Have 2 days to spare in Northern Italy? Or perhaps you are looking for unique a day trip from Milan?
Despite hitting up three different locations this 2-day itinerary is fairly low-maintenance. Each train journey takes an hour or under and costs just a few euros! As much as I love slow travel, this is a good option for people with a couple of days to spare in Italy who want to see a variety of both nature and history. Or indeed, anyone with two days to spare on a longer Italy itinerary.
As this was a brief trip, I hope this blog post can help guide your itinerary for Northern Italy. It is intended to help you plan, rather than providing thorough location guides on each place. However, I have provided relevant transport information and links full of up-to-date information for each must-see attraction.
Although relatively underrated by tourists to Italy, Bergamo has UNESCO World Heritage status. The old town – called Citta Alta – is jam-packed full of striking, historical buildings. It’s connected to the main city via a short funicular railway. The railway itself is not the most scenic ride, only lasting a minute or so and rather crowded, even when I visited in off-season.
Due to the low-cost airline Ryanair now providing incredibly low cost flights into RyanAir, I can see Bergamo increasingly being on the radar. This is how I discovered Bergamo after all!
You can firstly take a stroll around the old city Venetian walls (pictured below) where you will have stunning views over Bergamo, the Italian countryside and the Alps in the distance. The circuit is over 6km long and was built in the mid-14th-century. Despite being constructed for defensive purposes, thankfully the city was never under siege and they remain intact today.
You’ll also undoubtedly end up passing through the Piazza Vecchia while walking through the Citta Alta, which is the beautiful square in the heart of the old town.
From here, you’ll want to visit the Santa Maria Maggiore, a rather magnificent church located on the square. The 12th-century church was once of a more subtle stone design, but later huge marble decorations were attached to the front. The interiors are similarly glitzy, adorned with (literally) rich and impeccable detail. You can visit the Colleoni Chapel (to the right of the church) at the same time.
Alongside many more historical buildings if you have time, it’s also worth visiting a museum. There are many located in this area. Personally I visited the Sestini Photography Museum. Whilst the first section is very family friendly, explaining how cameras work while allowing you to marvel at several optical illusions, the gallery that follows is full of stunning images which capture the modern history of Bergamo.
There is much more to see in Bergamo than the attractions I have listed above! Visit their tourism website for a complete list of things to do in Bergamo: https://www.visitbergamo.net/en/search/?tematica=arte-e-cultura
GETTING TO BERGAMO
After exploring Bergamo, I took a train to Lecco. The train from Bergamo to Lecco takes 40 minutes and costs approximately 5 euros.
If you visit Bergamo as a day trip from Milan, the journey will take around 1 hour. This ticket will cost around 7 euros.
One of the easiest cities to access Lake Como from Milan has to be Lecco, making Lecco is a great way to experience Italy’s great lake. It’s not the best-loved or most well-known spot but it’s truly stunning and a great choice for those on a tight schedule.
There are two key things to do once you arrive in Lecco; a boat on the lake and the cable car. You may choose one or both depending on the weather (ie, choppy waters or bad visibility on the cable car) and how much time you have to spare.
Boat rides from Lecco will be the first-choice activity for many. How better explore the lake than setting sail on it? You can choose a public or private boat tour, with the latter being the most expensive option. A popular public boat route (which is also available in the off-season) would be Lecco- Bellagio, Bellagio Lecco which is around 8.30 euro each way.
For more information on boat rides from Lecco, please see the official tourism board for Lake Como. This site has full information on boat routes, schedules and prices. https://lakecomotravel.com/boat-tours-ferry-lake-como/
The Piani d’Erna cable car:
The Lecco cable car is the easiest way to reach the top of Piani d’Erna’s 1375m summit.
As you can see below, December doesn’t guarantee amazing views if you take the Lecco cable car! However, in the summer months, you’d have a beautiful view of Lake Como below and the surrounding mountains. There are also a few short walking tracks, a restaurant with a view and panoramic viewpoints at the top of the cable car.
In December, I didn’t let the bad weather get me down! I took a walk in the snow – a novelty during my Europe trip as I’ve recently been based between Australia and Asia.
I mean, seriously, isn’t it gorgeous up there in the Winter? I can’t even imagine how lovely it is in Summer.
How to get to the Piani d’Erna cable car:
It’s easy to get to the Piano d’Erna cable car although the bus schedule does not always correspond perfectly with the cable car time timetable. From Lecco, you will need to take a bus to the bottom of the cable car. Thankfully, the bus stop is located in Lecco centre and is easy to walk to from the train station.
The bus ticket costs around 1.30 euro. I purchased the bus ticket from a newsagent stand just outside the station. Tourist information or the ticket office will tell you where to buy your bus ticket from if you’re not sure.
You will need to take the number 5 bus in the direction of Funivia Perna. If you’re like me, you might want to check with the driver you’re on the right bus when you get on. Getting to the Piani d’Erna cable car is now a bit of an adventure, with the short bus route trailing up a winding mountain road.
Please take note of the cable car schedule as it was running only once an hour in December. The cost was 9 euro return. Check here for the current schedule:
More things to do in Lecco:
- You can also take a stroll in the town itself and visit the historic buildings in Lecco’s medieval centre.
- Those feeling more adventurous can choose a hiking or cycling route through the nearby mountains. Just make sure you plan this carefully if you’re going without a guide.
- Take a Lecco food tour
- Take the two-hour walk up or down from Piani d’Erna, rather than the cable car
GETTING TO LECCO
The train from Lecco to Milan takes 40 minutes to 1 hour. The train ticket should cost around 5 euro.
If you visit Lecco as a day trip from Milan, it will cost around 5 euros each way.
TIP FOR TAKING TRAINS IN ITALY! Make sure you validate your ticket before you board! Otherwise the train instructor will ask you to pay for it again, even if you show your original ticket.
What do you do in Milan with only two hours to spare? I’d advise picking just one or two attractions. I chose to simply stroll around Milan’s centre, being sure to pass by the Duomo, the castle and picking up an espresso in between. It made for a very chilled and enjoyable afternoon.
If you have a short time in Milan, The Duomo is probably the first place you’ll head to. I was on a low budget so didn’t go inside but it was great to see all the same.
This gothic-style cathedral began construction in the 14th-century. It was an innovative project at the time and its unique architecture and incredible attention-to-detail mean it remains one of the world’s most stunning buildings. Many famous artists and architects were involved, including Leonardo da Vinci who designed the tiburium. In 2016, the dome and tiburium began restorations.
There are many ticket options available. The cheapest is 8 euro for basic access. The priciest is 25 euro which will give you full access, fast track to the rooftops (by lift) and fast track entry to all museums.
Just a 20-minute walk from The Duomo, is Castle Sforzesco.
Originally built in the 14th-century, this castle is certainly unique. After Napoleon ordered the destruction of the castle in 1800, it lay to waste for many years. However, decades later, architect Luca Beltrami was tasked with renovating it. Work was completed in 1905.
The castle is now home to many museums and galleries. This includes the Museum of Musical Instruments, Ancient Art and the Egyptian Museum. Whilst the building is worth a visit, this is a key reason to spend more time enjoying the complex.
It’s free to stroll around the main complex. Tickets for entry are 10 euro. It is free entry the first and third Tuesday of the month from 14:00.
And finally… espresso. 🙂 I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is my favourite thing to do in Milan or anything, but it does come pretty close.
Whether you choose to visit Bergamo and Lecco as day trips from Milan or prefer to spend more time in each, both have many things to see and do. Fingers crossed I have the opportunity to spend more time in Northern Italy in the future.
Directions to/from Bergamo Airport
To access Bergamo directly from Bergamo city airport, you can take a direct bus to the Bergamo centre (it stops near the train station) or directly into the old town. Buses run approximately 20 minutes. It takes only 15-minutes!
Alternatively, you can take a taxi or Uber. It will take 15-minutes from Bergamo centre to the airport by taxi.
To reach Milan from Bergamo airport, take the one hour Terravision bus. The bus also goes to and from Milan central station and costs 5 euro one-way or 9 euro return. Alternatively, you can take an Orio shuttle bus or one-hour taxi.
Directions to/from Milan Malpensa Airport
From Milan, you can get a direct train from Milan Central Station to MILAN MALPENSA AIRPORT. This easy journey takes around 55 minutes. The train ticket is usually from 13 euro.
From Bergamo city center, you would have two take the train to Milan Central Station and change for a second change to Milan Malpensa Airport. This would take around 2 hours in total.
To access Lecco from either airport, you would have to first reach Milan Central or Bergamo train station and then take a direct train.
I take it back. Espresso wasn’t the best part of my 2 day Northern Italy itinerary, it was these views from the plane. 🙂
Where would you visit in a 2 day Northern Italy itinerary?