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Travelers are powerfully drawn to Italy. And it’s easy to understand the country’s appeal. I mean, Italy is enticing. No doubt about it.
As for me, I’ve visited Italy twice and plan to visit again. I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling excitement bubbling inside my stomach whenever I step off a plane that’s just landed in Milan or Rome.
Why is Italy so popular? First of all, Italy has a wonderful tourism infrastructure in place. I’ve traveled to Italy alone and in a group. Both times I fell in love with this country.
However, Italy is rich and dynamic, meaning it’s best to plan trips by region. I personally don’t agree with rushing north to south in the span of a week. There’s simply too much to see and do. Italy demands attention.
Not to mention, I’m a slow traveler. Hence why I decided to devote a travel itinerary strictly for Northern Italy.
Tips for Planning a Trip to Northern Italy
Firstly, spending 8 days in Northern Italy requires a lot of time and money.
Sure, Italy is more affordable than countries like Scotland or Sweden. However, a flight to Milan from the United States or Canada isn’t exactly an impulse purchase either.
What I’m trying to say is that while travel is exciting, it’s equally exciting to do your research ahead of time to have the best possible trip.
Let’s talk about some Northern Italy hacks!
The Best Months to Visit Northern Italy
You’ll spend a great deal of time outside on a vacation to Northern Italy.
This part of the country is home to mountains, lakes, and seas. Save the museums for Rome and Florence. Northern Italy, on the other hand, is all about the outdoors.
I visited Northern Italy in April.
Undoubtedly, I think spring is a lovely time to visit this region, because the summer heat and crowds haven’t swapped the smaller villages yet.
April, May, and June are all great months for exploring Northern Italy.
How to Get Around Northern Italy
In northern Italy, the best place to start your journey is at Milan Malpensa Airport, which isn’t too far from the city’s core. You can take a quick train to the Central Train Station after making your way through border control.
Once you’re in Milan, I don’t recommend driving during in the city. In fact, I don’t think you should drive for your entire 8 days in Northern Italy. Italian roads are crowded and stressful. Personally, I don’t feel comfortable advising you to rent a car since I didn’t do it.
Instead, you’ll want to rely on both trains and ferries in Italy.
Trains in Northern Italy
Without a doubt, trains are best form of transportation to take around Italy.
Trains are efficient, clean, and (usually) on time. I suggest buying tickets ahead of time at the official Trenitalia website, especially during peak periods.
If you buy tickets at the station, always validate the time at the machines. You’ll be fined without a validated ticket.
Ferries in Northern Italy
Northern Italy is well known for its alpine lakes and jaw-dropping coastal villages. Unsurprisingly, ferries will be another primary mode of transportation that you will use on your trip.
Ferries will take you from town to town in Lake Como and Cinque Terre. Look at their schedules ahead of time, so you’re not stranded, haha. I’m not kidding. I almost got stranded.
What to Pack for Northern Italy
I could dedicate an entire post to packing essentials for Northern Italy. Instead I will keep it short and just mention the necessities that are required for year-round travel to the country.
For your 8 days in Northern Italy, you’ll want to bring:
- Comfortable and Stylish Shoes: Italian cities have cobblestone streets that can hurt. Bring a stylish shoes that are always comfortable such as these sleek black shoes by Clarks. Furthermore, don’t forget your hiking boots if you want to explore the hills of Cinque Terre and Como.
- A Quality Guidebook: I personally recommend Lonely Planet’s Italy Guide for planning your trip. On a tablet, you can save the chapters relevant for Northern Italy.
- Travel Insurance: Don’t ever travel without insurance. What if you twist your ankle in the Italian hills? Use World Nomads for an affordable and high-quality insurance policy.
- A “Pickpocket Proof” Purse: Although Northern Italy is safe, it’s always a good idea to protect your belongings against pickpockets and other unsavory characters. I would use a Pacsafe crossbody bag to keep your possessions secure.
- A Mirrorless Camera: I love a good compact mirrorless camera with my favorite being Sony’s A6400. Well worth the cost.
- A Shawl or Scarf: Keep in mind that covered shoulders are required for entering some Italian churches. Always have a shawl or scarf handy. My favorite scarf is Speakeasy’s Infinity Scarf with a hidden pocket.
With all that said and done, let’s get into the itinerary itself!
Northern Italy Itinerary 8 Days: The Perfect Trip
Day 1: Arrive in Milan
Milan is Northern Italy’s powerhouse city. Personally, I think Milan is worth visiting due to its cool neighborhoods and unique attractions.
Highlights of Milan
In my opinion, Milan’s biggest highlight is seeing Leonardo di Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” You need to reserve tickets in advance to see famous piece of art. I recommend going with a tour guide and skipping the line. You’ll learn a lot.
Additionally, I loved exploring Milan’s Sforza Castle. This majestic castle make you feel as if you’ve transported to another time and place.
Last but not least, take a walk on the roof of the ornate and gothic Duomo. Reserve ahead of time. I felt like a mediaeval spy walking alongside the gargoyles, haha.
Accommodation for Milan
- Room Mate Giulia: A charming property located right next to the iconic Duomo (from $200 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- Lancaster Hotel: A beautiful 3 star hotel housed in a 19th century building (from $112 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- Ostello Bello Grande: Want to save money? Go to this clean and social hostel close to the train station (from $47 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
Days 2-3: Explore Lake Como
Take a short train ride to Lake Como.
Highlights of Lake Como
Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo was my favorite place in Lake Como. Sitting in the botanical gardens was one of the most peaceful experiences of my entire life. I highly recommend staying an hour (or even two).
I loved strolling the streets of Bellagio and Varenna. These small towns are pretty far from the main city of Como, so plan your ferry rides ahead of time.
Last but not least, you’ll want to take the funicular to Brunate on a sunny day. The beautiful lake views are out of this world.
Accommodation in Lake Como
- Hotel Centrale Bellagio: Located in Bellagio, this classy boutique hotel is only steps away from the majestic lake. (from TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- Hotel La Darsenta: A waterfront location right on Lake Como in the town of Tremezzo (from $101 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- Ostello Bello Lake Como: For those on a budget, this lovely warm hostel in Como will make your trip even better (from $72 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
Days 4: Eat Your Way Through Parma
Your next stop takes you into the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region. This area is known for its exquisite balsamic and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
In Parma, you will enjoy a perpetually full stomach!
Highlights of Parma
Upon arriving in Parma, you’ll want to immediately head to Cattedrale di Parma. And if you like art, go to the Baptistery of Parma to see the extraordinary ceiling.
If you want to devote time strictly to food, then go on a city bike tour of Parma that includes a cheese factory visit. These cheese factories are SO much fun, I promise.
Read my guide for the best things to do in Parma for more information about this delightful city.
Last but not least, in Parma, you’ll want to experience the food.
Accommodation in Parma
- Hotel Button: This adorable 3 star hotel is fairly priced and located in the center of Parma (from $85 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- Hotel Torino: A 3 star hotel that’s only a 3 minute walk from the Parma Cathedral (from $117 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- Palazzo Gozzi Bed & Beauty: A welcoming Bed and Breakfast right in the heart of Parma. Great for solo travelers! (from $93 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
Days 5-6: Hike Between the Cinque Terre’s Villages
Cinque Terre is super popular for day trippers streaming in from Milan and Genoa. However, I recommend spending 2 days in Cinque Terre to see the villages without the tourist masses.
Highlights of Cinque Terre
In Cinque Terre, the major highlight is hiking between the five towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre National Park is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Explore the towns in the morning and evening. Mid-afternoon day trips makes the trains and paths a bit of a headache. Go at off times. As a solo traveler in Cinque Terre, I truly had opportunities to be alone and it was great.
My favorite town of the bunch is Corniglia. I loved how small the town was (only 150 full time residents), and it was a peaceful place to lay my head at the end of the day.
Cinque Terre is well-known for their wines. If the weather allows, do a hillside wine tour that teaches you all about how wine is made in this region.
Accommodation in Cinque Terre
- Alla Marina in Riomaggoire: A guesthouse located inside a mid-13th building. Centrally situated in Riomaggoire. (from $81 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com)
- Hotel Ca D’Andrean: A 3 star hotel with all of the comforts of home. Conveniently located near the hiking trails. (from $163 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com)
- Hotel Gianni Franzi in Vernazza: A small hotel that has terrace views of the Ligurian Sea. (from $72 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com)
Day 7: Unwind in Camogli
Last but not least, I’m taking you off the beaten path to Camogli. This charming village is a wonderful and authentic addition to this 8 day Northern Italy itinerary.
Bring an Italian phrasebook to Camogli. I found English was less widely spoken here.
Highlights of Camogli
Like Parma, I’ve written a more extensive guide on the best things to do in Camogli to help you plan your visit.
On a sunny day, enjoy a hike in Portofino National Park or Parco naturale regionale di Portofino. The walking trails are accessible from Camogli’s marina. The hikes vary in difficulty, so know your strengths and weaknesses before going on your adventure.
The Camogli marina is a wonderful place to spend your time, too. I loved both Castle della Dragonara and Santa Maria Assunta. Take the time to chill on the stone beach.
Accommodation in Camogli
- AUGUSTA Albergo B&B: A family-run B&B that is right on Camogli’s marina (from TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- Hotel Cenobio Dei Dogi: For a swanky stay, this hotel has a private beach and a sea view restaurant (from $123 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- La Camogliese Hotel B&B: Another family-run B&B that is five minutes from the train station (from $74 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
Day 8: Return to Milan
Time to go back to Milan!
Camogli’s small train station will take you directly to Genoa. Then you will switch trains to return to Milan.
In Milan, spend some time getting to know the more unique neighborhoods. Isola has received lots of investment in recent years, and is great for architecture lovers. Meanwhile, Brera is the artistic heart of Milan with several artisans shops and boutiques.
Last but not least, I recommend visiting Milan’s famous opera house La Scala. If you don’t want to attend a show, the museum is very informative and gives you insight to the history of Opera in Milan. I loved it!
That’s all, folks! I hope you had a great time reading about how to spend 8 days in Northern Italy. You’ll have a great time. What other suggestions would you add to this itinerary? Thanks again for reading, and happy travels!