Most people will probably tell you that you shouldn’t book a trip with someone you’ve only been officially dating for 6 weeks, good thing we aren’t most people! So, we decided to book ourselves a whistle stop tour of northern Italy covering Milan, Lake Como and Venice as our first ever relationship mini-adventure, even though we’re pretty sure neither of us still knew when the other’s birthday was…
Welcome to Backpacks and Beverages!
Hi there ! We're Joe and Nat.
We both share a passion for drinking around the world and our aim is to explore as many countries as possible.
There is an endless choice of airports to fly into – Marco Polo (Venice), Treviso (Venice), Linate (Milan), Malpensa (Milan) and Bergamo (Milan) are all good options.
TIP – Milan Bergamo normally comes out the cheapest on Skyscanner from the UK so check this first, and the bus from the airport to Milan Central and vice versa (60 minutes) is only €5.00.
Easy access is available between Milan and Venice via a 2-hour train ride, so it really doesn’t matter which airport you fly into.
We did just that. We picked up flights from Manchester to Marco Polo for around £80.00 each, and after a short bus transfer into central Venice caught the Trenitalia from Santa Lucia station to Milano Centrale.
Milan - MilanoRooms Bacone - booking.com (around £50.00/60.00 per night)
Our apartment was located within the Zona Buenos Aires area (5 mins walk from Lima Metro Station), which doesn’t demand the high prices for accommodation or food & drink and also provides easy access for getting around Northern Italy on the train as the central station is around 15 mins walk away.
Venice – Dimora Dogale - booking.com
5 minutes’ walk to Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square, averaging around £40.00 a night, this really is a great little place to stay. We would definitely recommend, perfect location, cute and ideal for couples!
Day 1 - Milan
We arrived in Milan, dropped off our bags at the apartment and still had the afternoon to explore. We hopped on the Metro straight over to Piazza Duomo to check out Milan Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece you should definitely visit when you’re in the city. If you can, take the winding stairways up to the roof for panoramic views of Duomo. The Piazza itself is a big old place but will most likely be packed with other tourists, especially in peak season, so if you want to snap a good shot of the Cathedral without too many bystanders get there early!
After an afternoon exploring central Milan, there was only one thing on Joe’s mind, finding the doughiest, cheesiest, prosciuttoiest pizza Italy’s fashion capital has to offer, as it was of course a weekend off from his typical runway model’s diet that most would-be fashionistas would naturally be following when preparing for a Milan visit.
A great little restaurant to check out not far from Duomo is Granario Caffe E Cucina.
This was the first occasion of the now almost weekly institution of Peroni date nights!
We were going to take in our first European football game, however it looked like that wasn’t meant to be 🙁 Please read our hints and tips below to avoid making the same mistakes we did.
Instead we decided to explore some of the bars local to our apartment. After a short spell of happy hour Aperol’s, we stumbled upon a quirky cocktail bar Drinc. Cocktail & Conversation. A very cool, modern cocktail bar which serves the best presented tequila slammers.
Its slightly pricey so definitely a treat, however if you’re in the area and cool cocktails are your scene you should absolutely go for it!
Hardly your typical slammer on a night out in Britain with a salt shaker from behind the bar and lime wedge from someone’s empty rum and coke glass!
Day 2 - Lake Como
For day 2, after a very traditional Italian breakfast consisting of a sausage and egg McMuffin in the train station, we hopped on a train up to Lake Como to explore the dramatic scenery around one of Europe's deepest lakes.
The train journey from Milano Centrale station to Varenna-Esino takes around 1 hour and tickets can be purchased on the day for around €12.00 return.
After arriving in Varenna, a small town on the lake’s west coast, we walked up the winding road to the viewpoint at Castello De Viezo.
The obvious highlight after the hour-long walk up the mountain was the spectacular views over Lake Como's two southern forks looking towards the towns of Como and Lecco.
The €5 Aperol Spritz in the café made the trek even more worthwhile!
Three or four each (we can’t quite remember how many) were swiftly polished off before heading back down to catch the short 20-minute ferry over to Bellagio.
The ferry ride over boasted the most amazing views of Varenna. Which we enjoyed with a pint of Moretti in hand for the trip, of course!
The beautiful town of Bellagio boasts some of the most luxurious (and pricey!) boutique hotels Lake Como has to offer. Fortunately for us, there’s a great terrace bar at Hotel Metropole Bellagio, with fantastic views over the lake and a drinks menu that’s seemingly endless and not as steeply priced!
Needless to say, a fair few drinks later, time was starting to run away from us, so we decided to head towards the ferry terminal to get back to Varenna to catch our return train to Milan.
But before that, we decided that the right way to end our day was to grab a couple of Peroni Red Labels and enjoy them on the steps leading down to the lake, and watch the sun set over the pristine Italian Alps.
We think it’s fair to say that for anyone wanting to take in this spectacular scenery, having the lake water lap at your feet while sipping on arguably one of the world's tastiest lagers is absolutely the way to do it!
Day 3 - Milan / Venice
On the morning of our third day we had a little more time to explore Milan before our train back to Venice. Luckily the unseasonal downpour didn't 'dampen' our spirits.
If like us you find yourselves with enough time to tick off something small from your Milano to do list, we would highly recommend a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Many of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses boast flagship stores in this spectacular example of nineteenth century Italian architecture, but shopping for high fashion is something that neither of us have a flair for.
We do however have a flair for drinking! Luckily for us, the Galleria is also home to Terrazza Aperol. Accessible via a side door to the main entrance, Milan’s self-proclaimed ‘centre of aperitifs’ is a must if you are even remotely a fan of the classic cocktail. The Terrazza isn’t Milan’s cheapest bar at €12 (not the most expensive either!) but this will cover the cost of your aperitif and entry.
Make sure you get there before the crowds though, as this is a popular spot due to the stunning views of the Cathedral and bustling Piazza below.
To finish off we (obviously) went for some more beers in the very affordable Bar Marino at the rear of the Galleria (The draft wheat beer was our favourite) before catching our train to Venezia.
Seeing as the weather had followed us from Milan, we begrudgingly caught the Vaporetto (water taxi) from outside Santa Lucia to get to our hotel.
However, if you are lucky enough to have the weather on your side we would recommend walking the many winding passageways, alleys and bridges to really explore the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’
Seeing as we weren't so lucky, we dropped our bags off and once again brought out the umberellas to head out for something to eat.
You will quickly learn that the sheer number of bars and restaurants lining the streets of the San Marco area will make your choice of evening meal a difficult one.
We gave Taverna San Lio a try and would absolutely recommend for an affordable but high-quality meal. We also discovered that sweet Aperol is more to our palate than the traditionally bitter Campari. Give it a try and let us know which one you prefer!?
After searching around for bars we stumbled upon Hotel Ai Cavalieri di Venezia, set within an eerily gothic 16th century building. Lightening flashing, rain tapping on the windows and an eerily empty bar resulted in us feeling like we were having our own Tower of Terror hotel experience! If you do visit please let us know if you think the same or if the pathetic fallacy got the better of us?!
So, we ended our night in Ristorante Marco Polo with a beverage and a traditional shot of limoncello instead.
Day 4 - Venice
After a quick continental breakfast at the hotel, we were keen to get stuck into what would be a very fast paced tour of Venice’s top spots.
We started out by taking a short walk down to Piazza San Marco to check out St Mark’s Basilica and the other landmarks surrounding the city’s main square.
Unfortunately, as we were short on time we were unable to go inside and have a look around at the famous gold mosaics lining the floors and walls of the church. If you have more time than us we would recommend you check this out. Entrance to the Basilica is free although there is likely to be a queue.
We carried on down to the Piazzetta San Marco, the smaller open space to the square’s south east, to see the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, two of Venice’s most recognisable landmarks.
The square also boasts one of the best views of the city and surrounding islands, from the top of the bell tower of St Marks Campanile, a visit will cost you €8.00 but the vistas absolutely worth it.
After a morning exploring you will probably need an energy boost to power through the rest of your day (Cue Nat pining for caffeine).
We decided to head towards the Rialto Bridge to find somewhere to grab some lunch and a cold one (no coffee for Joe) with a view.
There are numerous bars and restaurants lining the Grand Canal around the bridge where you can sit back and take in the buzz of the city’s main waterway. We chose to stop off at Ristorante Florida and sit under the pagoda with a goblet of strong beer and an even stronger coffee.
If you would rather use your money during the day for having a couple of drinks (like we do) there are small “fast food” pizzerias located all over the city where you can grab a cheap bite to eat. We picked up a slice of pizza (it was hugeeee!) from Self Service Rialto, for half the price as a restaurant and it was the tastiest pizza we had during our whole trip.
After lunch, it was time for us to fully embrace Venetian tradition and take a gondola tour of the canals. The gondolas are quite possibly the most recognisable image of Venice both past and present, once used exclusively by the city’s upper classes as transport around the waterways. The fixed cost of a 30-40-minute tour is €80 during the day and €100 after 7pm for evening tours.
We wouldn’t be Backpacks and Beverages if we didn’t stop off for one final glassful towards the end of our Italian adventure. We decided that a small, open fronted bar packed with 7 or 8 Gondoliers on a break must be a good idea, and we weren’t disappointed!
Unfortunately, now it was time to head back to Marco Polo and catch our flight home. We caught the airport bus transfer from the Piazzale Roma, a short walk from Santa Lucia station, the bus only takes around 20 minutes and costs €8.00 so it's a cost effective option for travelling both to and from the airport.
Hints & Tips - Milan
- If you decide to fly into Venice like we did, pre-book your train tickets. Venice to Milan return cost around €45 for the two of us, whereas the normal price is around €40 each way! Definitely worth looking into and tickets can be easily booked through the Trainline. Be careful – some of the train companies only accept printed tickets so it’s worth checking at home before you travel if you need to print out your tickets.
- If you do fancy heading over to the San Siro Stadium to catch a football match, make sure you book tickets in advance. I’d read online that you shouldn’t struggle to get cheap tickets from the Box Office, how wrong was I! After queuing for over an hour and a half we were told the only tickets left were €90 each for pretty poor seats, frustrating to say the least! Try livefootballtickets.com a couple of weeks before to be sure.
Hints & Tips - Venice
The bars and restaurants seemed to close at around 10pm, so bear this in mind if you’re planning on arriving late! However, we’re not sure if this was because of the awful weather or the fact it was a Monday night.
- You can easily walk to most places from Santa Lucia station, don’t bother paying for the water taxi if you can help it, pained us to pay €7.50 each for a 10-minute journey! ALTHOUGH €20 will give you a 24-hour travel card so this is worth it if you want to explore all the far reaches of Venice and will even take you to some of the cities neighbouring islands, which are highly recommended if you have the time to spare.
A gondola holds 6 people, so if you are travelling as a couple ask other’s in the queue if they would like to share a ride with you and split the cost, €40 is a fair few beverages to waste ! 😉
So that was our first Backpacks and Beverages adventure! For us, Italy will always be such a special place, it’s where we found our love for travelling and exploring the world one drink at a time as a couple, and this certainly won’t be our last visit. Watch this space for more Moretti and Aperol fuelled fun!