Northern Italy is one of the most varied cultural regions in all Italy. Its eight administrative regions (Valle d'Aosta, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino Alto-Adige) are hosts to some of the most beautiful gems of Italy, with some of them being as touristy as Venice, while others feel more off-the-beaten path like some of the hiking trails in the Dolomites. From palaces to cathedrals, from lakes to mountains, from Roman history to modernity, this cultural region lives up to the high standards that Italy has crafted in the past centuries.
Since there’s so much to do and see in Northern Italy, here are some of my favorite sights and activities for when you visit the region.
Visit Venice and take a Gondola Ride
You might think it is cheesy, and yes, it is highly overpriced, but a gondola ride is one of the most romantic things you can do in Northern Italy. Picture this: an expert gondolier serenading you while you sit back with that special someone and a bottle of wine, watching the Venetian canals pass by. It sounds romantic, right?
Beyond the romanticism, Venice is home to Basilica di San Marco – one of the most lavishly and exquisitely decorated churches in the world.
Hike in the Alps and Dolomites
This region is considered to be a playground for hikers Three Great Hikes in Northern Italy. Bordered on the north by the Italian Alps and the Dolomites, and on the south by the Apennine Mountains, there are plenty of trail options to take; each with a different environment, difficulty, height, and length.
The Italian side of the Alps offers a wide variety of easy to hike trails passing through secluded villages and truly off-the-beaten paths. The best time to hike is from late spring to early autumn.
Immerse yourself in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, which literally means Five Lands, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Italian Riviera. Formerly a string of pirate coves, Cinque Terre is five fishing villages linked by a local train and hiking paths. The villages still conserve that “typical old Italian village” look and size and they have some of the best scenery you will see in Northern Italy. In addition, the beaches of the Italian Riviera are well worth dipping your feet into.
Visit Milan to see a sophisticated Italy
Milan might not be your traditional Italian city with a broad selection of ancient Roman buildings and Renaissance history. Due to heavy bombardment during WWII and other economic developments, Milan took a historical shift to become a modern Italian city. Still, you can find historical buildings spread throughout the city center, with the Duomo being the masterpiece – the largest cathedral on Italian soil (St. Peter’s, the largest in the world, is actually in Vatican City).
Milan offers the opportunity to see a different Italy that you won’t find anywhere else in the country. Milan is the most sophisticated city in Italy with its well-developed financial center and fashion industry. Milanese like to be fashionable, so it is no surprise Milan’s fashion trends influence the entire world of fashion. Walk along quadrilatero della moda to marvel at all the fancy haute couture stores and see how locals enjoy a life of style.
Soak in the beauty and history of Lake Garda
The largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda attracts all types of travelers to its waters and captivates them with its beauty. The lake is home to the ancient fortified town of Sirmione, which is a widely popular destination; and the beautiful 13th century Scaliger Castle is also not to be missed. There are also Roman ruins, like the Roman spa Grotte di Catullo; and sulfur springs that many attest to having “healing powers”.
Eat, Eat, Eat in Emilia-Romagna
It is well known that the region of Emilia Romagna is the best Italian region to eat. I could narrow it down to certain cities in the region, but the truth is that every city has an identifying unique dish that is worth trying. But, just to narrow it down a bit, eat Tagliatelle al Ragù in Bologna, Piadina in Rimini, Cotechino di Modena in Modena, Cappellacci Ripieni con Zucca e Parmigiano in Ferrara, and Culatello in Modena, just to name a few.
Visit Lake Como
Lake Como is one of the most popular retreats in Northern Italy, and it has been since the Roman times, when wealthy people and aristocrats spent their leisure time here. Beyond the impressive natural beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains, there are several villas and palaces, as well as the small city of Como, which deserves a visit of its own. There’s also Brunate, an even more enchanting town sitting on top of the hill overlooking Como and the lake, which you can reach via funicular from Como.
In case this hasn’t convinced you, Lake Como is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in all of Europe.
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