places to visit in northern italy

16 Best Places to Visit in Northern Italy

With so many fascinating places to visit in Northern Italy, it can be hard to figure out where to start. This is the curse of travelling in Italy, there are just so many places to see!

Northern Italy is full of beautiful cities and towns. From the impressive buildings of Milan to the stunning Dolomites and the beauty of Portofino and Sanremo, there are no shortages of destinations to discover.

As someone who has seen many of these places in Northern Italy, I’ve compiled what I feel are the best spots to see in this part of the country.

There are many more places in Northern Italy you can visit, and not everyone will agree with my list. But if you only visited the places listed here, you’d still have a great time and see some of the most interesting and beautiful places in the country!

Places to visit in Northern Italy

The best thing about Northern Italy is just how many places there are to visit.

Similar to the places to visit in Sicily, you’re spoilt for choice. There are so many, you’ll have a lot of fun moving around the region discovering them all.

Perhaps the best way to do this is on a Northern Italy road trip. This way you can travel at your own pace and stop when and where you want. Either way, however you see these incredible laces in northern Italy listed below, you’ll have a great time!

Bologna

street in Bologna with multicoloured buildings

Bologna is one of the most underrated places to visit in Northern Italy. The city is lesser-known than Milan or Turin, but there’s still plenty to see here. 3 days in Bologna and you’ll see a large part of this fascinating city.

One of the main attractions in the city is Piazza Maggiore, which is a spectacular square. From here, you can see the two towers that loom into the sky above the city. They were constructed as a competition between two families in the early 12th century, and although one of them is leaning, a lot, they’re still standing.

An interesting fact about the city is that Bologna is home to the oldest university in continuous operation in the world. The university was founded in 1088 and is still thriving today, which gives Bologna lively buzz, especially at night.

Visiting the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca is one of the best things to do in Bologna. It’s a beautiful building and the walk up to the sanctuary will provide you with some amazing views of the city!

Milan

The Duomo cathedral in Milan, towering white building with a piazza in front of it

 

Milan is one of the biggest cities in Northern Italy and a place you have to check out while you’re in the region.

There are so many things to see in Milan, you could spend a whole week exploring the city. Culturally, it’s one of the best places to go in Italy as there’ so much to see and do. Milan is home to the famous Last Supper painting by Leonardo DaVinci, a painting so popular you need to book three months in advance to see it!

Thankfully, you don’t need to buy tickets to see the equally impressive Duomo. This is the cathedral that you can find in the mani square in the city. It’s an incredible building and you can’t leave Milan without visiting, or checking out the nearby museums and galleries.

If you’re a sports fan, the opportunity to visit the San Siro stadium, home to AC and Inter Milan, is one you can’t turn down. If you spend 3 days in Milan, or more, try to arrange your trip to coincide with a match at the stadium. You won’t regret it!

Modena

Piazza in Modena with multicoloured buildings in the background and a piazza in the foreground with a fountain to the right of the image

 

Modena isn’t the most well-known place to see in Northern Italy, but it’s an interesting little city you should check out.

The main reason I visited Modena was to go to the Enzo Ferrari museum. This is a museum that details the life of the founder of Ferrari and is worth visiting if you’re a motorsport fan or not. Seeing the collection of Ferrari cars in the museum is worth the admission fee alone!

As well as this, there are lots more things to do in Modena than you might think. The two huge squares are beautiful and have some impressive buildings you can visit. There’s also the usual churches and cathedrals you find in any city in Italy and they are all marvels of architecture.

If you want a nice day trip from Bologna or Milan, Modena is a good place to spend the day exploring one of Italy’s lesser-known gems.

Parma

A museum in Parma that is made of grey bricks and erected at a 90 degree angle with arches at the lowest level

Parma is one of the bigger cities in Northern Italy and an interesting place to visit if you like history.

You can reach the city on the train from most other places in the north of Italy without too much trouble and it’s a good place for a day trip.

Entering the historic centre of the city is an incredible experience. You walk through giant brick buildings and arches that tower over you and house a fascinating museum. Walking around the colourful streets is a must, as is trying the local delicacies too.

One place you have to check out is the cathedral, which is an incredible building and is home to an impressive fresco by the painter, Correggio.

Bergamo

View of Bergamo from the upper city

 

Bergamo is a beautiful city an hour north of Milan on the train. I spent a day here and loved the place. My only regret was that I didn’t get to spend as much time there as I wanted.

The city is split into two parts. You have an upper city and a lower city. This makes exploring Bergamo all the more fun as you can walk up to the upper part of the city and get some incredible views of the city below.

Walking along the fortified walls in the upper city is a good way to see this part of the city. While you can check out the numerous basilicas, squares and museums in this part of the city too. So much so, that you could easily spend a whole day exploring one part of the city, and the next another.

You’ll find plenty of things to do in Bergamo and the beauty of the city will mean you want to stay long after your trip is up!

Ravenna

Basilica in Ravenna

If history is your thing, then a visit to Ravenna is a must. It’s home to no less than 8 UNESCO world heritage sites! One of them is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, which is home to some impressive mosaics.

The Basilica di San Vitale is another cultural site you have to check out. It’s one of the best-known churches in the city, with its octagonal plan, and is home to some impressive Byzantine mosaics. 

Ravenna’s art museum is another fascinating place to visit and is home to a wide collection of works from some claimed artists. The building they’re housed in is impressive in its own right too.

If you want a break from the cultural stuff, you can visit Mirabilandia, which is a well-known amusement park in Italy. You can also head to the beach if you visit during the summer and relax on the golden sand under the hot Mediterranean sun.

Dolomites

Mountains in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are one of the most impressive places to visit in Europe. They offer stunning views wherever you go and a range of activities that will keep you entertained in summer and winter.

Hiking is one of the best things to do in the Dolomites and there are a variety of treks you can do. These from the sedate to the extreme, so depending on whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or not, you could be scaling peaks or walking among the beautiful landscapes below.

One place you have to check out in the Dolomites is the Three Peaks. They’re the main symbol of the Dolomites and are an incredible sight. It represents a good hike, and if you’re a climber, an even more attractive proposition.

As well as this, you can go white-water rafting, mountain biking and skiing in the winter. If you want to get into the great outdoors during your trip to Northern Italy, the Dolomites is the place to go.

Venice

A canal in Venice with buildings either side right next to the water

Venice needs no introduction. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in the whole of Italy, never mind the north.

The main attractions in Venice are its canals. Taking a ride on a gondola as you navigate these waterways is a must. But there’s much more to Venice than canals.

You can visit the Venetian ghetto, which is the city’s Jewish Quarter and home to a sizeable Jewish population to this day. While a visit to Piazza San Marco as there are multiple sites to see here.

Torre dell’Orologio, the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace are located in the square, making it a must-see. The architecture here is stunning and there are many more things to do in Venice than what I’ve just listed here!

Verona

Exterior of the Roman arena in Verona with arches on both levels

You might be familiar with Verona as the setting of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet. Well, it’s a great destination in its own right and you should check out.

The balcony scene is one of the most famous in the play and there’s an attraction dedicated to it in Verona. The Channel di Caprio at Casa di Giuletta is where you’ll find the balcony and an army of tourists all competing to get the same shot!

One of the things that’s not as well-known about Verona is that’s it home to a Roman Arena. While not as impressive as the Colosseum, it’s better preserved and still an impressive sight.

The preservation of the arena means it can host concerts and operas, something it does with regularity. If you’re in the city, be sure to see if there’s something on while you visit. It’s an amazing experience to see something live in the arena! 

Lake Como

villa balbianello at lake como

Lake Como is one of the most beautiful places in Northern Italy. It comprises a multitude of different towns and villages that are based around the lake.

The Duomo of Como is one sight you have to see. It’s an impressive building that took 400 years to build and has sculptures of Pliny the Younger and Elder.

You’ll find lots of villas dotted around Lake Como and one of the most impressive is Villa del Balbianello. It offers a great view of the lake and is accessible by boat or a short hike.

One of the most beautiful places in Lake Como is the Botanical Gardens at the lakeside Hotel Villa Cipressi, which was built in the 15th century. It’s open to the public and is quite possibly the most stunning location for a botanical garden anywhere in the world!

Genoa

View of the coast in Genoa with buildings in the foreground

Genoa is one of the most fascinating places to see in Northern Italy for several reasons. It’s a port city with a lot of attractions and a wide range of things to do.

Porto Antico is the old port of Genoa and it’s one of the most interesting places you can visit in the city. The square at the port is the largest in the Mediterranean and hosts a variety of shows, fairs and other events.

Corso Italia is the main promenade in Genoa and connects the Foce district to the fisherman’s village of Boccadasse. There are multiple bars, restaurants to stop off at and you can also see some of the most interesting sights in the city such as Chiesa di San Pietro, the Abbey of San Giuliano.

If you want to visit get off the beaten track in Genoa, then a visit to Monte Diamante is a must. It’s perched above the city and offers spectacular views of the city below. It does take a while to get there, so it’s best to prepare in advance if you plan to hike up it.

Turin

View of Turin skyline with mountains in the background

Turin is the capital of the region of Piedmont and an elegant city to visit. It’s home to Fiat and the famous Italian football club Juventus, all of which provide good reasons to visit.

One attraction you have to check out while you’re in the city is the Mole Antonelliana, which dominates the skyline in Turin. It was originally built as part of a synagogue in 1848, but is now home to the National Museum of Cinema.

In the heart of the city, you’ll find Palazzo Reale and Palazzo Madama. Two incredible palaces that are breathtaking. Napoleon loved Palazzi Madama so much he made it his Turin residence!

If that’s not enough you can check out the Juventus Arena and visit the home of the aforementioned football club. While a trip to the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile is a must if you want to find out more about the history of Fiat and cars in Italy.

Cinque Terre

View of multicoloured houses on a cliffside at Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful places in the whole of Italy and thanks to Instagram, has become a popular spot to visit.

It’s a collection of five towns on the Ligurian coastline that’s home to colourful houses, vineyards and steep terraces. It’s a beautiful place and one you should check out if you’re in the area.

One of the best things to do while you’re there is to hike between the five towns. The five villages running from north to south are, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. You can do this in a day, but it may be best to spread it over a few days to get the most out of it.

Due to its newfound popularity, the area can be very busy and you also won’t have time to explore the towns if you walk from one end to the other in one day. That said, you could do that one day and spend the other days enjoying the beaches and the beautiful villages at your own pace.

Trieste

Piazza in Trieste

Trieste is a city in Northern Italy but it’s an oddity on this list.

That’s because it’s in the east of the country not far from the border with Slovenia. It’s quite a trip if you’re visiting from one of the other places listed here but it’s worth it if you do.

As a city with a rich history, there are plenty of things to do in Trieste. Checking out the impressive square, Piazza Unità d’Italia and the seafront should be at the top of your list. 

One place you have to check out is Castello Miramare, which is a stunning castle just outside the centre of the city. While you can visit the beach and numerous churches and archaeological sites.

Trieste might not be the most well-known place in Northern Italy but there’s a lot to see if you do visit.

Rimini

Arco d'Augusto, an ancient Roman brick arch in Rimini

Rimini is one of the hidden gems of northern Italy. If you get the chance to visit while you’re in the region you have to go.

It’s not the biggest city but it’s full of charm and there are plenty of things to do here. One of the best is to relax at the incredible golden beaches. If you visit during the summer, you’re almost guaranteed to get amazing weather and stunning views.

As well as the beach, you have a plethora of Roman ruins to see. One of the most famous is the Arco d’Augusto which was built in honour of Augustus Caesar in 27 BC. It’s the oldest Roman triumphal arch still in existence and is an impressive sight.

There’s also the 62-metre long Ponte di Tiberio, which connects the centre of Rimini with the historic Borgo San Giuliano neighbourhood. Rimini is also home to a vibrant street food scene, where you’ll find all sorts of amazing local delicacies to try.

Sanremo

An overhead view of Sanremo from up high with houses and the sea visible

Sanremo might be more synonymous with its casino and the cycling race that starts in Milan and ends in the city, but’s there’s a lot of things to see here as well.

That said, you should check out the casino. Considering it’s one of the main attractions in the city it would be stupid not to. The casino is housed in a fantastic piece of architecture and has a theatre and numerous restaurants if gambling isn’t your thing.

La Pigna is one place you have to check out in Sanremo. It’s the oldest part of the city and the tiny streets and narrow alleys are beautiful to explore. From there, you can visit the Madonna della Costa Sanctuary, which overlooks Sanremo offering some spectacular views.

If you want to get off the beaten track and do some exploring, you can check out the abandoned Hotel Angst, 6 miles (9.6 km) from the centre of the city. Once home to the cream of high society, it’s now slowly crumbling but still impressive nonetheless.

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