Moon Milan & Beyond: With the Italian Lakes

Day Trips, Local Spots, Strategies to Avoid Crowds


By Lindsey Davison

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Whether you’re sipping espresso in Piazza del Duomo or relaxing lakeside, take on Italy at your own speed with Moon Milan & Beyond.
  • Explore In and Around the City: Wander Milan’s most interesting neighborhoods and relax in the nearby lake region, including Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Lake Garda, and more
  • Go at Your Own Pace: Choose from multiple itinerary options for exploring Milan, the lakes, and nearby towns designed for foodies, history buffs, art lovers, fashionistas, and more
  • See the Sights: Marvel at Milan’s skyline from the roof of the Duomo, see da Vinci’s Last Supper, and window-shop along the Via Montenapoleone
  • Get Outside the City: Stroll through the charming villages on the banks of Lake Como, kick back on Lake Garda’s sandy beaches, or cast your line at a secluded fishing island in the sprawling Lake Maggiore
  • Savor the Flavors: Try traditional Milanese cuisine like ossobuco and risotto Milanese, grab an espresso and cornetto at a local café, and linger over a long lunch on a sunny piazza
  • Experience the Nightlife: Immerse yourself in Milan’s vibrant aperitivo culture, sample sparkling wines from the Lombardy region, and bar-hop through the city’s bustling late-night scene
  • Get to Know the Real Milan: Follow local suggestions from Milan transplant Lindsey Davison
  • Full-Color Photos and Detailed Maps
  • Handy Tools: Background information on Milanese history and culture, plus tips on sustainable travel, what to pack, where to stay, and how to get around
Day trip itineraries, favorite local spots, and strategies to skip the crowds: Take your time with Moon Milan & Beyond.

Exploring more of Italy? Check out Moon Rome Walks or Moon Venice & Beyond.


















Only in Milan can you step outside of a 4th-century church to find a narrow alleyway covered in street art, with all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants next to aperitivo bars, and edgy concept stores next to stores selling handmade leather goods. If Rome is the Italian city of history, and Florence is the Italian city of art, then Milan is the Italian city of design, diversity, and opportunity. Milan offers classic Italian culture, from Gothic churches and Renaissance art to pizzerias, wine bars, and gelato; but it’s also the only city in Italy that blends its historic heritage with modernism and internationalism in equal measure.

The city center is rich with historic sights, from the Duomo to La Scala, but the uniqueness of the city lies in the different cultures and communities that make up the individual neighborhoods and districts. Between all of them, it’s easy for any visitor to find a little corner that feels almost like a home away from home.

Traveling just an hour or two outside of the city gives you access to some of the most beautiful and charming lakes in the world. The villages dotting the shores of Lake Como provide old-world charm and idyllic views. The lush and colorful islands of Lake Maggiore take you back to another time in Italian history, and the “king of lakes,” Lake Garda, offers a little bit of everything from mountain views and sandy beaches to Roman ruins and wine villages. For a bit more tranquility with just as much charm and beauty, head to the smaller lakes in the region like Lake Molveno, Lake Orta, and Lake Iseo.

Regardless of your interests, you’re bound to find something to suit you here—no other region blends history with modernity and cosmopolitan glamour with natural beauty in quite the same way.


1 Getting an unparalleled aerial view of Milan and its bustling piazzas and streets from the roof of the Duomo or with a drink in hand at the Galleria.

2 Strolling down the Navigli canals in Milan, and popping into the little boutiques and concept stores by up-and-coming designers.

3 Mingling with locals, sipping on cocktails, and nibbling on finger foods during a lively aperitivo hour.

4 Admiring The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural painting and one of Milan’s stand-out sights. Don’t forget to reserve your tickets far in advance.

5 Shopping ’til you drop in Milan: From luxury Italian clothing and shoes on Via Montenapoleone, to edgier, local goods in the Brera district, and more wallet-friendly finds in Chinatown, there’s something for every taste and budget.

6 Village-hopping along the idyllic shores of Lake Como, taking a ferry from one charming, postcard-perfect town to another.

7 Losing yourself in the old-world charm of the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore, with their colorful and lush Italian gardens and glamorous palazzos.

8 Sipping a glass of Franciacorta wine at one of the wineries along the Franciacorta wine road near Lake Iseo.

9 Discovering the range of outdoor activities at Lake Garda, from windsurfing lessons to walking through the caves of the Varone waterfalls to paragliding off the top of Monte Baldo.

10 Enjoying a gelato on a shaded bench and people-watching in Piazza Motta, the heart of Orta San Giulio, a medieval town on the shores of Lake Orta.

11 Canoeing the turquoise waters of Lake Molveno, where there are no large motorized boats to disrupt your peace and quiet.

12 Riding up to the top of a mountain, whether on the Funicular Monte Brè by Lake Lugano or the Funivia Molveno-Pradel-Croz dell’Altissimo by Lake Molveno, to take in the glorious panoramic views of the Italian lakes.

13 Picnicking on the manicured green lawns of Parco Civico-Ciani right by the glacial blue waters of Lake Lugano, with the beautiful Swiss Alps as a backdrop.



To get a taste of the city and a lakeside getaway, spend two days in Milan and two days on Lake Como. With this itinerary, only public transportation is needed.

DAY 1:

Spend your first day in Milan by the city center, where you can visit some of the major sights and soak in the city’s bustling atmosphere.

 Start your day off with an espresso and a sweet pastry at a local café in the city center.

 Stroll down Via Montenapoleone, window-shopping at the flagship stores for some of the most prominent Italian fashion brands such as Prada, Gucci, and Valentino.

 Head to Piazza del Duomo, then spend an hour or two exploring the roof of the Duomo, where you can catch unparalleled views of the city from above.

 Grab lunch at one of the many restaurants surrounding the Duomo, such as upscale Berton or the traditional A Santa Lucia.


One day: Stick to Milan’s busy Duomo district, which is full of stunning historic attractions. If you have time, take a short walk to Milan’s Sforza Castle, then stroll through Parco Sempione.

Two days: Spend the first day exploring Milan’s city center and Duomo district, then take a train to Varenna on Lake Como, Stresa on Lake Maggiore, or Desenzano on Lake Garda.

Four days: Spend two days thoroughly exploring Milan’s various neighborhoods, especially the Brera and Navigli districts, then spend a couple of days relaxing on Lake Como or Lake Garda.

One week or more: Give yourself at least three days in Milan, then rent a car and road-trip to a couple of lakes. Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta make a good combination, as do Lake Garda and Lake Iseo.

 Walk off lunch with a leisurely stroll through Milan’s largest and most beloved public park, Parco Sempione. The Sforza Castle stands imposingly at the entrance of the park—go inside to discover some of the city’s history.

Milan’s largest public park, Parco Sempione

 In the early evening, indulge in a modern twist on classic Italian recipes or a cocktail (or two), and nibble on some finger foods at a traditional Milanese aperitivo hour in a nearby bar, like Deseo.

 And if you’re still hungry, there’s nothing like ending your night with a delicious meal at a neighborhood pizzeria.

DAY 2:

Sample the city’s art and design scene on your second day in Milan.

 After breakfasting at your hotel, head to the Brera Picture Gallery, the city’s most famous Italian picture gallery. You can also take a stroll through Milan’s most endearing library, the Braidense National Library, which is in the same building.

 Stop into Pisacco for lunch, one of the most talked-about restaurants in the city. Sample the city’s art and design scene on your second day in Milan.

 Head to 10 Corso Como, a complex with galleries, shops, a café, and a bookstore—a distillation of Milan’s art, design, and cultural scene in one place. Go to the garden and enjoy an espresso with some intricately decorated cookies or up to the rooftop garden for a cocktail.

 Finish your afternoon with some shopping in the local boutiques, concept shops, and vintage stores in the Ticinese and Navigli districts.

 Call the canals of Navigli home for the evening, barhopping between several places that host lively aperitivo, such as Maya on the small canal.


If You Want... Destination Why Go Distance from Milan Travel Time How Long To Stay
A quick trip outside Milan Monza Tour the royal villa and see fast cars at the late-summer Italian Grand Prix 15 km/9 mi 10-20 minutes by train half day
Beauty, elegance, and la dolce vita Lake Como Admire the Alps from a hilly lakeside village, like Bellagio, Como, or Menaggio 50 km/31 mi To Varenna: 1 hour by train overnight
To Lecco: 40 minutes by train
To Como: 40-50 minutes by train
Lake Iseo Explore Europe’s largest lake island, Monte Isola, with charming fishing villages and winding pathways full of ancient churches 100 km/62 mi 1-1 hour 15 minutes total by train: 35-45 minutes to Brescia, then 30 minutes from Brescia to Iseo by train one day
Lake Maggiore Explore the Borromean Islands, especially the lush gardens of Isola Bella 90 km/56 mi To Stresa: 55 minutes by freccia; 1.5 hours by regional train one day
A mix of culture and nature Lugano Get a taste of Swiss culture with a distinctly Mediterannean twist at this blue glacial lake 80 km/50 mi 1 hour 15 minutes by Eurocity train; 1 hour 10 minutes by Tilo train overnight
Outdoor adventures Lake Garda Enjoy all that the “king of lakes” has to offer, from water sports and amusement parks to panoramic views and hiking atop Monte Baldo Descenzano (south): 121 km/75 mi Descenzano: 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes by train overnight
Riva del Garda (north): 170 km/105 mi Riva del Garda: 2 hours 30 minutes by car
Lake Molveno Relax by the emerald waters of the lake, or head up into the Dolomite mountains for a day of outdoor fun. 250 km/155 mi 3 hours by car overnight
A Hidden Gem Lake Orta Wander the medieval village of Orta San Giulio and the charming colorful lake island, Isola Giulio—without the crowds. 80 km/50 mi 1 hour 15 minutes by car one day
DAY 3:

Head to Lake Como, then village-hop around the lake by ferry.

 Grab an early train from Milan’s Central Station to Varenna, then spend your morning exploring Villa Cipressi, strolling through the beautiful gardens full of cypress trees.

 Take a boat to Bellagio and enjoy lunch at one of the local eateries in the center of the village, such as Terrazza Barchetta.

 Spend two or three hours of your afternoon wandering around charming Bellagio, which is full of local boutiques, gelaterias, and lakeside bars for you to grab a glass of wine and admire the lake as well as the surrounding mountains.

 Take the ferry to the small village of Menaggio on the lake’s western shore, and pop into the small Church of Santa Marta for a moment of quiet reflection.

 Linger over a dinner of local cuisine at Osteria Il Pozzo.

 Call Menaggio home for the evening. For a luxurious night, stay at the Grand Hotel Menaggio, which has an on-site wellness center and balconies overlooking the lake. If you’re looking for something less expensive, try the family-run Hotel Garni Corona.

DAY 4:

Visit the city of Como on Lake Como before heading back to Milan for the evening.

 Start your morning by grabbing a quick breakfast at one of the cafés in the colorful lakeside square in Menaggio.

 Hop on a ferry to the city of Como, then spend your morning exploring the city center, visiting the historically important Duomo, and browsing through local shops selling the famous Como silk products.

 Grab lunch in the city center at Osteria L’Angolo del Silenzio, serving homemade pastas, fresh lake fish, and more.

 In the afternoon, take the Brunate Funicular up to the village of Brunate, for jaw-dropping views of the lake from high above.

 Once you’re back down on the lakefront, grab a train back to Milan’s Porta Garibaldi station. From there, walk through the beautifully designed Piazza Gae Aulenti on your way to dinner at one of the restaurants in the Porta Nuova neighborhood, such as Il Solferino.


If you want to skip Milan altogether and spend your trip hopping around the various lakes, the best and easiest way to do so is to rent a car. This itinerary hits the four largest Italian lakes from west to east, but can easily be done in the opposite direction.

DAY 1:

On your first day, travel back in time while exploring the Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore.

Floating atop Lake Maggiore, Isola Bella’s botanical gardens are a lush green getaway surrounded by calming waters.

 Hop on a train from Milan’s Central Station to Stresa, then head straight to the ferry station on the lakefront to purchase a ticket for all three islands.

 Head to Isola Madre and spend an hour or two exploring the Palazzo Borromeo and the colorful botanical gardens.

 Catch a ferry to Isola dei Pescatori, and enjoy a leisurely lunch of traditional Northern Italian food.

 Take a brisk stroll around the island, and make sure to pop your head into the historic Church of San Vittore before you leave.

 Take a ferry to the third and final island, Isola Bella, then walk through the grand Palazzo Borromeo and the lush, multi-level Borromean gardens.

 End your day by heading back to Stresa for the evening for a relaxing drink and dinner overlooking the waters of the lake.


Art and design: Visit The Last Supper, the Brera district, and the streets of Isola in Milan. On Lake Lugano, visit the LAC Lugano Arts & Culture.

Wine: Hit one of the dozens of upscale wine bars (enotecas) in Milan. Better yet, head to Lake Iseo, and hit the local wine road to immerse yourself in the heart of the Franciacorta wine region.

Luxury: In Milan, visit the flagship stores for all the major luxury brands along Via Montenapoleone, and book a room or suite at Palazzo Parigi or Chateau Monfort. Bask in the baroque glory and lush gardens of the Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore. Spend a relaxing weekend at the luxurious Villa Cipressi in Varenna or Villa Serbelloni on Lake Garda, or for something a little more low-key with just as much elegance (if not more), stay at Villa Crespi on Lake Orta.

Small-town charm: Go village-hopping in Lake Como, or to escape the crowds, head to the charming medieval village of Orta San Giulio in Lake Orta.

Outdoor recreation: Rent a bike using the public bike-sharing service in Milan, BikeMi, to explore the city on two wheels. Head to Lake Garda for a number of family-friendly activities such as boating, hiking, paragliding, swimming, and more. To enjoy the outdoors without the crowds, head to Lake Molveno.

DAY 2:

Spend your second day village-hopping around Lake Como.

 Drive to Menaggio from Stresa (roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes), then spend your morning in this charming lakeside village on Lake Como.

 Ride the Trombetta Express, a small trolley that plies western shore of Lake Como, stopping in Menaggio, Cadenabbia, and Tremezzzo multiple times a day in the high season. Hop on and off as much as you like with a day pass.

 End your day back in Menaggio with a meal at Il Ristorante di Paolo, then stay the night at one of the many hotels.

DAY 3:

Head to Lake Iseo to see Europe’s largest lake island, Monte Isola.

 Jumpstart your morning with a two-hour road trip from Menaggio to Iseo on Lake Iseo, which you’ll call home for the day.

 Take the ferry to Monte Isola, and explore the largest lake island in Europe. Starting at the Church of San Michele in Peschiera Maraglio, slowly make your way around the footpath on the island’s edge.

 Have lunch on the waterfront at La Foresta.

 Head back to Iseo, and rent a bike for a ride through the Franciacorta wine region. Stop into a winery or two for a tasting and tour.

 Have dinner and spend the night at the intimate I Due Roccoli. Book your table and room in advance to make sure you don’t miss this spot during the high season.

DAY 4:

On your fourth day, head to the southern tip of Lake Garda.

 Start bright and early with a 45-minute drive to Desenzano del Garda, on the southern end of Lake Garda, which has been a popular getaway since the 1st century.

 Head to the waterfront, then grab a boat to Sirmione to explore the Rocca Scaligera castle and Roman ruins of Grotte di Catullo.

 For lunch, head to La Cambusa back on Desenzano for a robust tagliere plate.

 Spend your afternoon roaming around Desenzano, exploring the ruins of Villa Romana and popping into a few local stores for some shopping.

 Head to the waterfront and grab a seat and a gelato at one of the handful of gelaterias lining the shore.

 Grab dinner at Molin22, one of the highest-rated restaurants in Desenzano, serving quality Italian food near the waters of Lake Garda.

DAY 5:

Spend your last day enjoying the outdoors in the beautiful Lake Garda area.

 Kick off your final day with a 1.25-hour drive from Desenzano del Garda up to Malcesine on the northeastern end of Lake Garda.


On Sale
Jun 18, 2019
Page Count
376 pages
Moon Travel

Lindsey Davison

About the Author

Born and raised in the American South, Lindsey Jane Davison slowly but surely moved further and further away from her hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas before landing in one of the fashion capitals of the world: Milan. Her connection to Italy came when she hopped the pond for a semester abroad in Milan in 2014. By the end of her three months in Italy, she fell in love with the change of pace and the never-ending list of beautiful weekend trips at her fingertips, opting to head back for graduate school one year later, and eventually making Europe her long-term home.

As an award-winning contributor to travel and culture magazines and newspapers in both the U.S. and internationally, Lindsey has covered a wide range of topics, from migration patterns in rural America to food and music guides in European cities. You’ll find Lindsey in just about any corner of Northern Italy on the weekends, with several adventures to other European countries an annual tradition.

Lindsey graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism with a degree in International Magazine Journalism in 2015, then obtained her master’s degree in Corporate Communication from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore a year later. Today, Lindsey works as a full-time writer in a small village just outside of Milan.

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