Best Small Towns in Northern Italy

Small town in Italy

Ferrara, a gorgeous town in northern Italy

Want to spend time in some small towns in Italy? Go north! Although cities like Milan, Venice, and Verona get all the fame, northern Italy also boasts a number of beautiful, Italian towns, many backdropped by snow-capped mountains or stunning seaside.

For help getting started, here are 10 of our favorite off-the-beaten-path towns in northern Italy. (And don’t miss our earlier posts on the best small towns in central Italy and in southern Italy!).

Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna

Small town in Italy

Ferrara’s Cathedral of St. George

Once upon a time, Ferrara was one of Italy’s first modern cities! Back in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Este dynasty, which ruled Ferrara, commissioned major projects of fine art and culture (including literature, cinema, and music). Today, popular sights include the gorgeous Gothic cathedral, majestic castles, and the Renaissance city walls… not to mention, of course, a plate of capellacci di zucca (squash ravioli with a butter and sage sauce), a local specialty of Ferrara. (Here are more foods to try in Emilia-Romagna!).

Modena, Emilia-Romagna

Italian town of Modena

Cathedral of Modena, Italy

Looking for a lovely little town with winding streets you can stroll for hours? Head to Modena—and bring your appetite! This town is the home of both balsamic vinegar and tortellini (a ring-shaped, stuffed pasta that’s famous throughout Italy, and the world!). (Here’s what you have to know about the balsamic vinegar of Modena!).

But it’s not all about food in Modena. Luxury car lovers will want to check out the rare collections and manufacturing plants of Ferrari and Maserati, located nearby. And be sure to visit the Duomo di Modena (Modena’s cathedral) and its newly-restored Torre della Ghirlandina, too.

Aquileia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Small town in Italy

Ruins of the Roman Forum, Aquileia. Photo by Roger Jolly

If you love Roman history, add this UNESCO World Heritage site, located right near the Slovenian border, to your list! Aquileia was one of the most important cities of the early ancient Roman empire. You can still get a sense for how beautiful it must have been, thanks to its ruins (including interesting mosaics and a forum). Just be sure to pack comfortable shoes—you’ll want to do a lot of walking to explore the archaeological site!

As well as ancient ruins, the town, which has just 3,500 inhabitants, also boasts a lovely Gothic cathedral.

Camogli, Liguria

Camogli, a small Italian town

Just another view from Camogli, one of our favorite small towns in northern Italy

A very popular summer destination for northern Italians, Camogli, located approximately 30 minutes from Genoa, is known for its picture-perfect azure beaches, characteristic city center with tromp l’oeil-decorated homes, fresh seafood and local festivals like the Sagra del Pesce (“Feast of the Fish”) and Stella Maris. (Here’s more about Camogli!).

Livigno, Lombardy

Livigno, an Italian town

Beautiful Livigno. Photo by Anders Ljungberg

Travelers flock to this mountain town for its gorgeous scenery, winter sports—and shopping! Duty-free shops and designer stores here come with not only savings, but a stunning panorama of the Alps.

If you can, come to Livigno in February, when the town’s famous polo tournament takes place… on the snow!

Mantova, Lombardy

Italian town

Duomo of Mantova

Also known as Mantua, Mantova might be best-known to English speakers as Romeo’s town of exile, from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But there’s a lot more to explore than that! Founded by the ancient Romans and home to the poet Virgil, Mantova is filled with art and history. The Palazzo Ducale, built by the royal Gonzaga family, is a magnificent must-see, and the town’s location on a lake makes it even more stunning.

Better yet? Mantova is also a modern-day model for Italian daily life; the town is consistently ranked as having the highest quality of life in the country.

Alba, Piedmont

White truffle risotto (flickr: Blue moon in her eyes)

White truffle risotto, an Alba specialty. Photo by Blue moon in her eyes (Flickr)

This foodie paradise attracts tourists for its famous white truffle, hazelnuts (it’s home to Ferrero, the makers of Nutella!) and wines like Barbaresco, Barolo and Moscato. But it’s also a must-see for its quaint city center and gorgeous, winding vineyards in the nearby countryside. If you can, visit on a weekend in October and November for the annual white truffle festival, the Fiera internazionale del Tartufo bianco d’Alba.

Castelrotto, Trentino-Alto Adige

Castelrotto, city center (wikicommons M-Car)

Castelrotto, city center. Photo by M-Car (WikiCommons)

Also known as Kastelruth, this predominantly German-speaking gem, located in South Tyrol, is picturesque throughout all four seasons.  You’ll enjoy the vibrant, colorful flowers in the spring and powder-white mountain tops in the winter! Head north for a healthy dose of mountain air near the Dolomites, and for traditional specialties like creamy, fresh yogurt and apple strudel.

Courmayeur, Valle d’Aosta

Italian town of Courmayeur

Val Veny, Courmayeur. Photo by Rollopack (Wiki Commons)

One of northern Italy’s most luxurious small towns, this ski haven is tucked behind Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe. Popular activities include skiing, hiking, shopping, visiting the spa, and enjoying local specialties, like fondue. The town comes alive at aperitivo—whether after a day on the slopes in the winter, or when the sun goes down after a long hike in the summer!

Bassano del Grappa, Veneto

Italian town of Basasno del Grappa

View from the Alpini Bridge, Bassano del Grappa. Photo by /\/\π (Wiki Commons)

A must-see for grappa lovers! The hometown of the potent Italian digestivo, this is where you’ll find many shops with a wide variety of the beloved liquor, and even tastings and tours. Make sure to take a walk on the wooden Alpini Bridge for a spectacular view of the town along the Brenta River.

Have you visited any of these towns before? Which would you like to explore? Let us know in the comments!

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5 Responses to Best Small Towns in Northern Italy

  1. Laura Siegel August 30, 2013 at 2:21 am #

    i am planning a trip soon. i may go to one of these towns. looking at this gives me a sad feeling my mom is from italy and passed away beginning of this year. love italy and all the beautiful people there

  2. Sara August 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    The latin poet who was born in Manua was Virgilio, not Virgin!

    • Walks of Italy September 2, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

      Haha, thanks Sara! Stupid WordPress autocorrect… We’ve fixed the typo :-)
      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Stefanie September 2, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    Great list! Exactly what I was looking for to do :) I will definitely visit Aquileia and Camoglie. But also the towns in Pieanura Padana, Ferrara, Mantova. Thanks for the inspiration.

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