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Northern Italy, often simply called ‘Il Nord’ or the ‘Settentrione’ by locals, is made up of 8 separate regions. This part of the country has an incredibly diverse range of landscapes, cultural influences and cities which is home to just over 27 million people, including many expats.
Northern Italy has a strong economy and a higher GDP per capita than Southern Italy, with a greater concentration of industry and high earners. In many ways, Northern Italy is considered by some economists to be the birth-place of modern capitalism with the wealthy city states of the region being pioneers in science, culture and the modern concept of an educational institution.
From spectacular coastal regions to the Apennines and Southern portions of the Alps, Il Nord boasts an incredible number of places of interest for tourists to visit. There are also fantastic cultural and historical sites to explore and a surprising array of cuisine to try.
Which Part Of Italy Is Considered To Be ‘Northern’ Italy?
It can be difficult to define exactly where Northern Italy begins and Southern Italy ends! However, Northern Italy is officially considered to include the following 8 regions:
- Aosta Valley.
- Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The Best Places In Northern Italy That You Can’t Afford To Miss Out On.
The following are the best places in Northern Italy:
As one of the North’s economic and cultural powerhouses, Milan is a truly cosmopolitan city that hosts some of the world’s major fashion events and is home to some of Italy’s most iconic architecture. It’s packed full of top end designer fashion boutiques and has an exciting metropolitan atmosphere.
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There’s plenty of historically important monuments and sites to visit including the spectacular gothic cathedral and the Sforzesco castle with its beautiful gardens. No trip to Milan would be complete without a visit to the fascinating Da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology as well as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuale II.
This fairy tale city that floats on dozens of coastal islands has a romantic atmosphere, an astounding cultural heritage and unique cuisine, specializing in seafood and rice dishes. The cobbled streets and canals combine to give the city an enchanting feel that makes the perfect backdrop for honeymooning couples visiting the city.
The Grand Canal is a wonderful location that’s lined with amazing examples of the uniquely Venetian architecture, with houses, restaurants and churches looming over the water ways. St Mark’s Square, with its outstanding cathedral, huge bell tower and market stalls, is the main central piazza in the city and is always worth visiting during your stay.
Of course, while in Venice every visitor should take a ride on a gondola, the city’s main taxi service, as well as seeing the Rialto Bridge, the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs. As the sunsets over the Venetian lagoon, you can sit back and relax in one of the many waterfront restaurants to taste some of the legendary fresh caught seafood while sipping a glass of regional wine.
Best known for its heavy industry, Turin often fails to make it onto people’s itineraries when they visit the North but the city has a lot to offer its visitors. The city has an ancient cultural and artistic heritage and is even home to the famous Turin Shroud; which is said to be an original image of the face of Christ!
It’s a little known fact that Turin was actually the first capital of the United Italy, between 1861 and 1865, until the capital was moved to Rome following a nationwide referendum. This just goes to show how important Turin is in the cultural history of Italy more generally but especially in the North.
While you’re in Turin you can visit the Palazzo Reale, the amazing Mole Antonelliana and the 15th Century Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, which is dedicated to John the Baptist. Turin is also home to the Turin Egyptian museum where you can see some rare artifacts from one of the most mysterious civilizations in the world!
As the largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda is a spectacular destination where you can enjoy the tranquil beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountain scenery while staying in luxurious accommodation that’s nestled along the lake shore. Lake Garda also produces world class food and some of Italy’s best wine, such as the full bodied Bardolino for example. The incredible surroundings contain lovely ancient woods, small terracotta roofed towns and plenty of amazing castles to visit.
The idyllic settings are perfect for taking a sightseeing boat trip, hiking on the many well maintained trails that surround the lake or simply by enjoying your time snacking in a restaurant on the shore of the lake.
Towns on the lake, such as Sirmione, are fantastic places to visit and base yourself in while you explore the wider region, vineyards and eateries. For visitors who want a more action packed vacation there’s a year round wind on the lakes which is perfect for sailing and other water sports such as windsurfing. There’s also plenty to do on land including rock climbing and off-road mountain biking.
The capital of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna is one the largest cities in Italy and is home to some wonderful sites of interest. Bologna is a major transport hub so getting there is easy by train, plane or car.
Bologna’s two tallest leaning towers are symbols of the city and although you can only enter one of them the views from the summit are spectacular. The towers are situated on the Via Emilia but they are not the only sites you should see. While you’re in the city you should also visit the Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica of San Petrino which is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Saint Petronius, who was a 5th Century bishop in the area.
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The city is also home to some fantastic museums including the Archeological Museum and the lovely National Gallery that exhibits some stunning masterpieces including El Greco, Raphael and Titian. Finally, while you’re in Bologna you have to try some of the regional specialities; which, surprisingly, doesn’t include the world famous ‘Bolognese’ ragu sauce but nonetheless includes plenty of other great dishes such as green lasagna and the Cotoletta Petroniana.
This elegant seafront city is steeped in history and is one of the Ligurian coast’s most exclusive holiday destinations. As the 6th largest city in Italy, Genoa is a major tourist magnet throughout the year with visitors enjoying the culture, cuisine and public museums.
The city’s impressive defensive walls made it an impregnable fortress in times gone by but today it welcomes visitors from all over the world. Some of the most beautiful areas of the city surround the Piazza Matteotti and the Piazza Ferrari while the Aquarium and Maritime museum will give you a fascinating insight into the history and marine life of the Ligurian Sea.
Genoa is still a busy commercial port city and the huge docks are constantly bustling with activity. There’s a great selection of bars and restaurants to sample and a good range of accommodation to suit every budget throughout the city.
No vacation in Northern Italy would be complete without visiting Verona, the famous city of love which was the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Unsurprisingly, one of Verona’s top attractions is the Juliet House, which is the original location for the real Juliet’s birth! While you’re in Verona you should also visit the ancient Roman amphitheater as well as the stunning Verona Cathedral and the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore.
The compact city center is easy to explore on foot where you’ll find yourself amongst a maze of charming piazzas and side streets which are packed with family run restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and artisan boutiques.
Alpine Itinerary Ideas For Your Trip To Northern Italy.
For visitors to the North who love skiing in the winter or hiking during the summer months then the Italian Alps are an absolute dream come true! Not only is the scenery spectacular but the prices for accommodation and activities are often significantly lower than in other parts of Europe such as France or Switzerland.
Taking a trip across the Italian Alps, stopping at a few key sites along the way will be a real once in a lifetime experience. You could start your journey at Courmayeur to see incredible Mont Blanc, or ‘Monte Bianco’ in Italian, before traveling to the Valle D’Aosta to visit the beautiful Gran Paradiso National Park.
Afterwards you can travel on to the charming ski resort of Breuil-Cervinia in the North Western Italian Alps where you can also see the infamous Matterhorn mountain on the horizon!
Once you’ve experienced the best of the Western Alps you can travel Eastward past Milan to Lake Como and Bergamo. Lake Como is situated amongst stunning mountain peaks and has a lovely collection of towns and villages along its picturesque shores where you can stay, take boat rides around the lake and taste the unique regional specialities. Lastly, you can finish off your tour of the Italian Alps by exploring the Dolomites and surrounding valleys and hills of Trentino Alto-Adige.
One thing that you’ll notice when you travel through the Italian Alps is that you’ll hear both French and Italian being spoken. However, in all of the main tourist spots guides, hotel staff and restaurateurs will almost always speak English so it’s nothing to worry about!
A City Hopping Cultural Itinerary Idea For Northern Italy.
For real culture vultures who are visiting the North of Italy it’s easy to hop on a high speed train and reach the next city within a few hours at the most! A great touring itinerary to see some of the best cities in the North could follow a route starting in Milan and finishing up in Venice. In between, you could stop over at Turin and Bergamo to give yourself a real diversity during your trip.
Starting your trip in Milan would make a lot of sense because it’s served by major airports as well as a busy city center train station. This means you can get there quickly from almost anywhere in the world and very easily from Southern Italy.
Bergamo is less than an hour’s drive from Milan and is often described by locals as Milan’s ‘sister city’. However, despite being so close they are very different in terms of scenery, cultural heritage and the available activities.
After spending some time in Milan and Bergamo you could travel West to Turin which is a busy cultural hub, like Milan but it has a much more Baroque and Art Nouveau style of architecture.
Lastly, to finish your trip you can head East again to Venice to relax by the canals, sample the seafood and unique local cuisine in between exploring the city’s many galleries and museums.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Northern Italy?
The climate in Northern Italy is quite a bit colder than in the South of the country but it’s still very warm in the late spring and summer months. During the winter, there are heavy snow falls in the mountain skiing resorts which are much more reasonably priced than comparable resorts in neighboring France and Switzerland.
The ideal time to visit Northern Italy for warm weather while avoiding the high tourist season is either in June or September. During these months the weather is warm and perfect for sightseeing but you won’t have to worry about long lines at the major attractions and museums.
Of course, for skiing and winter sports the best months to visit Northern Italy are between late October and late January. If you want to avoid the crowds then you shouldn’t visit during the Christmas holiday when the resorts are all full to the brim with families and children on school holidays!
What’s The Best Way To Get Around Northern Italy On Vacation?
Northern Italy is the most highly developed part of the country and consequently has an extensive public transport system including high speed intercity trains, regional trains and buses.
If you’re visiting Northern Italy for a relatively short period of time then taking the high speed train or driving yourself in a rental car are definitely your best options. The trains are extremely comfortable with onboard toilets, food and beverage facilities as well as Wi-Fi and plug sockets to recharge your devices.
The mountainous parts of Northern Italy are not so well served by the public transport system and so if you’re traveling up to a resort, or touring around from place to place, you should consider renting a car or joining a coach tour.
Northern Italy Is A Wonderful Holiday Destination.
Northern Italy has a spectacular diversity of landscapes and scenery that range from the impressive Alpine mountain peaks to the quiet, tranquil shores of the lakes. The Northern cities, famous for their industries, are also incredible treasure troves of art, culture and tasty cuisine.
As a result of the well developed public transport system it’s easy to travel from place to place in the North and with a more varied climate than the South there’s often a wider range of activities on offer for tourists and visitors.
There really is something for everyone in the North of Italy so next time you’re planning a vacation make sure that Il Nord is included on your itinerary!