Country Review & Recommendations: Italy (North)

My Northern Italy Review

Before I get into this post, I’ve decided to chop my review and recommendations for Italy into two parts – Northern and Southern Italy – as I found there was too much content (and photos) to cram everything into one post. So, from Rome, I have decided to draw an imaginary line diagonally across Italy, so that cities like: Rome, Assisi, Naples, etc. will fall under my next post, on Southern Italy and everything above it, so cities like: Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, etc. will be discussed in this post, on Northern Italy.

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Views of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo (2013)

So, after my time in Croatia in 2014, I headed off to Cinque Terre in Italy; one of my favorite places on earth. Cinque Terre is comprised of 5 colorful cliff side villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al mare – where each brings something different to the table and best of all, lots of colorful houses.

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Siena (Tuscany, 2013)

Because this post is all about Northern Italy, it will also include elements from two other trips that I have done in Italy. So in the summer of 2013, my mom and I did an organized trip of Italy, which took us all around the country for three weeks. The Northern Italian cities that we visited include: San Marino, Venice, Verona, Sirmione, Lake Maggiore (I realize that’s not a city), Pisa, Florence, San Gimignano and Siena. It was a wonderful trip, that not only allowed me to see more of Italy, which I love, but also to eat all of the pasta and pizza my heart could desire in three weeks.

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6. San Marino (2013)

If we backtrack even more, the first time I went to Northern Italy was in 2011, where my 4 week Topdeck trip brought us to: Pisa, Florence, Verona and Venice. I loved my first trip to Italy, which partially explains why I wanted to go back a second and a third time (and looking forward to the 4th, the 5th, etc. times). Italy is such a beautiful country with so many things to do, see and eat. That’s why I’ve decided to split it into two parts, but also to structure it a little differently than usual and thus to organize it by city/town, instead of listing all of the sights that should be seen (because there are too many!). This way, I can list everything that I was able to visit and liked, within a city/town/region. Therefore, I realize that there are many more things to do and see in all of the cities I visited; I just didn’t have the opportunity to do it all.

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Sunset in Venice (2013)

My Northern Italy Recommendations

9. Pisa

I chose to include Pisa, as the Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of those “must do’s” if you’re in the area. Otherwise, I would definitely recommend other day trips from Florence, like Siena and San Gimignano, as there’s just so much more to those cities than Pisa (everything there is to see in Pisa revolves around a grassy area with 4-5 buildings on it, Leaning Tower included).

8. Sam Gimignano

As mentioned, if you have a day to spare in Florence, get out of the city and check out the beautiful medieval city of San Gimignano. It is an old Italian hill town encircled by 13th century walls, right in the heart of Tuscany.

7. Sirmione 

Sirmione is basically a medieval castle surrounded by beautiful turquoise blue waters. We stopped here on our way to Lake Maggiore from Venice and I would definitely recommend the pit stop to anyone doing the same journey. There is even a small stretch of beach for those who want to take an afternoon dip on a hot July afternoon.

6. San Marino 

If you make it to the Republic of San Marino (recognized as a country and independent of Italy) make sure to walk around the medieval like streets and the walls of the fortress, high above in the mountains.

 

5. Siena

As mentioned, Siena is definitely worth the day trip from Florence, over Pisa. It is a beautiful medieval city with brick buildings, straight out of an Italian movie. There are many different sites to see, like: the Siena Cathedral, Palazzo Pubblico and Piazza del Campo.

4. Burano

When in Venice, definitely take the time to visit the nearby island of Burano. Burano is like Venice, full of bridges, boats and canals, except that it is full of colorful houses. Since I have a thing for colorful houses, I loved Burano. (You can also check out it’s neighbor, Murano, which is renown for glass).

3. Florence

What’s nice about Italian cities is that many of the noteworthy sites are located within walking distance of each other. Therefore, I recommend for a first visit to start off at one of Florence’s biggest attractions, the famous Il Duomo di Firenze (or Florence Cathedral), then making your way over to Palazzo Vecchio and its adjoining Piazza della Signoria. Afterwards, keep walking South until you reach the river and the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge). This bridge is full of jewelry and gold shops dating back from hundreds of years ago. Take the time to cross the bridge to check out the shops and if you have more time, keep going until you reach Palazzo Pitti, which is a former Renaissance palace turned into an art gallery. The Palace grounds also offer a nice view over the city. For an even better view, make your way to Piazzale Michelangelo – the views of Florence are absolutely stunning.

 

2. Venice

Venice is my favorite Italian city for its many bridges, canals, gondolas and overall romantic vibe. Here too, I love to walk around and explore by foot, but a worthy “must do” is a gondola ride. They’re quite pricey, but definitely a must – as they say, when in Venice… Alternatively, you can take a speedboat/taxi ride through the canals, which is not as romantic but won’t bus your budget. One of the main sights is Piazza San Marco, where Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the San Marco Campanile can all be found; it’s like a 4 for 1 deal. Take the time and climb up the Campanile, for amazing views over Venice. Another very popular site, within walking distance from the piazza, is the famous Rialto Bridge; one of the oldest in the city.

 

1. Cinque Terre

Speaking of colorful houses earlier, Cinque Terre was a must for me the third time around. I made a specific stop to Italy in 2014, just to be able to visit this place. All five of the villages are worth visiting and beautiful in their own way. Riomaggiore makes a great base to CT (that’s where I stayed), Manarola sits right by the ocean, Corniglia is high up in the cliffs, Vernazza is the busiest and Monterosso al mare has the best beaches. CT is also perfect for those who like to hike, but, that’s not my cup of tea so I didn’t do any (I used the trains to get around from one town to another). CT was a great way to end a 5 week long journey across Europe, as there weren’t too many tourists when I went and so I was able to relax and take it all in.

UP NEXT: my Southern Italy review and recommendations!

*All photos are my own (or taken by someone with my device, or of me)

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