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 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!
assano 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Tip: Check the status of the work on the cathedral before visiting.
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.
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!
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
Mantua is another of our insider tips and is definitely one of the best small 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
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 t
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.
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.
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.
Padua is a great town to spend a day and there are four things that we would recommend:
- Go for a stroll around the city, taking in the arcades, bridges and piazze.
- 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.
- Admire the Palazzo
dellaRagione 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.
- Be one of the few to visit the Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella
degliScrovegni) 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 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.
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.