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Northern Italy vs Southern Italy: what are the main differences? whether you are planning a vacation and you want to decide about your Italian Itinerary or you are just curious to learn about Italy’s geography and culture, this post will give you a nice overview.
As an Italian, I hope to offer a good unbiased synopsis of what my country is like in terms of culture and spectacular natural wonders.
Northern Italy and Southern Italy at a glance
If you are planning to travel to Italy, the first question you may ask is where to go, as there is a distinct separation between the north and the south.
Although the exact lines are argued, it is generally considered that northern Italy stretches down to just below Florence, while southern Italy begins slightly below Rome; the remainder is classed as central Italy.
The three areas have so many different things to offer, including contrasting weather, attractions, beaches, and landscapes, so it can be difficult to choose where to explore.
Northern Italy has some stand-out differences, such as its cuisine, which takes influences from the bordering countries of Switzerland, Austria, and France. Northern Italy, at the very top, includes the stunning Dolomites and Italian Alps, so it is ideal for winter sports and gets very cold and snowy in the winter.
Southern Italy on the other hand, is truly Mediterranean, with warm weather for much of the year, excellent beaches, and a swath of ancient buildings and sites to discover.
You’ll find some of the country’s best pizza in Naples, excellent street food, and plenty of home-grown ingredients.
Italy’s islands are located in the south, and brimming with charming historical towns and spectacular natural beauties.
Northern Italy vs Southern Italy: Weather
North and South Italy see the most contrasting weather during the winter months, whereas in summer the difference may not be as noticeable.
In the North of Italy are mountain ranges such as the Dolomites. Popular with skiers and winter sports enthusiasts, it is unsurprising that this area of Italy receives very cold weather during the winter months, seeing regular snow.
You will certainly find snow in the mountains between November and February, and occasionally also in the main cities such as Milan, with temperatures dropping to 5 degrees and below.
In the summer, Northern Italy is far warmer, often reaching up to 20 or even 25 degrees. Particularly in Venice and Florence, you may discover many locals leave the city during these months to escape the city heat by going to the southern beaches.
The south maintains more regular warm temperatures for most of the year. In summer, Southern Italy is often very hot, reaching up to 30 degrees on the hottest days, making it ideal for heading to the beaches and coast.
The remainder of the year, this may drop to 15 degrees, even in winter, but there is never any snow and it is easy to wander cities such as Bari or Naples without needing more than a jumper, and you may even be able to head to the beach.
North Italy vs South Italy: Beaches
Although when many people think of Italian beaches, the first thing that comes to mind is the southern riviera or the stunning beaches of Palermo, both North and South Italy have an equal share of brilliant beaches to explore.
The only difference is that in the North, the winter months are often too cold to enjoy them.
In Northern Italy, you can actually find some of the most famous beaches, such as Cinque Terre, one of Italy’s most Instagrammed and colorful coastal areas.
There are also beach towns dotted all the way up Italy’s northern coast, past Genoa, and towards the French border.
This is not surprising when you think that just next door is the beautiful French Riviera beaches of Cannes and St. Tropez.
Even in Italy’s northeast, such as Lido di Jesolo near Venice, and Trieste, are stunning beaches overlooking the Adriatic which see scorching hot weather during the summer.
INSIDER TIPS (gossip😜)– The Italian Riviera, (or Liviera Ligure) is definitely much prettier than the Eastern Coast of the Adriatic sea with a much more appealing montanious landscape rolling over a crystal clear sea and colorful houses perching over. However, the local people from the eastern coast is notoriously more friendly and welcoming than the people from the Liguria region (sorry)
In Southern Italy there are some of the best beaches in Italy, with golden sand and incredibly transparent water besides pretty coastal towns and islands such as Sorrento, Capri, Bari, and Sardinia.
Puglia is an often lesser-visited area on Italy’s southeastern coast where the untouched beaches of Brindisi and Taranto are located, while the Amalfi Coast, just below Naples, is by far the most famous beach area, backed by lush green mountains and brightly colored houses, where many tourists and Italians travel to enjoy a beach holiday.
North Italy vs South Italy: Costs
It may be surprising to learn that there is a strong difference in costs and the economy in the north and south of Italy. This can have an impact on the cost of holidays to destinations in the region too.
Northern Italy is where many of the country’s manufacturers and major companies and brands are based.
Northern Italy is also home to a huge number of ski resorts and winter sports destinations, which are often expensive, as well as the beautiful lakes, Lake Como and Lake Garda, which are notoriously famous for being the places where celebrities love to stay.
The northern cities vary in terms of cost. While in cities such as Venice, Verona, or Turin, you may be able to get by on a budget (although you will also find pricey options), Milan is the fashion capital of Italy, home to expensive brands such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, meaning the city is generally expensive.
Southern Italy is much more reliant on agriculture and tourism, so cities there such as Naples are far cheaper.
Naturally, if you visit tourist destinations in the south, prices may be deliberately increased, however, generally you’re likely to find far more affordable street food, cheaper accommodation, attractions, and shopping in the south.
However, the cost difference between northern and southern Italy is less noticeable in countryside areas, where costs are often affordable.
North Italy vs South Italy: Food
No matter where you visit in Italy you will find some of the best food in the world, however, there is a clear difference in the cuisine in northern vs southern Italy due to a few factors.
Northern Italy takes strong influence from the mountains, as well as its neighbors of Switzerland, Austria, and France, meaning you’ll find richer dishes with more cheese, butter, and meats – of course, this will be in classic pasta dishes too!
This food comes from the mountainous areas that are ideal for breeding animals, and the colder climate requires rich, warm foods such as fondues, as well as countryside specialties like truffles.
Although Tuscany is slightly more central, you will also find great wines from Tuscan vineyards in the north, and the city of Treviso is famous for being the home of the classic Italian dessert, Tiramisu.
In southern Italy, a Mediterranean diet is a focus. The sunny, hot climate is perfect for growing delicious fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, lemons, and olives, which are then used for olive oil too.
The southern coast is also famous for seafood, so fresh fish with salad, lighter cheese, and bread are common, as well as the best pizza in Naples. The lighter cheese here, such as mozzarella and ricotta is also used in many dishes, including for delicious desserts like cannoli.
All in all, it is very difficult to summarize the rich Italian food in one small chapter and I will dedicate an entire post to it, or more. T
he food in Italy is very diverse and it’s not only about southern and northern food, but every single region or sometimes even city, have their own regional dish. The good part is that north or south, you will never be left disappointed.
North Italy vs South Italy: Culture
It may not be noticeable to visitors, but North and South Italy have subtly different cultures, although many believe this to be a stereotype. The best way to find out the truth is to visit both areas of the country.
Northern Italy, with its prominent industry and large cities such as Venice and Milan, is widely seen as slightly more reserved and hard working.
The culture in the north is much more similar to Austria, France, and Switzerland, and you will discover many of these influences if you meet locals in the area.
The culture is also seen in the shops, products, food, and general lifestyle in the north which may seem quite busy and fast-moving, much like other cosmopolitan European cities.
Traditionally, the culture in southern Italy, given its warm climate and abundance of beaches and islands is considered to be much more laid back.
The pace of life in southern Italy is slower, you’ll find more people enjoying a walk by the coast or strolling the streets of Naples.
Rather than the delicate and artistic cuisine of the north, food is enjoyed slowly and for pleasure. Relaxing on the beach, going to work, or having a drink with friends – everything in southern Italy is done slowly.
It is easy to understand why when the sun shines all year round! As a consequence, the people form the south are notoriously more warmhearted and friendly than the people from the north.
North Italy vs South Italy: Things to do
Because of the different climates in north and south Italy, there are distinctly different things to do in each area.
In the mountainous northern region, outdoor and adventurous activities are popular, as well as wine tasting in the vineyards and visiting historic cities.
On the flip side, southern Italy is focused on culture, food, history, and enjoying the hot weather, including the many beautiful beaches along the Italian Riviera.
Art and history lovers will find themselves in heaven anywhere in Italy as both north and south is brimming with historical town, museums and art everywhere.
North Italy vs South Italy: Top attractions
The north is typically a haven for adventurers, with its extensive mountain ranges, hills, and lakes, which are ideal for winter sports, climbing, hiking, and more.
For mountain lovers, the Alps and Dolomites provide ample opportunity for activities in all seasons, whether you visit in summer or winter.
My favourite mountain town is Ponte di Legno in Brescia Province, where I go snowboarding every time I get the chance but it’s also great in the summer for the number of trails for hiking and biking. Just like Ponte di legno, all the dolomites mountain range is full of pretty towns to explore, a paradise for outdoorsy.
However, the north is also popular with wine enthusiasts. The vineyards of Tuscany surround the hills of Florence, but great wines are also found in the Barolo and Piedmont regions.
The cities of Venice, Milan, Florence, and Bologna are also home to some of Italy’s best museums, architecture, and historic sites.
Top sights not to be missed include the winding canals and St. Mark’s Square in Venice, the Duomo, Uffizi, and Pitti Palace in Florence, and Milan’s stunning Duomo and shopping on the world-famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Exploring the stunning coastline and islands is one of the most popular things to do in southern Italy, as well as taking street food tours in Naples, heading to natural wonders like Mount Etna and Vesuvius, and strolling around the tiny little hill towns.
Other top attractions include the ancient city of Pompeii, the amazing hilltop town of Matera, and the Valley of the Temples in Sicily, as well as stunning areas such as Gargano National Park in Foggia.
Rome of course stands out and above all of it. One of the most spectacular city I have ever seen, an open air museum with so many historical site and the charm of the ancient historical buildings, not to mention the incredible food.
If you are into photography this guide to the most instagrammable places in Rome and some of the top places to see.
The pros of a vacation in northern Italy
Although both northern and southern Italy have plenty of things to offer, northern Italy is certainly better for having significantly more things to do.
In winter, there are endless ski resorts and mountain towns for winter sports activities, and cute snow-dusted villages to explore.
The rest of the year, there is a higher concentration of famous cities in the north, so you can squeeze lots of sightseeing into a short holiday.
Northern Italy is great for a city break since you can spend two or three days in cities like Milan or Venice and see most things.
Alternatively, it’s also ideal for a more relaxed holiday, since you can stay in a villa in Tuscany and explore vineyards or head to Lake Como or Lake Garda and take a boat out to see the homes of the rich and famous.
The cons of a vacation in northern Italy
On the other hand, there are certain downsides to vacation in northern Italy. If you aren’t a fan of winter sports, the north of Italy can be miserable in the winter.
Instead of snow, rain and fog are much more common during winter, with temperatures sometimes below freezing, so the cities are not fun to explore. Similarly, if you are thinking of visiting the vineyards, you will need to go when the vines are ripe and the wineries are in full swing during summer and autumn.
Northern Italy can often be more expensive too, depending on where you visit. Milan, Como and the mountains in particular are pricier on average than other areas which is great for a luxury holiday, but not ideal if you’re traveling on a budget.
Best times to go to northern Italy
There are two answers to ‘when is the best time to visit northern Italy?’. The first is, during winter. If you are keen on snowboarding, skiing, or any kind of winter wonderland activities and can afford to enjoy a holiday in the mountains then between December and February is a wonderful time to visit.
The snow will be thick across the north and there are a whole host of resorts to choose from, plus Christmas markets and sweet little towns serving traditional food.
If you’re planning on visiting any major cities, such as Venice, Padua, Florence, Milan, Pisa, or Turin then spring or autumn might be a better option.
In these cities in winter, there will likely be very cold temperatures, mist, fog, and rain, although on the positive side there will be far fewer tourists and you can avoid the weather inside the many museums and churches. Summers are instead very hot.
Sprig and autum have the best weather for walking around the pretty cities and towns.
In the summer, the north is awash with visitors in the mountains, countryside and in the city and prices are generally much more expensive, however, there will be warmer weather allowing you to explore outside areas like the lakes, vineyards, and gardens.
Northern Italy Highlights
Some highlights not to be missed while visiting northern Italy include:
✔️ The Alps and Dolomites
Visit these areas in winter for extensive winter sports and a picturesque snowy holiday, or in summer when they turn beautifully green for hiking, cycling routes, and other outdoor pursuits.
✔️ Lake Como and Lake Garda
These two stunning lakes are two of the largest in Italy, and the former is where many celebrities own homes.
There is an abundance of pretty hotels and Airbnbs around both lakes, and during summer you can hire a boat or go on a tour of the lake and visit the famous town of Bellagio.
At Lake Garda, you can enjoy views of the Dolomites, swim in the crystal clear water, and visit numerous castles, palaces, and towns, such as Scaligero Castle and the Castle of Malcesine.
✔️ Milan for shopping and museums
Head to Milan, for world-class shopping in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, pose for photos in front of the pretty Duomo, and catch a show at the Teatro Alla Scala opera house.
The other three major cities of Florence, Bologna, and Venice offer some of the best museums, art galleries, and historic buildings you’ll find anywhere in Italy.
In Bologna, you can explore the world’s longest portico or climb the Two Towers for amazing city views. In Venice, wander the narrow canals, take a Vaporetto out to Burano, and enjoy a coffee in St. Mark’s Square.
Finally in Florence, immerse yourself in the artwork of the Old Masters at the Uffizi Gallery, check out the famous statue of David, and admire the winding Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio.
The pros of a vacation in southern Italy
Southern Italy has plenty of its own charm and attraction, especially for those looking for the perfect summer holiday.
Not only do you have the bustling city of Naples to explore, but the many islands such as Capri and Sicily, as well as the postcard-perfect towns dotted along the coastline, make a perfect opportunity for a road trip.
The weather is warmer year-round, so the landscapes are different too, with imposing hills and countryside to explore, where you can find some of the freshest Italian food.
It is both more relaxed and less expensive than the north, especially if you avoid tourist hotspots, and could be ideal for an affordable beach break in the sun.
Because most people flock south in summer to enjoy the hot weather, it is actually a great place to visit in spring or autumn, when there are fewer crowds and prices lower further, while the temperature is still warm enough to explore the coast.
The cons of a vacation in Southern Italy
Since the north has the highest concentration of famous cities, the south is a much more relaxed destination, so it’s not the place to go if you want to cram in museums, archaeological sites, and shopping. Although we cannot ignore the stunning beauty of Ercolano and Pompei sites near Naples, of course.
And what about Sicily? The Italian southern region is brimming with historical sites ancient building to explore.
It can also get prohibitively expensive during summer, when both locals and tourists from across the country crowd the area, especially the beaches.
This means accommodation and tour prices go up, which can be problematic. It can occasionally be more difficult to navigate too.
Although Italy has an excellent train system, the north has major cities which are easy to travel between, whereas getting to small towns in the south or even the islands will require buses and boats.
Best times to go to southern Italy
The best time to visit southern Italy is actually all year round. However for the least crowds, spring and autumn are ideal.
During these months, including April, May, September, and October, the weather is still lovely and warm, but the summer crowds have not yet arrived, meaning you’ll have beaches, towns, restaurants, and more to yourself.
Also, I have to say I visited Naples and the Amalfi Coast before Christmas and it was incredibly beautiful and the Coast was basically deserted.
The downside is that you will find many restaurants and show closed. Positano looked like a ghost town, but still with its charm.
The summer, although the weather is hot, is not a great time to visit because of the high prices and millions of tourists, and while winter can also be great, the weather may cool down to as low as 15 degrees, meaning it might be too cold to enjoy the beach.
Highlights of the Southern of Italy
Head to the major southern city of Naples, which is the home of pizza, to have the best slice of your life, along with other delicious Italian street food. Close by you can explore the incredible Mount Vesuvius and the ancient town of Pompeii.
✔️ The Amalfi Coast
The best way to see the Amalfi Coast, Positano, and Sorrento is on a road trip, but even without a car, they should not be missed.
The famous Amalfi Coast is covered in pretty hilltop towns with brightly colored houses overlooking the ocean, such as Positano, Ravello, and the larger city of Sorrento, all of which are popular with tourists, celebrities, and local holidaymakers.
The unique city of Matera is perched on the top of a hill in southern Italy and is known for its ancient homes and churches made from solid white rock. There are hundreds of caves to explore here – you can even stay overnight in one, as well as cool cave restaurants and bars to explore.
If you have time while you’re in the south, visit at least one of Italy’s beautiful islands. Capri is easy to reach, just off the Amalfi Coast, and many outdoor activities such as hiking and cycling, as well as its sparkling Blue Grotto; an ocean cave with crystal clear water.
Sicily is the biggest island and is a holiday in itself, but the city of Palermo has lots to explore, and the island is also home to Mount Etna, the Valley of the Temples, and Byzantine mosaics.
North vs South Italy: Final thoughts
Northern Italy and southern Italy have many obviously contrasting differences, such as the culture, food, and things to see and do.
The north has a high concentration of famous cities but also encompasses some of the best natural areas such as lakes and mountains.
The south on the other hand is more laid-back, and affordable and has extremely fresh food, lots of countrysides and great beaches.
However, you will find no matter where you visit, there are friendly locals, some of the best food in the world, and tonnes of interesting things to see.
Italy truly has something for everyone, from ancient temples to ski resorts, and lush vineyards to islands with golden beaches. We hope this guide has helped you decide which part to explore, but the real answer is all of it!