The Italian Lakes - Perfect Day Trips

Lisa Gerard-Sharp, our award-winning Italian expert, recommends her favourite day-trips for those times when you fancy a spot of urban adventure. If life on the lakes starts to take its toll, there are plenty of quick day trips available. Depending on which lake you’ve been enjoying, why not dally in Milan, Brescia, Verona, Vicenza, Venice or Palladian villa country? Don’t worry, you’ll be back on the lake in time to regret ever leaving…
Driving next to Lake Garda in summertime.
Driving next to Lake Garda in summertime

Driving next to Lake Garda in the summertime. Photo: Shutterstock

Insight Guides can help with the planning, organising and booking of your trip to Italy. Simply contact our local expert with details of the length of your trip, budget and places you would like to visit and they will plan your personalised itinerary. For inspiration, browse Insight Guides ready-made Italy trips, which are all fully customisable. 


Glamourous Milan is a short hop from Lake Como, but stay overnight for a glamorous urban adventure where delicious food often trumps the designer bling. Splash out on Chateau Monfort, a quirky 'urban chateau' with fairytale touches, including beds that evoke an enchanted forest. Insight Guides' Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary begins with a few days in Milan. 

Dine in Acanto for supremely confident northern Italian cuisine and people-watching heaven. Faces I’ve spotted there include George Clooney, the Beckhams and Monica Belucci, though not in a menage a quatre. 

If on a tighter budget, get the glamour in Cafe Trussardi, on Piazza della Scala. Tucked into the ground floor of the designer superstore, this café is a sleek spot for a coffee or cocktails while looking at the La Scala set.

Time for lunch in Eat’s Store Excelsior on Galleria del Corso, which is handy for the stylish shopping district. This former cinema houses a popular food hall for wine-tastings, deli treats and light lunches. 

But for lunch with a view, nothing beats La Rinascente on Piazza Duomo. This rooftop food emporium offers everything from a juice and and salad bar to a sushi and Champagne bar or, my favourite, the mozzarella bar. And when tired of shopping, toast Milan from the terrace overlooking the spires of the Duomo.

If you’re browsing in the canal quarter around Porta Genova, then stop for tea in That’s Bakery on Via Vigevano. The Milanese come here for cupcakes, and for Americana, Italian-style. But I prefer the high tea, with its Italian take on English country-chic.

For a romantic dinner, slip back to Chateau Monfort and its Ristorante Rubacuori, a playful gourmet restaurant. The Neapolitan chef serves joyously creative cuisine – and the best breakfast in Milan.

Duomo and square, Milan.

Milan Cathedral. Photo: Shutterstock 



Serene Venice is a feasible side trip from Lake Garda but do stay overnight. `La Serenissima’ is being bold again, with the sleek Calatrava bridge over the Grand Canal, a mobile flood barrier in construction, and the revamped Art Biennale, which is even bigger this year.

I’m a fan of the new boutique hotels and designer B&Bs – and the cutting-edge contemporary art museum facing St Mark’s. But, in the end, `the Serene Republic’ is less about revealing the new than revelling in the old. We come to wallow in Venice’s watery spirit. 

For newcomers, I always suggest a vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal, one of the world’s great voyages. The Grand Canal was virtually the register of the Venetian nobility, with palaces symbolising status. But now the 'Art Vaporetto' (vaporetto dell’arte) will whisk you to the major art galleries in style. Take a trip to Venice with Insight Guides



Verona is the classic city to visit from Lake Garda. Renowned for romance, rosy-hued Verona is also the most stylish city within reach of the lakes. Expect a people-watching parade, from café-studded Piazza Bra to Piazza delle Erbe, once the site of the Roman forum.

Perfect for opera fans, the celebrated Arena di Verona summer season attracts thousands of opera buffs to the magnificent Roman amphitheatre. The Arena di Verona is both the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world and the largest open-air opera venue.

The city is also the setting for the popular William Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet. A day trip to Verona is included in Insight Guides' Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary

The Arena di Verona.

The Arena di Verona. Photo: Shutterstock  


Brescia is an unsung city, but an easy day trip from either Lake Iseo or Lake Garda. A charming but short train ride connects Brescia with Iseo, the quaint gateway to Franciacorta, the sparkling wine area bordering Lake Iseo. Add a stop at Brescia to our Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary

Wrongly dismissed as a boring business city, Brescia has simply been too successful to bother with tourism until recently. But Brescia is no mini-Milan. Come for the restored city centre, well-presented Roman sites and the superb historical museum. 

Brescia is home to one of the most significant clusters of Roman sites in Italy. In particular, the Capitolium has just re-opened, revealing the ruins of Emperor Vespasian’s Capitoline Temple. On display are Roman epigraphs, illuminated by multimedia gadgetry.

The key Roman treasures are mostly housed in the adjoining Santa Giulia Museum, Northern Italy’s greatest historical museum complex, both for its architecture and its exhibits.

The museum complex incorporates an 8th-century nunnery, the Renaissance church and cloisters of Santa Giulia, a Romanesque oratory, and the Lombard basilica of San Salvatore. Santa Giulia showcases the Roman and Longobard eras, as well as Byzantine and Renaissance treasures and regular blockbuster art exhibitions.

This complex was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, which is linked to its Longobard history, including a bejewelled Longobard crown on display here.  


On the Palladian Trail

The Palladian trail makes a lovely excursion from Lake Garda, with variants of the route also taking in Vicenza and the hinterland of Venice and Treviso. Both cities bear the imprint of Andrea Palladio, the most prominent architect of the Italian High Renaissance. Insight Guides' Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary includes a few days at Lake Garda. The trip is fully customisable and can be amended to include stops at Treviso and Vicenza. 

Ideally begin your Palladian trail in Vicenza. Here, the landmark Basilica Palladiana has recently re-opened after six years under wraps. The ground floor is a chic bazaar, as mercantile as it was in Palladio’s day. Above is exhibition space, reserved for blockbusters. There’s also the new Palladio museum in a palazzo designed by Palladio himself.

Finally, toast the world’s most influential architect over a Palladian menu, served in several local restaurants. The menus incorporate smoked, salted or spicy flavours – using the spices that once masked the odours of dodgy meat in Palladio’s day.

My favourite Palladian menu (minus any suggestion of dodgy meat) is in Gli Schioppi, which serves baccala, salt cod on creamy polenta.

Thanks to a new Veneto-wide project, the Palladian-inspired villas and gardens are gradually being restored and opened to the public. Others are being turned into model estates, boutique hotels and wineries.

The Palladian routes offer different versions accessed from Vicenza, Treviso or Venice. If you’re car-less, then book an excursion through either Vicenza or Treviso tourist offices. Both cities offers new guided tours, including individual audio tours in and around Vicenza. Instead, if Venice is more convenient, book a day-long boat excursion from Venice along the Brenta, which reveals Palladio’s grandest waterside villas.

Planning your trip to the Italian Lakes

Speak to a local expert about arranging the trip of a lifetime to the Italian Lakes here, or browse our fully customisable Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary here. If you'd like to read more, visit our online guide or check out our top attractions. We also have a guide to exploring Lake Garda by ferry, boat or dinghy, the Italian Lakes for kids, the most romantic locations, and a guide to the region's finest wines, and the Lakes on a budget...

This blog was originally published on May 31, 2013

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