The Most Breathtaking Destinations in Northern Italy

Braies Lake offers alpine vistas in the heart of the Dolomite Mountains
Braies Lake offers alpine vistas in the heart of the Dolomite Mountains | © Andrei Bortnikau / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Raphaele Varley
3 September 2021
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Northern Italy is as topographically diverse as it is beautiful: spectacular mountain vistas in the Dolomites and the Alps, vast crystalline lakes, undulating, vineyard-covered hills, dramatic coastlines, enchanting historical cities and architecture. Get inspired with this introductory list of some of the most stunning locations in the region.

Keen to visit Italy but not sure where to go? Take your pick from Culture Trip’s specially curated 10-day Northern Italy trip, our action-packed 10-day Sicily adventure, or our food-stuffed 10-day Southern Italy tour.

Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, Aosta Valley

Park
A mountain goat with snowy mountains in the background in Valsavarenche, Gran Paradiso national park, Aosta Valley, Italy, May
© Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

With 724km (450mi) of marked trails and mule tracks, this national park in the Aosta Valley is a walker’s paradise in all seasons. During winter, hike the pristine snowy peaks and in the spring and summer months watch the biodiversity of the landscape blossom. You are also likely to see horned goats grazing peacefully on the alpine pastures, or spot rare birds overhead.

Turin, Piedmont

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Aerial cityscape image of Turin, Italy during summer sunrise.
© rudi1976 / Alamy Stock Photo

Baroque buildings and art nouveau cafes line the grand boulevards and squares of this refined and cosmopolitan city. Geometric stained glass windows, plasterwork with floral motifs and curvaceous ironwork decorate the elegant townhouses and dreamy villas on the Po River. The cityscape, set against the dramatic outline of the Alps, is often shrouded in mist.

Langhe, Piedmont

Winery
The Barbaresco village and the Langhe vineyards in the foreground in Piedmont, Northern Italy Europe.
© StevanZZ / Alamy Stock Photo

In the wine-producing region of Langhe, rolling, vineyard-covered hills give way to views of the snow-covered Alps. Picturesque Piedmont villages form in clusters on small winding roads throughout the region, with striking contemporary architecture and sculptures found on many vineyard estates.

La Venaria Reale, Piedmont

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Two people walking in the Grand Gallery of Venaria Reale, Royal Palace, Unesco heritage.
© Andrea Raffin / Alamy Stock Photo

This magnificent royal estate built in the 17th-century for Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy is considered Turin’s Versaille. The famous Hall of Diana designed by Amedeo di Castellamonte is a fairytale Baroque masterpiece.

The Cinque Terre, Liguria

Architectural Landmark
Colourful houses built into the cliffside in Manarola at evening dusk, Cinque Terre, Liguria, Italy
© Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo

This coastal region in Liguria comprises five fishing and wine-producing villages – Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – perched dramatically on rocky cliff fronts. Steep terraces of brightly coloured houses teeter over inlets and lively harbours, while olive groves and vineyards traverse inland. Largely inaccessible by car, Cinque Terre is a walker’s haven – and you can enjoy an unforgettable guided hike as part of Culture Trip’s 10-day small-group Northern Italy trip.

Camogli, Liguria

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Aerial view of Camogli with colorful buildings near the sea
© Volodymyr Kalyniuk / Alamy Stock Photo

Savour fresh seafood on the azure pebble beaches of this picturesque fishing village. The main beach is lined with buildings painted in sherbert hues, others are nestled in secluded coves surrounded by lush greenery. The ancient Abbazia San Fruttuoso creates a special backdrop for a small bay beneath a steep wooded hill; its cloisters lead directly onto the beach that is only accessible by foot.

Bagni di Bormio, Lombardy

Natural Feature
Two people swimming in an outdoor thermal pool with views of the snowy surrounding landscape at Terme Hotel Bagni Vecchi
Courtesy of QC Terme Hotel Bagni Vecchi / Expedia.com
Bormio is a small commune in the Valtellina area of the Alps close to Switzerland, which is built around ancient hot springs. For centuries, people have travelled to Bormio in search of wellness from the thermal spa and fresh mountain air. Relax in the Bagni Vecchi, Roman baths located in the mouths of mountain caves, or take in the alpine scenery from a thermal pool or hot tub at the Bagni Nuova.

Livigno, Lombardy

Architectural Landmark
Ski tourer standing on the summit ridge of Laaser Spitze mountain, Stelvio National Park, Veneziaspitze mountain, Zufallspitze
© Martin Braito / Alamy Stock Photo

It may be renowned as a ski resort, but Livigno is also within the prized Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio. Stunning panoramas of the Alps are peppered with traditional baita (chalets) whilst in February, the town comes alive with a famous snow polo tournament.

Lake Orta, Piedmont

Natural Feature
The San Giulio island on Orta lake in the Novara province of the Piedmont region
© Luca Antonio Lorenzelli / Alamy Stock Photo

Lake Orta is smaller and less frequented than its more glamorous counterparts; Como, Maggiore and Garda, which creates a distinct atmosphere. The single island at the centre of the lake is enchanting, as is its principal town Orta San Giulio. The calm and reclusive feeling that people find at Orta has been a pull for writers across the centuries – Friedrich Nietzsche, Samuel Butler, Lord Byron, Honoré de Balzac and Robert Browning all visited. From a hillside vantage point, take in the in its entirety and admire the seasonal changes in the surrounding topography.

Lake Como, Lombardy

Natural Feature
Sail boat on Lake Como
© Nicola Colombo / Alamy Stock Photo

Lake Como is celebrated for outstanding natural beauty, crystalline bays and Renaissance architecture. The area remains popular thanks to a location just an hour from Milan, yet Como is undeniably stunning. The ‘upside-down Y’ shaped lake is set against the foothills of the Alps and spectacular lakeside vistas surround you in every quaint village and town. Bike to a hillside summit and survey the area’s Mediterranean yet alpine majesty. With Culture Trip, you can enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Como as part of our specially curated 10-day Northern Italy tour, led by our Local Insider.

Lake Garda, Lombardy

Natural Feature
Aerial view of Castello Di Sirmione on peninsula Sirmione on Lago di Garda
© Blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

Situated at the edge of the Dolomites, this is Italy’s largest lake and its beauty has been eulogised by many writers, including Catullus, Tennyson, DH Lawrence and Ezra Pound. At the northern part of the lake, the Gruppo del Baldos mountains create a dramatic backdrop and at the centre, you will find small islands home to grand villas. Garda’s many charming lakeside villages and towns drip with lush and fragrant Mediterranean plant life and fishing boats rest in their harbours. Fresh mountain water gently laps at the sand and pebble beaches that dot the lake’s perimeter.

Bergamo, Lombardy

Architectural Landmark
View from Campanone with Duomo to left and Cappella Colleoni/Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore to right, Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy
© FedevPhoto / Alamy Stock Photo

Bergamo is also known as La Città dei Mille (The City of the Thousand), and has been awarded Unesco World Heritage status. The ancient hilltop Città Alta (Upper Town) is a maze of narrow medieval streets enclosed within a Venetian wall. Majestic Baroque and medieval buildings look out onto the endless southern plains.

Bologna, Emilia-Romagna

Architectural Landmark
The main square of Bologna at dusk
© Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Bologna is the historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region known for beautiful medieval architecture and serious culinary prowess. Hike to the monastery of San Luca at sunset for the most beautiful view of the city – its red brick architecture glows in the warm light and the undulating Bolognesi hills lie in the distance. From this height, the city appears as in all of its 15th-century glory. Eat your way around the city on our four-day foodie Mini Trip to Bologna.

Basilica di San Vitale, Emilia-Romagna

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
The impressive painted ceiling of Basilica Di San Vitale in Ravenna Italy
© Russell Mountford / Alamy Stock Photo

The plain facade of this Byzantine-inspired church belies the splendour within – one of the most sublime examples of early-Christian mosaic art in Europe. The Basilica di San Vitale was built in Ravenna in the sixth century and across every surface, tales and allegories expressing the ideology and religious beliefs of Christianity in the Justinian period are relayed in exquisite coloured and gilded tiles. The conflation of eastern and western aesthetics is also distinct in the church’s unique architecture.

Venice, Veneto

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Gondolas, with tourists, on the Grand Canal, next to the Fondementa del Vin, Venice, UNESCO, Veneto, Italy, Europe
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Venice exceeds expectations of magnificence and magic. Venetian Gothic architecture (heavily influenced by Byzantine and Moorish styles) is almost untouched and the beauty of the majestic palazzos and narrow callettes is mirrored in the turquoise canals. With boats the only mode of transport, it is easy to imagine the island in its 16th-century splendour – packed with exotic trade, artistic brilliance and lustful indulgence. There really is nowhere else in Italy – perhaps the world – like this floating city. Want to experience it for yourself? Go for a gondola ride in Venice on our four-day Mini Trip to Veneto – plus sip sparkling wine and explore the Prosecco Hills.

Cortina d’Ampezzo, Veneto

Architectural Landmark
View towards Cortina d'Ampezzo with the Cristallo mountain range in the background
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

One of the most quaint ski resorts in the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo has slopes for beginner and advanced skiers and breathtaking mountain views. In winter, chocolate box chalets sit covered in heavy snow whilst in summer they are dressed with bright red geraniums.

Wine country, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Natural Feature
A statue of Madonna overlooking vineyards at the ancient abbey of Rosazzo
© Nicola Simeoni / Alamy Stock Photo

Friuli-Venezia Giulia has a unique geographical position, bordering Slovenia, Germany and the Adriatic Sea, all of which make it a much-celebrated wine region. The Collio is a series of picturesque hills nestled between two rivers and the Slovenian border. Mostly small-scale, family-run vineyards sprawl across the valley in every direction, so when the seasons change the entire landscape changes colour too – from intense and vivid green to burnt amber, the all-encompassing vineyard views are truly stunning.

Monte Lussari, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Natural Feature
Village of monte Lussari with Julian alps in background. Tarvisio area, Udine province, Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Alpine village concept.
© Marco Lissoni / Alamy Stock Photo

At the peak of Mount Lussari in the Julian Alps stands a shrine that has been a pilgrimage destination since the 16th-century. The story, which features in both Italian and Slavic folklore, states that in 1360 a shepherd lost his sheep before finding it in a bush of mugo pine alongside a statuette of the Madonna with Child. Climb up through the old world village and admire panoramic views of the Tarvisian basin.

Isarco Valley, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol

Natural Feature
Valle Isarco in South Tyrol with a castle on top of a rocky hill and a village around a river in the valley
© Joana Kruse / Alamy Stock Photo

Italian and Germanic culture conflate is the fairytale landscape of the Isarco Valley. Steepled churches and traditional wood chalets are surrounded by apple orchards and pine forests which lead to stunning vistas of the rugged Dolomites. The valley’s rich cuisine reflects the culinary heritage of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Veneto region.

Pragser Wildsee, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol

Natural Feature
Woman sitting on the bench looking at a clear lake with the mountains in the background in Northern Italy
© Vira Petrunina / Alamy Stock Photo

Be enchanted by one of the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites. Located in the Pragser valley between Felsberg and Niederdorf branching off from the Puster Valley, the Pragser Wildsee is surrounded by dense pine forest and its perfectly calm water is an almost unreal turquoise.

Messner Mountain, Südtirol

Museum
Messner Mountain Museum Corones, sitting on top of the Kronplatz alpine peak in the Dolomites, South Tyrol, Italy
© Riccardo Bianchini / Alamy Stock Photo

The summit of the plateau of Kronplatz is one of the most magnificent viewing platforms of Südtirol. The breathtaking panorama moves from the Lienz Dolomites in the east to the Ortler in the west, from the Marmolada in the south to the Zillertal Alps in the north. The Messner Mountain Museum designed by Zaha Hadid Architects is located here and the grey, modernist design built into the landscape is equally inspiring.

These recommendations were updated on September 3, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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