There are so many beautiful places to visit in Italy that you could visit dozens of times and still find new gems to explore. In this article I take you to the northern part of the country, where you will find many fabulous destinations to add to your itinerary. Read on to discover 21 amazing places to visit in Northern Italy!
From historic cities like Venice and Bologna to charming villages like the Cinque Terre, and from the mountains of the north to the coasts on either side, Italy is overflowing with bucket-list destinations.
Whether it’s art, history, and architecture that attract you, or the delicious cuisine and wine, or beautiful natural landscapes, you’ll find what your heart desires in Northern Italy. So, are you ready to plan your visit?
The Best Places to Visit in Northern Italy
It’s not an easy task narrowing down amazing places you can visit in Northern Italy to a manageable number. In this post, I have listed some of my favorites, with the top things to do in each destination and tips to help if you are in the process of planning a trip.
Many of these places feature on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Some of these destinations are renowned for their natural beauty, some for their rich history and architecture, and some for their food and wine. All are irresistible, and you’ll find yourself in the delicious predicament of determining which ones to cover on your next visit to Italy.
Let’s dive right in and discover the most fabulous destinations in Northern Italy, shall we?
Venice, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most visited places in Northern Italy. With several dozen palazzos lining the iconic watery main street and a main square known as the drawing room of Europe, Italy’s grand old dame looks beautiful even as she ages.
Top Things to Do
Take a tour of the Doge’s Palace. Its beautiful ceilings and grand paintings will take your breath away. And the history is fascinating!
See Piazza San Marco at sunrise, when the blue gondolas are still bobbing at the dock and you’ll find more pigeons than people wandering the historic square.
Wander away from tourist-dense San Marco and get lost. The streets and squares of the other districts of Venice are quiet and charming.
Take a gondola ride through a side canal to experience the quieter part of Venice. While it’s a touristy thing to do, you’ll not want to leave Venice without having checked that iconic activity off your list.
Do a highly-rated food tour so you can taste really good food in Venice! The city has some amazing eateries, and doing a cicchetti walk with a local expert will introduce you to some of them.
Spend at least one night in the city, to see Venice at its serene best: late in the day and in the early morning.
Venice is compact and walkable. Organize your vaporetto experiences for one day, and buy a one-day vaporetto pass to save money.
The fashion and finance capital of Italy, Milan boasts a long and rich history and great architecture. Flights into Milan are some of the most economical you’ll find to Italy, so it’s the ideal place to begin your Italian holiday. With diverse neighborhoods from which to choose your base, Milan will keep you entertained you with its liveliness.
Top Things to Do
Visiting the Duomo di Milan, a Gothic beauty, should be at the top of your list of things to do in Milan. Gawk at the exterior, tour the gorgeous interior, and walk the rooftop for an unforgettable experience.
Gaze at Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, housed in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It’s arguably his most famous work, and the church is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Walk the Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with its extravagant construction and brand name shops.
Book tickets for The Last Supper well ahead of your visit, or join a guided tour.
If you plan to do serious shopping, time your visit with one of the two annual sales (January through early March or July through early September) to save some money. Check for exact dates online.
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#3 Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre (Five Lands) are a cluster of postcard-perfect coastal villages in Liguria, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colorful little houses cascade down cliffs to the beautiful blue water, and steep hillsides hold terraced plots of vines and lemons, for an idyllic landscape that will charm you.
Top Things to Do
Hike! There are hiking trails that link all 5 villages, but a couple are closed for extensive repair, so check to see which ones are open before you nail down dates. Even if long hikes do not appeal, walking 20 minutes up or down can take you to gorgeous viewpoints.
Eat and drink: the Ligurian Coast is famous for its delicious cuisine featuring local products. Local seafood or trofie pasta, tossed with Genovese pesto, is a match made in heaven. End on a sweet note with the local Sciacchetrà wine!
See the villages from a boat. Take a boat tour and enjoy the beauty of the Cinque Terre from a different perspective.
Relax by the water. Only Monterosso al Mare has a proper beach, but Vernazza, Manarola, and Riomaggiore have lively waterfronts where you can sit and people watch.
Visit in April-May or September-October if you don’t enjoy crowds. You’ll also enjoy lower prices on accommodations. On the flip side, the weather is not as reliable in these shoulder season months, so you could see rain.
Spend at least one night in one of the villages, if you can. The early morning and sunset and after are magical times to be here.
Get the Cinque Terre card if you plan to use the hiking trails, or the train to hop between villages. You can get a card for one day or two days.
Located on the Po River at the foot of the Alps in northwest Italy, Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region. With magnificent piazzas, majestic palaces and churches, and many museums, Turin is a must-visit cultural destination.
Top Things to Do
Head up to the viewing gallery of Mole Antonelliana for panoramic views over the city and the mountains. Then take in everything cinema in the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, housed in the iconic building.
Visit the 16th century Palazzo Reale. It features a stately exterior that hides an opulent interior. Richly decorated rooms feature lots of gold and jewel colors. The armory is impressive, as are the gardens. The palace is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Walk around Piazza Castello, and admire the gorgeous buildings lining the square. It’s a great place for a gelato break!
The Palazzo Madama, which used to be a castle, is a must visit. From its towers, you can get the iconic photo of Turin’s skyline, dominated by the Mole Antonelliana.
The Torino + Piemonte Card may be a good investment if you plan to spend a couple of days here. It offers free admission to a host of attractions and is reasonably priced.
If you enjoy wine, consider a wine tour. Piedmont produces some of Italy’s finest wines, including Barolo and Barbaresco. And the Asti Spumanti sparkling wine comes from here too!
Turin is also famous for chocolate! You can try cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) at one of the many cafes in the historical center.
Turin is a great base from which to do day trips to the mountains, so plan on an extra couple of days if you want to explore!
To book bus (and train) tickets for Europe in advance, consider Omio. I found the booking experience easy and hassle-free. They do charge a small service fee but I thought it was well worth the convenience!
Verona, the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is the second largest city in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. With its spectacular location on the banks of the Adige River, long and rich history, and gorgeous architecture, Verona definitely deserves a place on your itinerary for Northern Italy.
Top things to do
Gawk at the Verona Arena. The massive Roman amphitheater, 2,000+ years old, still hosts performances. If you enjoy opera, plan to visit during the Verona opera season to attend a show at the Arena!
Take the funicular to the hilltop Castel San Pietro, or ride the elevator up the Torre dei Lamberti for panoramic views over the orange rooftops of Verona.
Visit the Casa di Giulietta for a look at Juliet’s balcony. Or opt for a less touristy wander through Verona’s historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and gaze up at the many other pretty balconies in Verona!
Tour Verona’s historic churches: they are simply stunning. The Verona Cathedral, the Basilica di Sant’Anastasia, the Chiesa di San Fermo, and the Basilica di San Zeno are the must-visit fab four!
The Verona Card is reasonably priced and includes free admission to many major sights as well as free unlimited public transport. It’s available for one or two days, and may save you some money.
Visit Verona in the spring or the fall for pleasant daytime temperatures. Summers tend to be hot and humid.
Love wine? Verona sits in a region known for its red wines. Take a wineries tour and enjoy tastings of the Amarone, the Bardolino, and the Soave, three famous wines from the region.
Considered to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, the port city of Genoa is the capital of the Liguria region of Northern Italy. Look past the grit to Genoa’s history as a maritime powerhouse and admire the magnificent architecture and grand palazzos from its heyday.
Top Things to Do
Walk Le Strade Nuove, a group of streets built by the wealthy aristocrats of Genoa at the height of its glory and lined with grand palazzos. The streets, and the Palazzi dei Rolli, are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tour one or more of the three palazzos open to the public: Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Doria Tursi are all located on Via Garibaldi. They are now museums, with amazing art, gorgeous gardens, and grand halls.
During the day, explore the caruggi, the labyrinth of waterfront alleyways for which Genoa is famous, and work your way up to one of the many elevators that will take you up to the Belvedere Castelletto for magnificent views over the city of Genoa and the water.
Late spring, summer, and early fall are great times to visit Genoa. Visit in May to experience the Foccacia Festival, and in October the Pesto e Dintorni Festival.
Genoa is a great base to explore the Italian Riviera. If you tack on an extra day to your Genoa stay, you can do an easy day trip to glitzy Portofino or to the more laid back Sestri Levante.
The port city of Trieste, located on Italy’s border with Slovenia, is a melting pot of many different influences: Austro-Hungarian, Greek, German, and Croat, among others. The historical center features beautiful architecture and squares, and you’ll enjoy sampling the multi-ethnic cuisine of Trieste.
Top Things to Do
Take the boat to the 19th century Miramare Castle, built overlooking the Gulf of Trieste. The interior and the gardens are worth touring, but the view of the castle as you approach from the water is fantastic.
Climb up the hill to the Castello di San Giusto. From the viewing terrace, you get panoramic views of the city. Next door is the Trieste Cathedral, and you can climb the bell tower for views as well. The interior of the cathedral is a combination of two older churches at the site.
Stare in awe at the enormous Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia, Old Trieste’s main square. It is the largest sea-facing piazza in Italy. The architecture around the square is gorgeous. Also visit the square at night: it looks beautiful lit up.
Trieste is big on coffee. It’s a coffee bean import and roasting center, and there are historic cafes everywhere. If you enjoy coffee, head to Caffè San Marco, which houses a bookshop as well, so you can enjoy the classic combination of a good hot drink and a good book!
If you have an extra day, do a day trip to the Slovenian coast (Piran is charming!) or to the village of Aquileia, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Plan to visit in the summer and want to swim? Know that the entire stretch of waterfront between the city center and Miramare Castle serves as a beach!
If you visit between October and March, watch out for the bora: winds so strong that chain link handrails have been placed at many points in the city to prevent people from keeling over.
The capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy, Bologna’s main draw is its gastronomic scene, but walk off the pounds you will inevitably gain by exploring the lovely historic center on foot. You can even walk up (or down, if uphill is an issue) the longest portico in the world. Bologna is one of the most underrated cities in Europe and definitely worth a visit!
Top Things to Do
If you are up to the challenge, walk up the 498 steps of the Torre degli Asinelli, Bologna’s tallest tower (it leans!), for unparalleled views over the city. Or take the elevator up to the terrace of the Basilica di San Patronio for lovely views over the rooftops.
Stroll the Piazza Maggiore, the main square, with its beautiful architecture. Admire the Fountain of Neptune in the square, and have a drink at one of the cafes and people watch.
Eat! Tortellini en brodo, mortadella, bolognese, parmigiano reggiano from nearby Parma, and balsamic di Modena are foods you must definitely sample in Bologna. As a vegetarian, I loved the pumpkin tortelloni with sage and brown butter I had in Bologna!
Do day trips. Bologna makes the perfect base to explore a plethora of nearby destinations, from neighboring Modena to San Marino, the little country that is entirely landlocked within Italy.
If you plan to visit a couple of museums, climb the Asinelli Tower, and join the guided walking tour (we thought it was super informative!), look into the Bologna Welcome Card.
For the best gelato in town, head to Cremeria Santo Stefano or La Sorbetteria Castiglione. Both involve a bit of a walk, but the gelato is worth the effort!
Bologna’s porticoes are both ubiquitous and beautiful. For a colorful portico ceiling photo, visit the Palazzo della Banca d’Italia on Piazza Cavour.
#9 Lake Como
Lake Como, the Y-shaped glacial lake at the foot of the Alps in Northern Italy, is on many travelers’ bucket lists, and it’s no wonder why. With picturesque resort towns dotting its shore, and its picture postcard scenery, Lake Como should be on your itinerary for Northern Italy as well!
Top Things to Do
Visit Bellagio, the ultimate Lake Como resort town. Impossibly picturesque, with its colorful facades and spectacular location on a bit of land that juts out into the water, Bellagio is called the Pearl of Lake Como.
Tour one (or more) of the gorgeous villas at Lake Como. Take a boat to the Villa del Balbianello in Tremezzina: it has lovely gardens and great water views. In Varenna, check out Villa Monastero, which also has gorgeous gardens and a great museum.
Take a boat ride on Lake Como. You can take a boat from one town to another, or do a scenic tour where you cruise the lake while a guide points out things of interest.
Admire the Como Cathedral, in the town of Como. The last Gothic cathedral built in the Lombardy region, the cathedral houses beautiful tapestries, frescoes, and sculptures.
Visit in the spring to see azalea, rhododendron, and wisteria in profuse bloom. Spring and fall are good times to visit if you wish to avoid the worst of the tourist crush.
Rent a car for the easiest and most efficient way to explore the lake, especially if you visit outside of high season when you should not have traffic woes.
Consider basing yourself in Varenna: it’s picturesque, not as expensive as Bellagio, and not as crowded with tourists. It also has a train station.
Home to the best balsamic and one of the best restaurants on the planet, Modena is also known as the place where sporty cars like Ferraris, Maseratis, and Lamborghinis are manufactured. The historical center is awash with beautiful monuments and museums.
Top Things to Do
Visit the Romanesque Modena Cathedral. The cathedral, its bell tower (the Torre Ghirlandina) and Piazza Grande, in which it is located, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can climb to the top of the bell tower for views over Modena.
If you love cars, you must visit the home of Eenzo Ferrari, now a museum. The museum features a collection of different models of Ferraris, as well as some history on Enzo Ferrari and the business he created.
Browse the Albinelli Market stalls for local foods and wine. You’ll find fresh fruit, cheeses, balsamic vinegar and olive oil here, along with meat, fish, and vegetables.
Have dinner at one of the top restaurants in Modena. While you have to be very lucky to score a table at Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura’s restaurant, there are other wonderful eateries where you can reserve with much beter odds of getting a table.
Visit in the spring or the fall (April-May and September-October). Daytime temperatures are uncomfortably high in the summer, not ideal for wandering around outdoors.
You can tour one or more balsamic makers around Modena, if you are interested in learning how the black gold of Modena is made. You can also buy balsamic: prices are cheaper than what you’d pay in the US and the facility will generally be able to ship to your home.
#11 Lake Garda
Lake Garda, which straddles the Lombardy and the Veneto regions, is the largest lake in Italy. Like other large lakes in the Lakes District of Italy, Lake Garda features several picturesque little towns along its shore. You’ll be spoiled for choice on which ones to visit!
Top Things to Do
Explore the historic center of Malcesine and then take the cable car to Monte Baldo, where you can hike, visit the botanical garden, or just enjoy the spectacular views over the water.
Wander pretty Sirmione in the southern part of the lake. It is dominated by the medieval Scaligero Castle, a must-visit for the beautiful views from the top of the tallest tower.
Don’t miss the Grotte di Catullo, the ruins of a Roman villa set in the midst of a large olive grove. Sirmione is one of the best day trips from Venice you can do!
Limone sul Garda is perfect for a picture postcard, with its colorful houses set on the hillside above the water. Wander the town and stroll the waterfront promenade. Take the ferry to Riva del Garda, another pretty town in the northern part of the lake. Getting out on the water is a must, even if just for a short ferry ride.
Some towns entail steep walks up hill to properly explore. So if you have mobility issues, research ahead of time to make sure a town is appropriate for you.
Visit in March-April or in September-October for fewer crowds and a more enjoyable visit. Even February and November have decent daytime temperatures, and accommodations will likely be cheaper.
Located on the Bay of Poets in Liguria, Portovenere is a UNESCO World Heritage site, in conjunction with the three little islands that lie off its coast and the Cinque Terre. Generally less crowded than the Cinque Terre, and just as beautiful, Portovenere is a must visit when you are in the region.
Top Things to Do
Visit the Chiesa di San Pietro, perched high on a rock above the water. Surrounded by the beautiful blue water on three sides, the church offers spectacular views.
Climb up the hill to the fortified Castello Doria. From its grounds, you get stunning views over the Bay of Poets. Visit the nearby Church of San Lorenzo, which also offers great views. Step into the interior for a quick look before you trek back down.
When the boats are running, touring the islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto is a must. While Tino and Tinetto are tiny, you can disembark at Palmaria and swim or snorkel, or walk the island.
There is no train station at Portovenere. Plan on arriving by bus, taxi, or ferry, or drive yourself. Portovenere makes for one of the most fun day trips from Florence you can do!
If your time in the area is limited, you could visit for a couple of hours on the ferry boat that runs between Levanto and La Spezia. If traveling from La Spezia, sit on the right of the boat for the best views of the villages from the water, and if traveling from Levanto, sit on the right.
Ravenna’s mosaics are considered the best in the world after Istanbul. With eight monuments on the UNESCO World Heritage list and a pretty historical center, Ravenna is a must-visit if you love art and history.
Top Things to Do
On a day trip to Ravenna, focus on the six UNESCO monuments located within the city center. You can cover them all on foot. If you don’t have the time to do all of them, visit the Basilica di san Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. They contain the best of the best mosaics and are very near each other.
Dante Alighieri’s remains lie in Ravenna. His tomb is in the historical center, and worth a quick visit. The Basilica di San Frnacesco next door is also worth visiting, for its underwater mosaic floor in the crypt.
Try a piadina for lunch: they look somewhat like a quesadilla, but with thicker bread. You can get both savory and sweet piadinas. While you can visit a dedicated piadineria, many restaurants feature them on their menus, so you can try one along with the rest of your lunch.
Ravenna is an easy day trip from Bologna by train or by car. It is less easy, but doable, by train or by car, from Florence or Venice.
Buy the combination ticket that covers five of the six monuments in the city center that charge an admission fee. Tickets are sold at each of the five monuments, as well as at the tourist information office. The sixth monument, the Arian Baptistery, is free to enter.
You need to be appropriately attired, with shoulders and knees covered, when visiting these sites, since they are places of worship. I pack a lightweight scarf in my day bag when I travel, so I am prepared if we decide to pop into a church when we are out and about.
Home to a university founded in the 13th century, Padua makes for an easy day trip from Venice or from Verona if your itinerary does not permit a couple of days here. One of the oldest cities in Italy, Padua boasts a multitude of stellar sights that make it a must-visit Northern Italy destination.
Top Things to Do
Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel, on its own, makes a visit to Padua worthwhile. The Sistine Chapel of the North, as it is called, features three tiers of frescoes and a spectacular blue ceiling. Reserve your slot ahead of time: visitor numbers are limited.
The Romanesque Basilica of St. Anthony is gorgeous, with its Moorish bell tower and a Byzantine dome. Pilgrims come from all over to visit, so expect crowds in and around the church.
Explore Padua’s botanical garden, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were pleasantly surprised by its size and number of plants. The water gardens are especially lovely.
Visit Prato delle Valle, Padua’s main square, which is actually oval-shaped. It is the largest piazza in Italy, with a little green island in the middle that is surrounded by a water feature, fountains, and sculptures.
The Padua Card (48 hours) is a no-brainer if you plan to visit the Scrovegni Chapel and one other site that charges admission, such as the Botanical Garden or the Palazzo della Ragione. It includes transport so if you arrive by train, you can use the tram or the bus to and from the historical center. If you come by car, it includes parking.
Visit in the spring or the fall for pleasant daytime temperatures. Summer months are hot and humid.
Ferrara is located on the Po di Volano, an arm of the Po River, in the Emilia-Romagna region. Under the rule of the Este family during Renaissance times, Ferrara amassed a multitude of architectural gems. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Ferrara makes for a great day trip from Bologna or Venice or Florence.
Top Things to Do
Tour Ferrara’s Castello Estense, located right in the middle of the city, with four beautiful bastions and a moat fed by the Po River. The works of art in the castle are lovely, especially a ceiling frescoed with various sports!
Visit the stunning Cathedral of Saint George, with lions guarding its entrance (the originals can be seen in the Duomo museum), and a gorgeous marble bell tower that is still incomplete! The Romanesque cathedral has Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque touches.
Stroll Corso Ercole I d’Este. It is lined with gorgeous palazzos, perhaps the most stunning of which is the Palazzo dei Diamante, with its facade made out of 8,000+ pieces of marble cut to look like diamonds. Inside the building is the National Art Gallery, but it’s the exterior that makes it a compelling stop.
If you try the local coppia ferrarese, an X-shaped bread, know that it is generally made with lard. So if you are vegetarian, look for a restaurant that offers a version made with just olive oil.
The MyFe Card is worth investigating if you plan to tour the interior of the Castello Estense (which you should!). Entrance to the castle, the Duomo museum, and the National Art Gallery at the Palazzo Diamante are all covered by the card, which is very reasonably priced.
Easily accessed by train from Venice or Verona, the city of Vicenza in the Veneto region makes for a wonderful day trip, especially if you love architecture. Home to the marvelous creations of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, Vincenza’s historical center and the Palladian Villas are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Top Things to Do
Admire Palladio’s architecture in the historic center. The Basilica Palladiana, Palazzo Chiericati, and Teatro Olimpico are must-visits, but there are about 2 dozen Palladio buildings in the city that you can see from the outside on a self-guided walking tour.
Visit a couple of the villas outside the city. La Rotonda, Palladio’s gorgeous villa, is said to have inspired the portico of the White House. The nearby Villa Valmarana ai Nani has lovely gardens and beautiful frescoes inside.
Walk the porticos uphill to the Santuario della Madonna di Monte Berico, for panoramic views over the city. You can also drive up to the church. The interior, with beautiful works of art, is worth visiting as well.
The very reasonably priced Vicenza Museum Card is a great buy. It offers free entrance to major sights, and it’s worthwhile even if you visit just 3 or 4 on a day trip.
If you want to try a self-serve restaurant while you are in Italy, Righetti is highly rated. It is very popular with both locals and visitors and we thought the offerings were quite good and the experience was fun.
The gateway to the Dolomites, Bolzano is a pretty city located in the midst of vineyards in the South Tyrol region. While its location is spectacular, Bolzano’s historical center is no less attractive, with castles, churches, and museums to explore.
Top Things to Do
Visit the impressive Duomo di Bolzano, on the southern edge of the square. A blend of Romanesque and Gothic, the cathedral features a beautiful Baroque altar inside. If you enjoy touring church interiors, don’t miss the Dominican Church: it contains many beautiful frescoes.
The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology is a must-visit, if for nothing other than to see Ötzi the Iceman, a preserved mummy of a man who lived more than 5,000 years ago. His frozen corpse was found in the Alps by hikers, not too long ago.
Take the Renon cable car from the city center to the mountain village of Soprabolzano. The views are extraordinary, but you can also ride the railway at the top to visit other nearby mountain villages.
Visit Castel Roncolo, a mountaintop castle set high above the city. If you arrived by public transport, you can take the bus from Piazza Walther, the main square, to the castle and back. The grounds of the castle offer fabulous views, and inside, you can view beautiful medieval frescoes.
Summer, being peak season, is predictably crowded. Visit in April-May or September-October for pleasant daytime temperatures and fewer crowds. Or in the winter to enjoy winter sports and the Christmas Market!
You can rent bikes in Bolzano if you wish to explore the beautiful South Tyrol countryside. There are numerous hiking trails in the area as well. Get a map from the tourist information office.
#18 Cortina d’Ampezzo
A ski resort town located in the Dolomitic Alps, Cortina is part of the Veneto region of Northern Italy. With its spectacular location in an alpine valley, rich history, beautiful architecture, and winter sports scene, Cortina definitely deserves a place on your itinerary for Northern Italy!
Top Things to Do
If you love skiing, then visit in the winter and plan to hit the slopes in Cortina! Visit in the summer, late spring, or early fall to enjoy other outdoor activities in Cortina: hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing.
Enjoy Cortina’s stunning location in the midst of the mountains. The mighty Dolomites that surround the town are a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the summer, you can take the cable car or ski lift to enjoy the views from the mountaintops. Several ski lifts are open during the summer.
Stroll the Corso Italia in the town center. With many high end stores, cafes, and beautiful buildings (including a tall graceful tower that is lit up at night), the street makes for a great passegiatta. Browse art galleries and artisan workshops, and window shop, or shop, to your heart’s content!
Cortina is about 2 hours from Venice. If you want to do a day trip to Cortina, rent a car. There are a few bus connections between Venice and Cortina, but timings don’t work for a day trip.
Shops in Cortina are closed in the afternoon. So if you plan to shop, you’ll have to allow for time in the morning or the evening.
To experience the Italian Riviera in its beautiful simplicity, visit Camogli. Not on the regular tourist trail like the Cinque Terre, and not glitzy like Portofino, its neighbor to the south, Camogli is a coastal paradise located on the Golfo Paradiso that will bowl you over with its charm.
Top Things to Do
Admire the colorful facades of the houses, many decorated with Trompe-l’œil art. Walk the waterfront promenade, lined with shops and restaurants. At the harbor, look for the giant frying pan used in the annual fish fry. Sit at an outside table and watch the boats. Camogli is about slowing down.
If you visit when the boats are operating, do a boat excursion, or take the ferry up or down the coast. Or rent a kayak if you want a more active pastime.
If you enjoy walking, try some of the hiking trails in the area. The trail uphill to the Sanctuary of San Rocco and down to the fishing village of San Fruttuoso is about 3 miles one way, and you can take the boat back to Camogli.
You can get to Camogli by train from Genoa in about 30 minutes. During the period ferries are operational, late spring through early fall, you can travel to Camogli by boat from Genoa or Portofino or Santa Margherita Ligure.
Visit any time between May and September for pleasant daytime temperatures. Most years, you can swim from about mid June to mid September.
Two of the most well-known foods from the Emilio-Romagno region of Northern Italy are associated with the city of Parma: Parmigiano reggiano cheese, and Parma ham. But apart from gastronomic delights, the city also offers great architecture and beautiful parks perfect for strolling.
Top Things to Do
Pay a visit to the Duomo di Parma. The Romanesque cathedral is known for its lovely frescoes, including Correggio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The facade is not ornate but it is majestic, with lots of arches. The Baptistery next door has beautiful frescoes as well.
Wander the historic center, with its many beautiful churches and piazzas. Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi is lined with gorgeous buildings and cafes, perfect for people watching. The Church of Saint John the Evangelist has a dome frescoed by Correggio.
When in Parma, a food tour is a must. Learn how Parma’s cheese and ham are made, and enjoy delectable tastings along with the local Lambrusco wine.
Parma makes for a great day trip from Bologna or Modena. There are numerous trains everyday in both directions. The walk from the train station to the city center is about 15 minutes.
Visit in October for the Verdi festival. Otherwise, visit in the spring or the fall for pleasant daytime weather. Parma is hot and humid in the summer, not ideal for wandering outside.
Mantua, located in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, is not on the tourist trail, but it is worth considering for your next visit to Italy. The historical center, where time appears to have stopped a few centuries ago, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Top Things to Do
Explore the Palazzo Ducale, the palace complex built for the ruling Gonzaga family during the Renaissance. With several hundred rooms, courts, loggias, and cellars, the complex is magnificent. Don’t miss the Camera degli Sposi, the Wedding Room, painted by Mantegna!
Visit Palazzo Te, a bit of a walk from the main square but worth the effort. Designed by Giulio Romano, a student of Raphael, the 16th century palace is a graceful building, with richly decorated interiors. The frescoes of giants fighting one another in the Sala dei Giganti are awe-inspiring!
Step into the beautiful Basilica di Sant’Andrea, which contains frescoes by Andrea Mantegna. Mantegna’s tomb is in this church. The church contains a vial of Christ’s blood, said to have been obtained from the crucifixion. Nearby is the Rotonda di San Lorenzo, the oldest church in Mantua, now deconsecrated.
You can visit Mantua on a day trip from Verona, Bologna, Milan, or Venice. There are train connections from all these cities to Mantua if you want to visit using public transport.
Visit Mantua in the spring or fall for pleasant daytime temperatures perfect for wandering. Mantua is hot and humid in the summer.
So there you have it: the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Italy! Which of them will you visit on your next trip to Italy?
If you are planning a visit to Italy, be sure to check out all my posts on Italy, for lots of inspiration and tips!
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