If you plan to visit Northern Italy and avoid the crowds, there are hundreds of lesser-known yet beautiful places worth adding to your itinerary. If you visit Italy for the first time, all your favourite cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice will surely be on your list. But the natural beauty of Italy goes well beyond the surface of the main attractions. You will be surprised to see how many charming villages and small towns the boot-shaped BelPaese has.
The Best Places to Visit on a Northern Italy Trip
I grew up in Italy and returned to reside back in 2004. I have been travelling in my home country for decades and love to explore new things and experience the extraordinary about the lesser-known and secret places in Italy.
From naturalist escapes to food and gourmet regions, in this post, I am showing you some of the best places to visit in Northern Italy, especially in Italy’s North East, an area that boasts small heritage sites and naturalistic treasures that you will love.
Trieste, the pearl of North-East Italy
Trieste is the most underrated city in North Italy. Located in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in North-East Italy, Trieste is right on the border with Slovenia. Although it feels isolated from all other northern Italian towns, leaving will be difficult once you get there. I call Venice’s sister town on the mainland because of its canals and the spectacular, beautiful Piazza D’Unità D’Italia on the sea.
From there, a short stroll along the Molo Audace, a 200-meter paved walkway, takes out to sea. Triest is the pearl of the Karst Plateau, where you can take beautiful walks along the Rilke Trail or the Strada Napoleonica (Napoleonic Way).
Another thing to do in Trieste is walk along its beautiful 6 km promenade that leads to the Miramare Castle, a white castle perched on a small promontory surrounded by a vast lush green park. If you are a food and coffee lover, Triest is home to the worldwide famous coffee brand illy coffee. The beautiful contrasts and the rich heritage makes Trieste an ideal destination for a weekend gateway when exploring Northern Italy. You can also travel to Croatia and Slovenia, as Trieste is located on the border of Slovenia. You can get to the beautiful coastal town of Baska Krk Island in a couple of hours.
Where To Stay in Trieste
Venice: Discover its offbeat treasures
There is something magical about Venice that I cannot put into words. As a local, no other place in Italy makes me feel like strolling on Venice’s Calle. Having visited Venice since I was a kid and throughout my life, every trip to Venice is like seeing it for the first time. I get goosebumps whenever I get off the train and walk through the Venetian Calle. There is always a tiny hidden place, hundreds of little “calli” (dead-end alleys) to discover and get lost. And many small islands on the Venetian Lagoon that are a real treasure. You can go on a heritage tour and explore more of its naturalistic beauty: go biking, walking, and bird watching.
These are some of Venice’s most unusual places that are not on most tourists’ plans when they come to see Venice.
Where To Stay in Venice
Padua, the city of Saint Antonio
Padua is one of the oldest cities in Northern Italy and home to many world-class sites like the Basilica of St. Antonio. This church was built in 1232 and continuously attracted visitors with its architecture and highly valued masterpieces.
You can also retrace the footsteps of Galileo and Copernico at the University of Padua, the fifth oldest university in the world, established in 1222. I suggest visiting The Orto Botanico di Padova, the world’s first academic botanical garden.
Another world-renowned work of art in Padua is the Scrovegni Chapel. You’ll be amazed by the frescoes depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary. And after a day of exploring, you can relax at Caffè Pedrocchi, the oldest and most famous historical café in Padua.
Where to Stay in Padua
Treviso, Te closest Town Near Venice
Treviso is a Northeastern Italian city in the Veneto Region. It’s only 26 km from Venice, which gave it the nickname ‘gateway to Venice’. Sadly, tourists often overlook it, leaving only a few to appreciate its charming canals, historic places, cobbled streets, and picturesque river banks.
Treviso is quieter than Venice but still puts you close to the Veneto Prosecco region and wide vineyards where you can taste Italian sparkling wines. It also boasts medieval architecture in places like the Palazzo dei Trecento, equipped with battlements and vaulted arcades.
Medieval frescoes are also found at the Civic Museums’ leading site, the St. Catherine complex. You can also get up close to Fontana delle Tette, a 16th-century fountain that used to dispense wine.
Where to Stay in Treviso
Vittorio Veneto: a small heritage town in Northern Italy
Not many people know there are so many charming little villages and heritage sites within a short drive or one-hour train ride from Venice. One of these is Vittorio Veneto, with its beautiful medieval castle and many old buildings from the Renaissance era. Vittorio is one of the most beautiful Italian cities that must be on your bucket list as a day trip from Venice.
The Prosecco Road between near Conegliano
Welcome to the best region for all Italian sparkling wines. I’d say the area that can best compete with the French Champagne. There are many types of Prosecco, and the only place where the vineyards grow here is Veneto. You can visit the best Prosecco Wineries and go through some fantastic Prosecco hills and lush landscapes.
You can also hire a car and drive through the famous Prosecco Road from Conegliano to Vittorio Veneto and further down to Valdobbiadene. This triangle-shaped land encompasses the top white wine region of Italy. In my Summer Italy Tour of the Dolomites, we will go on a gourmet Tour by tasting the best Prosecco and walking through the picturesque Hills of Vittorio Veneto.
The Northern Dolomites, a UNESCO Heritage site
The Italian Dolomites stretch between three regions in North-East Italy: Trentino & South Tyrol, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Julia. Most people choose Cortina, which is very popular with tourists in summer and winter.
Bolzano: the northernmost Italian City
On the way to the Dolomites, you’ll pass Bolzano—a charming city in Northern Italy often called the Gateway to the Dolomites. It offers a panoramic view of unspoiled nature, such as the Earth Pyramids in the Bolzano plateau, Europe’s tallest and most beautiful natural pyramids. You can also visit the famous alpine iceman named Otzi in the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano.
And if you love architecture, you’ll be fascinated by the late-Gothic Assumption of Our Lady Cathedral and numerous castles, such as Rafenstein and Hocheppan Castle. And should your visit fall during the Christmas season, explore Bolzano’s famous Christmas market and discover why it’s considered the Christmas Capital of Italy.
Where to Stay in Bolzano
Trento, Sister Town of Bolzano
Trento is a small, underrated city in the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy. And while the Dolomites wait not too far ahead, Trento also offers various attractions, such as the famous Buonconsiglio Castle. It’s the home to late-medieval fresco cycles and now functions as the Provincial Gallery of Art.
The architecture of Trento Cathedral on Piazza Duomo and the Renaissance building of Casa Cazuffi-Rella will also captivate you. Trento also keeps a modern appeal with its high-tech exhibits at the MUSE, a science and natural history museum.
You’re bound to have a fantastic dining experience in Trento, and you can end on a good note with the famous Trentodoc. It’s one of Italy’s most popular sparkling wines, made from Trentino grapes.
Where to Stay in Trento
Ortisei, Val Gardena, For The Best Mountain Views
Nestled in the Northern Dolomites, Ortisei is the main village in Val Gardena. It’s by the riverside and has an exciting pedestrian zone filled with various cafes, shops, and restaurants. This zone connects the chapel of Saint Ulrich to the Antonius church and is considered the most beautiful shopping street in the Dolomites.
Skiing in Val Gardena is one of the highlights of your visit to Ortisei. Other activities include hiking up Mountain Pic and through Rasciesa and Seceda. You can also go to the Ortisei climbing hall to practice on the 220 sqm climbing wall before going to the iconic Dolomites.
Ortisei has also been the woodcarving centre since the 17th century. Today, the famous wood carvings of Val Gardena can be found all over the globe.
Where to Stay in Ortisei
How to plan a trip to Northern Italy
If you plan a trip around Northern Italy and beyond, during or after COVID-19, one of the most comfortable ways to save you time and hassle of booking your accommodation is to go on a road trip across Italy with an RV. Ideally, North Italy can be explored by train, as the train network is excellent and you can go anywhere by train. You don’t need to hire a car from Frecce to Italo Trains to the frequent regional trains; you are covered and can get anywhere.
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First published in 2018, last updated in May 2023
Photos Credits from Shutterstock
Photo no. 1. Trieste Miramare Castle
Photo no. 2. Serravalle Vittorio Veneto
Phooto no. 3 Burano Venice
Photo no. 4. Vittorio Veneto
Photo no. 5. Prosecco Hills Veneto
Photo no. 6. Dolomites Landscape