Burano best small towns in Northern Italy

Best Small Towns in Northern Italy You Need to See

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It is no secret that Italy is one of the favorite bucket-list destinations for so many people. If you have ever traveled in Italy, you are probably nodding your head at the moment.

There is so much beauty everywhere you look in the small towns of Northern Italy that you simply NEED to see.

If you have never traveled to Italy—and specifically Northern Italy—sometimes all it takes is for a photo or a recommendation on the dreamiest towns in Italy to inspire a visit or to add another destination to your bucket list.

Portico by Uffizi Museum in Florence

Finding the Best Small Towns in Northern Italy

My husband, Chris, and I have often found that it is easier to plan travel and day trips around one city or town (usually a larger city with easy access to trains or rental cars).

I am a big fan of finding one place to stay for a number of nights rather than moving from place to place night after night.

So, I recommend that you plan a few days to explore the bigger tourist destinations and then venture out into the small towns in Northern Italy.

Start in Florence

View of Florence at sunset

As the capital city of Tuscany, Florence is a perfect place to begin your adventures in Italy. While a little more centrally located, it is great if you want to explore in any direction.

Noted for its significant art, cathedrals and monuments, Florence is the home to many world-famous museums and galleries. Most famous among those are the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’Accademia which displays Michelangelo’s “David”. 

Thousands of tourists flock to Florence each year to see the works of famous masters such as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Giotto, Raphael, and Titian.

Start in Rome

Visit the Forum when looking for things to do in Rome

If you are using your hotel reward points to book your stay in Rome, you have a few options with the Hilton Honors Program. And if you are traveling as a family, you might want to consider the Hilton Garden Inn outside the city center. While this hotel is a little further away from the center of Rome and the main tourist sites, the appealing feature is the option for two adjoining rooms for a family stay.

Fortunately, as we arrived at the hotel, both of our rooms were ready. We happily dropped off our luggage, freshened up a bit, and unloaded our backpacks.

If you are spending a few days in Rome before exploring the best small towns in Northern Italy, you will want to make sure you visit these sites:

  • Colosseum
  • Forum & Palatine Hill
  • Pantheon
  • Obelisks
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Spanish Steps
  • Markets
  • St. Peter’s Square and Cathedral
  • Vatican Museum

Start in Venice

Venice is one of the colorful destinations

Venice makes a perfect central location to base your day trips to the best small towns in Northern Italy as well. As with Florence and Rome, you’ll surely want to spend a few days exploring this city.

I remember stepping off the bus and into the streets of Venice. Not only were the canals charming with gondolas gliding past guided by their striped gondoliers, but it felt as though I was stopping every minute to take another picture.

There is a reason why so many love to visit Venice.

I recommend spending a few days in Venice and then venturing outside of the city to discover Northern Italy!

Bologna

Bologna best small towns in Northern Italy

Did you know that Bologna boasts almost 25 miles (40 km) of portico-covered streets? If you happen to visit Bologna on a rainy day, you will certainly appreciate this architectural feature.

Make your way from the train station to the Quadrilatero District, the heart of Bologna. If you walk, it takes about 25 minutes strolling along the Via Indipendenza. Of course, you’ll be strolling under ornately designed porticos past shops, restaurants, and lots of people.

You should be able to easily find the tourism office in the Piazza Maggiore, and pick up a map. The Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna’s unfinished cathedral (which should be easy to spot), stands in this piazza. Orient yourself with the Neptune fountain and Cathedral and then begin exploring the Quadrilatero District

The Quadrilatero is Bologna’s oldest market district where you can taste Italian street food, peruse local shops, and sample baked goods, local meats and cheeses.

  • Quaint food stalls and shops – a foodie’s delight
  • The University District
  • the Jewish Quarter
  • Two Towers – the Garisenda and Asinelli Towers, recognized as symbols of Bologna. Asinelli is open to the public but you will need to book your tour online or at the Bologna Welcome Information Office. Towers were built during the Middle Ages and filled two functions: for defense and for the social prestige of the family that had them built.
  • Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnaiso Anatomical Theater and Library – doctors studied here at one time and would watch dissections to learn more about the human body.
  • Museo Civico Archeologico Egyptian exhibit
  • Cathedrals

If you have the time, find the Small Window on Via Piella to discover the ideal spot to view one of the few remaining sections of the historic canals in Bologna. Bologna is definitely one of the best small towns in Northern Italy where you can spend all day exploring!

Burano

Burano best small towns in Northern Italy

It’s a short day trip to Burano from Venice, but a picturesque day trip in Italy nevertheless.

The best way to get to Burano is via vaporetto (boat). Purchase your vaporetto passes for 20 euro each that allow unlimited bus and vaporetto rides for 24-hours.

Burano, one of the islands found in the Venetian Lagoon, is famous for its lace work, leaning bell tower, as well as its brightly-colored homes. As you meander through the markets, the older women embroider the Burano lace on their lace pillows (tombolo) as they sit and chat and laugh together.

The colorful homes, a main feature of the island, are used to indicate the property line of one house and the house next door. An ancient legend also suggests that the brightly colored homes were used by fisherman so they could see their homes when they were fishing far away.

Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites

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Recommend by Alex of Wander with Alex

A popular destination for the rich and famous, Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the amazing towns in Northern Italy’s Veneto region. The town is an upscale resort that sits in the middle of the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Getting to Cortina from Venice is a two-hour drive or bus ride north.

Cortina is filled with deep history and culture and prides itself on preserving its traditions. They even have their own ancient language called Ladin. The annual Desmonteà—a festival that blesses all agriculture where cattle (and other animals) are brought down from the Alps—is a traditional celebration marking the end of the warm season.  

Cortina became internationally known after hosting Italy’s first Olympics in the 1950s. Today, the town is visited by people worldwide for its outdoor activities and gorgeous scenery. Perhaps more commonly known as a chic winter ski resort, Cortina is also popular with mountain, nature, and hiking enthusiasts.

Things to do in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy include:

  • skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing
  • hiking, biking, rock climbing
  • chairlift ride to the Cinque Torri rock formations
  • scenic lunch at the Rifugio Lagazuoi mountain hut
  • hike to the beautiful Lago di Sorapiss
  • hike to the Cascate di Fanes waterfall
  • shopping at the Corso Italia pedestrian street

You won’t have a hard time finding a luxurious 4-to-5-star hotel if you’re considering spending time in Cortina. Hotel Cristallo is an award-winning hotel and spa offering great hospitality, magnificent views, relaxation, and easy access to the famed Dolomiti Superski area.

If you’re looking for relaxation, adventure, and culture in Northern Italy, Cortina d’Ampezzo is your vacation destination.

Murano

Murano best small towns in Northern Italy

Recommended by Alex of Alex and Leah on Tour

The beautiful Venetian island of Murano is often overlooked by many visitors to Venice but it is certainly worth visiting. 

Despite being 1.5 km north of Venice, Murano is very easily accessible; due to the environment, the only way of visiting is (obviously) via boat.

Whilst many hotels on Venice offer free boat shuttles to the island, there are plenty of water taxi stations on the edge of Venice’s main canal that you can hop on. Access is very easy and inexpensive; you’ll have no problems getting to Murano.

The locals are more than happy to help if you get stuck. 

Murano’s main attraction is undoubtedly its glass blowing centers. In 1291, the Venetian government ordered glass masters to move their furnaces to Murano for fire safety reasons and the industry has prospered ever since.

As such, you HAVE to visit a glass blowing workshop where you can sit and watch experts make detailed and delicate sculptures. Whilst you’re at it, make sure to pop your head into the many glass shops as they make a great souvenir! 

Whilst glass blowing is the islands main attraction, there are multiple other activities to do on mini-Venice. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, definitely try out some local gelato whilst if you’re into history, the Basilica di Santa Maria and Chiesa di Santa Pietro Martire are both absolutely beautiful.

Varenna

Varenna is one of the colorful destinations and best small towns in Northern Italy

My very first day trip in Italy was spent wandering the streets of Varenna while my husband, Chris, continued on to Sondrio, Italy to conduct business meetings. Chris’ co-worker Luigi picked Chris and I up outside the Hilton Milan early in the morning and drove just over an hour to Varenna to drop me off for the day.

Have you ever heard the saying, “You had me at ‘Hello’“?

Varenna had me at “Hello!”

Varenna was simply amazing in its beauty. Chris was wishing that he could spend the day sightseeing with me instead of working!

Varenna drew us both in from the moment we arrived. Every walkway, doorway, and passageway was a photographer’s dream. My camera was not at rest for long. As far as day trips in Italy go, this was shaping up to be a great one.

Want to see more pictures of Italy? Check out my Favorite Photos of Italy from 2017 and my Favorite Photos of Italy from 2018.

The sky was overcast with low hanging clouds for my day of exploring one of the best small towns in Northern Italy. I wore a light Fleece Jacket which was just right for a November day.

From Varenna, the stunning beauty of Lake Como glistens and accentuates the small towns hugging the sides of the mountains surrounding the lake.

Verona

Verona best small towns in Northern Italy

Recommended by Em of That Travelista

If you have ever read the famous story of Romeo and Juliet in school, then a trip to Verona from Venice is an absolute must.

This beautiful city, one of the stunning towns in Northern Italy, is known worldwide as a destination for couples and hopeless romantics, but there is so much more to this stunning city than just the make-believe story of two star-crossed lovers.

Verona is a direct, two-and-a-half hour train ride from Venice. Once arriving at the train station, simply walk twenty minutes or take a short bus ride to reach the Old Town.

Old Town is where most of the things to do and see in Verona are located:

  • Juliet’s balcony
  • The Roman amphitheater
  • The Mazzanti House fresco paintings

Just outside the old town, past the river and up a hill sits the Castel San Pietro. It offers the best views over Verona and the surrounding landscape.

Because Verona is exactly halfway between Milan and Venice on the train line, it makes a very easy day trip from either destination. But those wanting to experience Verona after the day-trippers have left should consider staying at least one night.

There are plenty of options for every budget, but for a luxury stay in the center of all the action, stay at Corte Realdi Suites in Piazza Erbe.

Vicenza

Vicenza best small towns in Northern Italy

Recommended by Jami of Celiac Travel Pack

Vicenza is the home of the famous architect Palladio. He was an Italian Renaissance architect and is the reason the city was named a UNESCO site. For the architecture lovers, there are 23 Palladian buildings in Vicenza.

NorthernItaly1

For everyone else, the small-town charm is worth the trip.

Getting to Vicenza is easiest by train. A high-speed train from Venice will take 45 minutes and cost approximately $23. If you’re into a busy day this trip can also be combined with Verona. 

When you arrive in Vicenza, start with the Villa La Rotonda. La Rotonda is outside of the city. It is a 30-minute walk one way or you can take an Uber.

Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, it was the retirement home for Pope Pius IV. It was also the inspiration for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. 

Return to the center of town to the Basilica Palladiana. Admire the symmetry of the facade and the copper roof. The building is open Tuesday-Sunday. Grab a snack or a drink at the Terrezza restaurant on the rooftop—at sunset if you can—for the best views in Vicenze, Italy.

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Final Thoughts on the Best Small Towns in Northern Italy

Aren’t these towns simply some of the best small towns in Northern Italy? The pictures are amazing, and if you’re like me, you just want to book the next flight to Italy. Today!

These small towns make for a perfect visit whether you plan to arrive in the Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall…there are activities and adventures for everyone.

You may also enjoy these posts about Italy…

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46 Comments
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Michele
26 days ago

All of these small towns look so charming. I can see why you loved Varenna. I’ll be right back…I’m checking the flights to Italy! Thanks for a great post.

Kate Andrews
26 days ago

I’ve always wanted to go Italy but have yet to get the chance. My mom has been 7 times, mostly to Rome, but also Florence and Venice and she speaks so fondly of her trips.

Elyse
26 days ago

Aww this all sounds so amazing, I hope to go to Italy this summer so definitely saving! Thanks for sharing

Karen
25 days ago

I love northern Italy. There are a few towns here I haven’t visited so I appreciate the helpful information here. These towns are ultra-charming and peaceful.

Lynda Self
25 days ago

They all seem like lovely towns. I find that quite interesting about the MILES of porticos in Bologna. I would love to start my Italian venture there simply for that fact.

Alexandrea
25 days ago

Northern Italy sounds so wonderful. I can’t wait to start planning my Italy trip for next year. I’m thinking about visiting next fall. What do you think about that timeframe?

Walk Along With Us
25 days ago

I can not wait to visit Italy! Saving this for later to refer back to. Thanks for sharing!

Jeanine
24 days ago

So much to love about Northern Italy, especially some of the smaller towns to many to count… but my heart always takes me to the Dolomiti and family…just itching to get back there Varenna is now on my DO list it sounds divine.

Lasma
Lasma
23 days ago

I wanted to say Burano is my favorite but then I see the rest of the list and can’t choose anymore! So many great places in Italy 😍 Great article!

Hannah
23 days ago

Great post! I have been to Florence and Rome. I love Florence because I took art history classes so it was great seeing stuff I learned about in person, but I only stayed 1 night and didn’t have time to go to Uffizi. I absolutely loved Rome as well. I really want to go back. I love Italian culture and food!

Ildiko
23 days ago

Varenna and the Dolomite town seem particularly attractive to me. They both look so quaint.I would love to explore the Lake Como area.

Lisa
23 days ago

I wholeheartedly agree with your recommendation to have a ‘home base’ and take day trips out to the smaller towns. This saves so much time of packing/unpacking and changing hotels every day!

Brittany
22 days ago

I’m dying to visit Northern Italy, so this post is really helpful! Verona looks especially interesting. Thank you for sharing 🙂

Susan
Susan
22 days ago

You’ve reminded me I need to make a return trip to Italy to explore more of these towns. The Dolomites are high on my list!

Erin
22 days ago

I have been to all besides Bologna. Now I want to go there too! Thanks for getting it on my radar.

Mayi
21 days ago

I’d love to visit all these charming places. I have only been to Milan in northern Italy but would love to include smaller towns next time. Venice and the colourful Murano and Burano are high on my list!

Nina
Nina
21 days ago

Verona is the most gorgeous place <3 And I love the ties to Romeo and Juliet

Adriane
19 days ago

Great post! Italy is a bucket list item for sure. I think my kids will finally be ready to tolerate the flight in a year or two. I am so excited.

Catherine - Savvy Family Travel

This is a fantastic round up, the dolomites are now on my radar. I noticed flights to Rome from Chicago are competitive right now, thanks for more incentive to book!

sandy
16 days ago

This article makes it so hard to choose! All of the places sound excellent!

mohana and aninda
16 days ago

All the villages are so pretty and colourful! Varena and Cortina d’Ampezzo look absolutely gorgeous and I would love to visit them. And also see the famous glass blowing workshops of Murano.

Jenn
16 days ago

So many beautiful places to see! I can tell that when we visit Italy, we’re gonna need a month to see them. The covered walkways in Bologna were the most fascinating to me – living in the PNW, I already appreciate that kind of planning!

Lina
Lina
16 days ago

Italy has the cutest small towns ever! I’ve been to Verona and Burano and loved both of them 🙂 Great recommendations!

Amina
16 days ago

Jolayne, your post brought back great memories of my trip to Italy almost 15 years ago. Love the photos an the descriptions were so vivid – thanks for the post. Will be saving for a future trip back 🙂

Chelsea Messina
16 days ago

The colors of all the buildings make me smile. I’ll bet all those pretty colors bring so much joy to everyone that sees them.

Terri
Terri
16 days ago

Burano stole my heart. I could have stayed all day in this Crayola village on the water. This was a great post. I hope to be back to visit Italy in 2022.

Katy
Katy
16 days ago

What lovely Italian towns! I’ve been to a few of these but most of these are new! Adding them to my bucket list!

Valentina
Valentina
13 days ago

I really like this list of Italian towns to visit. As an Italian, I advise you to visit my hometown Trieste. It is situated in the northeast, near the Slovenia border and it is a fabulous city.

Krista
9 days ago

I enjoy visiting small towns more than bigger cities most of the time, so I love this list! I’d love to do a road trip and check out some of these while I’m next in Italy.