The day didn’t get off to a great start. At 4 am the sound of heavy rainfall on the balcony of my Bergamo apartment woke me up and alerted me to the state of the weather. However, with my train ticket booked and no chance of a refund, there was no going back. Despite having previously lived for four years in Milan, I had never managed to make it to Verona. Notwithstanding the autumn rains, this would be the day when I would finally set foot in the city. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!
Italy has the greatest number of World Heritage sites on the planet. Therefore, Verona is easily skipped in favour of big-ticket destinations like Rome, Florence, and Venice. However, apart from its Romeo and Juliet connotations, the historic centre is crammed with Renaissance architecture and beautiful piazzas. It is undoubtedly for this reason that it was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.
Great architecture, splendid piazzas, art, culture, food and coffee- there are just so many reasons to include Verona on your bucket list.
Piazza Bra will most likely provide your introduction to the historic core of the city. The first thing to strike you as you enter the square is its sheer size. In fact, it is notable that not even the imposing Arena, the Roman amphitheatre, can fully dominate this space. This tree-filled square has a park at its centre and is also home to Palazzo della Guardia. This museum houses excellent exhibitions. For example, it was showing Il Linguaggio della Bellezza (as described below) when I visited.
Imagine if the Coliseum not only survived almost completely intact but was also the venue of regular concerts.
The Arena is actually older than the Coliseum. In fact, it is considered an important stepping stone in the construction of its Roman counterpart. Originally, its location was outside the city walls so that any disturbances could be controlled. However, as the threat of Germanic invasions grew, the walls were extended and the amphitheatre was absorbed into the city. Today, it is almost a must-see place on any visit to Verona. Walk around to the upper levels of the building in order to get the best views of the amphitheatre itself, Piazza Bra, the city and its surrounding hills. Despite its size, the acoustics are reputed to be amazing. Is it any wonder that so many modern performers consider it an honour to have performed here?
Piazza delle Erbe
If Piazza Bra has the city’s most famous monument, then Piazza delle Erbe surpasses its rival in charm. Try to take a coffee on a terrace here, but be aware that you will pay for the view. Expect to pay close to €5 for the privilege of a coffee here! The centrepiece here is the market that gives the square a sense of being a mix of tourists and locals. Alongside the Venetian masks and tourist trinkets, there are stalls selling fruit and vegetables. Other notable features include the frescoes on Casa Mazzanti and the numerous statues. The statue of the Madonna is the most ancient. However, the traditional lion of Venice stands in contrast to the contemporary statue of the horses, a marriage between the traditional and the modern.
All in all, the fact is that many consider this to be one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. That is surely another reason why you should have Verona on your travel bucket list!
La Torre dei Lamberti
Overlooking Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signori, the tower is attached to Palazzo della Ragione. The views from the top are well worth the 84m climb to the top (pay €1 to take the lift). La Torre dei Lamberti was built by a local family who used it as their home. Talk about looking down on the neighbours!
La Casa di Giulietta
An obligatory stop for every lover and every tourist in the city, the crowds in the entrance and throughout the courtyard should give you the hint- Welcome to Tourist Central!
The building is believed to be the home of the real-life Capulets- the family that was one half of the legend that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Although most people will make a beeline for the first floor balcony, make time to visit the other floors where you will find realia from the 1968 production that was filmed here. Even if you are not carried away by the tourist circus, the period features of the building give a sense of how life was lived in a Renaissance-style Italian house. Add in a legend and this has to be a bucket list place, with or without your lover.
We are in Italy, so culture is everywhere, but it is not limited to the highlights of the Renaissance. Palazzo della Guardia is located in Piazza Bra. On my visit, it featured an exhibition on the mysterious Mayan civilisation of Central America that was scheduled to run until March 2017. Tickets cost €14 and included the use of the cloakroom for your belongings. Each exhibit was explained in Italian and English and the experience provided an interesting and informative contrast to the Renaissance city outside. Make sure to check it out this museum if you have the opportunity to check Verona off your bucket list.Also, keep an eye on the municipal website to see what other curious delights may await you.
Food and coffee
Located on the main street (via Mazzini) between Piazza Bra and Piazza delle Erbe, this pizza parlour is popular with locals and has a real Italian feel in contemporary surroundings. Should you find yourself in the city in inclement weather, the blue and pink walls give the place an up to date feel that is offset by the traditional wooden beams on the ceiling. The pizza is traditional, the clientele is mostly Italian- what more is there to recommend this place? To give an idea of lunch costs here, budget on between €7 to €11 for a pizza. Coffees should also cost from €1-3, so you are guaranteed a pleasant atmosphere and genuine Italian food at a good price.
Caffè Scala, which is located at Number 14 in the street of the same name, is just a stone’s throw from via Mazzini. Have a pastry, enjoy the coffee or try the succulent meatballs in tomato sauce. With a dominant wooden theme inside and space outside for smokers, this place also has a genuine Italian feel and is well worth a stop if it is not too busy.
A short hop from Piazza Bra, Caffè Wallner (via Dietro Listone 1) opened its doors in 2014. Its stated aim is to be an oasis of pleasure for those with a sweet tooth. Judging by the entrance you may mistake this place for an ice cream parlour, but do not be deceived, it is a spacious and comfortable café with a wide range of seating options. Try the Caffè Gourmet, a Caffè Wallner (a short macchiato with chocolate and almonds) served with ice cream and pastries. Despite some concessions to Anglo-Saxon café culture, the hum of the voices in the background will remind you that you are indeed in Italy.
With so much art, culture, good food, and coffee make sure to put this city on that bucket list right now!
Verona Airport has connections with London, Dublin, Manchester, Frankfurt and other European destinations. If coming from Milan, there are direct rail connections from Stazione Milano Centrale. Alternatively, the city could be combined with a visit to Venice.
Should you arrive by train, there are bus connections to Piazza Bra. Alternatively, you can follow the signs and walk (about 20-30 minutes depending on your speed). The Tourist Office is located in Piazza Bra, but it is not well signposted. Walk along in front of Palazzo della Guardia and it is in the corner of the square, quite close to the Arena. There you can buy the Verona Card (€18 for 24 hours or €22 for 48 hours). This will give you free entrance to all of the main tourist sites mentioned in this article.
Note: The Verona Card is also available at other tourist sites such Juliet’s house.
Finally, if you want to knock off two bucket list destinations in one trip, why not combine your visit to Verona with a trip to Lake Garda? Click here for more information on visiting the Italian Lakes.