From the stunning scenery of Lake Como, dramatic coastlines of Cinque Terre and the canals of Venice, to the culture, art and beauty of Milan, Florence and Rome, it’s time to plan the ultimate northern Italy road trip!
When it comes to road trips, a journey through northern Italy offers some of the most varied scenery. One minute you’re faced with a view across a tranquil lake, the next you’re learning about the Romans with a trip around an ancient amphitheatre.
Oh and you’ve got a mix of activities on offer too. You can swim on the beaches of Cinque Terre, climb across the rooftop of Milan’s impressive Duomo, take a gondola ride in Venice or trace Romeo and Juliet’s love story in Verona.
And the best part about a road trip through northern Italy? The freedom to veer off course from time to time! While I’ve suggested an Italy itinerary on the map below, I’d encourage creating your own route between places. It’s often when you find super special spots that aren’t in the guide books!
So rather than create one epic Italian road trip, I’ve divided the country in two! Read on for my northern Italy road trip or check out my route for an amazing southern Italy road trip.
Northern Italy Road Trip Itinerary
If you’ve got time on your side, then this northern Italy road trip is a great option. I’ve started it in Milan and ended in Rome, as they’re easy for flights. From the beauty of Lake Como to the gorgeous coastline in Cinque Terre, to impressive, historic cities including Venice, Florence and Rome, this Italy road trip has a bit of everything. If you’d rather break it up into smaller chunks, you could visit Milan, Lake Como and Cinque Terre across a week. I’d recommend taking a look at my guide to the best hidden gems in Italy too – you might find a few other stops to add to your route!
Northern Italy Road Trip Map
Northern Italy Road Trip: Stop 1 – Milan
Milan, in Italy’s Lombardy region, is a unique blend of historical architecture, contemporary skyscrapers and well-known as a fashionista’s Italian city of choice. The icon of the city is the Duomo Cathedral. It’s the world’s largest gothic cathedral and is absolutely stunning! I’d recommend heading up to the roof in the lift. I remember how stunning those views were, and you can literally wander all over the rooftop, taking in the details of the architecture and some vertigo-inducing views of the main piazza.
There are plenty more sights to see in Milan including the famous La Scala Opera House, a 15th century castle and Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper. While you might associate Milan’s shopping scene just with high end designer stores, there’s actually something to suit every budget. One place you must go though is Galleria Vittorio Emanuale II – one of the oldest and most beautiful shopping malls in the world. It was constructed in 1867 to celebrate the unification of Italy and is decorated with stunning mosaics symbolising the different cities in the country.
On my last visit I learned all about the city’s love of ‘appy hour (the Italian version of happy hour!) Head to Navigli (Milan’s pretty canal area) and you’ll find plenty of great bars specialising in ‘appy hour! It’s not just about drinks – once you order a drink you get access to a buffet of small bites.
Milan is a great starting point for your northern Italy road trip. You can collect your car rental at one of the cities two airports, and after spending a couple of days exploring the city, you can head up to Lake Como or down to Cinque Terre.
Milan to Lake Como: 84km / 1 hour 40 approx.
READ MORE: One Day In Milan: A 24-Hour City Guide
Northern Italy Road Trip: Stop 2 – Lake Como
Lake Como is just over an hour and a half from Milan, so you could easily visit for a day if you don’t fancy the overinflated prices of the area. It boasts spectacular alpine scenery, narrow cobbled streets lined with traditional pizzerias and boat trips across the lake. It’s a lovely contrast to Milan, so perfect if you want a variety of places on your Italy itinerary.
READ MORE: How to get from Milan to Lake Como
I visited a few years ago and while there are dreamy hotels like Grand Hotel Tremezzo where you could splurge your entire Italian road trip budget, you can also visit Lake Como on a budget! There’s a hostel, some cheap pizzerias and well… looking at the lake is free!
Como is the largest town and has a lively café culture, gothic-style cathedral and museums. Meanwhile, the famous town of Bellagio is a great place to shop for souvenirs, stop for a gelato or enjoy a romantic waterside dinner.
You can reach Bellagio from Como by boat for around 9.50 EUR (£8, $11) per person. If you’re visiting for a special occasion, I’d recommend stopping for lunch or dinner at Villa d’ Este, the location of many celebrity weddings and events over the years!
Lake Como to Verona: 235km / 3 hours 7 mins approx.
If you’re visiting Italy as a big group or would like the option to self-cater some of your trip, I’d recommend taking a look at Airbnb. Usually the properties are owned by locals so you can enjoy an authentic experience and ask for lots of expert tips for the area.
Northern Italy Road Trip: Stop 3 – Verona
Continuing from Milan or Lake Como you can travel east to Verona in the Veneto region, or southwest towards Genoa and Cinque Terre. If you choose the Verona route as part of your Italy itinerary you can look forward to exploring 1st century AD Verona Arena, Piazza Bra with its gelaterias and fine restaurants and the house which inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
For the best views of the city, climb to the top of Torre dei Lamberti in the heart of the Verona. I’d also recommend a walking tour of the city to learn all about its history.
While you can drive to Venice, I’d say a less stressful option is to leave your car in Verona and catch the train to Venice. Otherwise you’ll find yourself paying for overpriced car parks, and negotiating some pretty chaotic roads! In comparison, the train journey takes just over an hour and costs approx 9.50 EUR (£8, $11) per person.
Verona to Venice: 121km / 1 hour 28 mins approx.
Northern Italy Road Trip: Stop 4 – Venice
No Italy road trip planner would be complete without a trip to Venice. Spend your days floating under the Bridge of Sighs, browsing handmade Venetian masks, learning how gondolas are built in Dorsoduro, or exploring the magnificent artwork of Doge’s Palace.
For the best photos head to the top of St. Mark’s or Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. If you’re looking for unique souvenirs, consider taking a water taxi across the lagoon to Murano to see skilled glassblowers in action. In the evenings you can soak up Venice’s romantic vibes, with a drink in a wine bar, an evening at a jazz club or a delicious dinner right by the water.
Venice is hard to do on a budget, so if you’re lacking funds, consider my idea of basing yourself in Verona and taking a day trip to Venice by train.
Venice to Cinque Terre: 396km / 4 hours 22 mins approx. OR Verona to Cinque Terre: 295km / 3 hours 29 mins approx.
READ MORE: The Best Day Trips From Venice
Northern Italy Road Trip: Stop 5 – Cinque Terre
This picturesque coastal area of Liguria, Italy is famous for its boldly-coloured cascading houses, rugged coastlines and picture-postcard views. It looks too perfect to be real and has been on my dream Italy itinerary for a long time. I hope I make it there soon!
Cinque Terre translates as ‘five earths’ and consists of five villages – Monterosso al Mare, Corniglia, Riomaggiore, Vernazza and Manarola. As the villages are difficult to drive in with narrow winding streets, I’d recommend enjoying some hiking in Cinque Terre. Alternatively, head for La Spezia or Porto Venere and jump on a ferry or train from there. Once there, enjoy the food, stunning views, take a dip in the sea, hop on a boat and enjoy some world class sunsets!
It’s a magical part of Italy, and while it gets busy during the summer, if you can time your visit for just out of the peak seasons, you’ll have a great time.
Cinque Terre to Florence: 184km / 2 hours 41 mins approx.
Northern Italy Road Trip: Stop 6 – Florence
Florence sits in the heart of Tuscany, and is within easy reach of Cinque Terre or Venice/Verona depending on what route you decide to take on your Italy road trip. The city is famous for its striking medieval cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, with its distinctive red-brick cupola.
Other must see landmarks in Florence include 13th century Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Galleries and Ponte Vecchio bridge, which is lined with jewellery shops. If you’re travelling to Florence on a budget start with a look around open-air Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria where you can check out some iconic sculptures of mythical legends for free. Feeling hungry? Don’t miss San Lorenzo Market – a great place to pick up some tasty Italian delicacies, including meats and cheeses.
Then for the best panoramic city views, walk to Piazzale Michelangelo across the Arno River. Photos from there are truly breathtaking.
Want to see a bit more of the region? Add a trip to a nearby vineyard to your Tuscany road trip, or drive to Pisa to see the leaning tower.
Florence to Rome: 274km / 3 hours 15 mins approx.
Northern Italy Road Trip: Stop 7 – Rome
Take the scenic route from Florence to Rome, and you could divert from your road trip itinerary to squeeze in a lunchtime stop in romantic Siena or Grosseto. We’ve all heard our fair share of stories about the crazy drivers in Rome, so make sure you’ve packed your nerves of steel! I’d also recommend checking if your hotel has parking, and consider walking or hopping in a bike to get around the city centre.
If you have one day in Rome, you can’t miss the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Trevi Fountain. Sit on the Spanish steps and mingle with locals or venture to Trastevere on the western banks of the Tiber River and enjoy its cobbled streets, charming tavernas and laid-back vibe.
To explore one of the world’s religious hubs, take the metro to Vatican City and marvel at Michelangelo’s artwork in the Sistine Chapel. After dark, Rome comes to life with bars, cabaret shows, live music, nightclubs and plenty more entertainment!
When Is The Best Time To Visit Northern Italy?
Italy has a Mediterranean climate and is a lovely destination to visit all year round.
Temperatures vary by region, but as a quick example, you can expect average temperatures of around 0°C in around Cortina (a ski resort in the mountains) in January, and as high as 37°C in July in cities such as Milan and Venice. Temperatures in the south remain mild in winter, making destinations like Puglia and Sicily great options for a winter holiday.
If you’re wondering when is the best time to visit northern Italy, I’d suggest planning a trip between April and June, or in September or October, just after the peak summer season.
The weather tends to be consistent in these months, but isn’t too hot. Plus, as you’re missing peak season, you should benefit from lower prices and fewer people.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my northern Italy road trip! Looking to explore more of the country? Check out my southern Italy road trip itinerary!
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