Northern Italy vs Southern Italy: Which Region to Visit?

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by Olivia Ellis

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While planning a trip to Italy can be a pinnacle for any travel enthusiast, it can be overwhelming deciding where exactly to visit – especially if you’re debating between Northern Italy vs Southern Italy.

Although in the same country, Southern Italy and Northern Italy are two regions massively different from each other. From the fashion and financial forward North to the traditional and slow lifestyle of the southern region of Italy, there are lots of pros and cons to visiting both depending on what you’re after.

In general, visit Northern Italy if you’re interested in art history, fashion, mountain vistas and fast-paced cities. On the other hand, Southern Italy is great for those looking for a slower pace of life, gorgeous coastal areas and plenty of ancient ruins.

However, there is a lot more to unpack when deciding which Italian region to visit.

Northern Italy

A prosperous and strongly industrialised part of Italy consisting of 8 Italian regions, Northern Italy is best known for its mountainous landscape, cosmopolitan and politically forward cities such as Milan & Bologna, art, and rich cuisine influenced by neighboring countries such as France, Austria, and Switzerland.

Bergamo in Northern Italy
Bergamo in Northern Italy


Northern Italy is an extremely well-connected and accessible part of the country, making it a great part of Italy to visit during any trip.

With several international airports such as Milan Malpensa, Venice Marco Polo, and Bologna Guglielmo Marconi, you’ll find that it’s quite easy to fly into the region whether you’re visiting from other parts of Europe as well as internationally beyond Europe.

Due to being the economic center of Italy, you’ll find that train transport in Northern Italy is also extremely efficient, on time, and very modernised.

If you’re traveling within Italy, cities are well-connected by high-speed trains, which provide fast and efficient transport between major cities, including Milan, Turin, Venice, and Bologna. You can check train schedules here.

If you’re keen on renting a car during your trip, it’s also useful to be aware that Northern Italy has well-maintained roads and highways, making it easy to get around by car. Although it’s not completely necessary if you’re mainly visiting cities and towns.

It’s also a lot less chaotic to drive here than in the south, with Northern Italians – generally – being a bit more respectful and patient as drivers than Southern Italians.

Otherwise, if you’re hoping to travel to more remote areas, such as the Italian Alps and the Dolomites, and deeper into the mountains, renting a car is a valuable option. You can browse to compare prices across major companies.

Milan skyline from the Duomo
Milan skyline from the Duomo


When comparing North vs South Italy, you’ll likely wonder if Northern Italy is more expensive, considering that it is the economic heart of the country as well as generally wealthier.

It’s fair to say that although the cost of living in Northern Italy is significantly higher than in Southern Italy, it’s not too big of a difference for tourists visiting the region.

Much of what will affect the affordability of your trip will depend on where exactly you’re visiting in the region. If you’re traveling on a moderate budget, staying in major cities, and visiting main tourist attractions during your trip, you shouldn’t notice too big of a difference as the price difference isn’t too extreme.

For example, a cheaper hotel room or Airbnb outside of the historic center in both Rome and Milan (Southern vs Northern Italy) will typically cost around the same.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to stay in more of a rural and remote area of Northern Italy, you’ll be paying much less in the north vs the south if you’re planning on visiting the capital of the Amalfi Coast, in Positano.

The same also follows for both transportation and activities, typically being a pattern when comparing city Italy over rural Italy.

Varenna on Lake Como
Varenna on Lake Como


Northern Italian food is still very much Italian in the sense of how we know it internationally (i.e pasta and pizza), but when comparing Northern vs Southern Italy, you’ll find that Northern Italian cuisine holds great influence from neighboring countries such as France and Switzerland.

With rich and hearty flavours, you’ll find dishes with heavier components such as dairy and meat products in Northern vs Southern Italian food that’s more reliant on fresh produce and seafood.

In regions such as Emilia-Romagna, internationally famed foods such as Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, and traditional Ragu Bolognese reign supreme. In Milan and the Lombardy region, you will find such hearty classics like risotto milanese and osso buco.

Whereas in coastal regions such as Liguria (home to the iconic Cinque Terre), fresh seafood, hearty green pesto, and fresh focaccia are the local delicacies.

Ravioli in Lombardy
Ravioli in Lake Garda

Places to Visit in Northern Italy

Due to the varied landscape of Northern Italy, the region is full of places to visit with much to offer. Whether you’re seeking city adventure or an escape into nature, there’s something for everyone.

From the stunning city of Venice with its iconic canals, romantic gondola rides, and bridges, the fashion capital Milan, the picturesque Lake Como and Lake Garda, the historical city of Verona, the charming town of Bolzano, and the beautiful Dolomites mountain range, there’s no loss of places to visit.

Other notable destinations include the romantic city of Turin (the capital of the Piedmont region), the medieval city of Bologna, the gastronomic capital of Parma and the coastal Ligurian city of Genoa.

Each of these places has its unique charm and attractions that make it worth a visit and there are plenty of destinations perfect for a short city break or a longer Northern Italy trip.

Parma Cathedral and Baptistry
Parma Cathedral and Baptistry

Southern Italy

Known for its stunning beaches, ancient ruins, and delicious cuisine, Southern Italy is one of the most sought-after travel destinations internationally.

Made up of famous destinations such as Rome, Sicily, and Naples, along with less-visited regions such as Calabria, Puglia, and Basilicata, Southern Italy holds unique history and cultural traditions.

When you visit Southern Italy you’re treated to historic cities, a laid-back ambiance, fresh seafood, pasta dishes, and time to relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.

Mt Etna from Catania
Mt Etna from Catania


Southern Italy is a relatively accessible region with several transportation options available to travelers depending on where you’re coming from.

The region is served by several international airports, with Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and Naples International Airport being the largest and busiest.

These are the best airports to fly into if you’re visiting from out of the country, but from within Italy and also on occasion from other European countries, smaller airports in Southern Italy are easily accessible by air.

Both high-speed and regional train services run frequently between major cities in Southern Italy, including Rome, Naples, Bari, and Palermo. Buses are another option for getting around the region, with regional companies providing services to smaller towns and villages.

When weighing Northern or Southern Italy, you’ll find that the laid-back attitude of the South of Italy can be reflected in transportation, with some routes being more difficult to find transportation to/from or train/bus routes not running on schedule from time to time.

Regardless, transportation is still well-serviced and efficient when traveling in Southern Italy.

Like in Northern Italy, renting a car is another great option for getting around Southern Italy if you’re interested in having more flexibility for transportation during your trip.

Keep in mind that in South vs North Italy, in many small towns and villages, roads may be smaller and more difficult to drive in, in comparison to the more modern infrastructure of the Northern part of the country.

It is worth noting, as well, the Southern Italians have more of a reckless driving reputation than their northern counterparts and this is something to keep in mind when visiting – make sure to drive defensively!

Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari
Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari


Southern Italy is quite affordable, particularly when compared to other regions in Italy or other popular European destinations. The cost of living, including food, accommodations, and transportation, tends to be marginally lower in Southern Italy than in the North.

Smaller towns and villages can be particularly affordable, with lower prices for food and accommodations.

The summertime is the high season for Southern Italy, so if you’re hoping to visit popular destinations such as the Amalfi Coast during the summer, expect to pay much higher costs for accommodation and food costs.

While traveling in the northy is slightly more expensive than in Southern Italy, the amount of money you can expect to spend while in the region still depends on where you visit specifically as well as the time of year.

Naples at sunset
Naples at sunset


When comparing Southern vs Northern Italian food, you’ll find that Southern Italian cuisine is characterised by its reliance on fresh simple ingredients. These are typically vegetable and herb-based with a major aspect of most Southern Italian dishes being tomato-based sauces.

Due to the close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, Southern Italian cuisine has a strong reliance on seafood, with seafood being a main food group in Southern Italian cuisine compared to Northern Italy’s land pastures lending to a greater influence of land animals.

Naples, the home of pizza, has a vibrant food scene with a large array of tasty foods and a rich tradition of street food and snacks, including arancini, panzerotti, and sfogliatelle.

While Northern Italian food is richer in ingredients such as meat, cream, and cheese, Southern Italian food is famous for its vibrant, bold, and colourful ingredients and flavors.

Affordable street food in Palermo
Affordable street food in Palermo

Places to Visit in Southern Italy

Southern Italy is a treasure chest of stunning destinations, offering everything from ancient ruins and picturesque towns to beautiful beaches and rugged coastlines.

One of the top destinations in the region is the Amalfi Coast, which is most famous for colorful seaside towns, steep cliffs, and remarkable views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Other must-see destinations in southern Italy are historic Pompeii, dramatic Mount Vesuvius, and exciting Sicily. In Sicily, you can take in everything from the vibrant streets of Catania or Palermo to the ancient ruins of Agrigento to the imposing Mt Etna and the winding lanes of Taormina.

Southern Italy is a must-visit for those searching for Italian destinations off the beaten path, such as the hilltop town of Matera, famous for its ancient cave dwellings known as “Sassi”, and beautiful Baroque east coast cities such as Bari and Lecce.

And for those who love food and wine, there’s no better place to explore than Puglia, with its delicious cuisine and world-class wineries that will rival any Chianti you’ll sip in Tuscany.

Whether you’re interested in history, culture, nature, or simply relaxing by the sea in its laid-back beach towns, Southern Italy has something to offer everyone.

Stunning Matera
Stunning Matera

Southern Italy vs Northern Italy: The Verdict

Both Northern and Southern Italy have lots to offer visitors, so it really just depends on what kind of trip you’re after to decide which area is best for you.

If you’re traveling to Il Bel Paese and you’re particularly keen to explore the country’s art history and fashion culture, I suggest heading to Northern Italy.

Northern Italy may also be the best part of the country for you to visit if you prefer more of a structured Northern/Central European feel in comparison to the laid-back attitude of the Mediterranean and the South.

While the north may be better suited to those searching to explore the country’s art history, Southern Italy is where you’ll find the densest areas of ancient ruins. So if you’re set on exploring the world of ancient Rome and its impact on the country, make your way to Southern Italy.

As for natural beauty in the country, it’s safe to say that the entire country is dense in stunning landscapes and raw beauty. Although to get more specific, if you’re someone that likes to visit mountainous areas and hike or maybe ski in the wintertime, I’d suggest heading to Northern Italy.

On the other hand, southern Italy is most known for its dramatically gorgeous beaches and hillside towns, so if you’re keen on spending time at the beach and getting sun, make your way to the country’s Southern side.

Italian food is easily one of the most famous and well-loved foods internationally, and there’s no surprise there, but while visiting Italy, you’ll find how varied the cuisine is regionally.

If you’ve always been drawn to foods such as ragu bolognese, lasagne, tortellini, and prosciutto and dream to try them at the source, Northern Italy is undoubtedly the region that you’ll probably find your stomach best suited to.

On the contrary, if you’re a lover of Italian classics such as pizza and simple red sauce pasta, head to Southern Italy to be treated to some of the freshest and most delicious food in the world.

Finally, the degree of your budget will also be an important aspect regarding whether you’ll visit South Italy vs North Italy. While there’s not too big of a difference in cost for the average trip in either part of the country, if you’re looking to save some money during your trip, I suggest heading to Southern Italy.

While visiting the capital city of Rome may be just as much as Northern Italian cities such as Milan or Venice, smaller cities or further south cities in Southern Italy will save you money during your stay.

Colosseum in Rome
Colosseum in Rome

At the end of the day, Southern Italy and Northern Italy should be on your travel bucket list. Although, when you can only choose one, choosing whether to visit North Italy vs South Italy can be an overwhelming decision.

Both are incredibly rich regions in culture, scenery and cuisine and when you factor in what’s most important to you on your trip, you’ll likely end up in a stunning part of the country that’s best suited to your preferences.

Are you choosing between North and South Italy? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Olivia is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Michigan, USA, she is currently living in Athens, Greece exploring Europe and filmmaking. When she’s not travelling or writing, Olivia can be found cooking delicious new recipes from around the world, reading, and spending time outdoors.

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