Top 7 Places to Visit in Northern Italy
Northern Italy is so vastly different from its southern counterpart that it can feel like an entirely different world. There’s a faster pace of life, German-speaking cities, Austrian architecture, and modernity that just isn’t present in the south. One thing does stay the same, though, and that’s the Italian love of food and their open-armed friendliness.
So, when you’re up in northern Italy, where should you go? From long stays to day trips, here is our list of the best places to visit in northern Italy.
Top 7 Places to Visit in Northern Italy
Venice, the Other-Worldly City
You may see Milan taking the number one spot more often, but Venice trumps any other Italian city in terms of immersion and intrigue. It’s literally on top of a lagoon, in the water (and sometimes under water). Boats and walking are the only means of transportation, and taking a gondola around transports you straight into a fantasy novel. You can see the warping of the stone ground around the wooden beams that hold it up. It’s wild to think such large, heavy, buildings are being help up so steadily. Be sure to visit Basilico di San Marco and the neighboring Palazzo Ducale.
Venice is an old city, but it doesn’t feel old. It doesn’t even feel new. It’s almost as if it’s an entirely different world that you need to see to believe. While you’re visiting, pick up an artisan mask for Carnival and try some of their famous Venetian chocolate.
Verona, a Romantic Day Trip
The place made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona is by far the most romantic town in northern Italy. It’s not too large, not to small, and the cobblestone streets are lined with gorgeous balconies and restaurants. A daytrip is all you need to experience Verona to the fullest as there are only two things you absolutely have to do: see the arena and visit Juliet’s balcony. The arena rivals Rome’s Colosseum architecturally, albeit much smaller. When you’re done there, plan your visit to Juliet’s balcony at sunset for a perfect photo op. While you’re here, don’t forget to rub the statue of Juliet (you’ll know where based on the statue’s color)–it’s good luck!
Milan, the Fashion Capital of Northern Italy
The fashion capital of Italy, Milan is one of the most modern cities you’ll find in this country that prides itself on tradition. It’s quite the international hub, and rightfully so. Many people flock to Milan to pursue their dreams of being in the fashion industry. From models and designers to business folk and fashion aficionados, Milan is the place to be for anyone who is anyone. While you’re here, the Prada Foundation is one of the more interesting galleries/museums to visit. It’s full of contemporary art, films, and installations. Not to mention its entirely golden building. If you’re seeking more of the traditional aspects of northern Italian culture, check out the towering Duomo. Its façade is gorgeously intricate. While you’re looking, zoom in on the statues at the top. There’s a surprise in store.
Lake Como, a Relaxing Day Trip
Lake Como is northern Italy’s third largest lake and it’s surrounded by beautiful little lakeside towns. It’s a short train ride from Milan and you don’t need a car to get around. You can swim and kayak in the lake if you want to be in the water, or sunbathe next to the lake if you don’t. Wander the streets of Bellagio or Varenna, the two best lakeside towns for a bit of shopping and food. Lake Como is naturally picturesque with mountains in the background and crystal clear waters in the foreground.
Bologna, Porticos and Cheap Clothes The way people talk about Bologna makes it sound much larger than it is. In fact, it’s one of the smallest major cities in northern Italy. Most of Bologna feels unchanged for centuries, from the stones of each palazzo to the guard towers surrounding the city. Here’s a fun fact: Bologna has the most porticos of any Italian city, and if you follow said porticos, they will lead you to a monastery that overlooks the city. This is a college town, so you’ll find lots of students, bars, and–most importantly–cheap clothes. There are tons of sales and outlet shops year-round, so if you want Italian style without the high price then this is the place for you.
Modena, for Car Fanatics
Modena is a short trip out of Bologna, and it houses the stunning Ferrari Museum. You can even take one of them out for a drive or a ride (if you don’t want to be the driver). It’s incredibly expensive, as you might expect, but the thrill of driving like you’re in Gran Turismo makes up for it.
Parma, the Wisconsin of Northern Italy
Cheese! Parma is the land of parmesan cheese, as you can now tell from its name. A day trip here grants you an afternoon to stuff your face with cheese and wash it down with the region’s best wine.
Genoa, True Grit
Here’s the honest truth: Genoa is ugly. Yes, it has cobblestone streets, vine-covered balconies. and some of the best seafood you’ll find in all of northern Italy, but it’s a gritty city. It’s cold, it’s humid, it’s a bit grungy, and all of that is just what you need when you want a real taste of northern Italian culture. It’s also a steep city, so you’ll be spending a lot of time climbing uphill. Besides their fried anchovies, one of the absolute best things about Genoa is its Maritime Museum. On the surface it doesn’t sound exciting, but take the plunge and you’ll see just how incredible this museum is. You can explore boats, feel what it’s like to be an immigrant, experience life on the sea in VR–they’ve really thought of everything.
Cinque Terre, Cliffside Relaxation
Cinque Terre isn’t one place, it’s five places. Five tiny towns that climb from the sandy beaches of the Ligurian Sea to the rocky, pine-covered forests above it. It doesn’t matter which of the five towns (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) you visit, they’re so close to each other that you won’t be able to tell the difference anyway. They’re romantic, quiet, scenic, and truly a perfect spot for a relaxingly immersive vacation.
A lot of people don’t realize that the Alps are a part of northern Italy, too. Turin uses them as it’s backdrop, so no matter what street you walk down you’ll get a glimpse of the towering Alpine peaks (or even a full panoramic view). Turin is the birthplace of Nutella, so keep that in mind while you explore the shops. You may find your new favorite flavor! Besides chocolate, the Shroud of Turin is one of the most fascinating artifacts in the world, and of course it’s located here, in Turin. Turin is also home to the tallest museum in the world, the Mole Antonelliana. It was supposed to be a synagogue, but it’s now the National Museum of Cinema.
6. South Tyrol
When thinking of Italy, minds tend to wander towards the sea, ancient Rome, and fashion. It’s time to add the mountains to that list. South Tyrol is a region, not a city, but anywhere you go here is incredible. The capital is Bolzano and it’s a great starting place, but it’s best not to spend too much time in one place because this region encourages you to explore. Swimming in turquoise lakes, skiing down black diamond slopes, and resting in hot tubs in three feet of snow, this wonderland is the perfect place for your next winter trip. Even in warmer months, taking the cable car up the mountain offers some of the most incredible panoramic views you’ll ever see, and you can check out the stunning Messner Mountain Museum designed by Zaha Hadid.
Possibly the least Italian of any city in northern Italy, Trieste is opposite Venice on the Adriatic Sea. It closely borders Slovenia, and just below is easy access to Croatia, so you can tell from the get-go that some of Trieste’s culture will be inspired by its eastern European neighbors. Trieste has had a rough history, but today it seems to have kept the best aspects of each rule: Italian romanticism, German organization, and Viennese architecture. Trieste is off the radar for most Italians and most visitors, which is exactly why you should visit. It’s relatively untouched by generic tourism so you can explore the city without falling into any tourist traps.
Northern Italy is a melting pot of cultures, styles, and landscapes. In just a couple of hours you can travel from the cerulean lagoon of Venice to the snowy peaks of South Tyrol. Each city has something unique to offer, and in the end you won’t know until you visit. So pack your bags and get going, northern Italy awaits!
If you have a destination in Northern Italy that should be on this list, please comment below.
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