Northern Italy Top Attractions

Giotto’s Frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

A contemporary of Dante, Giotto decorated this chapel with an eloquent and beautiful fresco cycle. Its convincing human dimension helped to change the course of Western art.

Lake Como

Just a short drive or train ride north of Milan, Lake Como combines spectacular mountain scenery with the elegance of Baroque and Neoclassical villas and gardens and the charm of picturesque villages. It’s great any time of year, but best in the spring, when the azaleas are in bloom in the gardens of Villa Carlotta.

Leonardo’s Last Supper

On the refectory wall of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan one of the world’s most famous paintings still evokes wonder, not at all trivialized by millions of reproductions or dulled by its poor state of conservation.

Mantua

This charming town, slightly off the beaten track in Lombardy, contains a high point of 15th-century painting: Mantegna’s frescoes in the wedding chamber of the Palazzo Ducale, a masterpiece of spatial illusion. On the outskirts of town, Giulio Romano’s Palazzo Te is an elegant pleasure palace, frescoed with illusionistic painting that carried the tradition established by Mantegna several steps further.

Palladio’s Villas and Palazzi

The great 16th-century architect Palladio created harmoniously beautiful buildings that were influential in spreading the Neoclassical style to northern Europe, England, and, later, America. He did most of his work in and around his native city of Vicenza. If a visit to Vicenza simply whets your appetite for Palladio, you can see another wonderful Palladian villa outside Venice (La Malcontenta) and his famous collaboration with Veronese outside Treviso (Villa Barbaro-Maser).

Ravenna’s Mosaics

This small, out-of-the-way city houses perhaps the world’s greatest treasure trove of early-Christian art. After the decline of Rome, Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire and, a bit later, the seat of the Byzantine Empire in the West. The exquisite and surprisingly moving 5th- and 6th-century mosaics decorating several churches and other religious buildings still retain their startling brilliance.

Venice’s Grand Canal

No one ever forgets a first trip down the Grand Canal. The sight of its magnificent palaces, with the light reflected from the canal’s waters shimmering across their facades, is one of Italy’s great experiences.

Venice’s Piazza San Marco

The centerpiece of the piazza is the Basilica di San Marco, arguably the most beautiful Byzantine church in the West, with not only its shimmering Byzantine Romanesque facade, but also its jewel-like mosaic-encrusted interior. Right next door is the Venetian Gothic Palazzo Ducale, which was so beloved by the Venetians that when it burned down in the 16th century they rejected projects by the greatest architects of the Renaissance and had their palace rebuilt come era, dove era—exactly how and where it was. Looking across the water, you'll see one of the architect Palladio's greatest accomplishments: the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. And across from the Palazzo Ducale is Sansovino's library, which Palladio said was "beyond envy."

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