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.
There’s a variety of cuisines to sample too, with amazing fresh truffles in Turin and Alba, venetian cicchetti (snacks) in Venice and the delights of ‘appy hour’ (aperitivo hour) in Milan. You could even visit Emilia-Romagna, often referred to as the food capital of Italy, with cities like Bologna an absolute must-visit!
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. It’ll definitely show you some of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy too.
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
I’ve used a map to plot the perfect route for your Northern Italy road trip. I recommend opening it another window to study in detail!
What to pack for your road trip
If you’re wondering what to pack for your trip, this guide to road trip essentials has you covered. From portable chargers to ways to stay entertained on long journeys, it’ll help you create your road trip packing list. I’ve also included lots of must-haves at the end of this post, to make the process much easier!
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!
For a thorough plan, I’d recommend reading my guide to the top things to do in Lake Como – it’s full of handy travel tips.
Lake Como to Verona: 235km / 3 hours 7 mins approx.
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! Before visiting, I’d recommend reading these interesting facts about Rome – you’ll be amazed by what you learn!
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.
Packing List For Northern Italy
Now you’ve got your route planned out, it’s time to decide what to pack! Here are a few quick suggestions of what to take, with some links to specific items I’d rate picking up before you travel.
Women’s packing list for Northern Italy
Women’s lightweight trousers – It’s good to have some conservative items and not flash too much skin. These are practical, lightweight but a bit cute too!
Women’s sundress – Something pretty and not too short for when it’s appropriate.
Women’s maxi dress – I quite liked having a longer item or two. If you pair it with a cardigan it’s more conservative too.
Women’s midi skirt – I live in items like this in warm countries and have them in multiple colours and patterns. They’re comfortable and not revealing.
Women’s shorts – I packed a few pairs. I’d recommend something loose and comfortable like these shorts, and then perhaps some classic denim shorts too.
Women’s summer top – I wore a lot of things like this. Neutral colours work best as you can mix and match with shorts and skirts. Plus, you can dress them up or dress them down!
Women’s zip up hooded jacket – A few places get chilly, so you’ll want to be able to layer up occasionally. A zip up hoody like this will come in handy.
Women’s bikini – You’ll need to pack a couple of items of swimwear. There are so many cute bikinis out there to choose from!
Women’s rash guard – Not essential, but if you burn easily (or plan to surf) I’d recommend one of these. This one is great as it has a built-in bra and comes with a pair of matching shorts.
Women’s sports vest – I’d recommend one or two sweat-absorbing vests like this for adventurous activities.
Women’s sports bra – Ideal for sporty or adventure activities. I prefer sports bras like this Under Armour one which has some built in padding for extra support.
Women’s leggings – Leggings are great for active adventures. These Under Armour ones are great as they’re very lightweight.
Sarong – A really useful item for any travels in warm countries! Use it as a towel, a cover up, to sit on, to lie on or for a cute addition to an outfit!
Sun hat – You’ll definitely want a sun hat to protect yourself.
Sunglasses – I’ve owned a pair of these Ray Bans for a few years now and love them!
Men’s packing list for Northern Italy
Men’s casual shorts – I’d recommend several pairs of comfortable shorts for everyday use.
Men’s chinos or jeans – I’d recommend a few pairs of chinos, jeans or cargo pants.
Men’s T-shirts – Pack a few options of t-shirts too.
Men’s shirts – A few shirts (long or short sleeved) are a good idea. I personally love these linen shirts. They look very cool!
Men’s vests – If you sweat a lot, you might find vest tops more comfortable in the heat.
Men’s zip up hooded jacket – You might want to layer up if it gets chilly in the evenings.
Men’s jumper – A smarter option for keeping warm.
Men’s sports tops – For active days, something like this is really useful as it’s super-absorbent.
Men’s sports shorts – If you’re doing some adventurous hikes or activities, you’ll want shorts you can move freely in.
Swimming trunks – The more fun the pattern, the better! These ones have pockets and are quick dry too.
Baseball cap – Look for one with a mesh back like this one, so it’s more breathable.
Sunglasses – You can’t beat a classic pair of these Ray Bans!
Other general items to pack for Northern Italy
If you’re planning your trip, you should think about more than just clothing when you start packing. Here are a few items I’d recommend adding to your suitcase…
Insect repellent – There are plenty of really good insect repellents like this one. If you’re travelling with kids you might want to buy a specific children’s insect repellent too.
Bite relief – I usually take an after bite / anti-itch cream like this, that helps to soothe any bites. I also swear by this amazing Bite Away Pen, which sends a small electric shock to the itchy part of the bite. It takes a bit of getting used to at first (and sometimes hurts a tiny bit), but it does work. I’ve done a full review of the item (as it goes everywhere with me!!) so feel free to read more here.
Travel towel – A fast-drying microfibre towel like this one will come in handy on your trip. These are great not only for when you fancy a swim, but also when you want to sit down on the ground or to wipe your sweaty face on a humid day!
Sun cream – It’s important to apply suncream throughout the day. I’d recommend finding a brand which isn’t too heavy on chemicals, or is almost totally natural, like this one made by Sun Bum.
Sunglasses – It’s important to protect your eyes when you visit a holiday destination like this one. I’d recommend investing in some high-quality UV protected sunglasses. I’ve owned a pair of these Ray Bans for a few years now and love them!
Sun hat – You’ll definitely want a sun hat to protect yourself on all of those sunny days!
After sun or aloe vera – Don’t forget some soothing cream incase you do burn. I really like this one made by Ultrasun. It’s lightweight and feels lovely on your skin.
Rain jacket – Be prepared for those sporadic rain showers. As you won’t need it for warmth, I’d recommend a lightweight waterproof jacket that packs down small. Something like this would be perfect.
Umbrella – I’d also recommend an umbrella for rainy season. I’d been looking for a super compact option for ages, and finally found this one which fits in my smallest handbag and is nice and sturdy.
Daypack backpack – I used a small backpack for day-to-day adventures, which could fit a water bottle, camera, sun cream and bug spray. I also took a small shoulder bag to use for going for dinner in the evenings. If you’re looking for something nice and small, lightweight, water-resistant and that will fit all your essentials, I’d recommend this daypack. It’s got some very handy zip-up pockets too!
Reusable water bottle – I always recommend packing a reusable water bottle for travel. Even if you can’t drink the tap water, it means you can top up from giant bottles or water coolers rather than buying lots of plastic bottles. Personally I’d recommend the Chilly’s water bottles. I’ve got a few in different sizes and they are excellent quality!
GoPro – This is an adventure-filled country. The best way to capture it is on a GoPro. They’re great for photos and videos, hard wearing, shockproof and waterproof. Whether you’re snorkelling, hiking, white water rafting, wildlife-spotting or zip lining, it’s the perfect accessory. Don’t forget to take out travel insurance that covers your gadgets too.
Power bank – It depends how much you use your phone on holiday, but I used mine a lot during my trip, snapping photos and videos along the way. A portable battery pack is a great idea so you don’t have to worry about running out of charge at an important moment.
I have a few made by Anker and they’re great quality and have lasted for a long time. This is the one I’m using at the moment, which is really small (similar size to my phone) but stores lots of charge and has a fast charging capability.
Plug adapter – I pack this universal travel adapter for all of my travels. It charges multiple items at once, using plugs or USB and can be used anywhere in the world. It’s one of my fave travel gadgets!
Dry bag – I’m really happy I invested in a dry bag like this. It’s made from a thick plastic and is totally waterproof. These dry bags are perfect for adventures on the water, visiting waterfalls, or if you think it’s going to rain heavily. I’d recommend a small one for your phone and camera gear, or a larger one if you want to use it as your main bag for an activity.
Waterproof phone case – Similarly, if you want to take your phone out and about in the water, I’d recommend getting a waterproof phone case. There are quite a few to choose from, but I’d recommend reading the reviews! You need this to protect your phone and be 100% watertight after all! I bought these Moko cases myself and my partner and they’ve been great. We’ve used them on several trips snorkelling and to waterfalls now, and no leaks!
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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4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Northern Italy Road Trip: Routes, Sights, Guides, Maps And More”
Italy is one of my favourite places to visit! I’m desperate to visit Milan, Cinque Terre and Lake Como! So many beautiful places to explore!
Thank you Jess! I hope you get to visit soon. I absolutely adore Italy – esp the food!
What about Lake Garda and the Dolomite area? There is so much to see there but only Italian and Germans seem to know about this area.
Love that area too! So many places to choose from but this felt like a great route to pack a lot in!