I recently explored parts of Northern Italy and Switzerland on a solo trip using Milan as my base. I passed through Milan a few years ago on a trip with my friends. We flew there and rented a car to drive to Lake Como and on the way back we got a train from Milan Central Station to Venice.
I’d caught glimpses of the city and knew that I’d love to explore it one day. Fast forward 3 years and when looking for a week long solo trip Milan seemed like a good choice, with plenty of culture, warm weather and, a location near to the Italian Riviera and great transport links. It was then that I realised Milan is a great base for day trips around The area.
Turin, a.k.a. Torino is the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy. You may have heard the story behind the image of a bull on the floor of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Legend has it that spinning round three times with your heels on the bull’s balls will bring you luck! Since the bull is the emblem of Turin, this could be attributed to the ages old rivalry between the cities.
Turin is a beautiful city and a great place to visit if you’re hoping to escape the crowds of Milan for the day. Less touristic and industrialised, Turin has some beautiful architecture and is a refreshing change from the bustle of Milan. My day trip was more of a half day due to sleeping in after outdoing myself sightseeing in the heatwave the day before, but I would absolutely love to return one day and see more of the city. It takes between 1h and 2h from Milan depending on the train you take.
A must do is the Mole Antonelliana. This unique pointy building stands out in Turin’s skyline and can be seen from blocks away. It’s hard to get lost on the way there, just follow the giant pointy spire!
The iconic building houses the Nationale Museo del Cinema. This is a fascinating way to spend an afternoon learning all about cinema from the very first moving pictures. And if you go in the middle of July like me, it’s also a much needed refuge from the humidity outside.
I recommend getting a joint ticket to the museum and for the elevator. The glass lift takes you right through the centre of the museum up to a viewing platform overlooking the city. You’ll pass several eye catching themed floors and get an excellent view of the decorative golden ceiling before emerging to stunning views of Turin. If you go on a clear day (which I didn’t, sadly) you can catch a glimpse of the alps, which provide a standout backdrop to the city.
Lugano is a lake side city in the Italian speaking Ticino region of Switzerland. Reachable within 1hr20 by train from Milan Central station, it makes a great day trip. Spend the day exploring the lake and surrounding mountains.
Stroll around the beautiful lake side gardens of Parco Ciani and walk down the promenade. After that you can have fun on the lake swimming or on a boat or pedalo. If you have time, venture up Monte Bre and Monte san Salvatore.
Running intermittently throughout the day, the unmissable red tourist train is an easy way to get between the two, if like me, you’re all walked outat this point! It also stops at other sites of interest, and picks you up on the way back at any time. Be warned though, it blasts out Italian music on the way and is in no way subtle.
The Bernina Express Scenic Train Ride
The UNESCO protected Bernina Express train is a breathtaking scenic journey through the Swiss alps, named after the Bernina Pass, which it travels through. It’s a full day trip that meant setting out before 6am and arriving back to my hotel around 10pm, but it’s definitely worth it.
The train runs all the way from Tirano, a small, sleepy Italian town, to Chur in Switzerland, but you can choose to stop anywhere along the way. The most popular stop, and the one I recommend it St Moritz, a truly beautiful town that made me think I’d stepped into the Sound of Music for a few hours.
To get there you can either join a group tour from Milan or buy your train tickets directly from the Rhaetian Railways website. I recommend doing it yourself if you want to save some money. It takes about 2hr30 to get to Tirano from Milan Central Station, and you then simply cross over the street to the RhB station to board the Bernina Express.
It’s a great experience and one of my best memories from the trip. I hope to visit St Moritz again in the future because it’s such a tranquil, heavenly place. For those 3 hours it felt like time had stopped and I was in an alpine wonderland, surrounded by clear waters, snow capped mountains, wildflowers and butterflies.
I spent a few days in an Airbnb in Varenna, Lake Como, a couple of years ago and loved it. It’s hard not to relax with such beautiful scenery in view from your balcony. It is possible to see a lot of Lake Como in a day trip from Milan, but I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to stay a little longer!
Lake Como’s main three surrounding towns are Varenna, Belagio (a favourite of George Clooney) and Mennagio. Varenna is the only town with a train station, but you can easily get a ferry over to the other towns, or rent a car and drive around the lake.
We rented a car from Milan and drove down to the lake, but it’s only around a 1 hour train ride from Milan Central Station to Varenna. Another option is booking onto a day tour from Milan.
I recommend exploring the towns with their pretty traditional houses, cobbled streets and shuttered windows, swimming in the lake and hiking up to Castello di Vezio. It’s a hill-top castle with haunting, hollow ghost sculptures and an amazing view over the lake.
Now, I know I’m cheating on this one, as I didn’t do Venice in one day and I’m not sure I would recommend it. And that’s purely because you’d probably want a bit more time to explore stress free. The point I’m making is that it’s reachable from Milan by train if you’re doing a multi-stop Italy trip, though day tours are available on the usual sites.
After visiting Como a couple of years ago, we drove back to Milan and hopped on a train to Venice. The train takes between 2h25 and 3h25 from Milan Central Station and takes you straight to the touristic floating centre of Venice. If you’re staying for longer, you might want to stay in mainland Venice (Mestre) and use public transport and water taxis to get into the centre to save some money.
Other Day trips
Well that’s the round up of the day trips I have taken from Milan. A few others I was hoping to do but ran out of time on my last trip include:
- The University town of Pavia & Certosa Di Pavia, a picturesque looking monastery reachable in under an hour from Milan on the train.
- Varese, another city in the Lombardy region. Varese is known as the “garden city” and is home to “Sacre Monte”. The winding walk up to the top of the mountain is lined with chapels and leads to a beautiful panoramic view.
And some alternative trips reachable by train from Milan, with guides from some fellow bloggers:
- Bergamo – Check out this Milan-Bergamo day trip guide from That Travelista
- Verona – Untold Morsels has written a great guide for day tripping to Verona from Milan
- Florence – What the Fab has a great Florence guide
- Genoa – Genoa is a beautiful city within 1h30 from Milan that can also be visited on the way to Cinque Terre
Train Booking Tips
For the most part of my trip I found the prices didn’t fluctuate much, if at all. This makes it easy to be spontaneous and make your mind up part way through your trip. I changed mine a few times!
I use the Omio app for booking trains or coaches between destinations. It has train, coach and flight options and you can pick the best option for you based on time and price. I highly recommend it for ease. Flixbus is my go to for coaches in Europe, and is how I got from my final stop, Lugano, to the Malpensa Airport. Rome2Rio is also useful for checking how far destinations are from one another and seeing if travel between them is feasible.