Italy has 51 UNESCO world heritage sites (as of 2015) with 19 in northern Italy and one that includes monuments throughout Italy, Longobards in Italy - Places of the Power. Northern Italy's world heritage sites include city centers, archaeological sites, and natural sites. Sites are listed in the order in which they were inscribed by UNESCO, starting with Italy's first world heritage site in 1979, the rock drawings of Valcamonica.
Valcamonica - Rock Drawings
The prehistoric petroglyphs of the Valcamonica were Italy's first UNESCO World Heritage site, designated in 1979. La Valle Delle Incisioni, the Valley of Engravings, is the largest collection of prehistoric rock carvings in Europe with more than 140,000 petroglyphs done over a period of 8,000 years. In addition to prehistoric sites, the beautiful Valcamonica is dotted with picturesque medieval villages and has many hiking trails.
The Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie with Leonardo da Vinci's famous Last Supper painting is a top sight in Milan. If you're going be sure to book tickets ahead. Both the convent and the painting are from the 15th century.
Venice is one of Italy's most popular and romantic cities. Built on 118 islands, the city of Venice was chosen as an architectural masterpiece with many important works of art. The Doge's Palace is the most impressive building in Venice and Basilica San Marco is not to be missed but you'll find interesting architecture in all parts of Venice.
Vicenza and Palladian Villas of the Veneto
Vicenza, east of Venice, is the heart of the Veneto region and was an important city from the 15th through 18th centuries. Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio designed many of Vicenza's buildings in the 16th-century classical Roman architecture. The Basilica Palladiana is considered by many to be Palladio's masterpiece. The Palladian Villas in the countryside, also designed by Palladio, were built as summer homes for well-to-do Venetians and some of them are now open to the public. See the map of the Veneto for its location.
Crespi d'Adda in Capriate San Gervasio in the Lombardy region was chosen as "an outstanding example of the 19th- and early 20th-century company towns built in Europe and North America by enlightened industrialists to meet the workers' needs". Built in 1875, the town, and factory it was built around, prospered until the Depression of 1929 when the factory was sold to a larger company for financial reasons. Today the factory is closed but the town still functions.
Ferrara, on the Po Delta in Emilia-Romagna, is a walled Renaissance city with lots of great examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. A medieval castle dominates the old town and its 12th-century cathedral is a good example of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. During the Renaissance, Ferrara was an intellectual and artistic center, designed according to the late fifteenth century principles of the "ideal city". Ferrara holds it's Palio contest in May and one weekend is devoted to flag throwing Stay near the castle at Hotel Annunziata.
Ravenna, also known as the city of mosaics, offers the visitor a unique look at religious mosaic arts from the 5th and 6th centuries. Eight of Ravenna's monuments and churches from the 5th-6th centuries are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most because of their spectacular early Christian mosaics. During this period, Ravenna was the western capital of the Roman Empire and of the Byzantine Empire in Europe.
Padua - Botanical Garden
The botanical garden, Orto Botanico, of Padua was the world's first botanical garden, created in 1545. There are several interesting plant collections including aquatic plants, medicinal plants, and insect-eating plants. The gardens, located near the famous Basilica di Sant'Antonio, are open to the public.
Modena's 12th century Duomo or Cathedral and Gothic bell tower, Torre della Ghirlandina, are in the historic center in Piazza Grande. These three monuments make up Modena's world heritage site. The cathedral is one of the best Romanesque churches in Europe. Modena is also the home of Luciano Pavorotti, balsamic vinegar, and exotic car makers like Maserati and Ferrari, who just opened the Enzo Ferrari House Museum in Modena.
Portovenere and the Cinque Terre are picturesque villages on the coast near La Spezia. Portovenere, on the Gulf of Poets, has a harbor lined with brightly colored houses and narrow medieval streets leading up the hill from the ancient city gate to a castle. Cinque Terre, five lands, are five car-free villages connected by hiking trails, trains, and ferries.
Residences of the Royal House of Savoy
La Venaria Reale, outside Torino, is a huge complex that houses the Baroque Savoy Palace and Gardens. The palace and gardens were opened to the public in 2007 following a massive restoration project, one of the largest in Europe. La Reggia di Venaria Reale is an extravagant baroque Royal Palace used as a Savoy residence in the 17th to 18th centuries. It's one of the most significant examples of baroque art and architecture in existence.
Aquileia - Archaeological Area and Basilica
Aquileia was one of the largest and most important cities in the early Roman empire. Although most of the area is unexcavated, the Basilica with its impressive mosaic pavement can be seen. Aquileia is in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, the very northeast part of Italy.
Verona is known as the town of Romeo and Juliet in the Shakespeare play and for its Roman arena used for summer opera performances. Verona has a good historic center with several Roman monuments. Piazza delle Erbe was once the Roman forum but is now a market square surrounded by frescoed buildings. Verona was inscribed by UNESCO for the large number of monuments from antiquity and the medieval and Renaissance periods.
Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy
The nine sacred mountains in northern Italy's Piedmont and Lombardy region have churches and Christian monuments created in the 16th and 17th centuries. They house important wall paintings and statuary. According to a reader, "their relevance resides in the fact that they were conceived as locations where people who could not move much could take part in pilgrimages, similar to those that since the Middle Age led people to Rome, Jerusalem or to Santiago de Compostela."
The Renaissance and Baroque Rolli Palaces, in Genoa's center, were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2006. About 80 Rolli palaces were built in the 16th and early 17th centuries when Genoa was one of Italy's four great maritime republics. These Renaissance and Baroque palaces lined the strade nuove or new streets. Many of them were restored in 2004.
Mantua and Sabbioneta
Mantua, or Mantova, is a beautiful, historic city in northern Italy surrounded on three sides by lakes. The town's center is three spacious and lively squares that join together. Mantua was one of the greatest Renaissance Courts in Europe and was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 based on its Renaissance planning and architecture. Sabbioneta, nearby, is a small walled town. Both towns are part of the UNESCO Quadrilateral District that includes several other historic cities.
Rhaetian Railway and Bernina Landscapes
This world heritage site is shared with Switzerland. These are two historic and scenic railway lines, constructed in the early 19th century, that through the central Alps.
The Dolomite Mountain range, with 18 peaks rising above 3000 meters, is in the Italian Alps running across the northern border of the Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige regions. The Dolomite range is popular for skiing almost all year and hiking in summer. The UNESCO inscription says, "It features some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere, with vertical walls, sheer cliffs and a high density of narrow, deep and long valleys."
Italy's 50th UNESCO site is the rolling vineyard landscapes of the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato wine regions in the southern part of the Piemonte region. This is the first time a site has been chosen on the basis of its landscape, which is cited as being a prime example of farmers and agriculture conserving the landscape.