The best small Italian towns to visit in the north of Italy; Italy with kids; Asiago, Bassano di Grappa, Caorle, Ferrara, Mantua, Montagnana, Padua, Vicenza
Europe,  Travel

Best small Italian towns to visit in the north of Italy

During our trip to the north of Italy, we came across a number of small towns that are great to visit, with or without kids. Each has its own charm and some interesting things to do. All of them are a little off the beaten path for tourists. Here are our recommendations for the best small Italian towns to visit in the north of Italy.

These are in alphabetical order, not necessarily order to preference.

Asiago

The Duomo di San Matteo, on of the sights to see in Asiago. It is the landscape and views that make Asiago one of the best smaller towns to visit in the north of Italy.

Asiago is a small town in the foothills of the alps. It is best known for its cheese and its ice and inline hockey teams.

We visited Asiago for personal reasons, not really to see the town itself. Asiago is a pretty town, but not that exciting, though the churches are worth a visit.

Instead, it is the landscape that makes Asiago one of the best towns to visit in the north of Italy. The views on the way up the mountains are stunning. Likewise, the views make hiking in the area very popular.

Tip: When you are in Asiago, try the cheese!

The Church of Saint Rocco and a carousel, Asiago, Italian foothills.

Bassano de Grappa

There are a number of buildings worth a quick look in Bassano del Grappa. However, it is the covered wooden bridge over the Brenta River which is the star.

Tip: Take in the view and have a drink at the Nardini Tavern the end of the bridge to admire the view a bit more.

The view from the wooden bridge in Bassano di Grappa, an icon of the one fo the best small towns to visit in the north of Italy.

While you are in Bassano del Grappa, you should take the opportunity to try grappa. It is a common digestif, a grape-based brandy containing 35 to 60% alcohol.

According to legend, a Roman soldier was the first to distil grappa in Bassano del Grappa using equipment stolen in Egypt. Whether or not this is true, grappa is named aver the town.

The Torre Civica on Piazza Libertà in Bassano di Grappa in the north of Italy

Caorle

Caorle is a little further away than the other smaller Italian towns in the north. It is one of our insider tips and definitely one of the best small Italian towns to visit in the north.

If you like the charm of Burano, but want to avoid the crowds of Venice and have time to swim, Caorle is perfect.

The colourful fishing village of Caorle on the Venetian Lagoon. With a colourful old town and great beaches, it is one of our insider tips of the best small towns to visit in the north of Italy.

Stroll through the old town and admire the colourful houses. Eat a gelato. Walk along the promenade. Visit the solitary Madonna dell‘Angelo on the peninsula. Go for a swim at the 18 km of beach. It’s quite shallow with beautiful white sand, which make the beach perfect for kids to go for a swim.

Tip: If you want to experience the traditional Caorle, visit the Casoni, the traditional thatched huts that fishermen used to live in. The houses are made of wood and look a little like teepees. Kids will enjoy watching the fishing boats come in.

While you are there, make sure you try some of the freshest seafood and the specialties of the Veneto.

The Shrine of Our Lady of the Angel (originally dedicated to Archangel Michael from whom it takes its name) with its enchanting locations: one of the top sights to see in Caorle

Ferrara

Ferrara is perhaps most famous for Estense Castle and the Cathedral of St George.

The cathedral is supposedly one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture and it looks beautiful in picture. Unfortunately, it is currently closed for renovations and covered in scaffolding, so we could not visit or see its beauty.

Tip: Check the status of the work on the cathedral before visiting.

Side view of the Cathedral of Ferrara, which is currently closed for renovations.

Estense Castle was Lucrezia Borgia’s residence following her marriage to Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. The medieval castle has an impressive moat and four corner towers.

Estense Castle - Family home of the  Dukes of Este - an imposing moat and drawbridge and towers and some interesting frescoes inside; best small Italian towns to visit in the north; view of the courtyard and castle

The ground floor of the castle is rather simple and plain and business-like. However, the second floor has a number of beautiful frescos and painted panels. Some of these have been damaged over time. Strategically-placed, large mirrors make it easier to appreciate the art.

You can climb the Torre di Leoni for a panorama view of Ferrara.

The castle also has quite a large collection of artwork. This got a little much for Miss M, so we had to cut our visit short.

Tip: Watch out for the unicorn!

Part of the art collection at Castle Este, the piece is call Chastity and that definitely is a unicorn on the right

Mantua

Mantua was the closest city to where we stayed in Italy this year. It is a gorgeous old town with a Ducal Palace and Cathedral and was UNESCO World Heritage listed in 2008.

Mantua is another of our insider tips and is definitely one of the best small towns to visit in the north of Italy.

The huge Ducal Palace in Mantua or Palazzo Ducale di Mantova; built between the 14th and 17th centuries by the Gonzaga family; one of the sights to see in Mantua; the best small Italian towns to visit in the north of Italy

If you followed Romeo and Juliet in Verona: Mantua is where Romeo was banished. It is also the birthplace of the Roman poet Virgil.

The Ducal Palace is extensive. Built by the Gonzaga family when they took over the rule of the city following a coup d‘etat. It covers 34,000 square metres and has over 500 rooms and 15 courtyards and gardens.

We didn’t get a lot of time in Mantua this year but we intend to go back to see Palazzo Te, the Bibiena Theatre, La Rotonda church and the canal.

Tip: Take time to see the nearby fortified city of Sabbioneta, too.

Mantua is also worth a stop for the food: the tortellini di Zucca (delicious pumpkin tortellini), risotto all pilota, Mostarda Mantovana (traditional mustard with honey, quite runny but delicious with cold meats) and torta sbrisolona

Traditional Mantovian snacks: air dried ham, parmesan cheese, mantovian salami and mantua mustard, which is quite sweet but delicious with the meat

Montagnana

We’ve visited Montagnana twice and Miss M loved it.

Both times, we strolled along and admired the ramparts (and we do love good ramparts) and enjoyed some ice cream. It is one of the best-preserved examples of medieval walls in Europe and the ice cream was good too.

The walled town of Montagnana, with its ramparts and turrets; A member of the I Borghi più belli d'Italia (the most beautiful towns in Italy); one of the best small Italian towns to visit in the north of Italy; picture of the ramparts and tower

Tip: If you are in the area, visit the nearby Monumental Garden of Valsanzibio. It won the best garden in Italy (2003) and Europe (2007). Miss M had so much fun playing in the water trick fountain and leading us through the garden.

The ‘Diana’s Pavillion’ or ‘Diana’s Doorway’ at the Monumental Garden of Valsanzibio; the main entrance by water to the Barbarigo estate in the 17th and 18th centuries; visitors would come by boat from Padua and Venice; winner of Best Garden in Italy (2003) and Europe (2007).

Padua

Padua is a university town on the Bacchiglione River, 40 km west of Venice. It is picturesque with a network of arcaded streets, bridges and large open piazze and is definitely one of the best small Italian towns to visit in the north.

Palazzo della Ragione in Padua; The building is beautiful and architecturally impressive and the frescoes and wooden horse inside are interesting; Padua is one of the best small Italian towns to visit in  the north of Italy; picture by postcardtrip from Pixabay

Padua is a great town to spend a day and there are four things that we would recommend:

  1. Go for a stroll around the city, taking in the arcades, bridges and piazze.
  2. Do a tour of Palazzo Bo, part of the University of Padua, which is the fifth oldest university in the world. Visit the anatomical theatre (which is very steep!), Galileo Galilei’s aula magna and the Hall of the Forty. Check online for tour times.
  3. Admire the Palazzo della Ragione and its frescoes. Yes, frescoes are popular in Padua. These depict the astrological theories of Pietro d’Abano, a professor at the university. Don’t forget to check out the giant wooden horse. Most days there is also a market next to the Palazzo where you can find some fruit for a picnic.
  4. Be one of the few to visit the Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni) to see the Giotto frescoes and memorable blue starry roof. The chapel is a way away from the other sites in Padua but is well worth the visit. Spaces are limited and you will have to spend 15 minutes prior to entrance in a climate-controlled, airlocked vault designed to protect the frescoes from moisture and mould.

Tip: You must reserve your ticket for the Scrovegni Chapel at least 24 hours in advance. Places are limited each day and tickets sell out fast. Book online to avoid disappointment.

Vicenza

Vicenza was a lovely surprise when we visited.

The city seems to adhere strictly to a midday closing and there was little to do in the middle of the day but stroll around the streets and admire the architecture. There is much to admire.

More than any other city in Italy, Vicenza was influenced by just one man: Andrea Palladio. He was born and lived in the city and was responsible for numerous magnificent palaces and masterful monuments.

Centre of Vicenza old town with the Bissara Tower; an insider tip of the best small Italian towns to visit in the north of Italy; photo by Johanschersten on pixabay

One of his masterpieces is the Teatro Olympic, one of the oldest Renaissance theatres in existence. We spent time just admiring the craftsmanship and the optical illusions created for the stage set.

We also very much enjoyed our stroll through Parco Querini, admiring the statues. Miss M could run around and burn off some energy, while we enjoyed the views.

Best small Italian towns to visit in the north of Italy

The kaleidoscope of charming small towns to visit in the north of Italy is that’s one of the reasons we enjoy visiting Italy so much. None of these towns is overrun by tourists and each has a different point of interest. They are lovely, with or without kids.

Which are the best small Italian towns to visit in the north in your opinion? Do you have any recommendations to add to our list? Which ones would you like to visit?

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The best small Italian towns to visit in the north of Italy; Italy with kids; Asiago, Bassano di Grappa, Caorle, Ferrara, Mantua, Montagnana, Padua, Vicenza

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