How many times do you want to take a nice trip out of town but get lazy because you don't have a car, or do you have it but don't want to risk queuing for the return to Milan? No fear, Lombardy (but also the neighboring regions!) is really full of beautiful destinations that can be reached by train, without the need for a car. Starting from Milan, with a time ranging from 25 minutes to 2 hours or so you can enjoy the beautiful trips out of town on the lakes, the sea or in the cities of art without having to worry about traffic or parking. Personally, I am a great lover of train travel, it is the means of transport I prefer, so for me it is really the perfect solution! So let's go and see what they are together. To make it easier for you, I have listed them in order of proximity to Milan.
15 Train trips from Milan
1.Vigevano (25 minutes)
The closest destination to reach by train from Milan is Vigevano, in Lomellina, which preserves one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. Trains leave from Porta Genova station in Milan and take less than half an hour. Vigevano had its period of maximum splendor in the mid-1200s when it became a fief of the Visconti and then of the Sforza (Ludovico il Moro was born here and it was he who had the magnificent square built). From the mid-nineteenth century it became one of the footwear capitals of the world. The things not to be missed in Vigevano are:
- Piazza Ducale: one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, built between 1490 and 1492 by Ludovico il Moro as the royal atrium of the castle. Three sides are occupied by magnificent arcaded palaces and the fourth by the facade of the Cathedral.
- Cathedral of Sant'Ambrogio: it has a rare concave facade and houses important works of art as well as the Museum of the Treasure of the Cathedral.
- Castello Sforzesco: there is a wing designed by Bramante to house the rooms of Beatrice d'Este. Also beautiful is the falconry, where birds of prey were trained for hunting, and the covered road that connects the castle with Cavallerizza. Inside the castle there are the International Shoe Museum, the Civic Art Gallery and an archaeological museum.
- Bramante Tower: from its 55 meters you will have a magnificent view over the city.
2.Monza (25 minutes)
Monza is the "royal" city of Lombardy, in fact, few know that it was the ancient residence of several kings and emperors, as well as the capital of the Lombard Kingdom, and it is a stone's throw from Milan. Many probably only know it for the Formula 1 Grand Prix or for the Villa Reale, but it has several masterpieces that are a must see. Then one thing that I particularly love about Monza is that its historic center is all pedestrian: it is priceless! So, the things not to be missed in Monza are definitely:
- Duomo: its origins date back to the Lombard queen Teodolinda, but the construction we see today dates back to 1300, at the behest of the Visconti, who decided to make the Cathedral the seat of the royal coronations. Really magnificent!
- Chapel of Teodolinda and Corona Ferrea: reopened in 2015 after a long restoration, it is located inside the Cathedral and is a masterpiece of Gothic art with its 45 frescoed scenes. Then there is the famous altar Iron Crown, an ancient and precious crown that was used from the early Middle Ages to the nineteenth century for the coronation of the kings of Italy. Inside the crown there is a circular metal sheet and tradition has it that it was forged with the iron of one of the nails that were used for the crucifixion of Jesus. For this reason the crown is also venerated as a relic.
- Arengario: the ancient town hall of the thirteenth century, now an exhibition venue.
- Bridge of the Lions: the grandiose access to the heart of the city, built after the coronation of Ferdinand I of Austria.
- Villa Reale: the Lombard Versailles. 700 rooms and an immense park for this villa commissioned in 1777 by Ferdinand of Habsburg as a country residence and commissioned to Piermarini (the same who built the Teatro alla Scala and participated in the Royal Palace of Caserta). Today it is used as an exhibition space, but it is also possible to visit the royal apartments, the Royal Chapel, the Teatrino, the rose garden (which attracts experts from all over the world) and the Gardens conceived as an English garden.
- Park of Monza: all around, one of the largest parks in Europe. 700 hectares of land, an oasis of greenery, full of trees. It is truly immense! You can rent bicycles (at Cascina Bastia) or take part in a 30 'train tour.
3.Como and Brunate (40 minutes)
Another perfect day trip to do by train from Milan is a Como, which is only 40 minutes away by train (and finding parking there is quite a challenge, trust me!). Como is a very beautiful city, a romantic city with its ancient walls (which in part still resist today), the magnificent lakeside promenade, the Cathedral and several spectacular villas that the whole world envies us. Here are the things not to be missed in Como:
- Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta): an admirable example of Italian Gothic which preserves prestigious paintings inside.
- San Fedele neighborhood: the medieval district of Como, the real beating heart of the city, made up of narrow streets and magnificent buildings. In the center, the magnificent homonymous square.
- Volta Temple: a neoclassical building on the lakeside that pays homage to one of its most illustrious citizens, Alessandro Volta. It houses a museum with relics, scientific equipment, instruments and the famous pile that belonged to Volta.
- Villa Olmo: continuing to walk along the lakeside you will come across several villas. First Villa Saporiti (of La Rotonda), then Villa Mondolfo and endless the most imposing, Villa Olmo, with its beautiful Italian gardens. Built in the eighteenth century in neoclassical style, it hosted Napoleon and Garibaldi and is now home to art exhibitions.
- Brunate funicular e Volta Lighthouse: going back on the lakeside, you will meet the base of the Como-Brunate funicular. It is worth taking it to get to the famous "balcony on the Alps". The village of Brunate indeed enjoys a crazy view of Como, the lake, the Alps and Monviso, and there are several beautiful Art Nouveau villas. Going up again on foot you arrive at Volta Lighthouse, a building overlooking the lake built for the centenary of Volta's death (you can also climb here).
4.Bergamo (50 minutes)
Also Bergamo it is a perfect destination to reach by train, in the day, from Milan. The station is located in the "lower city", then from there you can take a bus to reach the "upper city" or walk to the base of the historic funicular (it's 20 'and it's all straight). Bergamo is in fact a double city, high and low, Venetian and Lombard, ancient and modern. Bergamo Alta it is as if it were a medieval city still intact and was dominated by the serenissima, Lower Bergamo instead it is more "Lombard", with old cafes, museums and shops. The things not to be missed in the city are:
- Venetian walls: the walls built by the Republic of Venice in 1561, almost 6 km long, intact. An unfolding of imposing gates and ramparts, guns and powder kegs. Walk there at sunset for spectacular views across the valley.
- Old Town Square: the "ancient living room" of Bergamo, built in the 400th century, here are some of the most important buildings and monuments of the city such as the New Palace, Palazzo della Ragione (considered the oldest municipal building in Italy, dates back to 1160), the Civic Tower (on which you can go up with an elevator to have a view over the whole upper city), and the Palace of the Potestà.
- Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore: in late Romanesque style, it houses the tomb of the composer Donizetti. The interior was then modified in the Baroque style. One of the portals, the Porta di Leoni Rossi, is magnificent and of great impact.
- Colleoni Chapel: next to the Porta dei Leoni Rossi, is the Renaissance masterpiece of city art, an imposing mausoleum commissioned by the commander Bartolomeo Colleoni for his remains. The exterior is in colored marble, inside the sarcophagi of Colleoni and his daughter, an equestrian statue covered with gold and, above all, the beautiful frescoes by Tiepolo. Place 3 fingers on the Colleoni symbol on the external railing because it brings good luck!
- San Vigilio Castle: built on the outermost hill, it can be reached with another funicular that starts from Porta Sant'Alessandro. Completely in stone, it is also worth a visit for the beautiful view from here.
- Accademia Carrara: in the lower city, a 5-century journey of Italian art, with canvases by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian and many others. Reopened in 2015 after a very long restoration.
- GAMeC: in front of the Academy there is the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, also here with very important works by Balla, Boccioni, De Chirico, Manzù and many others.
5.Arona and Angera (55 minutes + 5 'ferry)
Located on the southern part of the Piedmontese shore of Lake Maggiore, Arona it can be reached by state railways or by Trenord in 55 minutes from Milan. The oldest part of the town overlooks the lake, while behind the center there is a rocky spur where the remains of the ancient Borromeo castle destroyed by Napoleon. Arona was part of the possessions of the Visconti family, but in 1439 it was sold to the Borromeo and it is here that the most famous exponent of the family, Carlo Borromeo, was born. From Arona then, by ferry, you can reach Angera, which is right in front. Things to see:
- Fortress of Arona: even if there is very little left, it is worth going up here to have a beautiful view of the lake and the pre-Alps.
- Park of the Lagoni di Mercurago: included among the "prehistoric pile-dwelling sites around the Alps", since 2011 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entrance is 2,5 km from the Arona station; the protected area includes a peat bog area, pastures dedicated to the breeding of thoroughbred horses and a wood. In the park there is a dense network of paths, which allow you to visit it a bit all.
- Rocca Borromeo of Angera: Angera can be reached with the ferries of Navigazioni Laghi (here you will find info and timetables) and the Rocca is undoubtedly the highlight of this trip out of town. Owned by the Borromeo family, the Rocca rises majestically on the lake and it is possible to visit some parts, including the Hall of Justice (with beautiful frescoes), the Sala delle Maioliche, and the Torre Castellana (from which you have a super view). Inside there is also the Doll and Toy Museum and immediately off the Medieval Garden, with fruit trees, roses, medicinal herbs.
6.Stresa: Borromean Islands and Pallavicino Park (1h10 minutes)
The same train that arrives in Arona then continues north and after about twenty minutes it reaches Stresa, a beautiful nineteenth-century holiday resort, full of noble villas and ancient residences overlooking the lake. Stresa is also the base to reach the Borromean Islands (look down). The latter, such as the Pallavicino Park, they are only open from March to the end of October, so I strongly recommend you take this tour at this time of year. Moreover, they are famous places for gardens and visiting them in spring is absolutely a must for those who love flowers and plants.
- Pallavicino Park: from Stresa station it is about twenty minutes on foot and the entrance is on the lakefront. The park revolves around Villa Pallavicino, born as a private residence of the scholar Ruggero Bonghi. There are 18 hectares of park with centuries-old trees, flower-filled avenues and more than 5 species of exotic birds, flamingos, raccoons, fallow deer, llamas and many others.
- Borromean Islands: for the excursion to the Borromean Islands found all the super detailed info in the article Borromean Islands: how to visit them, when, costs.
7. Cremona (1h5 minutes)
Another beautiful destination reachable by train from Milan is Cremona, the city of nougat, Torrazzo and violins, which is located on the banks of the Po, on the border with Emilia Romagna. Cremona is a city that will surprise you, it is elegant, has beautiful museums, beautiful churches and excellent restaurants. The things not to be missed are:
- torrazzo: 502 steps to have a look that embraces domes, palaces, and green meadows up to the Po. Next to the Cathedral stands this tower which is the highest brick tower in Europe with its 112 meters. The effort will be rewarded by the sight, believe me!
- Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta: called the "Sistine Chapel of the Po Valley", the cathedral amazes for the richness and beauty of its decorations.
- Violin Museum: Cremona has been the violin capital of the world for 500 years and here you can see all the stages of making a violin, as well as admire the most precious violins in the world up close, those that belonged to Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarnieri and Nicola Amati (preserved and guarded by armed guards!).
- Museum Ala Ponzone: over twenty rooms of the great palace of the Affaitati banker family house several important paintings including a Caravaggio and Arcimboldi's Scherzo con Ortaggi.
- Church of San Sigismondo: a little outside the center, it was built in 1463 by Bianca Maria Visconti to commemorate the marriage with Vincenzo Sforza. The frescoes that adorn the interiors are beautiful.
8.Brescia (1h5 minutes)
Also in just over 1 hour you can also reach Brescia, another one by train beautiful city of art where interesting architectures from very distant eras, Roman, Renaissance, medieval and modern, coexist. Brescia is also famous because since 1957 it is the starting point of the Mille Miglia. There are many things to see here too, but those definitely not to be missed are:
- Piazza della Loggia: infamous for the 1974 massacre (which is remembered by a commemorative monument under the arcades), this square is the most beautiful in Brescia. Here you can see the beautiful Palace of the Loggia (the common), two Monti di Pietà,Astronomic watch and Roman tower of Porta Bruciata. This is where the central city market is also held (Saturdays from 7:30 to 13).
- New Cathedral and Old Cathedral: located opposite each other, the Old Cathedral is a circular Lombard-Romanesque building (it is also called "Rotonda"), while the New Cathedral was built in more than 200 years between 1600 and 1800.
- Piazza del Foro and Capitolium: the fulcrum of ancient Brixia, the Roman Brescia. The tour is done very well and is supported by a multimedia system.
- Martinengo Palace: inside this beautiful noble palace it is possible to make a vertical journey of almost 3000 years through the stratifications of the city, from prehistoric times to today.
- Complex of Santa Giulia: includes the Monastery of Santa Giulia and San Salvatore of 750 AD, but the current appearance derives mainly from the renovations carried out between the 7th and XNUMXth centuries. It is part of the site "Lombards in Italy: the places of power", which includes XNUMX places full of architectural, pictorial and sculptural evidence of Lombard art, which has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to the most important museum in the city, it is also the main art exhibition space in Brescia.
9.Varese and the Sacro Monte (1h15 minutes)
This trip out of town is truly a gem and satisfies both art and history lovers and nature lovers. Things to see and do a Varese (nicknamed the "garden city") and in the surroundings there are many, but if you leave early and you are good walkers you will be able to see a little bit of everything. My advice, however, is to go back twice to see less things but calmly, also because you will have to walk a lot and not always flat (especially if you want to visit Villa Panza for good). The things not to be missed in Varese and its surroundings are:
- Historic center of Varese: after leaving the station, take Via Como to reach the Vittore Basilica (inside there are 600th-century Lombard masterpieces), then go to the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Palazzo Biumi (known as "broletto" with a beautiful arcaded courtyard) and from the sixteenth century Palazzo del Pretorio.
- Estense Palace: seat of the town hall, it was born as the residence of Francesco III d'Este. Stendhal called it “the Versailles of Milan”, also thanks to its magnificent Italian gardens.
- Villa Mirabello: its park is reunited with that of Palazzo Estense and is full of rare species and centuries-old plants. English-style building that houses the Civic Archaeological Museum.
- Villa Toeplitz: now take bus C a stone's throw from Villa Mirabello, it stops in front of Feltrinelli, exactly here, to get off after about 15 'at the closest stop to the Villa (ask the driver). This villa is very famous for its gardens which are always in contention among the most beautiful gardens in Italy.
- Sacro Monte of Varese: it is an ancient village created around a sacred pilgrimage site, now a Unesco heritage. The village is truly a marvel for the eyes and the path in 14 stages to reach it by climbing the hill (the so-called Via Sacra) is really impressive (it lasts about 45 ', it is 2 km). The route starts from the First Chapel (you should take bus C to get there) up to the church of Santa Maria del Monte, in the village.
- Ludovico Pogliaghi House Museum: A gem not to be missed at the Sacro Monte is the Lodovico Pogliaghi House Museum, which you will find on your left along the Via Sacra, just before reaching the village. It is a beautiful villa-studio of this eclectic artist who, while working on the restoration of the chapels, fell in love with this place and decided to move here.
- Field of flowers: from the village of Sacro Monte then you can decide to continue further, on foot or by funicular, to reach the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park, among caves, chapels and natural glimpses up to the panoramic point from which you can enjoy a crazy view all over the city.
- Villa Panza: I LOVE this place !! Managed by the FAI, this villa is famous for its last owner, Conte Panza, who has collected an incredible collection of contemporary art since the 50s. In addition to the permanent exhibition, the villa also hosts extemporaneous exhibitions of a high level and has a garden (whose entrance is paid separately), which is also beautiful.
10.Sirmione (1h20 minutes)
Sirmione it is undoubtedly the pearl of Lake Garda. Famous since ancient times for its thermal baths, it is spread over a scenic 4 km long strip of land in the middle of Lake Garda. To reach it by train from Milan you will have to get off at Desenzano del Garda station (which is very nice too) and take bus N.26 which, from Desenzano station, will take you in a few minutes to Sirmione (here you will find info and timetables). On sunny Sundays in June and July it can be quite crowded by tourists, so try to go there maybe on a Saturday and avoid the high season. The things not to be missed in Sirmione are definitely:
- Rocca Scaligera: built for a strategic purpose at the end of 1200, it is the classic fairytale castle, with battlements and towers. It is one of the best preserved Italian castles and has a dock which is a rare example of a fortification for port use.
- Grottoes of Catullus: in an exceptional panoramic position, on the extremity of the peninsula there are the remains of a sumptuous Roman villa. They are called "Caves" because the state of conservation of the ruins makes it resemble natural cavities. You can reach them with a walk of about 1km from the fortress and after the visit, if it's hot, treat yourself a nice bathroom in the nearby Jamaica beach, characterized by large smooth rocks on the water surface.
- Terme di Sirmione: going back along the peninsula, in less than 10 'you will reach the famous thermal baths of Sirmione. Here you will find all the info on prices and services.
11.Varenna and Bellagio (1h20 minutes + 10 'ferry)
We move back to the lake of Lecco / Como for another magnificent trip that is possible to do by train from Milan. This time we head to Varenna, one of the most beautiful villages on the lake, which can be reached in about 1 hour and 20 minutes by descending to Varenna-Esino. With a 5 'walk then you reach the lakefront, where you can take boats and ferries to Bellagio, which is right in front (here you will find info on timetables and routes). In addition to strolling through the alleys of the two villages and along the lakefront (which are magnificent both in Varenna and in Bellagio), be sure to visit these places:
- Villa Monastero: Its botanical garden is beautiful! The garden extends for 2 km along the lake and, thanks to the particularly mild climate typical of the area, botanical rarities from all over the world coexist, which are increased year by year. Also worth seeing is the House Museum.
- Villa Cipressi: a magnificent complex of buildings and gardens, created and built between 1400 and 1800. It is currently owned by the Municipality and is used as a hotel / restaurant and conference center. What you visit are the magnificent gardens, an architectural masterpiece characterized by stairways and terraces sloping down to the lake.
- Source of Fiumelatte: there is a small path of 1 km to reach the point where the Fiumelatte falls, white like milk, into the lake. Its peculiarity is its intermittence which runs from 25 March to 7 October.
- Villa Serbelloni (Bellagio): from Varenna then take the ferry to Bellagio to visit the gardens of this villa which is located right on the tip, between the 2 branches of the lake (the villa cannot be visited because it houses a very luxurious 5-star hotel).
- Villa Melzi (Bellagio): also mentioned by Stendhal, garden lovers cannot miss even these gardens, in the English style, which are home to many species of trees and an orangery.
12.Lake of Iseo (1h30 minutes)
A destination near Milan that particularly surprised me was the Iseo lake so I highly recommend it. On the train you can get to Iseo or Sulzano (changing in Brescia in both cases), and you can then move by boat from one side of the lake to the other (here you will find all the info on timetables and prices) and above all you can reach Monte Isola. Find all the info for this trip in thearticle 4 trips out of town on the lake near Milan.
13.Genoa (1h30 minutes)
The Milanese usually think of Liguria to go to the sea and for the beaches .. much less to see the cities, the gardens, or the beautiful villages scattered along the coast. A few years ago, however, it occurred to me to do a day trip to Genoa by train and it was a beautiful day! If you organize it on a sunny day, you can dedicate the morning toexploration of the historic center and alleyways, before going to lunch by the sea, in Boccadasse. In the afternoon then you can visit the aquarium or the ancient port before taking the train back. Find all the info and details of this trip in the article One day in Genoa between the alleys and the sea.
14.Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino (1h45 minutes)
The same discourse in Genoa is perhaps even more valid for Santa Margherita Ligure and for Portofino, beautiful places on the east coast that become prohibitive if you go there by car. I will remember for my whole life the 15 euros of parking per hour paid in Portofino! In this case, the train becomes truly a godsend and you can enjoy the beauty of these places without stress. To reach Santa Margherita Ligure you will have to change in Genoa, and in 15 'you will have arrived. For Portofino there is the bus N. 82 from Santa Margherita (or the taxi, but they pluck you). Among the things to see and enjoy (besides the sea ..):
- Villa Durazzo: it is located less than 10 'walk from the railway station and is a beautiful villa that was built in 1678 as the summer residence of the Durazzo family, only to be sold in 1821 to the Centurione princes. In 1892, on the occasion of the Colombian Celebrations, the villa was temporarily transformed into a Grand Hotel, and hosted personalities of the international aristocracy and Queen Margherita of Savoy. It has been owned by the municipality since 1973 and you can visit both the apartments on the "noble floor" and the magnificent gardens.
- Portofino: this small fishing village experienced its heyday in the period of the Dolce Vita, when it was frequented by the international jet-set. Today it is quieter and it is even more pleasant to walk in the alleys, among the pastel-colored houses, until you reach the Brown Castle, from which you can enjoy a magnificent view over the whole village.
I close this review on the destinations that can be reached by train from Milan with Mantua, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Lombardy, which can be reached in 2 hours from Milan. Surrounded by the Mincio River, Mantua is a jewel of the Italian Renaissance and owes it to Gonzaga family, in particular to Beatrice d'Este, which made the city a very important cultural and artistic center. Mantua is a city that deserves at least a weekend, more than a single day, but you can always come back, right? Mantua is ideal for walking, but also for cycling; if you come during the week, at the Apam point in Piazza Cavallotti (500 meters from the station) you can rent a pedal assisted bicycle for a whole day or just for a few hours. If you come there during the weekend you can rent it instead from Mantua Bike, which is always close to the railway. The must-sees not to be missed are:
- Piazza Sordello: this square was the center of the political and religious power of the city and it is here that the major city buildings to see in Mantua overlook, such as Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo Vescovile, Palazzo del Capitano, Palazzo Castiglioni and the Cathedral of San Pietro.
- Palazzo Ducale and Castle of San Giorgio: the official residence of the Gonzagas it is a single grandiose monumental and architectural complex built starting from 1200. Initially there were several buildings, which were then connected organically. It is in one of the towers of the castle that Mantegna painted the famous Camera Picta, also called the Camera degli Sposi. To see it, the reservation is mandatory so I strongly recommend that you first buy the ticket from the official website.
- Piazza delle Erbe: so called because it hosts the fruit and vegetable market, it is one of the oldest squares in Mantua and there are several important monuments such as the splendid Rotonda di San Lorenzo, the Palazzo della Ragione, the Casa del Mercante and the Astronomical Clock.
- Basilica of S.Andrea: the largest Basilica in Mantua. Designed by Leon Battista Alberti, it houses works of art by Mantegna, Correggio, Romano, Fetti and Campi. It is famous for hosting (in the crypt) the "Sacred vases" containing the blood of Christ which, according to tradition, were collected on Golgotha by the centurion Longinus.
- Palazzo Te: the Gonzaga "country villa", designed by Giulio Romano and intended for entertainment, entertainment and to receive illustrious guests. Magnificent rooms and frescoes (above all the famous Hall of the Giants).
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