mantua (called Mantova in Italian) has a rich cultural history. Its old center is a UNESCO site, it’s the closest modern city to the place where the Roman poet Virgil is believed to have been born, and it’s home to some fabulous trompe l’oeil paintings by Andrea Mantegna in the Palazzo Ducale. Mantegna’s 15th century frescoes are in the Camera degli Sposi, one of the chambers of the palace built for the ruling Gonzaga family. Mantua is a little less than three hours one-way from Milan, with a train change in Verona.
The Oltrepo Pavese south of Pavia and only one hour from Milan, is one of Italy’s largest wine regions. Especially known for the Pino Nero grape, from which some of the best spumante wines (champaign) are made. Worth a daytrip also for the beautiful landscape and excellent food.