A small town next to the water of the Mediterranean Sea at Cinque Terre, Italy

Comprehensive Insight into the North and South of Italy – Expert review

Published on: January 13th, 2020 at 7:13 pm

So you’re booking a trip to Italy, but not sure whether you should visit North and South Italy or just one of the regions? Chances are, no matter where in Italy you choose to visit you’re going to have a good time; see some amazing sites, drink some good wine and eat some great food (Italy pizza is the best). The North and South have very distinct differences which might be able to help you decide where you want to travel to! Northern Italy or Southern Italy?

I’m here today to try and help you answer all the big questions you have before booking your trip. Italy pizza, where should I get it from? North and South Italy, which one is best? Are there Italy tours that go to both? Should I just go to Northern Italy or Southern Italy? What are the must see sites in Italy?

The differences between travelling in the north or south of Italy and what to see and do in each location

Below is a helpful map to show you what separates Northern Italy and Southern Italy. Everything above Rome is considered to be Northern Italy and everything from Naples to Sicily is considered Southern Italy. Now let’s dive into a little more detail on the north and south Italy comparisons.

Geography and Landscape differences north vs south Italy  

Northern Italy

  • Is extremely mountainous, with some coastal regions.
  • Is more industrial and developed
  • Larger cities, less farmland
  • Bordered by France, Switzerland and Austria
A vineyard in Tuscany, Italy with the sun setting brightly in the background
The wine region of Tuscany is an exception when it comes to fewer farm areas in Northern Italy.

Southern Italy

  • Much more ‘traditional’ compared to the North
  • Has many coastal regions, beaches, and a coastline stretching most of the region
  • More farmland, less industrialized cities
  • No physical land borders and instead it’s surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea
  • Many people say Southern Italy is similar to countries like Greece and Spain
  • Italy pizza is better here in my opinion

Best Places to Visit in Northern Italy

Bologna:

Often overlooked by tourists, this beautiful historic city is a site you might want to add to your bucket list. Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region located between more well-known areas of Italy, Florence and Venice. Known for balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, parma ham and mortadella, if you’re a ‘foodie’ Bologna should be at the top of your list.

Fun Fact(s):

Bologna is nicknamed “the Red” because of its red-brick buildings and tiled roofs of the city.

Must see sites:

Bologna University which was founded in 1088 and is the world’s oldest institution of higher learning.

Best way to see these destinations and more in the area

 Go here if you love:

Vibrant buildings, food and history.

Accommodation options in the area

Gran Paradiso National Park:

One of Europe’s largest national parks and Italy’s first.

Fun Fact(s):

Named for one of Italy’s highest peaks Gran Paradiso-is the only mountain in the Alps that lies completely within Italy’s boundaries.

Must see sites:

At over 13,000 feet the views from the peak are spectacular.

Go here if you love:

Hiking, skiing and Insta-worthy views.

Accommodation options in the area

Milan:

The second-largest city in Northern Italy after Rome, Milan is renowned for its culture, history.. and above all the shopping.

The large buidling known as the Duomo di Milano in Milan, Italy
The Duomo of Milan is one building you will stand in front of with your jaw dropped to the floor without even realising.

Fun Fact(s):

Milan has the most famous Opera house in all of Europe, Teatro Alla Scala.

Must see sites:

The Duomo of Milan. Known for being the third-largest cathedral in the world with over 2,200 statues on the inside, this architectural marvel took over 600 years to complete.

The Santa Maria Della Grazie where da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” is on display. I suggest getting skip the line tickets for both of these attractions. They are popular and will be either booked out in advance or require you to lose plenty of time lining up.

Best way to see these destinations and more in the area

Go here if you love:

Shopping, gothic architecture, fashion and art.

Accommodation options in the area

Portofino:

Located on the Italian Riviera, this cute little seaside village is perfect for a photo-op with its pastel-coloured houses and beautiful blue waters surrounding the town.

Fun Fact(s):

Cars aren’t allowed on the island, so to get there you either have to walk or take a ferry.

Must see sites:

Castello Brown: This 15th-century harbour fortress turned house is surrounded by lush colourful gardens, cobblestone pathways and amazing views of the city.

Piazza Martiri dell’ Olivetta: Portofino’s main square located right next to the harbour. This cute little plaza is known for its pastel-coloured buildings packed with restaurants, cafes and wonderfully decadent gelato shops.

Best way to see these destinations and more in the area

Go here if you love:

Photo-op spots, gardens and walking trails.

Accommodation options in the area

Venice:

Dubbed as one of the most romantic cities in the world, “the Floating City” is located in the Venetian Lagoon this waterway city is made up of hundreds of individual islands joined together by a network of canals and bridges. I have a great guide on how to see Venice in 2 days if you’re interested.

Fun Fact(s):

There are over 400 bridges located in Venice, many of them connecting canals to one another.

Must see sites:

St. Mark’s Square: Locally known as the Piazza San Marco, it serves at Venice’s town square. Located at one end of the square is the breathtaking Basilica San Marco, surrounded by luxurious shops and pristine views of the Venetian Lagoon.

The Bridge of Sighs: Or the Ponte Dei Sospiri in Italian, the Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous bridges in the world. A popular tourist photo-op spot today, it was used in the 1600s and later to bring prisoners to the execution chamber in the Prigiono. Legend says as prisoners crossed the bridge, they would sigh as they caught their last sight of Venice.

Best way to see these destinations and more in the area

Looking down through a canal in Venice with buidlings built right next to the waterway
The canals and crumbling buildings in Venice add to the charm of the Italian waterside city

Go here if you love:

Coffee, history and beautiful views.

Accommodation options in the area or if you are after a money-saving alternative that is just off the island of Venice and a quarter of the price check out my suggestion of accommodation when on a budget.

Top Tip: Most people only visit Venice for a long weekend or quick midweek trip and tourist activity is high. With that being the case booking your tickets in advance with skip the line features will save you hours and ensure you see everything you want in your visit.

Also if you can allow an extra day to visit the nearby mountain range of Italy Dolomites then it will be a day you won’t forget. The views while standing on top of the Dolomite Mountains will leave you in awe and well stocked with stunning travel pictures. There are trips visiting the Dolomite Mountains almost every day from Venice.

Best Places to Visit in the South

Naples:

Located on the southwest coast, with a population of 970,000 Naples is the third-largest city in Italy. Naples is perfect for you history buffs, due to its extensive history.

Fun Fact(s):

Mount Vesuvius which famously erupted in 74 AD is located in Naples, and it’s still active today as the only volcano in the mainland of Europe that has erupted in the last 100 years.

Must see sites:

The Ruins of Pompeii: The City that was tragically wiped out due to Mount Vesuvius’ latest eruption. Walkthrough the extensive ruins and see plaster casts of many of the victims. Booking a trip in advance is recommended, a skip the line pass is best if have a short time to visit or head by yourself if you’re confident with the trains.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele: This local pizzeria has been using the same recipe since it opened in 1870. Sit elbow to elbow with locals and enjoy traditional Neapolitan pizza. Some say it is the best Italy pizza location.

Best way to see these destinations and more in the area

Go here if you love:

History, Neapolitan pizza.

Accommodation options in the area

Lecce:

Known as the Florence of the South due to its ‘plethora of opulent historical structures.’ Lecce is located right in the heel of Italy’s boot.

Fun Fact(s):

Lecce is famous for the light coloured stone used to create many of the buildings and homes.

Must see Sites:

Roman Amphitheater: Built in the second century AD, this architectural marvel was not unearthed until 1929. You can take tours of the theatre to see the extensive stairs, seating and external walls that are still in amazing condition.

Best way to see these destinations and more in the area

Go here if you love:

Sight-seeing and Roman architecture.

Accommodation options in the area

Bari:

Located halfway up the Adriatic coast, this port city has a beautiful harbour, gorgeous beaches and an old historic town. With a population of close to 330,000, Bari is the second-largest economic centre of Southern Italy after Naples.

Fun Fact(s):

Bari is a walled city with many narrow alleyways and passages, perfect for anyone craving a little adventure.

Must see sites:

The Castello Svevo: Thought to be built in the 1100s, this castle has some of the best views of the city. Surrounded by a moat on all sides, this castle is sure to give you a taste of what it would be like to live in those times.

Bari Old Town: Wander around the maze of narrow cobbled streets, Bari’s old town remains almost completely intact and is very different from the modern architecture that surrounds it.

Best way to see these destinations and more in the area

Go here if you love:

Interesting architecture.

Accommodation options in the area

The Amalfi Coast:

Known as one of the most beautiful regions not only in Italy but in the world, Italy’s Amalfi Coast stretches from Naples to Salerno and boasts breathtaking views, cute rural Italian villages and amazing food.

Fun Fact(s):

The Capuchin monks who lived in a monastery on the cliffs of the Amalfi are said to have been the first to add warm milk to their coffee, creating what we know as the Cappuccino.

Must see sites:

The Town of Sorrento: Located on the northern side of the Amalfi coast this coastal town is known for its beautiful views, and Italian staple drink, Limoncello.

Find accommodation in Sorrento and send a couple of great days in the area.

The town of Amalfi: Along with most of the towns that line the Amalfi Coast, the town of Amalfi contains a plethora of multicoloured houses, quaint local shops and breathtaking sites. With its own cathedral, the Piazza del Duomo and the long stretch of beach are just a few reasons why Amalfi should be on your to-see list.

Best way to see these destinations and more in the area

Colourful houses that cling to the cliff walls of the Amalfi coast
The colourful houses that cling to the walls of the Amalfi coast provide many incredible places to take stunning photos

Go here if you love:

Limoncello, sunbathing, coastal views

Accommodation options in the area

Northern Food vs. Southern Food in Italy

Northern Italy

Surrounded by countries like Switzerland, Austria and France, typical northern Italian cuisine looks similar to those countries.

Known for having creamy sauces, cured beef, and less pasta than its southern counterpart.

Think: hard cheeses like parmesan, cured meats like prosciutto and soups and stews like minestrone.

Southern Italy

Typical Mediterranean tastes and colours like salads and seafood due to its vast coastline.

Typical Southern Italian dishes will contain things like eggplant, olive oils, peppers and locally grown spices

Think: Margherita pizza, pecorino cheese, pepperoni and eggplant parmesan.

Find a list of great food tours all around Italy.

A chessy and saucy pizza with a crunchy crust found in southern Italy
I’m sorry for North Italy areas but I need to declare that the Southern regions of Italy make the best pizza in the country

I love finding and sampling the best and most interesting traditional foods in each location I visit.

Architecture, History and Culture

Divided into two categories, people from the North refer to themselves as Nords whereas people from the South are referred to as Sud. Similarly to any other country, geographical ‘stereotypes’ exist for Northern and Southern Italians. Both populations are fundamentally different and this might have something to do with the fact that Italy as a nation is still young (born only in 1861).

Northerners

Have been described as workaholics and not having much work-life balance.

Northern Italy is considered the “industrial” portion of Italy, producing over 90% of Italy’s exports it is wealthier than the South.

Northern Italy is bordered by France, Switzerland, and Austria which has influenced northern Italian culture, architecture and ways of living for thousands of years.

If you travel far north enough, you might even find people wearing traditional German lederhosen.

Most of the architecture was created by the Romans or followed a Romanesque style and can be characterized by marble, large columns, basilicas, and prosaic concrete.

Southerners

Have been described as “slightly too chilled” and live to drink wine while watching the sunset.

Described as more ‘traditional’ and has been said to be similar to countries like Greece and Spain.

You’ll find many examples of Byzantine and Roman influence within their architecture. Examples of this can be seen in the Cattolica basilica located in Stilo, as well as many buildings located in Sicily, including the Cathedral-Basilica of Cefalu’.

This architecture can be characterized by traditional Islamic motifs, rich colours, patterns and ornamentation.

Popular tours in Italy

If you’re pushed for time and want to try and fit as much as you can into your north and south of Italy adventure then either purchasing a selection of skip the line passes or ready-made tours that are hitting all the must see sites in Italy is a great way to travel. Below is a small selection of some of the best. Many more can be found at either Viator or GetYourGuide.

The most popular day Italy tours

Great multi-day tour options in Italy

I hope that makes it easier for you when it comes to answering if visiting the north and south of Italy or just one region is best for your best travel plans.

Organise Your Trip: Travel Advice and Tricks I Personally Use

Book Your Flight

Heading to either Skyscanner or Momondo are my methods of choice for this. They are my favourite as they search for flights from different companies all over the world. You can filter the results to suit your needs and ensure you land the best price every-time.

Find the cheapest flights to any Italian city you desire.

Book Your Accommodation

This is an important part of any holiday you’re going on. Read all the reviews and get the right accommodation via TripAdvisor. They even show you the best prices available at the time for that room from suppliers like Booking.com.For booking a hostel your best bet is to start with HostelWorld or possible even use CouchSurfing if you’re on a real budget.

Best prices of hotels in Italy’s most visited locations:

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance is a must these days so you have a piece of mind you’re covered for anything that could go wrong while on your trip. I now never go on a trip away without travel insurance. I’ve been using World Nomads for the past few years.

My favourite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • SafetyWing (cheaper option to just cover you for health issues)

Looking for the best companies to save money with?

As I have been travelling frequently over the last few years I’ve learnt some great tools to use for saving money when travelling. I have a travel resource page that lists all the trusted companies I personally use and rely on. I think you will find them good as well.

I also have a couple of great blogs that share quick and easy ways to save money on flights or accommodation. Take a look and save some cash on your next trip.

The Best Place To Book Your Tours

If you are someone you likes to have the best tours in one place and read reviews from other travellers about their personal experiences of each different tour then the best platform to use is GetYourGuide.

Find the best selection of Italian Tours throughout all parts of Italy in one place with Getyourguide. Competitive prices guaranteed.

They offer the best tours, have money-back offers in case your trip is cancelled and ensure the price of each tour is the lowest possible.

Other posts that might interest you:

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Last Updated on: June 8th, 2020 at 11:28 am

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