Northern Italy provides a wealth of bucket list experiences from getting a selfie with the leaning tower of Pisa, taking a gondola ride in Venice, shopping in Milan, to admiring the colourful houses along the Italian Riviera.
This post is packed full of unmissable Northern Italy bucket-list places, from the cliche must-sees to uncovering the hidden gems in Italy’s northern regions. Taking you to the heights of the Italian Dolomites, to the breathtaking Italian Lakes, and back to the heart of the home with Northern Italy food specialities to try; you won’t want to miss this bucket list for Italy!
Northern Italy Bucket List Ideas
This Northern Italy bucket list is a collaborative post from a wide-range of travel bloggers all sharing the best places to visit in Northern Italy. Whether you are planning your first trip to Italy or you have visited many times, you will find fun things to do in Italy to give you wonderful travel memories of Italy for years to come!
As an additional bonus, this post also contains some of the best places to stay in Northern Italy courtesy of Bookings For You, an Italian villa specialist who I have had the pleasure in working with before.
If you are wondering where to go in Northern Italy, and where to eat & stay, this post is for you!
The Best Places to Visit in Northern Italy
1 – Take a Selfie with the leaning tower of Pisa, Tuscany
By Kieren/Got My Backpack
Pisa might be one of the smallest cities in Tuscany, but it’s got a big reputation and is easily one of the top places to visit in Northern Italy. Many tourists will choose to stay in Florence which has a broader range of accommodation and take a day trip to Pisa which can easily be explored in a day.
A visit to Pisa will centre around Piazza dei Miracoli (Miracle Square) which is home to four incredible buildings. The first of which needs no introduction as it’s the city’s most famous landmark. The leaning tower of Pisa has been at an angle ever since unstable soil affected the construction, yet it miraculously manages to stay standing over 800 years later. Restoration attempts have managed to reduce it’s lean, although you could argue that it’s this characteristic that’s gained it worldwide attention. No Italian bucket list would be complete without a creative selfie with the leaning tower of Pisa.
The leaning tower is the bell tower of the adjacent Pisa cathedral which is an exceptional building in itself. The cathedral was completed in 1092, almost 100 years before the tower was added, and at the time was the largest church in Europe. The final two buildings that make-up Piazza dei Miracoli are the baptistery and the Monumental Cemetery. All of the buildings are made from similar materials although each of them brings a slightly unique style which makes for an interesting visit to the square.
If you are wondering where to stay in Pisa, check out the accommodation from Bookings For You below:
- Villa Cassina Rossa – a 3-bedroom villa with exclusive beach passes, the property is 30 minutes drive from the heart of the city on the coast in Forte dei Marmi. Ideal for those wanting to combine a city break with time on the beach.
- Browse apartments and villas in Tuscany by clicking here.
2 – Admire the orange rooftops & explore the tree garden on top of the Torre Guinigi in Lucca, Tuscany
By Emma/Emma Online
With famous neighbours such as Florence and Pisa, Lucca probably isn’t the first northern Italy city you’d think of when planning your Northern Italy bucket list. However, this charming city is one of Tuscany’s best-kept secrets.
Nestled between the coast and the Apennine mountains, the city with its intact Renaissance walls is everything you imagine Italy to be. Less crowded and less touristy than it’s neighbours, it really does feel like you are getting a glimpse of everyday life. Small and compact, Lucca is easily explored on foot. Start your day by wandering the picturesque cobblestone streets, the narrow (car-free) lanes providing Instagram worthy shots at every turn. Admire the wedding cake-like facade of San Michele in Foro, just one of the city’s 100 churches before stopping for lunch (or a gelato!) in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.
The former roman amphitheatre is now used for entertainment of a different kind with restaurants and cafes all along the elliptical outline of the old arena. Spend the afternoon strolling (or cycling) along the historic city walls. Built to protect the city, the perfectly preserved walls are now a 30-meter wide tree-lined pathway encircling the city. Wear your comfy shoes though, a full lap is 4km.
End the day by heading to the top of Torre Guinigi to watch the sunset over the orange rooftops. One of the few remaining towers in the city, this one is not to be missed due to the tree garden at the top. Make your visit extra memorable by timing it with one of the many events the city holds. For unique things to do in Lucca – visit in the summer for the Lucca Summer Festival featuring some of the world’s top music acts or in the autumn for the famous Lucca Comic & Games festival.
Lucca is indeed one of the hidden gems in Italy!
If you are wondering where to stay in Lucca, check out the accommodation from Bookings For You below:
- Villa Pinoni – a 6-bedroom luxury picture-perfect traditional Italian villa with a pool close to Lucca.
- Browse apartments and villas in Tuscany by clicking here.
3 – Soak up the medieval scenery of Siena, Tuscany
By Wendy/The Nomadic Vegan
Siena is one of the most beautiful cities in Northern Italy. Siena had its heyday in the medieval period when it was a powerful and wealthy city-state that rivalled Florence. Still today, the Sienese are extremely proud of their city, and perhaps a little bitter about Siena’s eventual defeat by Florence in the 16th century.
The city has retained its medieval character, not only with regard to its architecture but also its local traditions. The enormous Piazza del Campo is large enough to be converted into a horserace track twice a year for the Palio, which has been held since the 11th century. While this competition among Siena’s 17 contrade (neighbourhoods) is the highlight of the year for many local people, many horses are unfortunately injured and killed in the dangerous race. You can avoid the race itself and the accompanying mistreatment of animals, and still enjoy the parades and other festivities held during the Palio.
For the best views in Siena, climb to the top of the Torre del Mangia. This tower is attached to the Palazzo Pubblico, which has served as the city hall of Siena for nearly 800 years and takes pride of place on Piazza del Campo. Piazza Salimbeni is a much smaller but no less enchanting piazza. Here you’ll find the Rocca Salimbeni, the headquarters of the oldest bank in the world. And the Cathedral is another must-see in Northern Italy attraction, with its distinctive black and white stripes of marble on the inside. Don’t miss the Libreria Piccolomini off the to the left of the nave, which is covered from head to toe in breathtaking frescoes.
Local sweet treats include almond cookies called Ricciardelli and a spiced fruit cake known as panpepato. The latter is usually made without any eggs or milk, making it once of many naturally vegan Italian dishes.
Siena is one of the most beautiful northern Italian cities and a must-see if you are visiting Tuscany.
If you are wondering where to stay in Siena, check out the accommodation from Bookings For You below:
- Il Torrino – a lovely 4-bedroom villa less than a 30-minute drive from Siena.
- Casa Granaio – a 2-bedroom apartment with pool near Siena.
- Villa Le Capanne – For larger groups or indeed those seeking a wedding venue in Tuscany, look no further than Villa Le Capanne. The food is second to none – read about my Italian food experience with the owners of Villa Le Capanne in this post: Food of Love – Italian Cooking Masterclass.
4 – See the Duomo & statue of David in Florence, Tuscany
By Michelle/That Texas Couple
Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscan region, is home to amazing artwork, beautiful architecture, and incredible food. You can’t have an Italy Bucket List and not include the Renaissance town of Florence. Even if you can only spend two days in Florence, it is well worth adding to your list!
The main attraction in the centre of Florence is the incredible Duomo, Florence’s cathedral. The complex consists of much more than just the cathedral though. For in Piazza del Duomo, you will find the beautiful Baptistery, Giotto’s Campanile, the gorgeous cathedral, and the cathedral’s bell tower. While spending time here, be sure to visit them all as each is a delight.
Florence is also famous for the world-renowned museums and collections of artwork that they house. One of the most famous, The Uffizi Gallery houses masterpieces by Leonardo, Rafaello, and Michelangelo just to name a few. Visitors also flock to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the famous statue of David. While visiting the Gallerie dell’Accademia, be sure and check out the other incredible pieces housed here too.
For the best Instagram spots in Florence, head to the bridge across from the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which makes for the perfect selfie spot. The best views of Florence city can be taken in Michelangelo’s Square, which I highly recommend visiting at sunset! No matter how long you spend in Florence, I think you will agree that it was time well spent.
If you are wondering where to stay in Florence, check out the accommodation from Bookings For You below:
- Villa Bestioni – a 3-bedroom villa in the heart of the city for larger groups and families.
- Apartment Bellosguardo – a romantic bolthole for 2 in the city, with a private roof terrace with views over the Arno towards the Duomo.
5 – Enjoy wine tasting in Tuscany
By Francesca/Homeroom Travel
Any wine lover will love wine tasting in the Chianti region of Tuscany. This region of Tuscany should be on any Northern Italy travel bucket list as it is one of the world’s most notable and popular wine regions. Not only are there amazing wines, but there are also spectacular views.
Tuscany is an easy day trip from Florence, but for a complete experience, I recommend staying in Tuscany. Opt to stay in an adorable little Tuscan town: Castellina in Chianti. Located in the hills of Chianti (one of the many wine regions in the area), Castellina makes for a great base to go wine tasting in Tuscany.
Winemaking in Tuscany dates back to the early settlements in 700BC. In 1079, wine officially began to be sold in the area. Back then there were strict regulations on wine and it could not be sold within 100 yards of a church.
Present-day, wine is a thriving business in Tuscany and produces most of the country’s wine from its 50 wineries. The most popular grape grown in Tuscany is the Sangiovese grape. Wine types include Chianti Classico, Chianti Colli Senesi, Super Tuscans, and Toscanas. There are so many amazing wineries in Tuscany, but some of the best include Bindi Sergardi, Poggio Amorelli, and Castello Di Monteriggioni. Before visiting any wineries, make sure to contact them as most require an appointment.
- Bindi Sergardi offers a private experience with a vineyard tour and tasting. Poggio Amorelli is one of the most popular in the area and includes a meat and cheese plate along with the tasting.
- Castello Di Monteriggioni contains some of the best views in Tuscany and is located next to a Medieval castle. It is an amazing opportunity to see how wine is produced, walk through the vineyards, and taste the wine at the location it was produced.
Ideal for a girls trip to Tuscany or for larger groups, check out the Bookings For You Italian Villa below:
- Villa Colombaio – a stunning 6-bedroom Tuscany villa with a pool.
- Browse apartments and villas in Tuscany by clicking here.
6 – See the beautiful five fishing villages of Cinque Terre, Liguria
By Chrysoula/Travel Passionate
The stunning Cinque Terre in Northern Italy is a chain of five picture-perfect fishing villages connected by walking trails that are an ideal springtime destination! Each of the villages has its own charm and character, but it is the joy of visiting them collectively that makes it such a top bucket-list destination for Italy.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, these fishing villages are not exactly off-grid to tourists any more, but that doesn’t make them any less desirable. The pastel-hued houses, meandering hillside trails and authentic eateries make the Cinque Terre a real northern Italy must-see. The rural location of the villages between the cliffs and the sea ensures that the beauty can’t be spoiled by excessive infrastructure and tourism, and the fact that many of the villagers don’t allow cars makes it all the more peaceful.
The five villages that make up the Cinque Terre are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. While it would be blissfully romantic to take each day as it comes while exploring the region, the reality is the Cinque Terre is very popular, especially in summer, so planning ahead is strongly advised.
Monterosso al Mare has the most accommodation options so works well as a base for exploring each of the other villages. Or, if you’re willing to carry your luggage on your back, you could hike between villages staying at a different spot each night. In order to make the most of your trip to the Cinque Terre, you’ll want to plan your public transport, pick-up a decent map and acquire a Cinque Terre Card which gives you access to all trekking paths on the Via Dell’amore.
7 – Uncover the history of Genoa, Liguria
By Elisa/World in Paris
Genoa (or Genova as it’s known by Italians), by the Mediterranean Sea, is the capital of the region of Liguria and one of the most interesting cities to visit in Northern Italy. Genoa is also the perfect base camp to explore picturesque Ligurian towns such as Camogli, Portofino, or the Cinque Terre.
Piazza de Ferrari is the main square in Genoa, and it is surrounded by Doge’s Palace, the Opera-Theater Carlo Felice, and other impressive baroque buildings. Not far from Piazza de Ferrari there’s the cathedral which is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture in Northern Italy.
During many centuries Genoa was together with Venice, Pisa, and Amalfi one of the four Maritime Powers in Italy and you can still see many beautiful remains of its glorious past.
Genoa’s historical centre is an ensemble of narrow and winding streets named “vicoli”. I vicoli di Genova is the largest historical ensemble in Europe and a Unesco Site, populated by beautiful noble palaces, splendid churches, and beautiful squares. Being a Maritime Power, the Mediterranean Sea always played an important role in Genoa and you can see it from almost everywhere in the city.
Another interesting place to visit in Genoa is its old harbour, a blend of historical buildings beautifully restored, and new entertainment buildings designed by the famous architect Renzo Piano. The most outstanding of these new constructions is the Aquarium, the biggest aquarium in Europe. Finally, don’t leave Genoa without tasting its traditional cuisine, with staples like focaccia and mains like trofie al pesto or pasta with walnuts sauce.
8 – Indulge in Italy’s Chocolate Capital Turin, Piedmont
By Ashley/My Wanderlusty Life
One of Northern Italy’s most unique cities would have to be Turin (known locally as Torino). It’s the capital of the Piedmont region and, at one time, was actually the capital of Italy. Whilst it may not be one of the most widely-known of the northern Italy cities to tourists, it’s the third richest city in Italy (behind Milan and Rome) and absolutely enormous with a population of 2.2 million.
But one of the reasons a few days in Turin should be on your bucket list: chocolate. Turin is unofficially known as Italy’s chocolate capital and the stuff is everywhere you turn. One of the most popular activities in Turin is starting your day at one of the city’s extravagant historical cafés with a Bicerin. Bicerin (pronounce bee-cher-een) is a hot morning drink native to Turin that consists of espresso, milk, and a helping of thick chocolate. Perhaps this is what they mean by “richest city in Italy.”
Additionally, Turin is also known as the birthplace of Nutella and you can find versions of its predecessor gianduja all over the city. And as if that wasn’t enough, Turin is also the birthplace of aperitivo and the home of Fiat, Barolo wine, white truffles, and the world’s largest and most comprehensive Egyptian museum outside of Cairo. Turin’s churches contain highly prized religious relics; its palaces are opulent and seemingly never-ending, and its location just east of the Alps provides for great mountain views and adventurous weekend hiking trips.
Turin is a perfect mix of charming porticos and flashy architecture, ancient Roman ruins, and a metropolitan flair you can only find in a Northern Italian city.
Full of culture, riches and chocolate, Turin is one of the best cities in Northern Italy to include on your Northern Italy travel bucket list!
9 – Explore the Byzantine Architecture & mosaics in Ravenna, Emilia Romagna
By Claire/Stoked to Travel
Ravenna, located in the eastern half of the beautiful region of Emilia Romagna is a less touristy city of northern Italy that is definitely worth visiting. This small town was the last capital city of the Western Roman Empire before becoming the seat of Byzantine Italy in the 8th century. As a result, Ravenna is packed with UNESCO World Heritage sites. This includes some of the best-preserved mosaics in the world, many of which are located in stunning monuments such as the Church of San Vitale, or the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, both of which are stunning examples of early Christian Byzantine Architecture.
Ravenna is also the final resting place of Italian poet and writer, Dante Alighieri, known for works such as The Divine Comedy and Paradise, and his spectacular tomb is a popular site to visit. Aside from the impressive number of historical and religious sites to see, Ravenna is a beautiful place to spend a couple of days, especially as it is close to the glorious Adriatic Coast. Within minutes you can be cycling within the beautiful pine tree forests of nearby Cervia, or soaking up the sun at Marina di Ravenna. And as with any north Italian destination, Ravenna is also home to some fantastic traditional dishes including piadina, a type of stuffed flatbread and plenty of seafood dishes, including pickled eels – a local delicacy!
10 – Take a food tour in Bologna, Emilia Romagna
By Mollie/Luggage and Life
Bologna is known as ‘la dotta, la grassa e la rossa,’ or ‘the learned, the fat, the red.’ She is learned for her university, which is the oldest in Europe and boasts such famous alumni as Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and Pier Paolo Pasolini. She’s fat for her cuisine, which is rich in meats and cheeses. She’s red for the colour of the bricks used in so many of her buildings.
With almost 80,000 students in the city when school is in session, there’s no shortage of nightlife, and there is a thriving art and music scene too. Stroll around Piazza Maggiore, admiring the famous Statue of Neptune and the church of San Petronio. Climb up the 498 steps of the Asinelli tower and look out over the city. Walk 3.8 km of Bologna’s nearly 40 km of porticoes to the Santuario Della Madonna di San Luca, which lies 300 metres above the northern Italian city and offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
After all that walking, you’ll be ready to eat. Start ticking boxes on your foodie bucket list on Via Delle Pescherie Vecchie with un tagliere di affettati e formaggi misti con tigelle, or a charcuterie board served with warm, round flatbreads. Make sure you get some mortadella, prosciutto di parma, and Parmigiano Reggiano – these are all from the Emilia Romagna region. Lasagne or tagliatelle alla bolognese (note: authentic bolognese isn’t served with spaghetti!) is another must-eat. Tortellini in brodo, or tortellini in meat broth, served with freshly grated parmigiano is yet another pasta dish that you can’t leave Bologna without trying. While you’re at it, try some balsamic vinegar from nearby Modena, and wash it all down with some sparkling white Pignoletto frizzante, or a glass of silky, red Sangiovese di Romagna. Buon appetito!
You are guaranteed to fall in love with Bologna and, not just with the food! Bologna is certainly one of the northern Italy cities where you won’t go hungry, that’s for sure!
11 – Try Italy’s famous traditional food in Modena, Emilia Romagna
Modena, Italy has always been a bucket list destination in northern Italy, though it’s only been discovered by food travellers the past several years. Even today, few travellers to the Emilia Romagna region stray outside Bologna, a city that’s become synonymous with great Italian food.
Emilia Romagna is often regarded as the culinary capital of Italy, largely because of the traditional foods produced in Modena, and strictly regulated by the Italian government to ensure the highest of quality. In fact, three of the DOP (designated origins of protection) foods Italy is most famous for – Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, traditional Balsamic vinegar, and prosciutto ham – hail from Modena. The best part about experiencing the food here (besides, of course, eating it) is exploring how it’s made. Making that connection between food and how it’s produced is a foodie’s dream, and there’s no better way to do that then on a Modena food tour. There are several good local tour companies – some who specialise in private artisan food tours and others where you’ll tour production factories to see exactly how these three foods are made. But seeing the sites of Modena while tasting locally made pasta and nibbles of Parmigiano cheese at Mercato Albinelli is a great way to start your tour.
Then grab lunch or a sandwich al passegio (to go) and check out the many quaint gourmet shops selling rare spices and hard-to-find cooking items. Whether you enjoy entertaining food demonstrations or small personalised tours, a Modena food tour deserves a spot on any foodie’s bucket list!
12 – Take a gondola ride in Venice, Veneto
There is no doubt about it: Venice is one of the most unique cities in the entire world, and absolutely one of the best places to visit in northern Italy.
Built across 118 small islands, split by a crisscrossing series of 150 canals, and knitted together with around 400 footbridges, Venice’s layout and topography alone make it incredibly unique. Add in the beautiful architecture, compelling history, and an immense number of fun things to do, and there’s no doubt that Venice is an unforgettable destination.
While you’re there, be sure to stroll through Piazza San Marco, climb one of Venice’s towers for phenomenal views over the city, visit outlying islands like Burano and Murano, tour the Doge’s Palace, peruse the books at Libreria Acqua Alta, get lost among Venice’s small alleys and canals, and-of course-cross taking a gondola ride in Venice off your bucket list.
Arguably the most popular of the north Italy cities, If you’d like to get off the beaten path in Venice, consider also visiting the lesser-seen outlying island of Torcello, searching out Venice’s leaning towers, visiting incredible work by Tintoretto at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and touring St. Mark’s Clocktower.
While it can be hard to balance how much time spend on any one part of your northern Italy bucket list, strongly consider spending at least one night in Venice if you can: the city’s infamous crowds evaporate as daytrippers leave, and exploring Venice at night is an absolutely magical experience that is not to be missed.
13 – Visit the Colourful Town of Burano
By Alexx/Finding Alexx
Famous for its multi-coloured houses that line canals and reflect in the water, Burano is one of the most colourful places in the world! This picture-perfect rainbow island is just a 45-minute ferry from Venice, tickets are €7.50, and it’s an absolute must-do for any Northern Italy itinerary.
Spend some time wandering down quiet lanes searching for your favourite shade of pastel, before stopping off at a local bistro for a fresh seafood lunch caught by local fishermen that morning. My pick for a decent feed without spending a fortune is Osteria Al Museo Burano, the fried fish platter is legendary and you won’t be disappointed.
After you’ve had your fill of colourful streets and culinary treats, Burano’s lesser-known claim to fame is the island’s lace-making history. Burano has been creating handmade lace since the 16th century, and there are plenty of shops dotted around the island selling stunning one-off pieces. For fashion fiends or crafty types, you’ve got to pay a visit to the Museo del Merletto, a historic palace once home to the renowned Burano Lace School. It’s a brilliant option for a day trip from Venice to escape the craziness during the mid-morning/early afternoon when cruise ships dock in the city, but Burano gets quite busy too, so if you can stretch your visit to encompass an evening then you’ll reap the benefit of fewer crowds and a more local feel. Accommodation is limited and expensive, so if you plan on staying in Burano then be sure to book early.
14 – Enjoy the unspoilt beauty of Trieste, Friuli Venezia Giulia
By Noel/Travel Photo Discovery
Trieste is one of those cities that never really comes to mind when thinking about visiting a beautiful part of Northern Italy. But it really is lovely, especially with not that many tourists visiting, giving it an Italy off the beaten path feel to it.
What you’ll find in the north Italian city of Trieste is a wonderful dolce vita lifestyle that really exudes the best of Italian food, culture and history. Explore the historic city centre, enjoy a passeggiata (Italian for a stroll) at sunset exploring the city promenades with friends and family. The beautiful historic downtown areas and piazzas are colourful, surrounded by magnificent architecture and classic buildings that are fun to explore along with the pedestrian promenades that lead you to different parts of the city, including the canal areas that lead directly to the ocean. The magnificent civic centre with the main central piazza and city centre is grandiose, fantastic to explore later at night when all the cafes spill out into the square. It’s this magical slice of life where you get to see the Italians relaxing and enjoying time with family and friends, which gives Trieste an authentic Italian experience.
If you are looking for places to visit in Northern Italy for a true Italian break, Trieste is a must-see in Italy!
15 – Visit Juliet’s Balcony in Verona, Veneto
By Anda/Travel for a While
The first thing that comes to mind when speaking of Verona is the story of Romeo and Juliet. You can trace back the lovers’ steps to some extent in Verona: visit Juliet’s house, step on her famous balcony, and search for Romeo’s home. Legend says if you touch Juliet’s breast, you will be lucky in love…You can even send letters to Juliet if you need love advice. I’m not sure you should take it, though. However, there is a whole city to explore, beyond Romeo and Juliet’s Verona and the story Shakespeare imagined.
Verona is probably the most elegant city I’ve seen in Italy. The city built by the river Adige has very-well preserved medieval buildings, ample piazzas, stone bridges across the river, and even a functional 2000 years old Roman Arena. The streets and piazzas inside the gates of medieval Verona are covered in marble which will make you feel like you’re walking in an open-air museum. Visit Castelvecchio, sit for an aperitivo in the ample Piazza Bra, have dinner in the romantic atmosphere of Piazza Delle Erbe, and maybe even see a performance on the Verona Arena stage. You must try the local risottos, the traditional fresh pasta called bigoli and if to your tastes, a horse-meat stew, called pastissada de caval.
Moreover, Verona is the perfect place to explore one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe, Lake Garda at the foot of the Dolomites. Verona is also next to Valpolicella, the region where Prosecco comes from. So, be sure to try some of this refreshing bubbly wine while staying in Verona.
Verona is one of the most treasured of the north Italy cities for the Romeo & Juliet story and beyond!
16 – Enjoy the Lake Garda views on the Monte Baldo cable car
By Justine/Wanderer of The World
Lake Garda, officially the largest lake in Italy, simply must find its way onto your Italy bucket list as it is one of the most beautiful places in Northern Italy. Whether you choose to sail across it, admire the views from your hotel balcony or take a dip in it, it’s like seeing a liquid sapphire right at your feet. Yes, it really is that blue!
During any trip to Lake Garda, it’s a must to visit Sirmione, which is a town at the end of the peninsula that juts out from the southern shores of the lake. Here, you’ll find ancient Italian ruins and an imposing castle, which are sure to get any history buff excited! From Sirmione, it’s possible to visit other beautiful towns around Lake Garda as a road trip or by boat. The latter being a total bucket list idea if ever there was one as getting up close and personal with Lake Garda is the best way to experience its beauty.
Another bucket list thing to do at Lake Garda is to visit the town of Malcesine on the north-eastern part of the lake. Easily one of the best towns to visit in Northern Italy, not only is the town itself charming to wander around and explore, but its resident mountain: Monte Baldo is an experience you’ll never forget. A quick ten-minute cable car ride to the top will find you gazing across Lake Garda from 2000 metres up – and it’s here where you’ll truly be able to appreciate the lake’s stunning bright blue colours. Plus the hikes up here are incredible! However you choose to spend your time in and around Lake Garda, you’re sure to love every minute of it!
Bookings For You have some incredible luxury villas in Lake Garda, including these stunning properties which you can view on the links below:
17 – See the sinking Scaliger Castle in Sirmione, Brescia
By Christina/Our Sweet Adventures
Sirmione, Italy is one of the prettiest Northern Italy towns to visit on Lake Garda and one of the best towns in Northern Italy to include on your bucket list. This small city is located on the tip of the Sirmione peninsula along the southern shore of Lake Garda.
One reason why you must visit is to see the famous sinking castle, which is one of the best places to visit in Northern Italy. This castle is one of Europe’s most picturesque castles and should be on everyone’s bucket list in Northern Italy. With that said, the castle is not actually sinking and the real name is called the Scaliger Castle. The Scaliger Castle looks like its sinking because it’s a rare example of a medieval port fortification. So when guests enter the castle, they will see the castle’s walls built within the lake. The Scaliger Castle offers beautiful views of the fortification, Lake Garda, and the city of Sirmione. You can climb to the top of the castle towers and get wonderful 360-degree views of Sirmione surrounded by water.
Though most tourists visit Sirmione to see Scaliger Castle, they end up staying longer to explore the city because it is one of the most charming places in Italy. The city is filled with cobblestone streets and fairytale looking houses. You can also find some of the best gelatos in Italy in a local shop that has hundreds of different flavours and giant scoops of gelato – literally three scoops can cover your entire face. Or grab a bite to eat at one of the piazzas along Lake Garda for stunning views and the freshest seafood. Needless to say, Sirmione is a city in Northern Italy that you do not want to miss!
During your time in Sirmione, enjoy some relaxation at the Termi di Sirmione spa after a day exploring the castle.
18 – Enjoy the breath-taking natural landscape of Trento with a glass of Trentodoc sparkling wine
By Emily/London City Calling
Despite being a lesser-known city in Northern Italy, Trento is without a doubt one of the most beautiful spots in the region. It has also been voted as one of the top Northern Italian cities in terms of quality of life.
Nestled within the Adige River Valley, the picturesque city is small enough to have a relaxed traditional Italian town vibe to it but big enough to have plenty of things to do for visitors. There is so much to do in Trento, from strolling down the historic cobbled streets, admiring the 12th-century Buonconsiglio Castle or sitting at a restaurant in one of the charming piazza’s enjoying the world-class cuisine and a glass of Trentodoc (local sparkling wine), to visiting the MUSE (the city’s state of the art science museum set inside an impressive modern glass building) or taking the cable car up Mount Bodone to Sardegna, where you can admire the beautiful views back down over the city.
Another reason you need to add Trento to your Northern Italian bucket list is that the city is the capital of, and a gateway to, the stunning region of Trentino to its north. Trentino is an area which is famous for its breath-taking natural landscapes, including the snow-dusted peaks of the Dolomite mountains, acres of lush forests and almost 300 lakes, as well as a number of large rivers, earning it the nickname ‘little Finland’. The best part is that much of this natural beauty is easily reachable in a day trip or weekend break from Trento.
Trento is a hidden gem in Northern Italy and a must-see!
19 – Go skiing in the Dolomites
By Seanna/Seanna’s World
The Dolomites are not just the sparkling jewels of Italy – they are indeed amongst the highlights of all of Europe. The mountain range, reaching over 3000 metres above sea level is so important that it has UNESCO World Heritage status.
Close do the border with Austria, the culture in the Dolomites is very different from what you will experience in other parts of northern Italy, with many locals speaking German dialects, as well as Italian. The food also feels closer to Austrian cuisine, with mountain huts serving dishes like dumplings and apple strudel. The region is broken up into many different valleys, with each one having its own distinct character.
The landscape is striking, dramatic and ethereal, with jagged peaks. The main reason people come to the Dolomites is to get outside and get active. In Winter, there is a thriving ski and snowboard scene with twelve main resorts across the region. In the warmer months, the Dolomites are your adventure playground, with opportunities for hiking, climbing, canyoning, kayaking, mountain biking. Local to the region is also via Ferrata, an activity where you scale sheer rock faces on metal rungs that are already built into the mountain.
As well as day hikes, the Dolomites are perfect for multi-day trekking, with a series of long-distance paths through the picturesque backdrop. You can spend the nights in some of the mountain refuges, which tend to be basic. Expect dorm accommodation, but a warm spirit and good hearty food. The Dolomites are a wonderful place to visit to escape city life, get the adrenaline going, and enjoy some of nature’s best offerings.
An adrenaline-junkie’s playground, skiing in the Dolomites is one of most adventurous things to do in Italy for sure!
20 – Enjoy a romantic Lago di Braies hike, South Tyrol
By Alexander/Gourmand Trotter
Lago di Braies is one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe, known for its scenic views, beautiful reflections and incredible backdrop with a gorgeous snowcapped mountain most times of the year. It became famous in Italy after being featured in a popular TV-show called Un Passo del Cielo, and in recent years it has been shared vividly in social media by various travel influencers.
Lago di Braies is located in the Dolomites, not far from Bruneck and Cortina d’Ampezzo. The watercolour is blue, turquoise, and green that gives off an emerald look, especially in the early mornings when the reflections are most stunning.
For those who like adventures, there’s also a loop trail around the lake where you get various views and also pass by the small chapel, located on the eastern side of Lago di Braies. Additionally, it’s possible to hike up to the mountain that’s seen as the major background, and you can also rent a rowing boat and go for a romantic ride on the lake. It’s highly recommended to explore the lake in the early morning to avoid the crowds and experience the tranquil vibes.
Lago di Braies has a magical atmosphere at sunset and the sun rises behind the mountain. One of the best things to do in Lago di Braies is to just sit down by the lake and listen to the birds singing and watch the sunrise. The air is also very fresh. If you come here during the winter, it might be covered by snow and ice, so it’s best to come here between May or September.
Lago di Braies is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Italy, especially for those who want to explore Italy off the beaten path.
21 – Cycle around Monte Isola, Brescia
By Enikő/Travel Hacker Girl
Lake Iseo is a beautiful Italian lake in Lombardy, which is surrounded by mountains. The lake is also special because it is home to the largest lake island in Europe. Monte Isola should be on everyone’s bucket list visiting Italy as it is truly unique.
Visitors can feel like they just went back in time, relaxing in lakeside cafes with spectacular views and observing locals drinking cappuccinos while reading their newspapers. There are no cars allowed on the island and the only vehicles you will see are public buses and motorbikes belonging to residents. With this in mind, the best way to get around is by bike. You can transport bikes on the local ferry, or rent one on the island. Cycling around Monte Isola is an absolute must. The 9 km journey should take about 1 hour. This way you can see the cute villages, narrow alleys, olive groves and historical buildings.
If you are very fit, you can take a detour to the Madonna della Ceriola Sanctuary. It stands on top of the 600 m peak and offers gorgeous 360-degree views of the area. The lush island has scenic hiking trails, which go all the way to the top. Whether you choose to cycle or hike to the Sanctuary you will want to cool yourself off afterwards. Luckily Monte Isola has several public beaches. Some of which also offer kayak and SUP rentals if you fancy taking to the water. It is worth hiring one to get closer to Isola di Loreto, which is another small island, not far from the public beach in Carzano.
Cycling around Monte Isola is another great option for adventurous things to do in Northern Italy to see more of Italy off the beaten track.
22 – Visit Bergamo Old Town, Lombardy
By Claudia/My Adventures Across The World
Bergamo is one of the prettiest, yet most underrated cities in Northern Italy. Easily reached with budget airline flights from all over Europe, this small city has an incredible array of attractions – both in the city and in the immediate surroundings.
The city is divided into two main parts – Bergamo Alta, which marks the oldest part of town, and its historical centre, and where you will find the walls which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and the more modern Bergamo Bassa, which has larger boulevards and beautiful museums and art galleries.
Among the places to visit in Bergamo, make sure not to skip the old town. There, you will find Piazza Vecchia, where you will find the 12th century Torre del Comune, the 16th century Biblioteca Civica and the 12th century Palazzo della Regione. The archway of the Palazzo della Regione will take you to the gorgeous Piazza Duomo, where you will find the neo-classical Duomo and the beautifully decorated Cappella Colleoni, a renaissance masterpiece built-in 1487.
Bergamo is a great food destination too: make sure to try the delicious casonzei, a fresh pasta filled with pumpkin; and polenta, which is prepared perfectly in this region of Italy.
Outside of the city, make sure not to skip Crespi d’Adda, a tiny village which is UNESCO enlisted as it is a beautifully kept example of a “company town” built in the 19th century. Not far from Bergamo, San Pellegrino is perfect to admire Art Nouveau buildings and to enjoy an afternoon at the fabulous QC Terme spa. Finally, Malpaga Castle will offer you the opportunity to visit a well kept medieval castle wearing costumes that date back to that time.
Bergamo is one of the best Northern Italy cities to experience both the history and cuisine that Italy is famous for.
23 – Go shopping in Milan, Lombardy
By Nisha/And There She Goes Again
Milan, the fashion capital of the world, is the biggest city in Northern Italy. In contrast to other international magnets Venice, Rome, and Florence, Milan brings something very different to your Italian palette.
It blends traditional art and culture with modern designs. It sews together the artistic expressions of Duomo di Milano with fashion brands like Prada and Armani. It brings you history and culture from decades ago with the comforts of a metropolitan city. Amongst everything Milan offers, a few of my favourites are Duomo di Milano: Made in approximately 60 years, the biggest Cathedral in Italy is the most visited attraction in Milan You can’t do justice to this marvellous architecture unless you have seen it up close on the terrace. You can either climb up the terrace or take an elevator to see the best views of Milan’s skyline.
See the original Last Supper from Leonardo da Vinci: The original masterpiece was drawn on the wall of a monastery in Santa Maria Delle Grazie church and is open to visitors. Visit an interactive museum to see the design of various of his ideas, not only his art pieces, but the modern interactive museum Leonardo3 is also a must to see the scientific ideas and designs from the world-renowned artist.
Naviglio Grande: Witness the remnants of one of the biggest medieval projects. For irrigation and transport, canals were created from different Italian and Swiss lakes all the way to Milan. While most of them are closed now, you can still visit Naviglio Grande, which is now a local favorite destination for aperitif and dinner.
This is the spirit of Milan, a bustling cosmopolitan rooted well in its history and culture. Whether you are looking to spend two days in Milan or longer, you will be blown away by what this city has to offer. A true Italy travel bucket list destination indeed!
If you are wondering where to stay in Milan, check out the accommodation from Bookings For You below:
- Villa Divignano – a large villa with a pool within easy reach of Milan, but also just 20 minutes from Lake Maggiore to enable guests to enjoy both a city and rural / lakeside break.
24 – Explore the picture-postcard towns in Lake Como, Lombardy
Tucked into the foothills of the Alps in the Lombardy region of northern Italy lies Lake Como. This famous lake is a treasure of beauty that should be on everyone’s northern Italy bucket list. Measuring 46km in length, it is the third-largest lake in Italy, although arguably the most impressive.
Dotted around the perimeter of this wishbone-shaped lake is a menagerie of colourful, picture-postcard towns. Within these, you will discover millennia of history as you wander the narrow, cobblestoned streets and take in the opulent villas.
Due to its close proximity to Milan and its breathtaking beauty, it is a popular destination for local and international tourists alike. For a peaceful escape from the city, a weekend or day trip from Milan to Lake Como is perfect. However, if you are fortunate enough to have more time, you could spend weeks exploring this spectacular part of northern Italy.
Located at its fork in the middle of Lake Como are Varenna, Bellagio and Menaggio. These charming lakeside towns are collectively referred to as the “golden triangle” and are possibly the most scenic parts of the lake. At the most southern point of the southwestern arm of the lake lies the town of Como itself.
A visit to any of these will provide you with a magnificent combination of quaint colourful towns steeped in history, grandiose villas, striking mountain vistas and delicious Italian food. Be sure to take a boat trip across the lake, even if it’s just a ferry from one town to another as the views from the water are unbeatable.
If you are wondering where to stay in Lake Como, check out the accommodation from Bookings For You below:
- Villa Royale – an apartment within a stunning lakeside villa which has the real wow factor for a luxury stay.
- Apartment Magnifico Brentano – a 2 bedroom apartment sleeping up to 6 people, a great choice for families or a group of friends.
25 – See the Beautiful Borromean Islands in Lake Maggiore, Lombardy
By (Me) Jaz/The Life of a Social Butterfly
Lake Maggiore is a hidden gem in Northern Italy as it’s one of the lesser-known of the Italian Lakes, despite being the second largest. But, the reason why it’s one of Italy’s best-kept secrets is that it’s referred to as Italy’s Garden of Eden.
Lake Maggiore is a quiet paradise adorned with lush green open spaces, snow-capped mountains, beautiful gardens and villas all surrounding the bright cobalt blue lake.
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Italy and, indeed, scenic places to visit in Lake Maggiore is to visit The Borromean Islands (Isole Borromee). The islands were formerly reserved for aristocrats only, who would visit the islands to attend the lavish parties thrown by the wealthy Borromeo family, to which the islands gained their name.
Now a prime tourist destination, you can see the islands in their full glory having been beautifully maintained over the years. The trip to the islands is from Stresa, but if you are on the other side of the lake take the ferry (you can take your car too for 26 euros) from Laveno-Mombello to Stresa where you will take the short boat ride for 12 euros per person to the Borromean Islands. Alternatively, if you are travelling from Milan to Stresa by train you will reach Stresa within 1 hour.
The small cluster of islands each have their own individual character and occupy an area of just 50 acres. The largest Isola Madre is where you will find beautiful botanical English inspired gardens.
It’s easy to see why Lake Maggiore is known as Italy’s Garden of Eden when you visit Isola Bella, as the walled gardens are adorned with various types of flowers, you will see white albino peacocks parading the gardens or sitting in the trees and statues of unicorns and lions giving Isola Bella a secret garden feel. The mesmerising baroque palace with intricately designed grotto is a real highlight and a combined ticket for the gardens of Isola Bella and Madre costs just 20 euros.
Isola Superiore or Isola Pescatori (as it’s better known) is as the name suggests, where you will find fresh seafood. As the boat nears Isola Pescatori you will see a variety of intimate restaurants to dine in during your time on the island. It is also the place to browse Lake Maggiore souvenirs to mark your visit.
Lake Maggiore is full of adventure and for the adventure seekers among you, I highly recommend taking the bucket lifts up the mountain in Laveno-Mombello. Easily one of the most adventurous things to do in Italy, if not the scariest, these bucket lifts aren’t for the faint-hearted (as you can see from the photo below). Though, they are one of the best things to do in Italy with kids (don’t worry there are closed lifts too!)
You can read about my own scary experience here – Braving the Bucket Lifts of Lake Maggiore!
If you’re wondering how to travel northern Italy, by car is most definitely the best option! Lake Maggiore is shared with neighbouring country Switzerland and a road trip to Switzerland from Lake Maggiore is a great addition to your Lake Maggiore itinerary if time allows. Especially, for those looking to combine mountain-top coasters, scenic cable cars with adrenaline-filled waterslides and a relaxing spa. Head over to this post to read more: Fun day trip from Lake Maggiore to Switzerland.
There are plenty of things to do in Lake Maggiore, whatever your holiday preferences. Check out my Lake Maggiore travel blog posts below:
I stayed at The Golfo Gabella Lake Resort, which is a particularly good option for family holidays in Lake Maggiore. Bookings For You currently have a special offer on Apartment Tranquillo (a four-bedroom apartment on the Golfo Gabella Resort).
If you would prefer to stay in a villa, browse the opulent villas from Bookings For You on the links below:
- Villa Massino – a nice family-friendly villa, which can also be rented as a smaller 1 or 2 bed for couples or smaller groups at a lower rate.
- Casa Belva – a luxury villa near Stresa.
- Villa Emerlinda – a luxury villa, ideal for larger groups.
- Browse additional Lake Maggiore villas on this link
Italian Bucket List – Fun Things to Do in Italy
I hope you enjoyed reading this bucket list for Italy and found it full of inspiration for the best things to do in Italy to help you plan your next visit.
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So there you have it, the best places to visit in Northern Italy! What destination will be the first you want to cross off your Italy travel bucket list? Let me know in the comments!
Whilst this post contains cool things to do in Italy’s northern regions, check out the links below for things to do in Southern Italy and places you must visit!