From centuries-old monuments in Rome and Milan to glistening Lake Como, northern Italy packs a punch. Discover the highlights on a whistle-stop tour through Tuscany, Liguria and Lombardy – with plenty of pizza and prosecco along the way.
Northern Italy is home to some of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe (Rome and Milan, we’re looking at you…), as well as varied scenery and hidden gem Italian eateries. You could spend a lifetime exploring the top of the Boot. However, post-pandemic, we have a lot of travel to catch up on, so a fast-paced trip is required. Here’s our guide to exploring Northern Italy in one week. Yes, it is possible, with an expert guide, high-speed trains and zippy Italian drivers on hand.
If you have a bit more time to spare, consider joining Culture Trip’s specially curated 10-day Northern Italy trip, led by our local insider.
Start your adventure in Rome, the capital city of Italy. Wet the whistle with a welcome drink at Hotel Art, located near the stately Spanish Steps. Stroll a short way to Al 34 on Via Mario De’ Fiori and plump for pumpkin gnocchi or octopus with shrimp and pistachio for dinner. Gently wind back through thrumming streets, stopping in at Pompi for takeaway tiramisu, if you can manage it.
Rome is a compact city – one of the best ways to see all the major sights is on two wheels. Join a bicycle tour, stopping by the time-honoured Mars Ultor temple, elegant Trevi Fountain and impressive Mausoleum of Augustus plus bustling piazzas Di Spagna, Navona and Venezia. Lunch at Isidoro – the artichoke fettuccine is sublime. Next, head inside the Colosseum, where gory gladiator battles were once held, before exploring the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
Next on your northern Italy itinerary is the medieval Tuscan city of Siena. On arrival, seek out restaurant Gallo Nero for a fine midday feed – local pigeon with chestnuts perhaps, or Mediterranean squid with wild herbs. Walk it off around the city walls and tropical university greenhouses or climb the white-tipped Torre del Mangia; sweeping views are your reward. Stop by the Pinacoteca Nazionale to browse gothic masterpieces, before trying panforte (fruit and nut slice) from esteemed Il Magnifico baker Lorenzo Rossi. Retire to Villa Curina, where the farmhouse veranda overlooks the undulating Chianti hills.
Tear yourself from the warm embrace of Siena and continue an hour north (by car) to Florence. Enjoy a guided walking tour around the artistic and architectural hotspot, taking in the Uffizi and Santa Maria del Fiore. Make haste to Mercato Centrale to snack on street food for lunch, and then onto the garden at Beppa Fioraia for a Campari with rose and chilli liqueur. Transfer by car to Levanto on the Italian Riviera in the evening.
Today, explore the coastline of Cinque Terre, which is dotted with five centuries-old seaside villages. Walk the 12km (7mi) long Sentiero Azzurro between each – it takes around five hours in total. Start in Monterosso, where impossibly pretty pastel properties overlook the rugged clifftops. Walk to Vernazza – a natural port – and Corniglia if you can face 33 flights of steps. Before you’re too footsore, visit Volastra (village of the olive) and finish in Manarola, famous for illuminating its hills with a huge Holy Nativity. Catch the train to Riomaggiore, and then back to Levanto to swim or enjoy a massage at the hotel.
It’s an early start today. Take a private transfer from Levanto to arrive in Lake Como for lunch time. On arrival, lose yourself in the winding streets near the Piazza San Fedele before lunch at a local osteria. Stroll past the beautiful Duomo di Como before making your way over to the waterfront for a late afternoon boat tour. From the water, you can really appreciate the beauty of the Alpine landscape. Bed down tonight at the Hotel Metropole & Suisse and gaze upon the grand lagoon from your room.
Have a lie in! Then it’s away to the fashion and finance capital of Milan. Meet your driver at the lobby and be on the rooftop of the Milano Ambasciatori hotel before you know it. Bag a room with golden Madonnina and cathedral spire views. At lunchtime, embark on a three-hour foodie walking tour with tastings of 24-month-aged Parma ham, melanzane alla parmigiana and artisan gelato. As the day draws to a close, it’s time to make your way back to the airport – and say arrivederci to northern Italy.