Last Updated on 23rd December 2018 by Sophie Nadeau
Italy is the kind of place that shouldn’t be missed on any adventure through Europe. After all, it’s a country of endless coastal line, authentic cuisine and oodles of culture. And none of this is more apparent than when you visit the North of the country, a region filled with Alpine towns, shimmering lakes, and earthy vineyards. Here are ten breathtaking and beautiful Northern Italian cities to add to your European bucket list right now!
The hidden gem of Lombardy, Bergamo is an underrated European city with plenty to see if you only give it a chance. Founded thousands of years ago, possibly even before the Roman era, this Lombardian city lies in the foothills of the Alps and as a result, is itself situated on a dominating hill. Filled with museums and an old town that wouldn’t look out of place in a vintage Italian movie, it’s the perfect place to spend a few days exploring the many museums and churches this small city has to offer.
Read more: Best things to do in Bergamo.
Capital of a province of the same name, Ravenna, this ancient city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from the early 5th-century and right up until 476 when the Empire collapsed. From that point onwards, it was utilised as the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom.
It’s fair to say that Ravenna has seen a fair share of power struggles and important historical events over the years. And as such, there are plenty of Roman and Byzantine buildings and remnants to be seen; to the extent that the city has eight designated UNESCO world heritage sites to see! So for now, I’m just going to rave about Ravenna (haha, sorry!)
An ancient university town which was once the capital of Lombardy, Pavia has seen mountains of changes over the years, as well as notable residents. Albert Einstein himself once called ‘Pavia’ his home. Of all the Northern Italian cities in this article, Pavia may well be my favourite. And not just because it’s in close proximity to one of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture in Italy, the Certosa di Pavia.
Instead, even if you opt to stay within the confines of Pavia’s old city, you’ll find a perfect replica of a covered medieval bridge, a Duomo designed by Da Vinci and plenty of luxurious B and Bs and hotels to relax in. Pavia is also home to one of the oldest universities in Italy, and many of them have museums to explore and stunning architecture to admire.
Read more: A guide to Pavia university town.
Yes, the city of Parma is named just like the ham of the same name, which incidentally originated in the region. Like many Northern Italian cities, Parma is a medieval university town, with plenty of winding cobbled lanes to explore, an expansive old town, and all the pizza you could ever ask for. Other than its cold meat cuts, Parma is best-known for its hard cheeses (think parmesan style), music scene, and architecture dating back to the middle ages.
Milan/ Milano, Lombardy
Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region and is the design and fashion capital of Italy. And, indeed, this is where fashion week is held whenever the event comes to Italia! Milano is filled with eateries (including a café designed by Wes Anderson), a trendy nightlife scene, and is also home to the Duomo di Milano, one of the largest cathedrals in Italy.
Although it’s often said that Milan is lacking in tourist activities in comparison with other cities in the North of Italy, it’s well worth dedicating at least a day to explore the city’s main sites. This is especially the case if you want to hang out in aesthetic cafés, wander along pretty canals, and hang out in expansive green spaces.
Read more: How to spend one day in Milan.
Home to the oldest university in Europe, and one of the oldest universities in the world, Bologna is a stunning university city with plenty to see, do, and of course, eat! And, as the historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, it’s seen its fair share of important historical events over the years too.
A lively city with a large student population, Bologna is known for its Etruscan roots, as a city of music, and as a place to experience well-preserved medieval architecture first hand. Nearby day trips from Bologna include ventures into the countryside to see local wine regions and to smaller nearby towns.
Turin/ Torino, Piedmont
Turin is a large and lively city which is best known for its Fiat and chocolate production, as well as being the capital of the Piedmontese region of the country. The city is also known as the home of the Turin Shroud (a veil said to bear the resemblance of Christ on the cross), and has easy access to the nearby Alpine mountains.
Although Turin is often missed by tourists to the North of Italy in favour of places such as Genoa and Bologna, it’s well worth dedicating at least a day or two of your Italian trip. Explore the city’s many churches, parks, and palaces-turned-museums. Within the city limits, you’ll also find the Mole Antonelliana, a tower which is so famous that its image now adorns two centime coins.
Lecco, Lake Como
If you’re looking for a base on the Italian lakes, then you need to look no further than the magical town of Lecco. Literally located along the water’s edge, this lakeside resort city is the perfect escape from modern day life; that is, only if you want. After all, there’s still phone signal and plenty of Wi-Fi hotspots to be found around in the city’s many eateries, and luxurious hotels!
The Bergamo Alps rise behind the city, while the shimmering waters of Lake Como stretch out in front of Lecco. A settlement has been present here since at least Celtic times, and highlights of the city include museums, a medieval centre, and of course, plenty of water-based activities!
Verona, a city for lovers, and a place made world-famous thanks to William Shakespeare. No one knows quite how long ago Verona was founded, though some estimates suggest as long as fifteen hundred years ago. Other than searching for Romeo and Juliet inspired locations around the city, there’s an old town to wander around a Roman arena to visit.
Genoa/ Genova, Liguria
Situated on the fringes of the Ligurian sea, and on a direct train line from Milan, Genoa is a port city with at least two millennia worth of history to explore. Known as ‘Genova’ in Italian, it’s the six most populated city in the boot-shaped country, capital of the Ligurian region, and is a bustling seaside city with plenty to see and do.
Genoa has a sub-tropical climate, meaning that the best times to visit are in the European shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) when the weather is dry but slightly cooler than the soaring temperatures of the summer months. City highlights include visiting one of the city’s many palaces-turned-museums, and enjoying some local cuisine, which is understandably sea-based!
Located in Lombardia on the shores of the glittering Lago di Varese, the beautiful city of Varese is characterised by its art nouveau architecture and many stunning villas. Situated in a valley and surrounded by mountains, this Northern Italian city is even home to its own Sacro Monte.