Looking for some beautiful places to visit in Northern Italy? Here’s your guide!
After living and traveling in Italy for over a year, I’ve learned that it is simply impossible to see all of this incredible country in just one trip…or even just one lifetime!
If you’ve visited Italy before and are looking to get a little off-the-beaten-path, or you find yourself dreaming of an Italian getaway filled with beautiful lakes, majestic mountains, colorful coastal villages, grand historic cities, and world-class cuisine, then Northern Italy is the perfect destination for you!
To help you plan a once-in-a-lifetime Northern Italian adventure, I’ll be highlighting some of the best places to visit and things to do in each of Northern Italy’s eight regions: Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Liguria, and Emilia-Romagna. While I’ve done my best to include the highlights of each region, it would be impossible to include everything in just one post. The following guide to Northern Italy should help you narrow down which regions, cities, and sights are a must on your Italy itinerary!
Beautiful Places in Aosta Valley
Visit for: Scenic Alpine Villages, Skiing, Hiking, Castles, Wellness Resorts
Remember when I said that it is impossible to visit all of Italy? Well, I’ll be honest and let you in on a secret-I haven’t actually visited the Aosta Valley. This region is actually the smallest in all of Italy and is nestled between Italy, Switzerland, and France. I have, however, stopped off at a train station near here, and you’ll immediately notice the French and Swiss influences. The architecture, local dishes, and even the official languages (both French and Italian) reflect these different cultures. In this incredibly scenic region, lovers of the outdoors will find plenty of hiking, skiing, and adventure activities in this Alpine destination in addition to historic castles and even Roman ruins!
The town of Aosta is the valley’s capital city. This historic and charming town is known for its Roman ruins and offers quick access to nearby ski and wellness resorts as well as the Gran Paradiso National Park.
2. Gran Paradiso National Park
This national park is perfect for those who love to adventure and want to take in the scenic surroundings that the Aosta Valley has to offer. Whether you enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing, wildlife spotting, climbing, or other outdoor activities, you’ll have no shortage of things to do!
This Alpine resort town is a can’t miss when in the Aosta Valley. In this quaint village, you’ll discover unforgettable landscapes, the impressive Mount Blanc, and be perfectly situated for skiing and hiking.
4. Aosta Valley Castles
If you’re a history lover, be sure to save time in your itinerary to visit a few of the many charming castles scattered throughout this delightful region.
Beautiful Places in Piedmont
Visit for: Turin, Alpine Views, Lakes, Wine
Piedmont is another region which borders both France and Switzerland, and of course the Alps. Piedmont is known for its grand capital city, Turin, mountainous terrain, wine production, and it also borders the beautiful Lake Maggiore.
5. Wine Country
Piedmont is famous for its wine production, particularly in the Langhe region. Wine lovers will relish in the opportunity to visit the vineyards which produce some of Italy’s most celebrated wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco. In addition to wine tasting opportunities, many of these vineyards are situated near scenic and historic hilltop towns and offer stunning countryside views. If you prefer white wines, consider trying Asti Spumante, a sparkling wine native to the town of Asti (and a personal favorite!).
As the capital of Piedmont, Turin is an impressive city that boasts a variety of architectural styles including Baroque, Renaissance, Rococo, and Neo-Classical. The grand avenues, large public squares, and palatial complexes point to the city’s historic political and economic importance. You won’t want to miss the Royal Palace, Mole Antonelliana tower, the Egypt Museum, and the Duomo di San Giovanni which houses the famous Shroud of Torino to name just a few of the important cultural and architectural highlights waiting to be discovered in this city.
7. Lake Maggiore
Lake Maggiore shares its borders with Piedmont, Lombardy, and Switzerland, and it is perfect for those looking to enjoy some time on the water during their Northern Italy travels. Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy and is known for the Borromean islands, charming lakeside towns, and remarkable villas all beautifully situated with the Alps as their backdrop. While Lake Como may be the more well-known lake, if the idea of visiting the Borromean islands or even popping over to Switzerland intrigues you, then Lake Maggiore is worth a stop!
8. Lake Orta
For those looking to get even further from the beaten path, consider visiting Lake Orta. Here you’ll find beautiful scenery and charm with fewer tourists although there is a bit less in terms of things to do. Great if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway! If you’re torn between Northern Italy’s lakes, check out this guide for a comparison.
Places to Visit in Lombardy
Visit for: Milan, Lake Como, Italian Alps, Quaint Lakeside Towns
While Lombardy often is left off the list for a first-time visit to Italy, it is one of my all-time favorite itinerary add ons for those looking to experience the north of Italy. From fashionable Milan to Lake Como’s stunning mountainous landscapes and gorgeous lakeside villages, this region has so much to offer. It’s no wonder the rich and famous love to vacation here!
This city is known worldwide as Italy’s fashion capital, which is especially evident during fashion week! While you’ll find an array of high-end stores and luxury shops, if you aren’t so into fashion, fear not! Milan is also home to many historic and cultural sights. Be sure to stop by the Duomo di Milano, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and the Sforza Castle to see some of the city’s most culturally significant architecture. For lovers of da Vinci, you won’t want to miss The Last Supper, which is housed here. Be sure to get your tickets well in advance though! Discover more of my favorite must-sees in Milan here.
10. Lake Como
One of my favorite destinations in all of Italy, Lake Como is a must if you love the water, mountains, and colorful towns. Just a short journey by train from Milan, I recommend spending several days in Lake Como to explore its beautiful villages, impressive historic villas, and to enjoy the unparalleled scenery of this remarkable alpine lake. For those who love being active, you will find plenty to do in terms of hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking. If you prefer relaxing a bit more, you can easily hop from town to town on the ferry, and shops, restaurants, and scenic cafes abound. Be sure to check out this guide to Lake Como before you visit!
11. Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore, Lake Iseo
Lake Como isn’t the only famous lake in Lombardy! The region also borders several other lakes which are worth visiting as well! I haven’t been lucky enough to visit them all, so try reading this helpful guide for a comparison.
Situated between 3 artificial lakes, Mantua is a historic city that was once one of Italy’s most important cultural centers. It is the perfect place to spend a day for art and architecture lovers who are looking to get a bit off the beaten path and discover the castle, palace, basilica, and other treasures nestled within this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You know what they say…when in Lombardy…visit Switzerland? Well, you heard it here first! As Lombardy is located along the Swiss border, what better way to see two beautiful countries in one trip than by popping over to Switzerland? Consider paying a visit to nearby Lake Lugano, which is located in both Italy and Switzerland, if you can’t get enough of the region’s alpine lakes!
Beautiful Places in Trentino-Alto Adige
Visit for: The Dolomites, Access to Switzerland and Austria, Medieval Castles, Skiing
Trentino-Alto Adige borders both Switzerland and Austria, and it is made up of land that historically belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and the state of Tyrol. With such a mix of culture and history, this region certainly has a different feel from the rest of Italy – one that is distinctly, well, Tyrolean. The official languages are Italian and German with a few other dialects that are also spoken. In this region, visitors enjoy a blend of cultures, the Dolomites, access to Switzerland and Austria, plenty of skiing opportunities, and some incredible medieval castles.
Like most Italian cities, you’ll find an impressive cathedral, lovely piazzas, and, of course, plenty of historic buildings. What sets Trento apart is the Buonconsiglio Castle, known for its impressive frescoes. From Trento, you’ll be well-positioned to access the region’s many ski resorts and hiking trails if the outdoors and Italian Alps are calling you!
Looking to discover a hint of Germany while in Italy? Look no further than Bolzano, as this charming city feels far more German than it does Italian! After all, it has only been a recognized part of Italy since 1919. This charming city is the largest in Trentino-Alto Adige, and it is the region’s capital. From Bolzano, you can easily explore the Dolomites and visit some of the region’s beautiful castles and churches. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit the famous “Ötzi the Iceman,” a natural mummy discovered in the Alps that dates back to 3,400 BC. You can pay a visit to him by dropping by Bolzano’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. If you happen to be visiting Bolzano during the wintertime or ski season, be sure to check out the famous Christmas markets! You’ll really feel as though you’ve been transported to Germany!
16. Lake Garda
Trentino-Alto Adige isn’t just famous for the Dolomites! The region also borders Lake Garda. Lake Garda is actually the largest lake in Italy, and it is known for its clear glacial waters and beautiful waterfront towns. While Lake Garda is a popular vacation spot for Italians, you’ll find fewer foreign tourists here than Lake Como, so it may be just what you are looking for if you are hoping to get off-the-beaten-trail!
17. The Dolomites
Sprinkled throughout Trentino-Alto Adige, you’ll find plenty of ski chalets, wellness resorts, castles, hiking trails, and charming smaller towns just waiting to be explored as you adventure throughout the Italian Alps. If you love mountains and the outdoors, then this region is definitely for you!
Places to Visit in Veneto
Visit for: Venice, Verona, Padua, the Dolomites
Veneto is one of Northern Italy’s most famous and visited regions as it is home to Venice and the canals and waterways that make up this historic and picturesque city. While many first time visitors to Italy make Venice a must on their itinerary, some of the region’s other incredible sites don’t quite make the cut. The region has so much more to offer beyond Venice – from the romantic city of Verona to the mountainous Dolomites to the historic Padua, you’re bound to discover some incredible places when in Veneto!
A visit to Veneto simply wouldn’t be complete without spending some time in Venice. This exquisite city on the water is at the top of so many visitors’ bucket lists for a reason. From the beautiful bridges and canals to the city’s quaint gondolas and grand historic architecture, Venice is magical and unique in every way. It’s no wonder this City of Bridges attracts 30 million visitors per year! Of course, with so many tourists, Venice can feel a bit overwhelming, so I would highly recommend exploring some of Veneto’s less frequented cities if you are looking for a deeper dive into culture.
19. Murano and Burano
If you have the time while you are visiting Venice, I highly recommend popping over to the islands of Murano and Burano. Murano is famous for the Venetian glass which is produced there, and there are several glass factories where you can see a glass-making demonstration and tour workshops filled with completed glassware. Burano is a colorful fishing village which is the stuff of every Instagrammer’s dreams. You’ll find row after row of brightly colored houses on this enchanting island, and can even visit a shop or two where handcrafted Burano lace is made.
I have to admit, as a romantic, Verona is one of my all-time favorite cities to visit in Italy. As the fabled setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there’s all sorts of fun literary tourist-ing to be done in this endearing and historic town. Stop by Romeo or Juliet’s house, write your very own letter to Juliet, and get lucky in love by touching the statue of Juliet. Romeo and Juliet not your thing? Enjoy some of the city’s other noted attractions such as the Verona Opera (which is held in the 3rd largest amphitheater in Italy) right in the heart of the city. Verona is an incredibly walkable city that is dripping in history, beautiful views, and so much more! Learn more about why you’ll fall in love with Verona in this post!
Padua is most well-known for its university. Established in 1222, the University of Padua is one of the oldest in the world! That being said, there is much to see in this city beyond the University. Historic churches, palaces, and piazza’s await, including the Scrovegni Chapel which is filled with frescoes by Giotto, for any fellow art-lovers.
The Veneto region also contains a portion of the Dolomites, which is perfect for those looking to explore the mountains, hike, or ski. One of the most famous spots in the Italian Alps, the Cinque Torri, can be found within the mountainous portion of this region!
Beautiful Places in Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Visit for: Trieste, Access to Austria and Slovenia, the Adriatic, Dolomites
Tucked away in the Northeastern corner of Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is certainly one of Italy’s lesser-visited regions. I myself have only driven through the region en route to Slovenia! However, if you find yourself making a trip to Northern Italy or are considering a visit to Slovenia yourself, there are definitely several spots worth visiting, and you’ll find the blend of cultures to be quite interesting!
Places to Visit in Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Trieste is Friuli Venezia Giulia’s capital city. Located just a short drive from the Slovenian border, this port city along the Adriatic has major Slovenian influences. Here you’ll find castles, cathedrals, elegant piazzas, the scenic Grand Canal, Roman ruins, and even a former Nazi Concentration camp, all of which highlight the long and ever-changing history of this region.
I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog post about Northern Italy, so why am I talking about Slovenia? Well, the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana is conveniently located just an hour from Trieste and is not to be missed if you find yourself nearby! I absolutely love Slovenia, and I took a bus from Trieste to visit this incredible country. From the capital city of Ljubljana to stunning Lake Bled to the fascinating Postojna Cave, there are so many cool places to visit just beyond the Italian-Slovenian border! You won’t have to wander far to pack in some seriously cool Slovenian adventures. Read more about what this destination has to offer here!
25. Dolomites (Again!)
Like many of Northern Italy’s regions, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is also home to the Dolomite mountains. For those of you who simply can’t get enough of the Swiss Alps, there are more scenic views and skiing opportunities just waiting to be had!
Visit for: Cinque Terre Villages, Hiking, swimming in the Mediterranean, Genoa
Liguria is Northern Italy’s most coastal region as it follows the Mediterranean from France to Tuscany. For many, this region is a must visit while in Italy, as it is home to the famous five colorful villages that make up Cinque Terre. If you are looking to enjoy the sea, love hiking, or are dying to get that perfect Instagram shot, then be sure to put Liguria on your itinerary!
26. Cinque Terre
Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are the five scenic towns that are the jewels of the Italian Riviera. While it is best to visit anytime between late spring and early fall if you are looking to swim or enjoy better weather, these stunning towns are breathtaking year-round. Whether you are hoping to hike the spectacular trails which connect the towns or wishing to take the train and absorb the spectacular views from the striking villages themselves, you are sure to be mesmerized by the beauty all around you! It is important to note that Cinque Terre can be flooded with tourists, so be prepared to experience the magic of these small towns along with many others! You’ll want to read this guide to visiting Cinque Terre before you go!
If you find yourself in Liguria and are looking to get away from smaller villages and experience city life, consider popping over to Genoa. This port city is Liguria’s capital, and it is famous for being the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. You’ll find museums, maritime attractions, grand boulevards and piazzas, historic buildings, and more in this maritime capital!
28. Portofino, Portovenere, Santa Margherita
Can’t get enough of the Italian Riviera? There is more to explore beyond Cinque Terre! If you are looking to get a bit further from the crowded towns of Cinque Terre, these other Ligurian locations certainly fit the bill! You’ll find vibrant and historic Mediterranean villages here and tons of Italian vacationers who prefer spending the summer months in these alternative destinations, offering a more local, unique experience!
Visit for: Excellent Italian Cuisine, Medieval Cities and Villages, Bologna
Last, but certainly not least, we have Emilia-Romagna. This region is perhaps most often recognized for its world-renowned cuisine, which is often regarded as the best in all of Italy. In addition to all of the fantastic gastronomy in the region, you’ll find medieval cities such as Bologna and Ravenna just waiting for you to explore them! This is an excellent region to combine with Tuscany or Veneto, as it borders both regions. You’ll also have access to the Adriatic!
This medieval city is one of my favorites in all of Italy. It has a truly authentic Italian feel, and some of the best food in the region can be found here! In addition to the many local dishes that await visitors, you’ll find that the city is famous for it’s covered walkways (porticoes) which line practically every street. Bologna is lively and bustling with plenty of historic towers, churches, and landmarks to keep a tourist engaged! Read my 1-day Bologna itinerary here for more inspiration.
On my most recent visit to Italy I was lucky enough to visit Ravenna, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t visited sooner! If you love art, Ravenna is an absolute must as it is home to some truly stunning mosaics which adorn the notable buildings around town. Just an hour from Bologna, this city is the perfect day to spend a day exploring.
31. Parma and Modena
If you are a foodie, be sure to expand beyond Bologna to visit some of Emilia-Romagna’s other culinary gems such as Parma and Modena. Parma is known for Parmesan cheese, while Modena gets its claim to fame from the balsamic vinegar produced there. Though these cities may have a bit less to offer in terms of charm and tourist activities, they make an excellent addition to any visit to Emilia-Romagna.
Had enough food and ready to relax on the beach? For those visiting Emilia-Romagna in the summertime, Rimini makes for a perfect escape to the Adriatic! You’ll find there is plenty of history and coastline to be explored as you relax and soak up the sun here.
Whew! With so many incredible places just waiting for you to explore, it’s safe to say that Northern Italy has something for everyone! Which destinations caught your eye?
For more travel in Italy
- The 10 Best-Kept Secrets In Florence You Won’t Want to Miss
- An Instagram Guide to Trastevere, Rome
- 4 Reasons to Visit the Amalfi Coast in the Off-Season