From the focaccia and pansotti in Genoa to the lasagna in Bologna, Northern Italy offers a lot more than just the international city of Milan and their chefs. Verona and Ravenna will capture your imagination with the house of Juliet and your palate with specialties like piadina. The area is also well famous for having invented Aperol Spritz, an aperitif that is taking the world by storm.
Discover now the 10 tips that will make you wish to book a tour of Northern Italy
The north of Italy is much more than just the city of Milan. Full of airports to fly into, if you have a quick look at a map you will realise how many different places there are to visit at a short distance. From Alps and Dolomites to art cities like Venice, Verona and Bologna and up to the romantic Ligurian Riviera, North Italy has something for everyone. Ready for the exploration?
1. Genoa and the ‘Riviera’ (Old Port)
Genoa is a fascinating seaside city, one of the biggest in Italy but yet keeping the charm of a smaller town.
It is perfect for 1 or 2 days of stopover before exploring the Riviera (Ligurian coastline).
Start strolling from the city centre’s small streets (called caruggi) and walk your way up to the old harbour (Porto Antico).
If you are up for travelling along the coastline of Liguria, you have two choices: you can head West towards the French border or East, towards Tuscany.
In our opinion, the Eastbound direction offers more interesting trip opportunities.
The pure beauty of the Riviera di Levante (Eastern coastline) will be progressively disclosed: start by discovering Camogli and Portofino and then head to the Cinque Terre. Cinques Terre (literally Five Lands) are part of a national park.
You can trek across the 5 villages along the coast. Stop frequently to admire the gorgeous landscape, refresh into the blue sea and tuck in fantastic local food and wine. This is also a land of wineries, so make sure you have a glass (or two) of local Sciacchetrà.
I can hear you asking: what is the best of the 5 stops? Of course, it is up for discussion, however, I have no doubts and I say Vernazza.
Perfectly cast into the rocks with all its colourful houses and its short shore.
2. Genoa Boccadasse
Genoa is a busy city but it has also a long shore with beaches.
It is there that, hidden by the urban coastline, you will find a gem called Boccadasse.
Probably known mainly to people living there, it is a small area including a church and a small beach surrounded by old and colourful houses.
Stop here to take a deep breath, get carried back in time and fuel up with some local focaccia.
The ‘focaccia genovese’ is the traditional one, it is quite flat if compared to the one that you might have tried in other region’s but it is undoubtedly one of the best. It is perfect for a snack or for breakfast (sweet memories of my grandma…).
When it is around lunchtime, try the cheese Recco style one instead.
You’ll be carried away by the extremely thin dough filled with stracchino (soft) cheese.
3. Pansotti in walnut sauce (or Trofie with Pesto)
For me, Genoa and Liguria is one of the food paradises on earth. Period.
Probably because my father was born here, I still hold a lot of memories of my childhood, when we were visiting my grandma.
My other food recommendation and must try when in Liguria, are pasta dishes like trofie with pesto (sauce made out of basil and pine nuts) and my favourite dish ever, pansotti (fresh filled pasta) with a creamy walnut sauce.
However, when you are stuffed with pasta, don’t forget to try local veggies.
Our choice goes to small white zucchini and the incredible tomato shaped as a beef-heart (Cuore di Bue).
4. Bologna – so much more than Bolognese…
Travelling a bit southern from Milan, in just 1 hour with the fast train you can get to a smaller city called Bologna.
Famous in the world for the pasta sauce, this city has so much more to offer in terms of churches and art and, of course, food.
Stop for a couple of days to stroll in the city centre and enjoy the many attractions like the Towers, Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica di San Petronio.
For those particularly fond of powerful cars, the surroundings of the city are the home of the most iconic and desired 4 wheels exemplars in the world.
From Ferrari to Maserati to Lamborghini, you can craft your motor tour easily.
And if you are more a motorbike type of person, no worries, Ducati will be waiting for you with its shiny 2 wheels wonders.
For info and advanced plans have a look at the motorvalley page on the Welcome Bologna website.
5. Bologna – a capital for food (Piazza Grande)
Bologna is not only a city of arts and motors but is also one of the Italian capitals of food.
Like every other place in Italy, it is really difficult to have a bad experience with food, especially if you avoid squeezing into a very touristic central place. Ask your B&B or people where to go for lunch or dinner.
People in Bologna are amongst the nicest in the whole country and they will be proud to show you the best place.
Sure you will remember them and their adored city forever.
Home of one of my favourite dishes, the lasagna, the whole region is also famous for cold meats and cheeses.
To couple with fantastic local red wines.
And if you want to gift yourself with a superior culinary experience, famous chef Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana is also a small drive away in Modena.
Booking far in advance is required.
Take a look at the website for reservations and to know more about the (currently) most famous Italian chef.
If you are travelling to Bologna and you are having a bit more time to spend in the Emilia-Romagna region, I would suggest planning a quick detour to Ravenna.
It is connected by a local train and it is the home of incredible art, in particular, the Byzantine mosaics.
After visiting the Dome, basilicas and baptisteries take some time to relax in front of a good glass (or bottle) of red wine, tasting local cold meats and cheeses.
Make sure you try the local ‘piadina’, a flat bread filled with every beautiful delicacy you can think of.
My favourite is with squacquerone e rucola (soft cheese and rocket).
7. Not only Venice but also Verona (Piazza delle Erbe)
If you are travelling in the north-east of Italy, do not limit yourself to visit Venice or Lake Garda but make sure you include a gem called Verona in your trip.
Famous as the home of Romeo and Giulietta, it also features the old Roman ‘arena’ and, who would have thought (we are being ironic here!), gastronomic excellence.
Easy to reach with fast trains from Milan and Venice, it is the perfect stop in between the two destinations.
8. Verona – Juliet’s house “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Probably the most famous and tragic love story ever written, Juliet was a Capuleti (or in fact a Cappelletti), a famous and rich family in Verona.
And whilst part of the story was the result of Shakespeare’s storytelling, legends and true facts, in fact, have mixed in the famous play.
Located in the centre, the house is now a museum and you’ll need to buy tickets to get access.
You can buy them here: Casa di Giulietta.
9. Verona – the arena
If you happen to visit Verona in the summer, I do recommend you have a look at the opera season at the Arena.
A Roman amphitheatre (yep, like the Colosseum but just smaller) located in the city centre, it is great to visit during the day but represents an unforgettable experience when you get tickets for the opera. Simply majestic at sunset.
Book tickets for the Arena well in advance.
10. Spritz o’clock
Hailing from the north-eastern region named Veneto, Aperol Spritz has progressively become one of the most common drinks in Italy.
But what is it? It is a wine-based cocktail with prosecco as main alcohol base commonly served as an aperitif.
Prosecco together with Aperol creates an orange-and-rhubarb flavoured with just a hint of grapefruit rind bitterness drink that is now conquering the heart of people abroad.
We have seen it taking over in cities where Italians have introduced it to local friends and they have started to like it and request it…
Together with a good marketing strategy, this is probably the reason why it is now starting to be all over London, even at pubs.