Day Trips from Florence and Milan

My friends and I recently took another trip to my favorite country of Italy (second to the USA of course). When we go, we always want to make the most of our days so we plan day trips.  During this ten day trip we went to Rome, Florence, Cortona, Venice, Fiesole, Milan, Lake Como (Bellagio & Varenna) Lake Lugano, Switzerland and Bergamo.  If you're interested in these beautiful places while moving at a faster pace please continue to read this post.

If you don't immerse yourself in the culture of any town, you're not going to appreciate all that it has to offer.  However, you can still experience a town by seeing sites in the day and dining out in the evenings.  We start by meeting at the airport early morning in a major city such as Rome.  We've done this before because we have different airline mileage programs and different departure cities.  We usually have lots of airport or flight stories to share. 

Any first time traveler to Italy should visit Rome.  It's a perfect place to start or finish your journey because the FCO airport is central to getting around Italy.   Rome is the most often misunderstood large city--"too busy' or too "big" or other.  The city does have problems with street peddlers but it's improved since I've been going for the past 40 years.  Having stayed several times, I appreciate the the ruins, art, food and even the people. See my Rome post.

All of the major trains start or end in Rome. During one trip, we focused on the southern areas of Sorrento and Amalfi and the sunny islands nearby.  They are accessible from Rome to Naples (see my PositanoSorrento, and Capri posts).  For the northern regions, Pisa, Genoa, and Milan are good airport choices.  We did both this trip, flying into Rome and out of Milan.  The trains are very plentiful from the gigantic Milano Centrale and Roma Termini stations.  Trains are discussed at the end of this post and some maps are included in the individual posts if you click on link.

Day 1   After arriving early at the Rome Fumiciano Airport (FCO) we took a car-hire (55 Euros one way) to our hotel but you can easily take the Express train (8 Euros) directly to the Rome Termini station. That takes about 30 minutes.  The station is very close to excellent hotels and the HOP-on HOP-off bus (HOHO).  The HOHO bus is a great way to see the large city in a day but remember it can be daunting waiting for busses if very crowded. Plan on doing this the whole afternoon and topping it off with a great restaurant in the evening.  It's best to arrive in Rome on a weekday by the way to avoid the crowds.  

Note: There are plenty of day trips from Rome such as the quintessential hilltop medieval town of Orvieto.  The train stops at the bottom of the hill and a funicular takes visitors up to the old town.  This trip takes one hour from Rome via the Termini station trains. There are fewer tourists in these beautiful smaller towns as long as its in the off season during a weekday.  We didn't go to Orvieto on this particular trip and headed to Florence.

Day 2   we traveled directly to Florence where we stayed four nights.  Our hotel was one block away from the Santa Maria Novella (SMN) train station.  We walked easily to the main sites--the Accademia, Duomo, Central Market place and the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Each day we ventured to smaller towns but returned for the evening nightlife in Florence since there's so much to do and see in Florence.  There are plenty of museums but you're going to have to be selective which ones to see.  

See my Florence guide.


Day 3 Cortona in Tuscany.  Yes, the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed primarily in this town.  You still see some reminders around the town.  The people are lovely and really appreciate your business.  We thought this was a must see adorable hilltop town and it wasn't very crowded.  It was easy to walk around.  Take a train from the SMN station in Florence and you'll reach the lower Cortona in less than one hour.  When you exit the train purchase a shuttle bus ticket to reach the old town in upper Cortona.  Its about 10 minutes on the shuttle to the hilltop.  There are busses from Cortona to Florence but my personal choice is to take the train.  

See my Cortona post.

Day 4  Venice.  Venice seems to be the busiest city in Italy (next to Rome) with so many cruise ships, boats and tourists.  But it's unbelievably amazing with its many waterways, charming buildings, unique shops and delicious restaurants.  It was my third visit and it was still wonderful for a day trip.  Stay the entire day and return to Florence that evening.  You can visit from Milan also but it's an additional half hour journey.  From Florence, Venice is is a two hour trip on the high speed train (didn't seem very high speed to us).  When you're there, drop in at Harry's Bar.  

See my recent Venice post and my older Venice post.  

Day 5  We chose to visit beautiful Fiesole, a small Etruscan town in the foothills above Florence that features Roman ruins and an amphitheatre.  The views (above) of Florence are breathtaking.  Some of the walks are steep but worth it because of the views.  There's olive groves and fruit trees surrounding the perimeter of the town. Take the city bus #7 from San Marco square in Florence to reach Fiesole in 15 minutes.  

See my Fiesole post.

Day 6,  On this day we moved our bags and our home base to Milan.  It's just 1.5 hours via the train from Florence.  We stayed for our last four days of our trip in Milan and flew home to the USA from Milan.  Take the afternoon to visit the very grand Duomo and other sites including Leonardo's Last Supper at the Santa Maria Church and the Emanuele II shopping mall right in the Duomo square.  

See my recent Milano post and an older post.

Day 7  It's on to beautiful Varenna and Bellagio, at Lake Como.  These quaint villages are some of the finest in Italy directly on the Lake Como waterfront. Varenna is reachable via the train from Milano within one hour.  Once you exit the train station you'll walk down the obvious pathway to the lakefront docks.  There, you can continue to walk to Varenna in just a few minutes or take the ferry to Bellagio.  The ferry takes about 15 minutes to arrive in Bellagio. Its' worth staying a little later in the day to see both towns.

See my Varenna and Bellagio post and an older Bellagio post.

Day 8  Bergamo ("Bear-ga-mo") is an easy day trip from the Milano Centrale, taking less than one hour to reach by train.  Once you exit the train station you'll see the upper, old, Bergamo (Alto) on the hilltop.  It's actually a very flat, straight walk to the funicular that will take you to the top but about a 20 minute walk.  From upper Bergamo, there's a beautiful view of the lower, newer section of Bergamo.  Purchase the funicular tickets along the way at a pharmacy or store (look for signs).  The line could be long at the actual funicular.  It costs 5 euros for a round trip ticket.  

See my Bergamo post.

Day 9  Lugano, Switzerland is a stone's throw away from Milan (45 minutes) via the train.  Lugano is another easy, peasy day trip. The old town is very clean and quaint but it's also quite steep for walking so wear your good walking shoes.  After exiting the train, it's easy to get around.  On this particular trip we flew home to the USA on day ten.

See my Lugano post... 

Other Day Trips  I highly recommend Pisa and Lucca as additional day trips from Milano.  We stayed in Lucca for an entire week, a lovely old-walled town with lots of history to discover. Being the birthplace of opera great Puccini, the fine arts are celebrated here. Montepulciano, Pienza and Montalcino make wonderful day trips from Florence as well.  See my Tuscany post.

Using the Trains...


Travel Light  We always travel light with one 21" suitcase and one shoulder bag as shown above.  We use the "roll" method to pack clothing and wear tops and pants at least two times.  This was great for 11 days of travel.  We were able to leave our bags in the hotel rooms earlier than check in time.  We only take a cross body bag for the day trips. Leave your passport in the hotel room safe for safe keeping.  

Trains  We purchased train tickets one day in advance at the kiosks in the stations like (red .italo above) just in case the trains are full the next day.  Tickets can also be purchased via the Trenitalia website.  It's reliable because you download and print the tickets.  Most destinations are available at the kiosks but sometimes you must purchase the tickets at a biglietti (ticket) window.  The TVG city trains are kept clean and offer savings for roundtrip purchases when returning the same day.  Second class is very comfortable if you want to save some money.  

Always punch/stamp your ticket at the validation boxes (see photo below) located near the binaro (platform/track) before boarding the trains.  The conductors on board will fine you if not stamped.  Always check the schedule for the correct departure time and binario (track) number as they change.  Most of the trains run on time but may not be posted until 30 minutes prior to departure.  I believe we had two trains that departed later than the originally scheduled time.  

Note:  Local trains such as those going from Naples to Sorrento aren't as nice or comfortable.  They're old and not reconditioned.  

Don't be surprised but your day trips will have you you taking trains, busses, funiculars, boats, taxies or shuttle van.  On the bright side, you can see these towns in a day!

Euro exchange  We order some euros in advance from our banks so we have cash when we arrive in Italy.  There are ATMS everywhere so you can get euros directly from them.  Do not rely on banks in Italy.  Most won't exchange from US Dollars to Euros anymore.  So if you can get some euros in advance it may help you get around the first few days or in case you lose a card.  There are fees when they exchange dollars to euros even on credit cards (ask your bank in advance).  We used cash to travel around and for meals.  Personally in 7 trips to Europe, I've never been pick pocketed.  However, I did lose my drivers license and my credit cards during my last trip.  I won't make that mistake again!  My cash on hand saved me along with my friends using their cards.

Lastly, be sure to validate your ticket on the busses.


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