Northern Italy is known for its mountain ranges, beautiful coastlines, rich cuisine, deep history, and gorgeous architecture. Northern Italy cities are simply breathtaking.
Each major region of Italy (northern, central, and southern) is quite unique. Northern Italy is made up of 8 different sub-regions, which include Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Liguria, Aosta Vally, Veneto, Fruili-Venezia, and Trentina-Alto.
From hiking the Italian Alps and Lake Como boat tours to handmade pasta and vineyards, the northern region of Italy is a diverse vacation destination you shouldn’t miss! Check out our favorite places to visit in Northern Italy– with things to do!
[This article contains affiliate links to trusted partners.]
1. Cinque Terre, Liguria
Recommended by Pafoua of Her Wanderful World
Cinque Terre, meaning “Five Lands,” is a charming, must-see UNESCO destination located in Liguria’s capital city, La Spezia, off the Mediterranean coast in Northern Italy. Listed north to south, these beautiful coastal towns are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Each town has its own unique beauty to explore, but all of them offer scenic views of colorful houses that line the hills. The ambiance, culture, and people in the Cinque Terre make a stop here unforgettable even though there aren’t traditional tourist sites such as churches or museums to visit.
Monterosso is the largest of the five and is known for its long stretch of sandy beach. Vernazza is the most beautiful of all the towns, with a smaller beach to swim in and a piazza to view the harbor below.
Sitting as the highest of all five villages, visitors will need to climb over 300 steps to reach the town center of Corniglia. Visit Gelateria Corniglia to find the best gelato. A popular activity in Manarola is sunbathing on the rocks or swimming in the sea since it doesn’t have a beach.
Riomaggiore is known for being the first town introduced to tourism, and nightlife is more lively. There is also delicious fried seafood found here.
A well-maintained train system connects the towns so visitors can easily travel between towns by hopping on and off. To take the scenic route, you can hike the trails and receive even more picturesque views, although keep in mind that some of the trails may be challenging.
Vehicles are discouraged in the Cinque Terre, so the easiest way to arrive is by train. Visitors can also arrive by boat, but schedules can change depending on the weather. The busiest times in the Cinque Terre are June and July, which also offer the sunniest, longest days.
To miss the crowds, visit during September or October to get cooler weather and still enjoy this beautiful area. Whenever you decide to visit the Cinque Terre and Northern Italy, you will not be disappointed!
2. Genoa, Liguria
Recommended by Sarah of A Social Nomad
Genoa, located in Northern Italy, is really easy to travel to – some buses and trains make it easy to reach this city on the Mediterranean, which is also a major cruise port, which means that a lot of visitors spend one day in Genoa. Genoa has one of the largest harbors in the Mediterranean, which means it sees a lot of yachting traffic too.
Genoa’s most famous son is Christopher Columbus – who spent a lot of his childhood here, and it is still possible to visit his home in the city. The maze of tiny, narrow streets makes the historic center of Genoa a delight to wander around in, safe from traffic, and the series of UNESCO World Heritage-listed palaces will delight all who visit.
Foodies, too, will love Genoa. The region is the birthplace of pesto and focaccia bread, and it’s also a city where street food is awesome – a paper cone of freshly fried seafood is absolutely not to be missed. To learn more, consider a Genoa food tour.
There are walking tours and open-topped Hop on Hop off bus tours to explore, but this is also a city where it’s easy to wander and discover hidden areas. There are endless pavement cafes, bars, and restaurants to suit all budgets and rest from the heat of the day. Genoa also caters well with accommodation options from five-star hotels to hostels and apartment rentals – all types and budgets of travelers are catered for.
3. Portofino, Liguria
Recommended by Alex and Leah on Tour
Portofino is an absolutely beautiful village on the Italian Riviera coastline in northern Italy. It’s extremely popular with celebrities from all over the world, and once you visit, you’ll know why!
The best way to get to Portofino is by taking the train from Genoa to Saint Magherita before hopping on a direct bus to the village. The bus trip is an experience; snaking along the cliffside, you’ll see magnificent views across the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Despite being a small fishing village, there is a lot more to do than meets the eye. Firstly, if you have the budget or just fancy a nose, you definitely need to pop into all the designer shops that line the cobbled street.
We’d then recommend going for a wander around the harbor before settling down for an alcoholic beverage, coffee, or even some food. Whilst (obviously) expensive, the food is amazing, and you MUST have an Aperol Spritz!
If you’re more of an adventurer, you definitely need to hike up to Castelletto or Faro di Portofino as the views are unbelievable.
Don’t worry if that doesn’t appeal to you; you can always sit on the edge of the Marina di Portofino pier and look back at the beautiful, multi-colored buildings of Portofino and watch the world go by.
4. Cortina d’Ampezzo, Veneto
Recommended by Morgan of Crave the Planet
You don’t have to be a mountaineer and eat dried food to experience out-of-this-world hiking with breathtaking views– even with your kids or mobility-impaired friends and family. Everyone should travel to Italy to experience the magnificent cities, but it’s a hustle and touristic bustle that can leave you or your family well-fed but drained. Cortina d’Ampezzo, nestled high in the Dolomites in northern Italy, is a must-see for people who love nature with a dose of good food and wine.
Fortunately, it’s only a 2-hour drive or bus ride from the international airport in Venice to the stunning mountain village of Cortina d’Ampezzo, filled with history, great food, and luxury spas.
The incredible thing about Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Italian Dolomites is the chance to walk easily at high elevations with minimal effort and no special training.
Gondolas and chair lifts run in summer for those not inclined to hike to the top so that everyone can experience some of the most spectacular views in the world, like the Cinque Torri Rock formation.
Directly on these trails sit mountain huts called “rifugios” like Rifugio Lagazuoi, which serve delicious cuisine with great local wines with views that make you think you’re on top of the world.
Best things to do: Rent bikes, people watch in the village center, do an exciting Via Ferrata, do a day hike around Lago di Braies, or do a hut-to-hut hike and feel like a mountaineer without having to rough it by staying in gorgeous huts each night.
Cortina merges Italian and outdoor culture like no other place. It’s a great winter and summer destination for skiing, hiking, or doing a spa on the top of a mountain. Stay at the luxury spa Cristallo, overlooking Cortina d’Ampezzo, which has no detail left out. It’s pure luxury.
5. Venice, Veneto
Recommended by Angela of Where Angie Wanders
Venice is a must-visit destination in northern Italy; once you have experienced its history and beauty, you will want to return time and time again. Italy’s floating city is the only place in the world that is fully pedestrianized, and the only traffic jams you will find here are caused by boats.
Getting around Venice by water can seem complicated on a first visit; however, with waterbuses, water taxis, and gondolas, you can be sure to get around the city easily and quickly. Arriving in the city center from the airport by water taxi is a fantastic experience reminiscent of a James Bond movie! Looking for somewhere to stay? Click here for places to stay while in Venice.
St. Mark’s Square is the main tourist area in Venice, and visitors arrive to admire the centuries-old Venetian/Roman architecture of St. Mark’s Basilica. It is in the square you will also find the Bell Tower and Doges Palace. This area is always busy but walks away from it, and within 10 minutes, you will find yourself in quiet backstreets where you can wander freely without the crowds.
Finding good Italian cuisine should definitely be on your Venice itinerary. Don’t buy food and drink in St. Mark’s Square – the prices are extortionate – instead, find one of the numerous cafes that sell cicchetti. This is the traditional food of Venice – similar to tapas – and can be accompanied by local wine. It is a cheap and tasty way of eating in Venice, with dishes usually costing no more than €2 each. Here’s a
If you have time, make a day trip from Venice to Burano, the Italian island famous for its incredible rainbow-colored houses, freshly caught fish, and lace-making.
6. Alba, Piedmont
Recommended by Denise of Chef Denise
Alba in the Piemonte region should be on your must-visit list when traveling to northern Italy. Just an hour and a half south of Turin, you will find some of the best wines of Italy and, of course, their world-famous white truffles. This picturesque village is easily walkable in an hour or two. With quaint squares, a pink church, and lots of restaurants—this is definitely a foodie town.
The traditional dishes in Alba are not usually marinara sauce based. Think mushrooms, truffles, olive oil, and cream. Unless you are allergic, you should not leave Alba without ordering a mouthwatering truffle dish.
And if truffles make you swoon, visiting during the International White Truffle Fair from mid-October to mid-November is like a trip to heaven. Special dinners and tastings of these culinary diamonds abound.
But even if you cannot make the festival, truffles will be on offer any time of year. Make sure to purchase some truffle oil and truffle paste to take home. They make great souvenirs and gifts, and they will last longer than any that you buy at home.
Also, make sure you try one of the most famous dishes of Alba, and the Piemonte region, Brasato al Barolo—tender beef marinated in Barolo wine with vegetables and herbs. If you’re thinking the wine can’t be good if they’re cooking with it, think again!
Alba is a great hub to visit local wineries and enotecas (wine bars or wine shops). Barolo is not just a wine varietal; it’s a village and a short drive from Alba. You can easily visit Barolo and Barbaresco, where they grow Nebbiolo grapes in one day. Enjoy a beautiful ride through rolling hills and vineyards. Enjoy sipping the local wine, then stroll through the charming villages.
7. Val di Susa, Piedmont
Recommended by Linda of Insieme-Piemonte.com
Being the symbol of the Piedmont region, you will have to visit the impressive Sacra di San Michele when traveling in northern Italy. It is also known as Saint Michael’s Abbey. Sound familiar? That is because author Umberto Eco was inspired by the powerful abbey for his bestselling book “The Name of the Rose.”
Located only 40km away from Piedmont’s capital Turin, the massive Sacra di San Michele is sitting high above Susa Valley. At 962 meters above sea level, it is not only rich in history but offers fantastic views of the Italian, Swiss, and French Alps– and even Turin.
Built between 983 and 987, the ancient abbey had its best years in the 13th century. During that time, there were about 1000 monks living in it permanently, plus pilgrims from the north traveling to Rome.
Via the QR code on the self-guided tour, you will get all the important and interesting information on the abbey’s history directly to your cell phone. This will allow you to discover the gigantic building at your own pace.
You will pass the “stairways of the dead” to reach the main church from the 12th century. Several members of the Savoy, one of the oldest royal families in the world, are buried in it.
The area around the Sacra di San Michele offers some fantastic hiking trails and a via ferrata for climbers. You will have outstanding views of the abbey, the valley, and the Alps.
8. Turin, Piedmont
Recommended by Teresa of T as Travel
The first capital of the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 to 1865, Present day Turin is an amazing city. Turin, located in Northern Italy, is a combination of various European styles and modernity that must be added to your bucket list. In the past, Turin was famous as the house of the Italian monarchy; meanwhile, today, it is famous for industries such as FIAT and many others.
The Chapel of the Holy Shroud is a really important cathedral, famous for being the house of the Holy Shroud. It is the Pope that decides when to expose the Holy Shroud, and usually, the expositions last for 45 days.
The most important and principal square of Turin is San Carlo Square. The square is very nice and elegant with at the end two twin churches, in the middle the Equestrian monument wanted by the leader of the Savoy dynasty, and all-around beautiful arcades with historical and chic cafes.
If you are looking for a breathtaking view and a splendid church, you need to go and visit the Basilica of Superga.
The Egyptian Museum is the house of the biggest collections of Egyptian antiquities. The museum was founded in 1894 by King Carlo Felice di Savoia and grew more during the years.
The symbol of Turin is absolutely the Mole Antoneliana. From the top of it, you can have a 360 view while inside there is a stunning and interesting museum of the cinema.
UNESCO World Heritage, the Reggia di Venaria, is a beautiful day trip not too far away from Turin. You can spend a full day wandering inside rooms and the beautiful gardens of the palace.
Like all of Italy, Turin is known for its delicious food. Find a traditional restaurant and try the Agnolotti or the Vitello Tonnato, all accompanied by wine.
9. Val Chisone, Piedmont
Recommended by Linda of HikingTheAlps.com
When traveling in northern Italy, you will see several interesting medieval forts and castles, but none is as impressive as the Forte di Fenestrelle.
Located in the middle of beautiful Val Chisone, 85km west of Piedmont’s capital Turin, you can admire the powerful fort from afar. It is the largest Alpine fortress in Europe!
The fortified complex, covering an area of about 1.3 million square meters, is actually made up of 3 different forts. They are joined by a tunnel inside the massive fortress wall, which runs the longest covered staircase in Europe. You will have to do 4000 steps, 3km from Fort San Carlo in the valley to Fort delle Valli at 1800 meters above sea level and overcome 635 meters of height difference.
It took 122 years, starting in 1728, to build the powerful fortification. Its purpose was to defend against foreign invasions, but it was mostly used as a garrison and as a prison.
Abandoned after the 2nd World War, you can visit that outstanding construction today. There are full-day guided tours (only in the Italian language) or a short self-guided option. To experience and appreciate the dimension of that stunning building, you should do an inside tour combined with a fantastic hike to Usseaux, one of the most beautiful villages in Piedmont.
10. Lake Como, Lombardy
Recommended by Krisztina of SheWandersAbroad.com
If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Northern Italy, don’t miss out on Lake Como! This beautiful destination is perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation. With its stunning scenery and lovely towns, Lake Como is sure to please everyone.
It’s one of the biggest lakes in Italy, and since it’s located only a one-hour train ride away from Milan, it’s a great day trip opportunity. However, if you want to explore the area properly, it’s worth spending at least 2-3 days at Lake Como.
Bellagio is one of the most popular towns on Lake Como, and it’s easy to see why. With its beautiful buildings and stunning views, Bellagio is a must-see when you’re in the area, and it’s also one of the best places to stay in Lake Como for first-timers. Be sure to walk around the town center to admire the architecture, and don’t forget to take a boat ride on the lake for some truly breathtaking views.
If you’re looking for a more low-key town, Tremezzo might be the place for you. This town is known for its pretty gardens, and it’s a great place to relax and take in the scenery. There are also some great restaurants here if you’re looking to try some of the local cuisines.
11. Milan, Lombardy
Recommended by Greta of Greta’s Travels
If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Northern Italy, add Milano. Milano is known as the City of Fashion; it’s the economic capital of Italy and the capital of the Lombardy region of Italy.
It’s an iconic destination, both for its historical and cultural aspects, as well as the modern pull of fashion and innovation. In Milan, you can go from the new trendy skyscrapers of Piazza Gae Aulenti to the cobbled streets of Brera. It’s a city that has loads to offer to every type of traveler.
You could live in Milan and still not see it all. However, one day in Milan is considered a good amount for most travelers. In one day, you’ll be able to see all the highlights of the city, starting from Piazza del Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, going on to Brera neighborhood, Castello Sforzesco, Arco della Pace, and then ending your day with a Milanese aperitivo at Navigli.
The best time to visit Milan is in late spring or early summer when the weather is good, the days are long, and you can easily get around the city on foot. You can still visit at other times of the year, but in summer it gets very hot whilst the weather in winter won’t make for a fun experience.
One thing you can’t miss is visiting the rooftop of the Duomo Cathedral. From here, you will get stunning views over the Piazza del Duomo and the rooftops of Milan. Head there at sunset for the most gorgeous golden light!
12. Bologna, Emilia-Romagna
Recommended by Lori of Italy Foodies
Bologna, in northern Italy, is known for many things — its well-preserved medieval buildings and the magnificent UNESCO porticoes that stretch across the city. But for all that, Bologna is also known as the “culinary capital of Italy” for producing some of the country’s most unique foods, including prosciutto, parmigiano reggiano cheese, and balsamic vinegar, all found locally on every menu.
The city is not as flashy as its neighbors, Florence and Venice, and therefore is undoubtedly one of Italy’s most under-visited cities. But there’s plenty to keep you occupied for a week or more.
A favorite thing to do is stroll the Piazza Maggiore in the heart of Bologna. Centuries-old medieval buildings, including the main cathedral, Basilica di San Petronio, surround the huge piazza. Here you’ll find coffee shops and outdoor cafes serving pastries, sandwiches, and of course, excellent regional wines.
If you’re a foodie, next door to the Piazza Maggiore is the oldest market in Bologna, the Quadrilatero, where you can walk the narrow cobblestone streets and shop for local Italian bread, meats, and cheeses or dine at some of the city’s best eateries.
At one time, Bologna boasted 125 medieval towers, but only about 25 remained. One of the tallest is the Asinelli Tower, the only one you can climb. And you should! The panoramic views over Bologna are worth the climb.
Bologna is also home to fast-performance cars, and a day trip to the “Motor Valley” should be on your list. The world headquarters of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati are fascinating places to visit for car buffs or anyone looking for a true Bolognese experience.
Visiting Northern Italy
When planning a trip to northern Italy, there are many different cities and attractions that you must not miss. Milan, of course, is at the top of the list, with its beautiful architecture and buzzing cultural scene. There are also many lovely small towns in this region to explore.
And just outside of Milan is Lake Como, one of the most breathtaking destinations in the region. With its deep blue waters and snow-capped mountains in the distance, it is truly a sight to behold. Whether looking for great food and wine or incredible natural beauty, northern Italy is truly amazing!
This article originally appeared on Wander With Alex.
Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of the Wander With Alex travel blog, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel a little easier.