While the many beautiful cities, lakes and mountainous national parks of northern Italy are pretty easy to travel around by public transport, exploring by car gives you the unique chance to see so much more of the region’s scenic beauty and hidden gems along the way. In this post I’ve put together three fast-paced northern Italy road trip itineraries which will allow you to see as much of northern Italy as possible in whichever amount of time you have available…
Northern Italy road trip Q&A
A couple of important things to go through before we get started:
Is driving in northern Italy safe?
Driving northern Italy’s scenic roads and highways is very safe for confident drivers. The only thing to watch out for while driving in Italy is the slightly erratic Italian drivers (sorry for the stereotype but even my many Italian friends agree with me here!).
What’s the difference between the 3 different northern Italy road trips in this post?
In total, this article covers 11 destinations in northern Italy, with the places in bold below (Lake Garda to Verona) forming the main 7 days. To extend your northern Italian road trip to 10 days or 14 days, simply add on the other destinations before or after.
Of course, this is your trip, so you can easily chop and change which destinations you’d like to see and even cut some out (I know it’s quite fast-paced). If one of the places I’ve mentioned doesn’t interest you, you can always add in somewhere else or spend a couple of days in one of the other spots instead.
- Cinque Terre
- Lake Garda
- Lake Como
One week northern Italy road trip
The base of all three northern Italy road trip itineraries:
If you’re bringing your own car to Italy then you can switch up which destination you start with in the Veneto/Trentino region. However, if you’re flying in and hiring a car for your north Italy road trip, I’d recommend arriving at Verona airport and picking up your hire car from here before heading to Lake Garda (it’s only a 15-20 minute drive).
Days 1 & 2 – Lake Garda
Lake Garda (South)
Start your one week Italian road trip in the beautiful Lake Garda, one of northern Italy’s most popular lakes known for its crystal clear waters.
Spend your first day in Lake Garda on the south of the lake making the most of the many beaches, swimming areas and numerous charming towns that sit on its banks.
Where to stay in the south of Lake Garda:
Choose between the towns of Sirmione and Peschiera del Garda which are just a short distance from each other and both equally as beautiful as each other. Sirmione is known for its medieval castle (Rocca Scaligera) which overlooks the lake and its thermal spas, while Peschiera del Garda is slightly bigger and has a number of historic buildings, waterside restaurants and a small harbour.
As the towns on Lake Garda themselves are quite small and often mostly pedestrianised, it can be difficult to find centrally located hotels with parking available, however, there is plenty of accommodation just outside of the main towns with parking.
Try Campeggio del Garda, a fun holiday village just a 10 minute walk away from Peschiera del Garda. The 4* campsite has plenty of room for tents and motorhomes, as well as bungalows and mobile homes you can stay in and park your car close-by.
Things to do in the south of Lake Garda:
- My absolute number one recommendation for Lake Garda would be to ditch the car at your hotel for the day and hire a boat to take out on the lake to explore, swim and relax. Peschiera Boat Rental is a good company to hire from, with 2 hours rental for €50, half-day (4 hours) for €100 and full-day (8 hours) for €160 (excluding petrol which you pay for when you fill up at the end).
- Or if you don’t feel like driving yourself you can also book a boat tour of the lake from Sirmione.
- Head to one of the markets which change location each day of the week so be sure to check in advance where they are.
- Spend a fun day out at Gardaland Theme Park or Caneva Aquapark.
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Lake Garda (North)
The quickest route between the south and north is heading away from the lake and back onto the main roads (A22/E45) which takes roughly an hour. However, the most scenic route is to head around the edge of the lake instead, in particular, the west side which takes you via the ‘Strada della Forra’, a steep mountainous road offering some of the most picturesque views over Garda and takes around 1hr45.
While the south of Lake Garda is situated within the Veneto region of Italy, the northern end of the lake sits within neighbouring Trentino and is much more mountainous than the south, with small towns nestled within its many peaks and harbours hidden under the imposing cliffs.
A day in the north of Lake Garda can either be spent exploring one of the beautiful little alpine towns or out hiking in the mountains finding the best viewpoints back over the scenic lake.
Where to stay in the north of Lake Garda:
The northern edge of Lake Garda is home to some of the most beautiful luxury hotels in northern Italy in my opinion, so if you’re going to splurge a little on one part of your trip this should be it!
Riva del Garda is the largest and most famous town in the northern part of the lake so makes a great place to base yourself for the night. For an affordable option close to the town center check out Grand Hotel Liberty, or for ultimate luxury try Hotel Bellariva or Hotel Lido Palace.
Alternatively, Malcesine is another good spot to stay as its closer to Monte Baldo and some of the other north-eastern Lake Garda attractions. Take a look at Beach Hotel Du Lac Malcesine or Hotel Capri, two gorgeous hotels with amazing views out over the water.
Things to do in the north of Lake Garda:
- Ride the cable car up to Monte Baldo then take a scenic hike along its peaks.
- Visit medieval Scaliger Castle sitting on the water’s edge.
- Take a day trip to the enchanting Madonna della Corona Sanctuary.
- Hire bikes and try the brand new ‘Garda by Bike’ cycle path between Riva and Limone.
- Head a little further north to the waterfalls and caves of Parco Grotta Cascata Varone.
Days 3 & 4 – Trentino
Now you’ve made it into Trentino, continue your northern Italy road trip taking the scenic drive along the Via Trento (SS45) to the region’s main city of Trento. The drive time between northern Lake Garda and Trento is around 1 hour.
Trento is a true hidden gem in northern Italy and is far less known that its closeby counterparts of Venice and Verona. For me, the sleepy little alpine town really embodies the Italian saying of ‘Dolce Far Niente’, which means the ‘The Sweetness Of Doing Nothing’, with its quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
Where to stay in Trento:
Hotel America is one of my favourite hotels in Trento and is conveniently located on the edge of Trento’s no-traffic zone so you’ll be able to easily reach it by car and park in the dedicated car park while only being a few minutes walk away from the many attractions and restaurants of the city center.
Things to do in Trento:
- Grab an Aperol Spritz or glass of Trentodoc (the region’s local sparkling wine) while people-watching in impressive Piazza Duomo.
- Take a wander around the grand 12th century Buonconsiglio Castle and see its gothic frescos.
- Spend a couple of hours exploring the modern MUSE museum of science and natural history.
- Ride the short cable car up Mount Bodone to Sardagna where you can admire the beautiful views back down over the city.
For day 4 of your northern Italian road trip, you can either stay another night in your hotel in Trento and take a day trip out to the Trentino region (which I’d recommend so you’re not constantly checking in and out of hotels every day) or stay the night in one Trentino’s charming alpine lodges.
Where to stay in Trentino:
If you do choose to stay somewhere else in the Trentino region, where to stay can completely depend on what activities you want to take part in. While the hotels themselves are usually only an hour to 1hr30 drive away from the city of Trento, the region itself is pretty big with lots of narrow winding roads around the mountains which means it can take a while to get between the different valleys and activities.
One of my favourite hotels in Trentino is the lovely Chalet Tovel Mountain Lake in Tuenno – mainly because their food is insanely good! Monroc Hotel is another fun place to stay in Trentino, especially during the winter due to its connecting ski resort. If you’re opting for a wellness day, you can also stay at Therme di Rabbi itself (see below).
Things to do in Trentino:
Where to even start!? You could easily spend a week exploring the beautiful Trentino region on its own!
- Go hiking in the Dolomite mountains (there are hiking routes all over Trentino).
- Take a dip in one of the regions many stunning lakes.
- Give white water rafting a try with Extreme Waves on the Noce River in Val di Sole.
- Go e-mountain biking the Malga Campo in Val di Sole.
- Take a kayaking adventure at Lake Santa Giustina in Val di Non.
- Go canyoneering at Canyon Rio Sass in Val di Non.
- Take a day of relaxation at Therme di Rabbi.
Need even more convincing that you need to add Trentino to your Italian road trip? Check out my top 10 reasons you have to visit Italy’s Trentino region.
Day 5 – Treviso (optional)
The drive time between Trento and Treviso is around 2 hours, however, depending on where in the Trentino region you are this can be longer or shorter.
Want longer in Venice? Treviso is pretty small and easy to see in a few hours so could also be done as a pit stop between Trento and Venice (so you can spend 2 nights in Venice instead).
Travelling northern Italy on a budget? Being just a short distance from Venice, Treviso also makes a cheaper alternative to staying in central Venice itself (where the hotel and parking can add up). Leave your car at your hotel in Treviso then jump on the 30-minute train to Venice which costs around €3.50.
Another hidden gem in northern Italy, Treviso is often overlooked due to its close proximity to Venice. However, Treviso is also a lovely city to visit in its own right, with its charming canals, impressive churches, modern cafes and a much quieter and chilled atmosphere than its better-known neighbour.
Where to stay in Treviso:
Hotel Continental is a large affordable hotel with parking in a central location in the historic city, while Avogari B&B offers a more traditional and cosy home away from home close to Piazza dei Signori. Or for one of the most striking but more expensive boutique hotels in Treviso try Maison Matilda.
Things to do in Treviso:
- Eat Tiramisu at the restaurant in which it was invented; Ristorante Le Beccherie.
- Visit 13th-century Palazzo dei Trecento on the central Piazza dei Signori.
- See the remains of Fontana delle Tette (yes, that does mean fountain of tits) which used to dispense wine in the 16th century, as well as the recreation nearby which now flows with water.
- Take a wander around the morning fish market which takes place on its very own island (Isola della Pescheria) inside one of the canals.
- Take a Prosecco tour of the nearby Prosecco hills which produces the best bubbles in all of Italy.
Day 6 – Venice
The drive time between Treviso and Venice is around 40 minutes.
Any Italian road trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop in the floating city of Venice, an absolute must see in northern Italy.
Where to park in Venice:
One of the most important things to know about Venice is that there are no roads or cars on the island, making it a difficult destination to visit in Italy by car. However, there are several locations you can park your car for a day or two:
- Tronchetto – an artificial island that was designed for parking. 24 hours of parking will cost you around €21. From Tronchetto, you can take the People Mover to the Piazzale Roma or catch a vaporetto to other locations within the city center.
- Piazzale Roma – a large square which is the last stop for cars, taxis, and buses arriving in Venice. There are several smaller garages, such as Garage San Marco, but being within walking distance from the historic center they can be more expensive. Book in advance for cheaper parking here.
- – located in the Parco San Giuliano on the mainland at the foot of the causeway that leads to Venice. You can park your car at the ‘Porta Gialla’ (Yellow Gate) lot for about €5 per day and catch a bus or boat across to Venice Island.
Where to stay in Venice:
Once in Venice, check out the beautiful 4* Carnival Palace Hotel, or for one of the most unique and affordable places to stay in Venice head to Combo, located inside a converted 12th-century monastery.
Things to do in Venice:
- Take an iconic Gondola ride around the many canals.
- Visit St Marks Square and step inside Saint Mark’s Basilica and the ornate Doge’s Palace.
- Walk across Rialto Bridge and the many other beautiful bridges which cross the Grand Canal.
- Take a vaporetto (water bus) over to the glass-making island of Murano and the colourful fisherman’s town of Burano. Or book an island tour here.
Want to explore a differrent side of one of northern Italy’s most popular cities? Check out 14 of the most unique and unusual things to do in Venice. Or if you’re tight on cash, don’t miss my ultimate guide to visiting Venice on a budget.
Day 7 – Verona
The drive time between Venice and Verona is around 1hr15.
To anyone who follows me on Instagram or has read some of my previous articles, you’ll know why I’d add Verona to any Italian road trip itinerary, being one of my favourite places in the entire world!
Fair Verona is a city known mostly for its literary connections to Shakspeare’s romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, with popular attractions including both Juliet’s balcony and tomb, but there’s so much more to this romantic northern Italian city, such as its impressive 30,000 seat Roman Amphitheatre which is actually older than the better-known Colosseum in Rome, its peaceful river walks past hilltop castles and its many amazing local restaurants.
Where to stay in Verona:
My only piece of advice for choosing a hotel in Verona is to try and be in or close to the historical center rather than out by the train station as its a bit of a walk down a main road between the two.
Hotel Milano & SPA is definitely one of the best hotels in Verona, with a location right in the historic center and a rooftop terrace, bar and hot tub overlooking Verona Arena. Plus, it has private parking!
Things to do in Verona:
- Visit Arena di Verona, a 30,000 seat Roman Amphitheatre which still houses regular opera performances and shows by international artists.
- Learn about the city’s connection with Shakespeare’s epic tragedy Romeo and Juliet and even snap a photo on Juliet’s balcony.
- Admire the art collection inside medieval Castelvecchio.
- Climb Torre dei Lamberti for the best views over Verona.
Check out my full post for a more detailed one day Verona itinerary.
10 day northern Italy road trip
Add these 3 days to the end of your Italian road trip:
Days 1-7 – See 7 day northern Italy road trip itinerary above
The drive time between Verona and Milan takes around 2 hours.
Day 8 – Milan
I’m going to be completely honest here and say that Milan isn’t my favourite city in Italy by a long stretch, however, it is a convenient place to fly out of to end your northern Italy road trip and there’s certainly a few cool things worth seeing to fill a day.
Milan is the largest city in northern Italy and also the country’s capital of fashion and design. A visit to the Gothic Duomo di Milano and the city’s stylish shopping district is an absolute must.
Where to stay in Milan:
Being a large and busy city, you’ll want to avoid staying in the center of Milan unless you want to spend your entire day stuck in traffic. Instead, stay at a hotel a little further out of town such as Hotel Morfeo Milano which is close to a metro station so you can head into the center extremely easily.
Things to do in Milan:
- Visit Gothic Duomo di Milano, Milan’s impressive and iconic cathedral, and look out over the amazing panoramic views from its rooftop terraces.
- See Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural ‘The Last Supper‘ inside Santa Maria delle Grazie convent.
- Go shopping (or window shopping) in the high-end shops of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
- Step inside medieval Sforzesco Castle and admire its many treatures.
Day 9 & 10 – Lake Como
The drive time from Milan to Lake Como is around one hour to 1hr30 depending on which town/part you’re heading to.
From Milan, head to Lake Como for a couple of days of ultimate relaxation in pure Italian luxury to end your busy northern Italy road trip before flying back from Milan airport (if you’re flying home).
Lake Como is another of Italy’s largest lakes and is somewhat of a playground of the rich and famous, with celebrities including George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston having homes or holiday homes there.
Located at the foothill of the Alps, Lake Como is surrounded by dramatic green scenery that looks more like a watercolor painting than real life and is dotted with a number of quaint little towns and extravagant neoclassical villas.
Where to stay in Lake Como:
Hotels on Lake Como can be a little more expensive than elsewhere in northern Italy. If you can’t find anything within your budget or would rather save money, you can also visit on a day trip from Milan.
While all of the towns on Lake Como are beautiful in their own right, Bellagio, Varenna and Como are the three biggest and most popular so make great spots to base yourself while exploring the lake. Lake Como has so many beautiful hotels to choose from you’ll be spoilt with choice.
Things to do in Lake Como:
- Relax on one of the many beautiful beaches around the lake.
- Explore the most popular towns of Bellagio, Varenna and Como city.
- Take a kayaking tour out into the lake or an electric bike tour around its scenic surroundings.
- Visit one of the historic villas including Villa Balbianello (Tremezzina), Villa Melzi (Bellagio), Villa Monastero (Varenna).
- Take a 2-hour Italian pasta cooking class with a professional chef.
Two week northern Italy road trip
Add these 4 days to the start of your north Italy road trip:
Days 1-4 – Tuscany
While in the Tuscany region for the first 4 days of this road trip, to save yourself moving around from hotel to hotel each night you should base yourself in one city and take day trips to the other two.
Pisa is the most central and therefore quickest to drive to both Florence and Cinque Terre from, however, Florence is the biggest of the three with the most to do while there. I’ve added hotel recommendations for all three places so you can choose for yourselves where to stay.
All three destinations are close to each other and easy to drive between.
Start your northern Italy road trip in the romantic city of Florence in the beautiful Tuscany region, home to many masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture.
Where to stay in Florence:
Hotel La Casa di Morfeo is a lovely and affordable centrally located hotel in Florence with a local parking garage offers a valet service to and from the property, while Hotel Croce Di Malta is a little more expensive but has an outdoor swimming pool in its private garden and a rooftop terrace with amazing views over the city.
Things to do in Florence:
- See many renaissance masterpieces including Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ and da Vinci’s ‘Annunciation’ at The Uffizi Gallery.
- Visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and its iconic domed roof.
- See the famous statue of ‘David of Michelangelo‘ in the Galleria dell’Accademia.
- Take a stroll around the beautiful Boboli Gardens.
The drive time between Florence and Pisa is around one hour.
From Florence, move towards the coast and the neighbouring city of Pisa. I mean, it’d be wrong to travel around northern Italy and not get the classic pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa photo!
Where to stay in Pisa:
B&B Hotels in a small chain with clean, cute and affordable hotels across Italy, including their hotel in Pisa which includes private parking not too far from the city center. Or to stay a little nearer the main attractions, try Hotel Bologna.
Things to do in Pisa:
- Climb the leaning tower and step inside the neighbouring cathedral.
- Take a Pisa food tour to learn more about Tuscany’s many amazing culinary offerings.
The drive time between Florence and the Cinque Terre is around 2hr30.
The drive time between Pisa and the Cinque Terre is around 1hr30.
The Cinque Terre is made up of five hillside towns on the Italian Riviera; Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The fairytale-esque towns are known around the world for their brightly coloured houses which slope steeply down the cliff face towards the water.
Where to stay in the Cinque Terre:
As the towns of the Cinque Terre are fairly small with only a few steep narrow roads, there aren’t quite as many hotels with parking, however, you will find a few. Try sticking to Monterosso, the biggest and oldest town of the five. Stella della Marina is a great central hotel in Monterosso, with private parking and an amazing rooftop terrace with sea views and sun loungers.
Things to do in the Cinque Terre:
- Walk the Cinque Terre coastal trail (or at least a part of it), which starts in Monterosso and heads along the coast towards Riomaggiore.
- Take a kayaking tour or a stand-up paddleboarding tour to see the colourful towns and scenic coastline from a very different perspective.
- Go on a romantic sunset cruise.
- Head to the area’s only sandy beach in Monterosso Al Mare.
- Sample some of the region’s specialty of pesto, and even take a pesto making class.
Days 5-14 – See northern Italy road trip itinerary above
From Florence, the journey to Verona will take around 2hr30.
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