The best places to visit in Northern Italy

The best places to visit in Northern Italy

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From the snow-dusted peaks of the Dolomite mountains to the sunny shorelines of the Italian Riviera and Adriatic, northern Italy is best known for its unmatched geographical diversity. No matter what type of trip you’re looking for, whether it’s exploring historic cities, laying by the beach with a gelato or hitting the slopes, northern Italy has something for every style of traveller.

So to help you decide exactly where to jet off to on your next Italian adventure, these are 13 of the best places to visit in northern Italy…

Want me to organise your northern Italian road trip for you? Check out these itineraries.

Regions of northern Italy

Before we jump into the best places in northern Italy, it’s important to get to grips with its geography.

Northern Italy is made up of 7 regions:

  • Aosta Valley. Mountainous region lying in the Western Alps, bordering France and Switzerland. Has some of the best ski resorts in northern Italy.
  • Lombardy. The most populated region of Italy. Home to the financial and fashion capital of Milan and the upscale holiday resorts of Lake Como.
  • Trentino-South Tyrol. Known for its snow-frosted Dolomite Mountains, beautiful lakes and Renaissance palaces surrounding the city of Trento.
  • Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Most north-eastern region of Italy, also sat within the Dolomite Mountains.
  • Veneto. One of the most popular tourist regions of northern Italy. Home to the floating city of Venice, Romeo and Juliette’s Verona and the holiday resorts of Lake Garda.
  • Piedmont. An elegant region sitting at the foot of the Alps, known for its baroque architecture, slow food and fantastic red wines.
  • Liguria. North-western region with a beautiful coastline known as the Italian Riviera and home to the colorful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre.
  • Emilia-Romagna. Italy’s culinary capital, with tasty eggy pasta and traditional Bolognese from Bologna. Also known for its medieval cities and seaside resorts along the Adriatic coast

Being such a large and diverse area with so many amazing places to visit, sticking within one or two regions per visit is the best way to really make the most of your trip without rushing between destinations.

Best citites in northern Italy

Love a city break? Me too! These are the best cities to visit in northern Italy…

Venice

Region of northern Italy: Veneto.

Free things to do in Venice

Probably the most famous destination in all of northern Italy, the exquisite floating city of Venice is top of most people’s Italian bucket list. And rightly so.

Plucked straight from the pages of a fairytale, Venice is a charming maze of canals and waterways winding their way past majestic Gothic palaces and under beautiful historic bridges.

From getting lost down tiny alleyways to romantic gondola rides along the Grand Canal, visiting world-class art galleries to stepping inside magnificent St Mark’s Basilica, there are countless reasons to book a trip to one of Italy’s most magical cities.

Treviso

Region of northern Italy: Veneto.

Treviso Fountain

Often overlooked in favour of its famous neighbour Venice, Treviso is another lovely northern Italian city to visit in its own right.

While Treviso has many similarities to Venice, such as its pretty canals, impressive churches and grand piazzas filled with alfresco bars and cafes, the city is generally much quieter and has a far more laid-back vibe. This makes it a great place to unwind after a few days of negotiating the crowded streets of Venice.

A trip to Treviso isn’t complete without drinking from the Fontana delle Tette (yes that means Fountain of Tits), an unusual 16th-century fountain that used to dispense wine, and eating tiramisu at Ristorante Le Beccherie, the restaurant in which the iconic Italian dessert was first invented.

Verona

Region of northern Italy: Veneto.

Piazza Delle Erbe Verona

“Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.”

Verona is best known for being the fictional setting of Shakspeare’s romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. People come from all over the world to stand on Juliet’s balcony, visit her final resting place or write a letter of lost love to her secretaries – If you’ve seen the film Letters to Juliet you’ll know what I’m talking about!

Asides from Shakespeare’s influence, this romantic northern Italian city has plenty of other things going for it. You can spend a night at the opera at Verona’s impressive 30,000 seat Roman Amphitheatre, which is older than the better-known Colosseum in Rome. Or take a peaceful walk along the river, past hilltop castles, before heading into the city’s charming medieval historic centre.

Planning a trip to Verona? Check out my other posts:

Milan

Region of northern Italy: Lombardy.

Milan is the largest city in northern Italy, as well as the wealthiest city in the country. It’s also Italy’s capital of fashion and design, which is particularly evident during Milan fashion week. If shopping is your thing, the city’s stylish shopping district has more high-end stores than you’ll know what to do with.

Even if shopping isn’t for you, Milan is packed with world-famous attractions. You can’t miss Gothic Duomo di Milano, the largest church in Italy. While art lovers can see one of the worlds most famous paintings, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, housed in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

Trento

Region of northern Italy: Trentino-South Tyrol.

The charming city of Trento sits nestled within the Adige River Valley. Despite being the capital of the Trentino region, Trento has one of the most peaceful and laid-back vibes of any northern Italian city. Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the top Italian cities in terms of quality of life amongst locals.

While my personal favourite thing to do in Trento is simply sitting with a glass of Trentodoc (local sparkling wine) and watch the world pass around me – you can’t help but feel relaxed in Trento – there are plenty of historic and cultural sights to explore too.

You can visit the grand 12th-century Buonconsiglio Castle and admire its gothic frescos, head to the high-tech MUSE museum of science and natural history, or take the short cable car up Mount Bodone to Sardagna where you can admire the beautiful views back down over the city.

Planning a trip to Trento? Check out my other posts:

Bologna

Region of northern Italy: Emilia-Romagna.

Known for its stunning Medieval architecture, terracotta tiled roofs, extensive porticoes (covered walkways) and rich culinary scene, Bologna is one of the most underrated cities in northern Italy. Slightly less visited by tourists, the city has a very authentic Italian feel to it.

Being the main city of the Emilia-Romagna region, Italy’s culinary capital, Bologna is a foodies dream come true. Don’t forget to try the original tagliatelle al ragù bolognese and the city’s famous local ham, mortadella. A food tour in Bologna is a must!

If it’s historic attractions you’re after, The University of Bologna is the oldest university in continuous operation in the world, founded in 1088, so is definitely worth a visit. Plus be sure to visit Piazza Maggiore where you can see the unusual unfinished façade of the 14th-century Basilica of San Petronio.

Parma

Region of northern Italy: Emilia-Romagna.

If you like the sound of Bologna, you also won’t want to miss close-by Parma for another of the top places to visit in northern Italy for foodies. Parma is best known for Parmesan cheese and Parma ham.

Other than its unbeatable foodie offering, Parma is also known for its beautiful Romanesque architecture, including the frescoed Parma Cathedral and pink marble Baptistery.

Best places to visit in northen Italy to relax and unwind

Had a stressful few months and looking for somewhere to simply switch off for a few days? Nothing beats sunbathing by the water with a gelato or Aperol spritz in hand! These are the best places to visit in northern Italy for some well deserved rest and relaxation…

Lake Garda

Region of northern Italy: Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino-South Tyrol.

Peschiera del Garda Lake Garda Town

Lake Garda is the largest lake in all of Italy, spreading across the Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino regions. It’s also one of northern Italy’s most popular holiday destinations thanks to its crystal clear waters and host of great things to do.

The south of Lake Garda is known for its many beaches, swimming areas and historic towns. You can hire a boat for the day and head out onto the lake, sunbathe by the water with a gelato, visit the weekly revolving markets, or hit one of the area’s several exciting theme parks.

The north of Lake Garda is much more mountainous than the south, with small towns nestled within its many peaks and harbours hidden under the imposing cliffs. You can spend your time here exploring one of the beautiful little alpine towns or out hiking in the mountains to find the best viewpoints back over the scenic lake.

Planning a trip to Lake Garda? Check out my other posts:

Lake Como

Region of northern Italy: Lombardy.

High-end Lake Como is another of Italy’s largest lakes and is somewhat of a playground of the rich and famous, with celebrities including George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston having holiday homes there.

Located at the foothill of the Alps, Lake Como is surrounded by dramatic green scenery that looks more like a watercolour painting than real life and a number of quaint little towns, extravagant neoclassical villas and luxurious holiday resorts.

While all of the towns on Lake Como are beautiful in their own right, Bellagio, Varenna and Como are the three biggest and most popular amongst visitors.

Cinque Terre

Region of northern Italy: Liguria.

Cinque Terre Houses

The Cinque Terre is made up of five hillside towns along the rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the picturesque fishermen towns are known for their pretty pastel-coloured houses that slope steeply down the cliff face towards the calm Mediterranean waters below.

The five towns of the Cinque Terre are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Monterosso is the biggest and oldest town and is home to the area’s only sandy beach, while Manarola boasts more of a small-town charm, surrounded by little hillside vineyards.

You can visit all five towns of the Cinque Terre by hiking one of the several trails through the surrounding national park. The Sentiero Azzurro (blue path #2) is the most popular and accessible for any level of hiker.

Portofino

Region of northern Italy: Liguria.

Portofino is another beautiful spot on the Italian Riveria. Along with the Cinque Terre, it is one of the prettiest and most popular coastal destinations in the region.

The small fishing village is known for its pastel-coloured houses and picturesque harbour in which you’ll regularly find the super-yachts of Europe’s rich and famous during the hot summer months. Clustered around the harbour you’ll find plenty of high-end boutiques and luxury seafood restaurants with panoramic views over the water.

Best places to visit in northen Italy for adventure

If you’re type of traveller who likes to be on the go, having epic adventures and feeling the adrenaline rush, these destinations in northern Italy are for you…

Cortina D’Ampezzo

Region of northern Italy: Veneto.

Fittingly known as the Queen of the Dolomites, Cortina D’Ampezzo is the largest and most popular ski resort town in the Italian Alps. It even hosted the 1956 Winter Olympic Games and will co-host them again alongside Milan in 2026.

For skiing and snowboarding, Cortina has over 140km of fantastic slopes across three local ski areas. It makes up a section of the Dolomiti Superski area in which a whopping 1200km of slopes can be accessed by one ski pass. There are also plenty of other winter sports you can try, including cross country skiing, bobsledding, snow-kiting, snowmobiling, ice-trekking and more.

Then when you’re done hitting the slopes and taking in the area’s spectacular natural scenery, you can enjoy the town’s many high-end designer shops, luxurious spas, fantastic restaurants, lively wine bars and upscale Alpine hotels.

Trentino

Region of northern Italy: Trentino-Sud Tyrol.

Trentino is truly a nature lovers dream, with the almighty Dolomite mountains, declared a World Heritage Site in 2009, more than 1000 trees per inhabitant, and almost 300 lakes making up the region.

Trentino is also one of the best places to visit in northern Italy for adventure lovers. From hiking through scenic valleys and taking a dip in beautiful alpine lakes, to white water rafting down epic rapids and mountain biking up to snow-frosted peaks, there’s everything you could possibly want and more.

During the colder winter months, Trentino is also home to some of the country’s best ski resorts.

Planning a trip to Trentino? Check out my other posts:


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Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the south west. She has a masters degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works as a freelance travel writer, digital marketer and VA, splitting her life between London and travelling the world.

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