Going to Italy is a dream for a lot of people. You think of movies, TV shows and pictures, where people walk around the small winding streets, where locals use their hands just as much as words, and where beautiful landscapes are around each corner. But where do you even start to pick a location to go to? Here are a few tips from a trip I just went on. It was a week long, and we stayed at one location, while taking day trips to others.
Milan is a great place to fly into, as it offers many flight options, but it’s also close to many cities, which makes it a great choice for your home-base. Milan has the beautiful Duomo (Cathedral) that is hard to find a comparison to in the rest of Europe, due to its white-washed exterior, with small jagged points surrounding the top. There are also canals that run through different parts of the city, such as the Naviglio Grande, which always makes for a great afternoon walk, or to stop and grab something to eat. And no visit is complete without realizing that Leonardo Da Vinci spent 17 years in Milan, and gave us the famous Last Supper, which you can see in the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. While there are many other noteworthy places to see and experience, here are some great tips for things off the main tourist path.
- A unique Arch, with a twist. While there are many beautiful arches in Europe, Arco della Pace has a little bit of humor built into it. It was originally built when Napoleon was in power, and he had conquered Italy. The arch in Milan links to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, by the Simplon Pass, which goes over the Alps, and is still in use today. The horses on top were placed facing France, to welcome Napoleon, but when the Austrian Empire conquered Italy a few years later, the horses were turned, so that their tails were facing France. So when you visit, you have a story to tell your friends and family, making you sound like a local.
- A building or a vertical forest?
Bosco Verticale is a really unique concept to help with air pollution. They are two high-rise buildings, one being 26 floors and the other being 18, that have more than 900 trees on the balconies there. The idea was to help destroy some of the smog that comes from cities, as well as to produce more oxygen. It’s also helpful to the people living there, as the trees block out some of the noise around them, as well as some of the harsh winds that come through Milan. The park that’s just in front of the buildings is also really pretty to walk around, or sit and people watch.
3. One of the world’s oldest shopping malls. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele sits right next to the Duomo and is also a real beauty. It was built in 1861 and is named after the first king of the Kingdom of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II. When you walk in, notice the four mosaics on the floor. Not only are they really pretty, but each one has a coat of arms, referring to the capitals of the Kingdom of Italy, Turin, Florence, Rome, as well as Milan. Now, look up, as the roof is made completely of glass and iron, with sweeping arches and a stunning circular dome in the middle. Next, it’s time to go shopping (if you can afford it). Not only is the Galleria for high-end clothes, but you can also find books, jewelry, and paintings, as well as cafes and restaurants.
Getting from Milan to Verona is really easy, and takes just over an hour between the two cities. Start at the Milano Centrale Station and you can either buy your ticket at one of the ticket machines, or for a discount, you can buy your ticket online, with my favorite website Trainline. You can use this website/app in several European countries, as well as a few countries in the UK. You can also see up to 9 different currencies, depending on what you prefer. Your ticket will be sent to your email or saved in the app, and you just show that to the conductor, without worrying about validating the ticket or losing it. Once arriving in Verona Porta Nuova, walk north to see pretty much anything in Verona. While just wandering around makes for a great feast for the eyes, here are some tips to get the most out of a few hours in Verona.
- Famous lovers. One of the things that Verona is famous for, are the Romeo and Juliet houses from Shakespeare’s play. Set just a few streets from each other, the Juliet house and balcony has all of the tourism, while Romeo’s house is merely a small sign, on the outside wall. The Juliet house is actually a museum that you can visit everyday, except Monday mornings.
- Third largest amphitheater in Italy. Built in the 1st century, this stunning Roman amphitheater is still in use today, for more than eye candy. It is used for concerts, operas, and if Milan/Cortina d’Ampezzo is awarded the 2026 Winter Olympics, this will be used as the closing ceremonies. So seeing it before then, will give you bragging rights.
- Incredible view of the city. Since Verona doesn’t have many tall buildings, getting a great 360-degree view of the town is pretty easy, from the Lamberti Tower. For the super fit and motivated, there are 368 steps to the top, or for those that don’t need to prove their athletic ability, there is a nice, relaxing elevator, that is only €1 extra than the entrance fee, which is €8. One thing to keep in mind though, is that the bells ring every 30 minutes on the hour, and half hour, so plan to be there in between those, or risk being partially deaf for the next few minutes.
- Relax on the terrace, that overlooks a castle.
While the terrace at Terrazza Bar al Ponte isn’t big, the view more than makes up for it. It is made to look like the upper deck of a ship, overlooking the rushing water below. The terrace is covered, which is great to hide from the sun, or in case of an afternoon shower, and in the winter, there are heating lamps and blankets to keep the customers warm. This is a great place to see locals and practice some of your Italian. Prego!
Lake Como is a beautiful lake, with lush green hills surrounding it. The small towns sprinkled all around the lake, gives you a feeling of wanting to visit them and just lose track of time there. Getting to the Como train station from Milan, takes about 45 minutes, and costs between €5-€10. Once you get there though, go ahead and walk directly to the lake, and follow the crowd towards the ticket counter. Unfortunately you can’t purchase your tickets online, so in the high season, do plan a little extra time, as the boats can sell out for the tour you’d like. There are shorter trips, such as 4-5 stops, trips that go halfway, and ones that go to the end of the lake. There are also 3 different types of boats you can go on: a motorship, a hydrofoil and a ferry. Feeling a little overwhelmed? This will help you decide which is best for you, and if you’d like to see a map of the lake, scroll down.
- Motorships. This is a slower boat, that allows its passengers time to really enjoy the views and take a lot of pictures. Year-round it does the Como-Colico route, which is all the way to the end, and takes about an two hours. And only in the summer, it also does the Lecco-Bellagio route, which starts east of the Como stop, and goes to the middle of the lake, and it takes an hour and a half. The great thing about the motorships is that they are cheaper, and since they stop at every stop on the route, you can get off and back on a few times, and see more places, with less tourists, than the main destinations.
2) Hydrofoils. These are faster and a little more expensive, but if you know where you want to go, and spend most of your time there, this is the boat for you. It doesn’t make as many stops, so if you want to get to the most popular destination of Bellagio early, and enjoy it before crowds start rolling in, this will get you there in 45 minutes. But it also does the whole lake, from Como to Colico, so you still have the same option as the motorship.
3) The ferry. This is only between a few stops in the middle of the lake, Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio and Cadenabbia, as shown below on the map in yellow. So if you arrive from Milan by train, you’ll need to take either the motorship or hydrofoil to one of these stops, and then you can take the ferry. Or if you have a car, the ferry is your only option to get across the lake. Ticket price information on taking your car on the ferry, can be found here.
Wherever you choose to go, Italy has many options for things to enjoy. But the most important part, is to go see it for yourself.