Northern Italy vs Southern Italy – Where to Go in 2024?

If you are unsure whether to travel to northern or southern Italy, our detailed and honest guide will help you make a sound and informed decision. The Northern Italy vs Southern Italy dilemma is common among first-time travelers

While there is no such thing as north Italy better than south Italy or vice versa. There are differences and similarities but each part and each region has its own features and traits that define it and attract visitors.

Our complete and detailed guide will walk you through all the aspects that bring northern and southern Italy together and those that tell them apart.

By the end of our guide, you will be able to decide if your next trip should be to Southern Italy or Northern Italy.

Image: Northern Italy vs Southern Italy.

North Italy vs South Italy – The main differences

Culture

The northern Italian regions are closer to Germanic and Alpine culture, while in Southern Italy, you will experience more Mediterranean culture.

Northern Italy is more influenced by Central Europe and countries like Switzerland, Austria, and France to some extent. This covers all the aspects of daily life, from the local food to the traditions to the language. Something not many know, the official language in Italy is not only Italian but also German because spoken in South Tyrol and French because spoken in Valle D’Aosta.

In Southern Italy, you can expect a typical Mediterranean experience with influences from Greece and also Northern Africa. From Rome south, in fact, you will immediately notice a difference in foods, traditions, and local landmarks.

Reputation

Southern Italians carry a not-so-flattering reputation of being lazy and not as hardworking as their northern counterpart.

With a longer post-prandial siesta, slow living, and dolce vita fierce defenders, Southern Italians take their time to enjoy life. Even though this is close to the truth, maintaining that southern Italians don’t work is a bit of a stretch.

Attitude

In Northern Italy vs Southern Italy, you might notice a “colder” attitude, but from my personal experience in many places in the north, I never felt they were less hospitable and willing to help.

Southern Italians sure are louder and easier to strike up a conversation, but in the north, too, I never experienced rudeness or impolite behaviour. I find that in the north, people are more discreet, hence the impression of not being friendly.

Image: Catania in Sicily to visit in September in Italy.

Landmarks

Italy is rich in landmarks and has a myriad of museums from north to south, but they widely differ because they are connected to the local culture, lifestyle, and history.

In North Italy, you can expect scattered castles in the middle of nowhere like Castel Thun near Trento, historic villas, and stunning gardens. South Italy is more largely populated with archaeological ruins.

When it comes to royal palaces, you can find them in both Southern and Northern but maybe in the south a bit more because there are many from before the Italian unification while in the north, those are mainly in Turin.

Wealth

When it comes to wealth, the Northern Italy vs Southern Italy dilemma is not a difficult one. The northern regions are generally richer than their southern counterpart.

Regions like Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy are very wealthy, while southern regions like Calabria are among the least opulent in the country.

Landscapes

Even though beautiful in most parts of the country, the landscapes of Northern Italy are quite different from those in Southern Italy.

Northern Italy is where you need to go if you are a fan of mountain views and activities such as climbing and advanced trekking, while Southern Italy offers lower peaks, less difficult hikes, and beautiful beaches.

North Italy vs South Italy – The main similarities

History

Even though quite different events, wars, invasions, and relations throughout the centuries, both Northern Italy and Southern Italy have a rich history. This brings different types of historical sites to visit in all regions but still many landmarks to see wherever you decide to go.

Image: How to say good morning in Italian.

Language

Overall, the main official language across Italy is Italian and it’s spoken and understood everywhere by everyone. This being said, if you are visiting cities like Bolzano, Merano, and Bressanone in South Tyrol, you will inevitably notice many locals speak German, while in Valle D’Aosta, many will speak French.

Moreover, every region has its own dialect, and Sardinia even has its own idiom declared a minority language by the EU. But still, the Italian language is what unites the whole country.

Image: Religion one of the similarities between Southern Italy and Northern Italy.

Religion

The main religion in both Southern Italy and Northern Italy is Roman Catholicism. There are also other minorities such as non-Catholic Christians and Muslims, but Catholics are the highest number.

Beauty

Do I need to explain this? In Afghanistan, Italy is called “the bride of the world” and I think this perfectly defines its beauty. Different in landscapes and customs, but beauty is what connects all the Italian regions from north to south.

Art

Strictly linked to beauty and history, the whole of Italy is an art-rich country. Cities like Florence, Rome, and Milan are home to many art galleries and museums where visitors can see the masterpieces of the most important Italian artists and also international works.

Image: Northern Italy vs Southern Italy in food.

Food

When it comes to food, the Northern Italy vs Southern Italy dilemma is a delicious one. I think that northern Italian food is richer and heavier than southern Italian. In Northern Italy, they cook more using butter while in Southern Italy, olive oil is the main base ingredient.

The dishes in Northern Italy see a large Germanic and central European influence while in the south, it’s more Mediterranean style. In fact, some argue, and I agree, that there is no such thing as “Italian food” because each region, city, and town have their own typical recipes.

Northern Italy vs Southern Italy – Where to go?

Why pick Northern Italy vs Southern Italy

Fashion

Milan among all cities in Italy is a true fashion hub. If you are into the latest trends and the best pieces in every clothing style, in Milan, you are sure to find what you are looking for.

Mountains

There are beautiful mountains also in the Apennines in central Italy but not as striking as the the Alps of Valle D’Aosta or the Dolomites of Veneto, Lombardy, and Trentino-Alto Adige.

From Italy’s tallest mountains to permanently snow-covered peaks to emerald lakes nestled in green valleys, the mountain views you will be able to enjoy in northern Italy are hard to beat.

Image: Castel Toblino in Northern Italy.

Lakes

Strictly linked to the point above, the lakes of northern Italy are popular travel destinations. From the famous Lake Garda to Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, and the lakes in the Dolomites Lake Tovel and Braies Lake, in northern Italy, there is a higher concentration of lakes compared to central and southern Italy.

However, also in other regions of Italy you can find beautiful lakes such as Lago di Bracciano and Lago di Bolsena not far from Rome and Lago Trasimeno in Umbria.

Famous cities

While Southern Italy is more famous for its archaeological sites, smaller towns, and sea views, Northern Italy has a higher concentration of large cities popular among tourists.

Think of Venice, Milan, Florence, Turin, Verona. They are always big tourist draws and fantastic places to visit because of the richness of culture and history.

Image: Milan in Northern Italy.

Borders with other countries

Italy borders with other countries such as France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia only in the north, while southern regions are lapped by the Mediterranean Sea.

This makes it easier to have a more European trip since those countries can be reached by train or simply by driving your rental car. While Southern Italy is not far from other countries such as Greece, you will still need to fly or take a boat.

Better public transport

Hands down, the public transport system, both urban and extra-urban is better in Northern Italy than in Southern Italy. In the northern cities, the buses, trains, and metro are more frequent and more reliable, while in the south, the traffic is generally more chaotic.

Also when it comes to train connections between cities, the network in Northern Italy is more widespread.

Why pick Southern Italy vs Northern Italy

Healthier food

Greek heritage

As I mentioned earlier, generally, I find Southern Italian traditional recipes lighter than those of the Northern Italian regions. Obviously, there are exceptions to this, too, for example when a dish requires deep-frying or the use of lard especially in the dough of some pastries. But in general, in the south, the dishes are lighter than in the north.

Image: Valle dei Templi in Sicily to visit in Italy in January. Photo by Angela Corrias of FearlesslyItaly.com

In Southern Italy, there are many archaeological sites heritage of the ancient Greek civilization, especially temples in regions like Puglia, Campania, Basilicata, and obviously Sicily where the famous Valle dei Templi is near Agrigento.

Beaches

If you are planning on having some great beach time, then Southern Italy is your destination. I know in the north they have Rimini and Riccione and the famous Cinque Terre but sorry, the coastline of Italian southern regions including the two biggest islands of Sicily and Sardinia are hard to beat.

Milder weather

In summer, the south is very hot, but so is the north except the highest Alpine slopes and peaks.

In winter, the weather in the south of Italy is way milder than in the northern regions. Even when it rains, it’s less cold and the rainy days are fewer.

Cheaper prices

Probably except for some places on the Amalfi Coast, but Southern Italy has much cheaper prices than Northern Italy. This includes hotels, restaurants, public transport, and probably also some city tax fees.

I was recently checking the hotels in Palermo, the gorgeous Sicilian capital extremely rich in culture, and saw how much cheaper they were compared to average accommodation in Parma.

What about Central Italy?

Aren’t we forgetting the most important part of the country? Central Italy is where my Rome is, possibly the biggest tourist draw in the country and certainly the city with the longest history.

About Rome, I’m totally biased because I love the city I’ve been calling home since 1998, but central Italy has also other wonderful places in the same Lazio and also other regions such as Umbria, Marche, and Abruzzo.

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