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What’s your favorite mid-size town?

Taking a poll of sorts! What’s your favorite small city or large town in central or Northern Italy? And why?

Someplace you would want to stay for a while...

Posted by
671 posts

Siena or Verona
Also: Padua, Ferrara, Modena, Beragamo

Ambiance, architecture, proximity to other places plus the rest of the usual reasons why most of us love Italy.

Posted by
245 posts

Padua! I was there for 5 nights, and I wish I could have stayed longer. Great energy, food, music, art, history. I loved it! I did a day trip to Ravenna, but I didn't much like it other than the great mosaics. I also did a day trip to Siena, which has a fabulous cathedral, but I didn't like the town nearly as much as Padua. I also spent 5 days in Genoa, which I didn't really like much.

Posted by
1112 posts

Verona. Beauty with history, youthful ambiance, transport options locally and for day trips, modest tourist impact, beautiful nearby countryside, and not least - Ripasso.

Posted by
9450 posts

Ortisei in the Val Gardena. We have spent two-to-four weeks at a time there and will again next fall. Fabulous scenery, endless hiking opportunities, lovely people, no car required. And cool in summer!

Edit: Not exactly mid-sized...

Posted by
4701 posts

A key question is whether you mean a town with many things to do right in the town, or a town centrally located for many daytrips. That brings up the question of whether you wish to daytrip by car or by public transportation. That raises the question of Month of The Year, because so many places (like Tuscany, or Campania) are so crowded "in season."

Siena is fascinating place to visit, and has lots to do, but is incredibly crowded in season. I'm tempted to name Florence, because it absorbs crowds slightly better than Siena. It's also (I hesitate to start an Italian History controversy .. ) more important for both art and architecture. Let's say I'm referring to the "basic" nature of The Big Three for a first visit to Italy.

We liked Reggio Emilia for a restful stay, and you are likely to hear no English on any street there. But the city does not have enough to "do", compared with all the other candidates listed. I had been there on business in the past, but it's not a major tourism destination. It is easy to walk to the train station for a daytrip. You can argue that Bologna is both better located and a more rich destination in the same area.

I still need to visit the Palladian villas and fresco locations onshore of Venice ... We were lucky enough one time in Florence to find out about a weekly bus tour of close-by villas typically owned by American colleges. But that was years ago. There are lots of private historic monuments, alas.

Posted by
7737 posts

Verona, for the reasons given above. It's a successful functioning city, without tourism as its sole support.

Posted by
2521 posts

Bolzano - Germany Lite, gateway to the Dolomites, Otzi the Ice Man
Parma - opera, art, the cathedral & baptistry, National Gallery, Teatro Farnese. parma ham, Parmigiano Cheese
Ravenna - best mosaics in Europe
Vicenza - Palladian villas and architecture, Teatro Olimpico, Sanctuary of Santa Corona
Alba - gateway to the Piedmont, annual white truffle festival, close to some of the great wine towns - Barbaresco, Barolo, Asti.
Lastly, the three “T’s” -
Trieste - Revoltella Museum, San Giusto Cathedral, Roman theatre, Piazza Unitá d’Italia, beautiful waterfront.
Treviso - “Little Venice” because of the canals by the confluence of the rivers, walkable, Bailo Modern Art Museum, Piazza dei Signorini
Torino - actually, not small or medium, but not overrun with tourists. Great centro storico, National Automobile Museum, the Mole Antonellianna, Egyptian Museum

Posted by
5899 posts

Spello,Ortisei, Alba.
These three towns have a lot charm and access to areas filled with interesting places to explore.

Posted by
513 posts

Trento! Surprisingly low rates at the ****Grand Hotel; large comfortable rooms, huge breakfast. Excellent dinners at the Antica Trattoria due Mori. The funivia up Monte Bondone.

Torino a must-see is the Cinema Museum.

Posted by
7737 posts

FWIW, with a population of only about 9,000, Spello doesn't exactly fit this category. Ortisei has even fewer, at 5,000.

Have you considered Assisi? Upper and lower town combined have 30,000. I spent two weeks in Assisi in 2015 and loved it. If you go, time it so you are there for the early May festival called Calendimaggio.

Posted by
244 posts

Thanks so much all! The time of travel is September and we will rent an apartment for four weeks. We will work during the week, enjoy markets in the morning, piazzas in the evening, some bigger sights on weekends.

Posted by
221 posts

There are so many wonderful places in Italy, that it is difficult to know where to start. One of the accepted definitions of a large town is a population between 10,000 and 100,000. Under the same classification a city is anything between 100K-300K - and by that definition that only rules out 9 places in Italy (including Florence, Bologna and Turin - all mentioned here)

For me, without hesitation, Siena. Were I to win large amounts of money, Siena is where I would choose to live. I've spent several months in the city over the last 10 years or so, and never get tired of it. I have never been to a place that holds so dearly to its traditions. The local rivalries/alliances between the various contrade (districts) seem very real.

I also find Lucca immensely "Livable" - it lacks the star attractions of Siena, Florence and Pisa but for overall pleasant surroundings is hard to beat.

Posted by
575 posts

Since you mention markets and piazze in September, I think Padua is your place --- we were just there for 9 nights in September and could easily have stayed for a month. Both the indoor and outdoor markets are wonderful and there are several large and small piazze to choose from, all full of liveliness at night when the surrounding restaurants put chairs and tables out and there was often live music. Lots of art, lots of easy possible day trips, lots of places to eat.

We were not as enchanted with Verona, where we also stayed, and we loved Treviso but it's maybe too small for what you have in mind.

Posted by
835 posts

For us, it’s Venice. Our first visit was for five or six nights, the next visit was for two months. In all, we have spent about a year in Venice over eight visits.
Once you get past the big ticket sights, Ducal Palace, San Marco and so on, there is a complete other Venice, not heavily touristed and quite intimate. Heaps of galleries, exhibitions, and also easy day trips all over the Veneto.

Posted by
112 posts

We enjoyed a visit to Spoleto this past fall. Lovely town with many escalators.
I also like Lucca very much and would love to go back.

Posted by
616 posts

Siena then Arezzo for its wonderful restaurants at good price considering the food you get.

Posted by
244 posts

So interesting to see the different responses. I haven’t traveled a lot (although I thought I had until I joined this Forum - haha). Crowds and places turned touristy seem to change the experience for most people. I am looking forward to a month in September / October when the crowds lesson and weather cools.

I am drawn to Northern Italy for some reason. I like stuff to do so museums, gardens, outdoor cafes are all important to me. A large town on Lake Garda, the Veronetta neighborhood of Verona, access to Venice as a day trip all sound appealing. But I have read that the area is dotted with unattractive urban sprawl: modern high rises next to ancient buildings, big box stores... maybe that’s outside the towns more.

Posted by
17088 posts

Unless you go to a town that was basically flattened during a war (or burned down) and not carefully restored, you won't often be aware of the sprawl once you reach the historic center. It is certainly true that upon arriving in some not-central train stations for a 4-day (or longer) stay, I have thought to myself, "What have I done?" But it was fine once I was in the historic area. Padua and Bologna are two examples of places with not-very-attractive train station locations, but both have large historic areas (and Bologna's I huge).

Posted by
178 posts

What a great question. I too love Northern and Central Italy. My favourite is Lucca because I know it well (my husband is from there) and it is indeed charming. Another lovely place that I don't think has been mentioned yet is Torbole at the north end of Lake Garda. The town itself isn't much, but the setting is breathtaking.

Posted by
740 posts

That cinema museum was great. Best thing we did in Turin.
We stayed in Arezzo for a week - it was very nice
Padua is cool place as well.
For big cities we like Bologna (but we have friends who live there) and Florence I think I could live in either of those.
My husband loves Siena

Posted by
11981 posts

You guys need to agree on the definition of “Mid-Size”.
I see towns like Ortisei, which has a population of a few thousand, to Verona which has 250,000 to Torino (Turin) which is almost the exact same size as San Francisco in both population and land area.

Posted by
244 posts

Good point about the definition of mid-size. I guess when I think about size, I think about the old town; the historical, pedestrian part of a town. And not the population of a town. What was inside the walls originally?

Take Verona. From my research, I see that the original historical town was rather small, and that is the part where the tourists would stay and visit, right? It may have urban sprawl to include a population of 250,000, but I can't imagine the Vieille Ville is close to that, is it?

Ortisei seems more like a tiny village IMO. Some of the Tuscan hill towns might be considered mid-size compared to Ortisei.

Posted by
244 posts

Hi all -- I have a question about Verona. Does it have a pedestrian part of town beyond Piazza Brà and the Piazza delle Erbe and Via Mazzini in between? I'm thinking of a completely walkable area like Old Town in Aix en Provence or Gothic Quarter in Barcelona... It seems like many Italian towns center around piazzas for their "cafe life" whereas French towns have outdoor cafes lining street after street.

Posted by
11981 posts

Below is the list of municipalities with more than 15,000 pop. There are 745 cities and towns that follow Within these population parameters.

If one looks at only the historical center within the walls, then all cities are rather smallish.
The largest historical center in Italy (and apparently in Europe) is in Naples, with 17 The second largest in Italy is Rome followed by Venice. The most populous is Genoa.
In all these cases however, you can easily walk from end to end in much less than one hour.

Below is the ranking of small/midsize towns with the most beautiful historical centers in Italy.

Posted by
3838 posts

We really enjoyed our few nights in Bolzano this year - partly because we had a great little airbnb apartment not far from the train station, and basically in the old center - we walked everywhere, took the cable car up the mountain, saw Otzi the Ice Man - and generally just relaxed and enjoyed. I could see going back and basing there with a car to visit other spots nearby.

Posted by
244 posts

Can someone explain the difference between upper and lower Assisi?

Also, differences between Verona, Padua and Vicenza?

Thank you in advance!