A country with such a rich history and culture that makes it hard to put it in a nutshell. In our previous blog posts we did cover its northern and southern parts separately, trying to make up a list of the most iconic and unique cities in both regions. But we do believe that both regions should be part of your agenda if you want to experience the country fully.
Some would argue that, compared to their colleagues in the south, the cities in northern Italy are affected by globalization the most which affected their authenticity. But we do believe that it does relate more to major cities like Milano or Torino, rather than much smaller ones that we did cover in our guides.
Cities like Treviso, Trento, Parma, Udine and many others still managed to maintain their authenticity, and provide a good mix of developed and globalized Italy with an extremely breathtaking alpine nature and charming lakes, the perfect setting for digital nomads looking to explore Italy.
But yes, cities in the southern Italy offer a very different kind of authenticity and experience, that typical italian experience that most of the tourists have in their minds and expect to get.
Expenses wise, there is a significant difference compared to the north of the country, north being slightly more expensive than the south.
Best Time to Travel
The quietest and cheapest time to explore Italy is definitely after October up till April. The streets are less crowded, flights and accommodations way cheaper. Smaller queues at museums and plenty of events and festivals still taking place. Some of the most unique and authentic ones that we did cover in our recent blog post on Italian festivals do happen in February, so you won’t feel bored either.
What to Expect
Good food! Good food! And once more, Good food! Expect to experience towns reminding fairytales, old buildings and monuments on every step, expect to hear all the time locals speaking loudly and emotionally to each other and always happy to talk to you, but do not expect to get replies in English, so it would be better to learn a couple of words and sentences to survive. Expect to witness nature at its best, whether you are more of a mountain or a sea lover, you will find your spot anyway. Expect to come across nice and modern coworking spaces in exceptional locations inside of old buildings in small towns.
WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO GO
It is really tough to fit it into finite number of days, but in order to avoid making this article infinite we’ve picked 7 combination of things that will give you truly authentic and diverse experience. While moving around Flixbus or Trenitalia should be enough to provide you both bus and train options. If you are more into renting a car instead of public transport, all the main european and worldwide car rental companies like Hertz, Sixt and many others do operate in Italy as well
1.LECCO – LAKE COMO – BATTLE OF ORANGES in IVREA
Lecco is a small town in Northern Italy, often unseen and probably not the main choice of travellers in the area who come to admire the lake. It is located on the south-eastern branch of famed Lake Como. So you can stay in a small charming lakeside town, admire probably the most famous lake in Italy and, if in February, also manage to visit Ivrea for the local festival and throw some oranges.
For those who haven’t yet heard about it, it’s one of the weirdest festivals that you can possibly come across. The famous Battle of Oranges takes place less than an hour away from Lecco, in a city called Ivrea. Definitely worth putting them together in your agenda. It’s basically an alternative food festival, which includes a tradition of throwing of oranges between organized groups. It is the largest food fight in Italy and surrounding countries. Thousands of people throwing tons of oranges at each other 3 days long in a small charming northern town coming from an ancient tradition that started in the middle of the 19 century as an inspiration of a similar event that took place in the Middle-Ages. Sounds exciting, right?
If physical activities are something you usually include in your daily agenda, in Lecco you won’t lack options. It’s famous for its great cycling and running routes in the surrounding area in the mountains. For the wintertime, there are ski resorts options as well not that far away. None of them is super big which is definitely compensated with breathtaking routes facing the dramatic mountains in the horizon. Piano Di Bobbio is one of the main places to go, besides being a ski resort, offering a full range of activities such as mountain biking, climbing, trekking and many more.
2.PARMA – HAM AND CHEESE – GIUSEPPE VERDI FESTIVAL
Being named as a “Creative City for Gastronomy” by UNESCO, Parma is definitely not the place to skip. Interestingly enough, among the huge choice and competition, it’s the first city in Italy to be recognized as such.
Initially built by ancient Romans and then rebuilt in the Middle Ages after being partially destroyed, this charming riverside town still ended up to maintain its beauty and also add to it throughout the time. A city where you won’t need a car, walking and biking around should definitely be a good option. Yes, you might not need a car, but if you are a desperate car lover, you can do something even better, tour to Ferrari or Lamborghini headquarters, all based in the region.
A huge number of local Italian farms are based are also based in this region as food is a huge part of the culture not just in Northern Italy, but the country as a whole. Famed for its cheese “Parmigiano Reggiano” and ham “Prosciutto di Parma”, Parma is also home to famous Barilla pasta company. And probably not surprisingly, there are a lot of ham and cheese factory tours all year long. Seeing how actually ham and Parmigiano Reggiano are made in its homeland Parma is definitely one of a kind experience, witnessing the whole process from raw to product is not only satisfying but also informative at the same time. You’ll end up with a unique experience coupled with a unique knowledge of the whole process.
Being home to world-famous opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, Parma is also the host for the annual Verdi Festival, with classical music performances at the spectacular Teatro Regio di Parma, definitely the most impressive place in the city.
When it comes to restaurants, they are abundant in the city. One of the best and coziest places to go for trying out the local cuisine is Ristorante Angiol D’Or. If want to eat on the road local fast food legend Pepen can be a good alternative.
3.PALERMO AND SICILY
Known as “The Kingdom of the Sun” Palermo is the very heart of Sicily, an island located right next to the Southern Italy mainland.
Palermo is, indeed, the most important city on the island, being a capital not only on paper but in terms of culture, economy and tourism as well. Probably not surprisingly, it has also been awarded the title of “Italian Cultural Capital” last year in 2018.
Located on the island that is right in between Europe and Africa, Palermo faced a lot of challenges and cultural shifts throughout history, such as Greek and Arab influences later on, which is visible even now.
Massimo Theater is a place to go. It’s the third-largest theatre in Europe, and one of the most famous ones not only in Sicily but in the whole of Italy. There are always various events scheduled throughout the year and you can check the schedule on their website.
Palermo might not be a hidden gem for a lot of people due to its size, but it definitely offers a completely unique atmosphere that is very different from anything you might see in Europe or in any other Italian city, and it is still not among the main spots in Italian tourism, which was the reason it got its spot in our list.
Caponata would be the restaurant to suggest while in Palermo. Superb food, lovely wine and great atmosphere.
4.BARI – POLIGNANO A MARE – TRULLI
Combine exceptional beauty with weird buildings that you won’t see anywhere but in Puglia.
Bari is the capital of Puglia Region and holds a big cultural and economical role not only in its own region but for the whole of southern Italy. It is mostly known for its commercial importance being a connection point thanks to its location and port, but definitely not among the mainstream tourism.
Bari could be a great base for those who want to stay in a city but breakaway to one of the most charming town’s beaches in less than 30 minutes. And we are speaking about a place, that the words are probably not enough to describe, called Polignano a Mare, which can be reached either by train or by bus.
Also known as “Pearl of the Adriatic”, it is surrounded with caves and cliffs and famous for its crystal clear waters, which makes it the ultimate place to enjoy the sea from a completely different perspective.
The second experience in your agenda is only an hour away from the same Bari. And we are spaking about Trulli in Alberobello – that’s how is called the town in this beautiful region that is famous for its unique houses called Trulli. These buildings with a cylinder on the top are built solely using dry stone. The form is quite simple and looks really cozy and unique.
The town itself is really small with a population of about 10,000 people but is relatively famous locally for these very weird and cute buildings, which ended up being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage about 20 years ago.
There are about 1500 trullis in Alberobello and a lot of them are turned into accommodation for tourists. There is a belief that they were built as some form of a tax evasion back then, since Alberobello officially became a town only in the 18th century.
In terms of restaurants, Terrazze Monachile is definitely a must while in Polignano a Mare. An amazing restaurant on a terrace with an exceptional panoramic view.
5.VERONA – ARENA – LOVE
The most romantic of all the Italian cities. There are probably plenty of ways to approach this exceptional city and a lot of options of what to focus on, but the local arena and the festival should be definitely among those.
Verona’s Arena is one of the best-preserved examples of a Roman amphitheatre, built back in the first century. Nowadays, it hosts numerous events throughout the year, most of them being opera performances. The capacity is 15,000 people, but used to be a lot more back in Roman times.
The Arena holds events throughout the year, so regardless of the season there should be something going on. If you want to plan ahead you can check their schedule here. Just one look at the picture illuminated with lights takes your breath away, so regardless of your music preferences, we believe it’s something worth including in your bucket list of unique experiences.
While Verona in Love is a festival with a name that is probably self explanatory in terms of what is it about together with the location and period it takes place. Yes, it takes place in February in Verona and a great way to spend Valentines’ Day with your loved one.
The festival lasts for several days, and to our deepest belief despite its name and location having a partner is not mandatory to be able to still enjoy it. Live concerts and performances, entrance fees to museums at reduced rates, food events and much more are part of the festival, so one definitely can not feel bored, with or without a partner.
This long magical weekend can transport you to a whole new universe, offering something for anyone, from romantic concerts to the famous Giulietta and Romeo Half Marathon that takes place during that period with thousands of participants.
Organised by the Municipality of Verona in collaboration with the Province and the merchants’ associations, this unique festival in Italy has the end goal to give the event an increasingly cultural value, offering citizens and numerous tourists the opportunity to visit local museums and participate in the initiatives promoted for the occasion. Probably the best way to celebrate the most romantic period of the year in such a special and unique way.
6.CAGLIARI AND SARDINIA
Located in Sardinia, Cagliari is the biggest city on the island. Its relatively big port and the airport makes Cagliari really well connected to the rest of Southern Italy and also the whole country. This nice charming city in the southern coast of the island is also known as a City of the light, famous for surfing, sailing and also for its nightlife, definitely a wide range of activities.
The Roman amphitheatre is a must-see, built in the second century this amphitheatre, which will probably remind Colosseo for a lot of people, is also a venue for outdoor concerts throughout the summer. If you are lucky and there is a concert scheduled during your stay, definitely worth to experience.
Cagliari hosts one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, which crystal clear water all around and a great climate with stunningly beautiful sunsets and nature. It also hosts one of the top botanical gardens in Italy not too far away from the Roman amphitheatre mentioned above.
When it comes to coworking spaces, they are exceptional ones as well. Hub & Spoke is just a dream spot and of the main coworking spaces in Cagliari. An aesthetically pleasing and extremely exciting place to work and connect.
Dal Corsaro, a restaurant run by young, talented and locally famous chief Stefano Deidda is a really nice place to have a sardinian dinner.
COST OF TRAVELLING
All of this comes together with quite affordable prices throughout the whole region. Expenses wise, there is a significant difference compared to the north of the country, with south being relatively cheaper compared to the north.
In the south in cities with a population of about one hundred thousand people, the rent varies between 300-400 euros. Coffee in a nice Italian coffee bar would cost you around €1 while the beer in a local neighbourhood pub would cost you around €2.5. And when it comes to dinner, €10-€15 should be enough to have a nice dinner at an inexpensive restaurant. The region is really well connected with a lot of high-speed trains linking all the small cities to each other and to the major ones within an hour or two, and for just around €5-€15.
When it comes no north, as already mentioned above, the prices are slightly higher. A coffee in a nice Italian coffee bar would cost you around €1.5 while the beer in a local neighborhood pub would cost you around €3.5. And when it comes to dinner, €15-€20 should be enough to have a nice dinner at an inexpensive restaurant. The region is really well connected with a lot of high-speed trains connecting all the small cities to each other and to the major ones within an hour or two for around €7-€15. The rent rates are also similar throughout the region varying between €400-€600 in general. There are many cities in Northern Italy that are worth attention, and we’ve done our best to pick the most balanced options.