When we were choosing a home base for this part of our time in Italy, it ultimately came down to Verona or Padua. And we knew whichever we didn’t choose as a home would definitely warrant a day trip. We first envisioned combining it with a trip to another old, beautiful town called Mantua, but we learned on our day trip to Modena and Bologna that doing two cities in one day was too much for us (or at least me) so we decided to skip Mantua and focus our energy on Verona.
Arrival and Old Town
We decided to get a little later start to our day knowing that cities, especially old Medieval cities like Verona, are most beautiful at night. So we took the 11 a.m. train and arrived in Verona in time for lunch. Typically we choose a picnic for our lunch, but the sun was hot and we decided to treat ourselves to a cafe lunch of sandwiches. It was a good choice (especially pairing them with wine and beer) and we were well fortified for our walk through the old town.
Verona’s history dates back to Ancient Roman times (at least) and there are numerous Roman ruins around the city. However, most of the city as it currently stands was built up in the Medieval period, starting around the 13th century.
We started with the Castelvecchio, a 14th century fortress on the edge of the old city along the Adige River. It has a very photogenic bridge that was apparently destroyed during World War II but rebuilt right after but the whole complex just feels European.
Not too far from the castle there is a Roman Arena. It isn’t quite as impressive as the colosseum but was built to hold 20,000 people, which is pretty impressive for 2000 years ago. The line to go in was pretty long and it had mixed reviews, so we decided to skip going inside. But it was very cool to walk by.
From there it was a short walk to the main plaza, Piazza delle Erbe. The two big claims to fame here are a whale bone hanging from one of the portals and a house down the street that claims to be the actual home of an actual Juliet Capulet (or Capello, which is the name of the street) who is said to be the true-life inspiration of the Shakespeare play. Chad and I don’t really buy it (one of Chad’s hometowns is Hannibal, Missouri, which has Tom Sawyer’s house but that kid definitely didn’t exist), but we walked past the line and glanced past the courtyard for a peak at the supposedly infamous balcony.
The piazza itself was a good illustration of the difference between Verona and Padua. From a distance it looked similar with dozens of vendors under white tents selling wares. But while Padua’s piazza vendors are selling primarily discount clothes and some produce, the sellers here are hawking novelty pasta and soccer jerseys with “Romeo” and “Giuliette” on the back. Plus magnets and keychains and hats and on and on. Verona is definitely the bigger tourist attraction, perhaps because of the Shakespeare connection. We ended our time in the old heart of the city in the Piazza dei Signori and duly admired the statue of Dante (Chad is currently reading his Inferno. I read it in college. He’s very likeable).
Castel San Pietro and Giardino Giusti
We walked north from the old city to the curve of the Adige river and had a little rest on a bench while admiring our next destination – the Castel San Pietro. It sits across the river and up a hill and has great views of the city. There is a funicular that takes people to the top, but we wanted to walk up for the exercise. We crossed the Ponte Pietra bridge and really enjoyed our walk up the hill, including a stop in the garden about halfway up.
After enjoying the view from the castle, we walked down the other side of the hill and through the Veronetta neighborhood, which is known as a more hip area of Verona near the university. Our destination here was the Giusti Garden but we decided to stop at a cute little neighborhood bar across the street to rest before going to the garden. We enjoyed some local white wines, refusing the chips that always seem to come as a bar snack with any drink.
Giardino Giusti is a little pricey at 10 euros per person for a small public garden but well worth it to us because it was beautiful and interesting and very photogenic. Highlights included a quote from Goethe about the cypress trees there, a recovering hedge maze (it and many of the cypress trees had been damaged in a bad storm in August 2020, proving yet again that 2020 was the absolute worst), and a tower up to the top tier with more great views of Verona. The garden is said to be a typical renaissance garden and lots of famous people have visited it.
Back to Old Town and a Nice Dinner
After the garden, we walked through the rest of the Veronetta neighborhood in search of late afternoon aperitivi, but we didn’t have much luck. The streetside bars that were open weren’t very charming and there was a fair bit of road traffic alongside their outdoor seating. So we walked across another bridge back into the old town in search of a boulevardier for Chad and an aperitivo snack beyond chips for me.
We ended up making this a bit of a pub crawl because our first stop had neither but was cute so Chad got a beer and I got a wine. Our second stop was a cafe on the main tourist street and did succeed in giving fun aperitivi snacks but didn’t serve liquor so Chad could only get an Americano rather than his boulevardier. Then we wandered past a really nice-looking cocktail bar that offered their own twist on the boulevardier, so of course we had to try that. I think we were a little tipsy by the time we went for dinner at 8 p.m. when our preferred restaurant opened. We got lucky getting a table there – all the outdoor tables were reserved but the window table was available, which was close enough to being outdoors for us. Our meal was awesome and we followed it up with gelato and a late-night stroll before hustling up to catch the last train back to Padua.
Venice was a really fun day trip but now that we’ve visited we’re glad we chose Padua as our home base. It was definitely more touristy and not quite as easy to get around. We’re lucky to be getting a taste of all these places on our day trips.