Italy is an incredible country, known for delicious food, stunning wine regions, a variety of unique landscapes, historical cities and much more. I spent 6 years living in the small town of Sacile in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and have included all the best places to visit in northern Italy in this travel guide.
All of these northern Italy cities would be a great addition to any Italy itinerary.
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Map of Northern Italy Cities
The Regions of Northern Italy
Northern Italy is made up of 8 different regions: Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. The landscape in Northern Italy is unique because the expansive Dolomiti Mountain range covers the majority of the land that borders Germany and Austria. As a result, many of the villages and towns that lie below the Dolomites are nestled within valleys including where I lived for 6 years in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.
Northern Italy is also bordered by water on both the east and west coasts. The Liguria region is bordered by the Ligurian Sea whereas the Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions are all bordered by the Adriatic Sea.
Northern Italy offers visitors a wide range of things to do and see with a mix of city exploration and outdoor adventures. This complete guide has all the best places to visit in Northern Italy including a few underrated places you probably didn’t know about!
Labeled as one of the most romantic cities in the world, Venezia truly lives up to the hype and is one of the best places to visit in northern Italy. Made up of over 100 islands and connected by bridges and boats, visitors are invited to get lost amongst the winding streets and explore the hidden canals.
Arrive into the city of canals by boat, train, bus or car and set out on foot to discover all the beauty of one of the most visited places in Europe. Venezia undoubtably becomes pretty busy, especially in the summer or during February for the annual Carnivale Festival. However, you can always find a small canal or cafe away from the main sights to escape the influx of visitors.
The Grand Canal is Venezia’s main artery, flowing through the center of the city, passing under the famous Rialto Bridge and ending at the distinguished Piazza San Marco. Spending 2-3 days in Venice is the perfect amount of time to wander the canals and see all the famous sights plus get a little lost along the way!
Venezia Travel Tip: If you have a few days to explore Venezia then take a vaporetto to Murano and Burano! Murano is the small island where they make handblown glass and Burano is the vibrant island where lace is made.
2. Cinque Terre
The five colorful villages of Cinque Terre are one of the top things to do in Italy. Located in the Liguria region in northwest Italy, the coastal villages of Cinque Terre are easy to get to by train or car. Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare are the five vibrant and unique towns that make up Cinque Terre.
To reach the different villages you can hike, take the train, ride the bus or take a boat. I highly recommend hiking if you’re able and the trails are open as the views are incredibly stunning!
While you can easily visit Cinque Terre on a day trip from Florence you should actually plan on staying a night or two to fully enjoy the quaintness and charm of these five villages. It is also worth it to stay overnight to experience one of the best sunsets in Italy at the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint.
Cinque Terre Travel Tip: You can purchase the Cinque Terre card for €16 per day for access to the hiking trails, trains & buses.
An often overlooked village in the Liguria region, located close to Cinque Terre is the picturesque Portofino. The small harbor opens up into a bustling Piazzetta surrounded by pastel colored facades, boutique shops and cozy cafes. From the Piazzetta hike up to the 16th century medieval castle Castello Brown for panoramic views over the small fishing village.
A visit to Portofino is a perfect day trip from Cinque Terre and since the village is small you won’t need a ton of time here. Keep in mind that the hotel costs are much higher here if you chose to stay overnight.
You can easily reach Portofino by taking a train to Santa Margherita Ligure and then catching a local bus from there to Portofino. The bus tickets cost €3 and can be purchased on the bus.
4. Hiking in the Dolomites near Cortina d’Ampezzo
The expansive Dolomites Mountain Range in Italy stretches across the entire northeastern part of the country in the South Tyrol region. The hikes in the Dolomites are some of my favorites and should be added to your Italy itinerary especially if your an outdoor lover like myself.
In the Dolomites you’ll find numerous hiking trails for every skill level with incredible views along the way. The Dolomites are known for their dramatic mountain peaks, wildflower-filled valleys and small picturesque lakes.
The small mountain town of Cortina d’Ampezzo is a great base for visitors wanting to hike and explore the northeastern Dolomites. The town really comes to life in the winter when many of the ski slopes open up for the season.
One of my favorite hikes in the region, nearby the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, is Tre Cime di Lavaredo. A few other famous hikes in the Dolomites include Seceda 2500m, Lago di Dobbiaco, Lago di Braies as well as many more!
Dolomites Travel Tip: If you are traveling around the Italian Dolomites I recommend renting a car. The public transportation isn’t as readily available as it is in the bigger cities of Italy plus you’ll want to makes stops along the way to admire the breathtaking views.
» Must Read: Hiking Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Italian Dolomites
5. Hiking at Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm
Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm in German) is one of the best places to visit in northern Italy. Located in the Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol or Südtirol in German) region of Italy, Alpe di Siusi is a large plateau surrounded by the Dolomites mountain range. In fact, this is the largest alpine meadow at this altitude within Europe making it an incredibly unique and beautiful place to visit!
For the true adventurer you can hike all the way up to the alpine meadow or you could take the cable car that runs frequently up and down the mountain. In the wintertime, Alpe di Siusi turns into an epic playground for skiers and snowboarders.
When visiting Alpe di Siusi you can easily base yourself at one of the many cozy, family run hotels in nearby Compatsch (Compaccio).
Alpe di Siusi Travel Tip: Visit in the summer to see all the beautiful wildflowers in bloom. The entire pasture will be covered with yellow, purple and pink flowers!
6. The Prosecco Region
The Strada del Prosecco, or Prosecco Road, is an off the beaten path destination and one of the best places to visit in northern Italy. Reminiscent of Tuscany, the Strada del Prosecco is a beautiful drive with stunning views of rolling hills filled with expansive vineyards and quaint Italian villages.
The main area where Prosecco is produced is within the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions between the town of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Along the winding roads of the Strada del Prosecco are over three dozen family run vineyards, or cantine, which you can visit at any time during opening hours.
Produced from the glera grape, Prosecco is an Italian sparkling DOC or DOCG white wine. There are two main types of Prosecco, either Spumante and Frizzante. Within those two types there are also a few variations which include Brut, Extra Dry & Dry. Prosecco is the base and main ingredient of Italy’s famous Aperol Spritz but is just as delicious on its own!
During your drive along the Strada del Prosecco be sure to stop in multiple wineries for a tasting. The Prosecco tastings are usually free and the winemakers can educate you a bit on how the Prosecco is produced. Many of the wineries will also be happy to give you a tour of their production facilities or take you through their vineyards.
Prosecco Travel Tip: For a fun and unique experience be sure to visit Osteria Senz’Oste. Here you can purchase prosecco from a vending machine and enjoy a picnic in the vineyards.
» Must Read: Wine Tasting Along Italy’s Prosecco Road
The city of love and the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona is one of the best places to visit in northern Italy. Start your day in Verona’s Piazza Brá, a lively square which holds the impressive amphitheater dating back to Roman times. Visitor’s can see the inside of the Verona Arena year round and in the summer can attend one of Italy’s famous operas or plays.
From the Verona Arena, stroll through the narrow streets until you reach the tiny courtyard of Juliet’s home (Casa di Giulietta). The packed courtyard is filled with hopeful tourists rubbing the bronze breast of Juliet’s statue hoping to get lucky in love.
In the afternoon, follow the scents wafting through the streets to the Piazza Delle Erbe where you will find the daily local market. Vendors line the piazza selling everything from fresh produce & olives to flower bouquets and more.
8. Sirmione and Lake Garda
Only a 45 minute drive from Verona is the small town of Sirmione. Located at the tip of a peninsula in northern Italy’s Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) Sirmione is one my favorite day trips from Verona. To enter the small, resort town you’ll first walk over one of the two drawbridges. Then you’ll pass through the historic Sirmione Castle (Scaligero Castle) which is surrounded by a moat.
Follow one of the main promenades, Via Vittorio Emanuele or Via Giuseppe Piana, to where they converge at Via Caio Valerio Catullo,. Stroll along past the olive trees and bougainvillea towards the edge of Lake Garda (Lago di Gardo).
Lake Garda is one of the best lakes in northern Italy especially for swimming and water sports. As Italy’s largest lake it is known for its’ crystal clear water, views of the Alps and quaint towns located along the waters edge.
Travel Tip: In the summer you can rent a kayak or paddle board and enjoy soaking up the sun on Lake Garda! There are many rental shops located all along the lake so finding a rental will be easy!
9. Lake Barcis
The tiny town of Barcis lies at the foot of the Dolomites in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The most striking feature of this small town is the bright turquoise water of Lake Barcis. Spend the afternoon strolling around the lake, watching the swans and indulging in a little afternoon macchiato at the local cafe!
There are quite a few hiking trails in the area including the main path that circumnavigates the lake. If you have more time to explore the surrounding areas of Lake Barcis you will discover many nearby areas where you can hike, rock climb, swim or camp. A couple of the most popular places nearby are Andreis and Claut.
Barcis Travel Tip: Arriving at Lake Barcis isn’t easy by public transportation therefore you will need to rent a car.
10. Bassano del Grappa
Bassano del Grappa is a charming, underrated northern Italian city located a quick hour and a half from Venice. Named after the nearby Mount Grappa, the quaint town is nestled in a valley on the banks of the River Brenda surrounded by the Dolomite mountains.
The real show stealer, besides the incredible views, is the 13th century wooden bridge called the Ponte degli Alpine. Bassano del Grappa is also the town where grappa is produced. You can visit the Poli Grappa Museum to learn even more about the distilling process.
Grappa is an Italian alcoholic beverage that is made from the leftovers of wine making. They use the grape stems, skins and seeds to produce a very strong liquor. Most restaurants in northern Italy will have a selection of grappa, usually homemade with different flavors of fruit or spices.
While you don’t need much time here it is absolutely worth a visit if you are traveling around northern Italy.
While Bologna may be considered the gastronomical capital of northern Italy, Parma comes in at a close second. Well known for the production of parmesan cheese and prosciutto ham, Parma is located in the Emilia-Romagna region near Bologna. Even thought here is plenty to do and see within the city itself, the best thing to do here is take a food tour.
There are many tours that you can book in advance to learn about the production of parmesan cheese, prosciutto ham and wine. However, you can also just show up to the factory. We did this and they were happy to give us a small tour showing the various steps used to create one wheel of parmesan! Just know that if you show up unannounced you will most likely need to speak a little Italian as they won’t have an English tour guide available.
Modena is the birthplace and manufacturing site of powerful Italian sports cars such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati. The main highlight of visiting Modena is the Enzo Ferrari Museum where you can walk through exhibits showcasing his life and work inside his childhood home. Just behind the home is a large, industrial style showroom filled with iconic Ferarri’s from over the years.
After visiting the Museo Enzo Ferrari head to Modena’s historical center. Here you’ll find classic Italian architecture and tucked away cafes with some of the best food you’ll ever taste.
Modena is also famous for its’ production of aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) and you can book a tour or visit a factory to learn more about the production if you have the time. Alternatively, you can just stop in to purchase some aceto balsamico to take home with you!
Trieste is a port city located directly on the Adriatic Sea in northern Italy. The location is so close to the Slovenian border that if you miss your exit you might just end up in another country!
In Trieste, spend your time wandering around the old town and find the Ponte Rosso bridge near the harbor for picturesque views of the city.
Trieste is also famous for the nearby Castello di Miramare. A beautiful 19th century castle located on the water with surrounding gardens.
15. Milano (Milan)
Known as the fashion capital of the world, Milan is a bustling city with plenty to see and do. Start your trip in Milan by visiting the highly recognized Duomo di Milano. This massive Gothic Cathedral is the largest in Italy and lies in the heart of the city as the centerpiece of the Piazza del Duomo.
Not far from the Duomo you find the Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II. This is a high end shopping mall with ornate archways and intricate architectural details. One thing you must see in Milan is Leonardo da Vinci’s mural, The Last Supper. Housed inside the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, you must make a reservation in advance and you’ll only have 15 minutes to view the famous painting.
Traveling through Italy is all about enjoying the little things in life and exploring Milan is no different. Slowly wander the narrow, cobblestone streets, stopping for an espresso or brioche along the way.
16. Lake Como and Bellagio
Lake Como is another one of the best lakes in northern Italy. It is popular amongst visitors due to its’ dramatic scenery and prestigious resorts. The Y-shaped lake meets at Bellagio, one of northern Italy’s most beautiful lake towns.
The best time to visit Lake Como and Bellagio is in the summer when the flowers are in full bloom and the temperatures are warm. A popular activity on Lake Como is to rent a boat and cruise around admiring all the small villages located along the water.
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