North Italy Road Trip: Best 7-Day Italian Lakes Itinerary

There’s no denying that Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It makes a perfect destination for a scenic road trip, especially in iconic areas like Tuscany and northern Italy, and my one-week north Italy road trip itinerary will surely tick all the boxes for you.

Visiting this region is one of the best things to do in Italy for travelers who love charming small towns, picturesque views, excellent Italian drinks and food (the best food in the world!), and scenic hikes. To help you make the most of your holidays on Lake Garda, Lake Como, and Lake Maggiore, here’s my full itinerary.

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Looking for the perfect northern Italy road trip travel Itinerary? Read my one-week north Italy itinerary recommendation for the Italian lake district including beautiful places to visit, things to do in Lake Garda, things to do in Lake Como and Lake Maggiore, and travel tips


NORTH ITALY ITINERARY SUMMARY AND MAP

Here’s a quick summary of my road trip in northern Italy:

  • Day 1: Tremosine sul Garda and Limone sul Garda.
  • Day 2: Bardolino, Borghetto, and Peschiera del Garda.
  • Day 3: Tenno, Riva del Garda, and Malcesine.
  • Day 4: Sirmione.
  • Day 5: Varenna and Bellagio.
  • Day 6: Stresa and the Borromean Islands.
  • Day 7: Cannobio and Orta San Giulio.

Click here to access the My Maps interactive map of this road trip.



NORTHERN ITALY ROAD TRIP ITINERARY – GENERAL TIPS AND NOTES

HIGHLY-RATED FULL-DAY TOURS IN THE AREA

If you want to change this itinerary a bit and visit some more places in northern Italy (while still basing yourself on the lakes and without driving), here are a few highly-rated day trips you might find interesting:

CAR HIRE

We found a great one-week deal on Avis, and the car we got was perfect for our needs. But I always start by comparing multiple car rental companies’ prices on Rentalcars. You can browse the latest car rental deals here.

I’ve planned a circular northern Italy road trip from Milan, so the starting point was the city’s airport. As for picking up the car, you need patience. The Italian guys working in those car rental companies (not only Avis) can drive you nuts sometimes.

They work slowly and try to find problems instead of making this process easy for you can be frustrating, so patience is key. On the other hand, returning the car went smoothly.

DRIVING IN NORTHERN ITALY

I know that driving in Italy can seem intimidating (thanks to the stereotype of crazy Italian drivers), but driving in northern Italy was actually okay.

On highways, they just go faster than you, and on the winding roads of the lakes, they usually honk to let you know that they’re about to pass you.

As long as you’re in the right lane, it really is fine (though you should always be cautious when driving in a foreign country).

OTHER THINGS TO KNOW

  • Parking is never free, so one of my biggest Italy travel tips would be to make sure you have spare change for the parking meters. You should also have some change for toll roads.
  • This north Italy travel itinerary takes into consideration driving times; since the lakes are big and the roads are winding, moving between towns takes some time.
places to visit in northern italy - borghetto


NORTH ITALY ROAD TRIP DAY 1 – GETTING TO LAKE GARDA

We picked up our car at Milan’s airport and hit the road at about 4:00 PM. We had landed three hours before, but the lines at the passport control and the car rental company were crazy, so our first day was only a half-day.

Our accommodation on Lake Garda was in the town of Tremosine Sul Garda, located on the western side of the lake (which is also home to one of the best motorcycling roads in Europe – Strada Della Forra).

Getting there from Milan took us about two hours, but the road got strikingly beautiful very quickly. After accommodating ourselves, our journey began.

WHERE TO STAY IN TREMOSINE SUL GARDA

We stayed at an apartment hotel called Hotel Residence Campi. Our apartment was spacious and clean, and we had some amazing views from the balcony. The entire complex offers many facilities like a gym, mini-golf court, and a pool, but we haven’t used them.

There’s also an on-site restaurant that offers great Italian food. The downside of this accommodation is that the road leading to it is steep and parts of it don’t have street lights. Its location might also be the reason the wifi was quite slow. Read more reviews and check the latest prices and availability.

Other highly-rated accommodations in the area you might want to check out (highly-rated and well-located budget accommodation is a bit harder to find in this specific area of Lake Garda):

Mid-range: Located in Limone sul Garda (a few miles away from Tremosine), both Residence La Madonnina and Appartamenti Ca’ nei Vicoli offer fully equipped apartments with lake views and free parking.

Luxury: Also located in Limone sul Garda, both Garni Gianmartin offers spacious rooms with lake views, breakfast, an on-site bar, and free parking.

LIMONE SUL GARDA

I would have liked to see more of Limone Sul Garda in the daylight, but even when it got darker, it still looked like a postcard. We took advantage of what was left of our day and spent some time eating dinner and strolling around town.



NORTH ITALY ROAD TRIP DAY 2 – SOUTHERN LAKE GARDA

BARDOLINO

Bardolino is one of the sweetest towns on Lake Garda, located on its southeastern shore. Apart from its colorful streets, it is famous for its Thursday open-air market, a 1 km market stretching along the promenade. Amongst the different stalls, you can find local food and wines, souvenirs, and clothing.

For other markets around Lake Garda read here.

In Bardolino, you can also book a wine tour and tasting at a local cellar.

North Italy Road Trip: Bardolino

BORGHETTO

Since Borghetto sits on the River Mincio (only a few km away from Lake Garda but not on the lake itself), it remains a hidden village that most tourists skip out on, and that’s why I loved this place.

It is a small village, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. With ancient watermills, a medieval bridge, colorful houses, and the river passing through it, the charming Borghetto is well worth a visit.

If you’re looking for the best food in Italy, it’s also a fantastic place to devour local tortellini called Nodo d’Amore (translated to ‘Love Knot’ and connected to a legend about an impossible love story).

northern italy travel itinerary - borghetto

PESCHIERA DEL GARDA

Peschiera del Garda might seem like just another Italian town, but it has great historical importance. Its Venetian defense walls are impressive and well-preserved works of the Venetian Republic, and they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After spending some time exploring this town, we had the most amazing gelato at La Gelateria HomeMade (Via Rocca, 4). I recommend trying the Nutella-flavored gelato as it was heavenly!

peschiera del garda


NORTH ITALY ROAD TRIP DAY 3 – NORTHERN LAKE GARDA

TENNO LAKE

I am obsessed with lakes, lagoons, seas, and oceans with dreamy colors. Luckily, not too far from the north shore of Lake Garda, hides this magical turquoise little lake. To thoroughly enjoy it, try to visit Tenno lake in the morning for the best weather and before the crowds arrive.

tenno lake
A must on your northern Italy trip – Lake Tenno

BORGO MEDIEVALE DI CANALE DI TENNO AND CASTELLO DI TENNO

If you’re looking for hidden gems in Italy and you love medieval villages as much as I do, then Canale di Tenno will steal your heart! Only a few km away from Tenno lake, you’ll find cobbled alleys, stone houses, and archways that will take you back in time.

best places in northern italy - medieval village

Make another stop at Castello di Tenno, a castle that hides another small medieval village right behind it. You’ll know you are in the right place when you see the sign of ‘Ristorante Castello,’ and from there, it is all yours to explore.

I have to say that as tiny as these places are, they are seriously some of the most enchanting spots I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.

tenno village

RIVA DEL GARDA

Riva del Garda is famous for being a perfect spot to enjoy all sorts of water sports, but it is also great for a casual stroll. It has a few historical points of interest like Torre Apponale and Porta di San Michele, incredible views, and a vibrant atmosphere.

MALCESINE

Of all the towns on Lake Garda, Malcesine has to be my favorite one. Of course, they are all colorful and beautiful, but Malcesine is off the charts! You’ll inevitably fall in love with its port and maze of narrow cobbled streets filled with restaurants, cafes, and shops.

Go souvenir shopping, grab a cup of coffee or eat some gelato, and wander around to enjoy a pleasant afternoon in this magnificent place.

north Italy road trip - malcesine


NORTH ITALY ROAD TRIP DAY 4 – LAKE GARDA’S PEARL

SIRMIONE

A week in northern Italy would not be complete without visiting Sirmione, one of the main reasons why Garda is one of the best lakes to visit in Italy.

Besides being a famous resort town and home to some of Lake Garda’s best thermal baths and water sports facilities, it’s full of enchanting alleys and stunning views, and also has a rich history. It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places to visit in northern Italy.

You might have already seen the photos of the Scaligera Fortress and the views seen from it on Instagram. The fortress dated back to the 13th century; the Grottoes of Catullus, the remains of an ancient Roman villa; the old churches; all of these prove that Sirmione is more than just another pretty town and why it’s called ‘the pearl of Lake Garda.’

Bonus tip: Challenge yourself, and try to pick a few gelato flavors out of 120 at Gelateria Mirkoz (Via Vittorio Emanuele, 26).

In Sirmione, you can also take a short boat tour along the peninsula or book a half-day boat tour around the area (with wine tasting).

sirmione

OPTIONAL: IL LEONE SHOPPING CENTER

Before continuing to our next accommodation on Lake Como, we had made a stop at Il Leone Shopping Center, where we had some shopping time and a quick meal.

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NORTH ITALY ROAD TRIP DAY 5 – LAKE COMO

WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE COMO

You’ll find plenty of amazing places to stay in Lake Como, but it’s important to choose the right town for you.

We stayed at a bed & breakfast in a village called Dorio (which was very close to the famous and popular town of Varenna), but unfortunately, it is not available at the moment. Here is another highly-rated place to stay in that area of Lake Como:

Villa Varenna: Located in Varenna, this B&B is housed in an 1895 building. Some rooms have a private terrace and lake views, and a continental breakfast is served every day. Browse the latest prices and availability here.

VARENNA

Being one of the most picturesque towns of Lake Como, Varenna is more than worth the visit.

I recommend getting here early in the morning before the crowds arrive. You’ll have Varenna all to yourself, and you’ll be able to explore it and photograph it quietly and without interruptions.

Extra tip: You can also hire a boat on Lake Como (in Varenna for example) if you want to see more of the lake without driving around it.

north Italy - varenna
One of the best places to visit on a road trip to north Italy – Varenna

BELLAGIO

Being a popular tourist resort and famous for its villas overlooking the lake, Bellagio has both a luxurious and cozy atmosphere. This bustling small town offers countless cafes, restaurants, and shops, flower-adorned alleyways, and perfect lake views.

We spend our afternoon and evening sitting on the waterfront and exploring its streets. To finish off our visit to Bellagio, we had a great dinner at the rooftop restaurant Bilacus (

From there, we continued our journey to our accommodation near Stresa on Lake Maggiore, which is not only a part of Italy – it’s also one of the best lakes to visit in Switzerland.

northern italy itinerary - Bellagio
Bellagio


NORTH ITALY ROAD TRIP DAY 6 – LAKE MAGGIORE

WHERE TO STAY ON LAKE MAGGIORE

We stayed at Appartamento Miralago in Stresa, and apart from the incredible lake views, our stay could have been much better.

Stresa itself is still a good place to find accommodation on Lake Maggiore, and here are a few highly-rated options to consider:

Villa Lucciola: This B&B offers fully equipped and spacious apartments, free private parking, and lake views. Read all the reviews and browse the latest prices here.

Hotel La Fontana: This family-run hotel offers rooms with lake views, continental breakfast, free private parking. Browse availability and prices here.

THE BORROMEAN ISLANDS – ISOLA BELLA, ISOLA MADRE, AND ISOLA DEI PESCATORI

The Borromean Islands are a must-visit when you only have 1 week in northern Italy. They are a group of islands and islets near the town of Stresa. Their name comes from the Borromeo family, which started owning them in the 16th century.

The three islands that are open for visits are:

Isola Bella: Once a deserted piece of rock, Isola Bella has become home to a luxury Baroque summer palace and impressive wide gardens where you’ll also see some white peacocks wandering around. Touring the palace and gardens along with the surrounding lake views provided some enchanting and memorable moments.

Isola Madre: The largest of the islands and mostly known for its gardens. After paying for the entrance to the palace and gardens on Isola Bella which were magnificent, we decided not to spend money to enter the gardens at Isola Madre, so our stop there was unnecessary.

Isola dei Pescatori (or Isola Superiore): As tiny as this island is, it houses quite a few hotels, shops, and restaurants. It is charming and picturesque and makes a nice extra stop.

north Italy road trip - isola

Getting to the islands: The access to the islands is by ferry. You can either book a hop-on hop-off boat tour, check out other types of tickets and buy them online or purchase ferry tickets directly at Stresa’s ferry terminal (like we did). You don’t have to visit all three islands, and you can buy tickets according to your preferences.

Visiting season: The islands are open to the public from March to October.

STRESA

After a long day of island hopping, we spent a couple of hours walking the beautiful streets of Stresa’s old town. Like all towns in the Italian lake district, Stresa also flaunts its cobbled streets, cute shops, and little cafes and restaurants. However, each town has its unique flavor and rhythm.



NORTH ITALY ROAD TRIP DAY 7 – LAKE MAGGIORE AND LAKE ORTA

We had left some spare time on our northern Italy itinerary, so we decided to visit two unique places before heading back to Milan to return the car and coming back home.

CANNOBIO

Cannobio sits on Lake Maggiore in the Piedmont region, quite close to Italy’s border with Switzerland. After wandering a bit through its streets, we walked along the promenade, enjoying both the breeze and the views around us.

Bonus tip: Stop at Pasticceria Castello (Via Francesco Magistris, 30) for the perfect little tiramisu!

You can also take a guided tour in Cannobio and even a cooking class.

northern italy road trip - cannobio
A hidden gem for your northern Italy travel itinerary – Cannobio
tiramisu
Looks small but utterly delicious

ORTA SAN GIULIO

Sitting on Lake Orta, Orta San Giulio is a small medieval town you do not want to miss. Besides its undeniable beauty, it has a relaxed and authentic vibe that will make you want to stay forever.

It also overlooks the Island of San Giulio, a cute little island whose main attraction is the Basilica di San Giulio. We have not visited the island, but it is accessible by boat.

orta san giulio

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About Or Amir

Hey, I'm Or! I'm a passionate traveler with a severe coffee, chocolate, and pastry addiction (or any other carb for that matter). Obsessed with anything Spain-related, I'm always planning my next trip (and the excitement alone can bring tears to my eyes, not that it's difficult to make me cry).

10 thoughts on “North Italy Road Trip: Best 7-Day Italian Lakes Itinerary”

  1. Fantastic suggestions – thank YOU! We’ll be going in September after a trip in the Mont Blanc area. So, great tips:))

    Reply
  2. HI, we are planning a trip next year and are looking at our options. We were thinking of doing a week in northern italy so your article is helpful thank you. We are also looking for a similar style itinerary for florence, venice and rome – do you have any any recommendations?

    Reply
    • Hi Merrilyn 🙂 I’m happy this post is helpful 🙂
      I’ve taken a 5-day road trip through Tuscany with 4 more days in Rome, but it was a while ago so I don’t know how relevant my tips are. Besides Florence, I loved Greve, Pisa, Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena, Pitigliano, and the hot springs of Saturnia (which are free to visit!). Personally, Rome was just OK for me so 3 days might be enough.

      Reply
    • Hi Trinidad!
      Yes, many towns on all three lakes have public beaches (including some of the towns I’ve mentioned like Sirmione and Riva del Garda). As you drive around, you’ll also see a lot of places along the way where you can just stop the car and get in the water. Let me know if you have more questions 🙂

      Reply

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