With plenty of old world charm, gorgeous walkable streets, and easy access by train from Milan, Venice, and Bologna, Verona should be an obvious choice for anyone planning a trip to northern Italy. Having spent four nights in Verona earlier this summer, it is easy to see why Verona is a popular destination. Its famous ties to Shakespeare plays, proximity to the largest lake in Italy, and having one of the most spectacular Roman amphitheaters are just a few reasons to add Verona to your itinerary.
When Italian pasta company Giovanni Rana, which is based in the Verona area, invited my wife and I on a media trip through our food blog Love and Olive Oil, we jumped at the chance. They brought us to Italy and hosted us for four days in Verona, where we had a chance to explore the city and learn more about Giovanni Rana’s pasta and the family behind it. To read more about Giovanni Rana and their amazing pasta, head over to Love and Olive Oil.
We stayed right in the old part of the city at the Palazzo Victoria. The hotel was modern, clean, and provided excellent service. It has a bright, airy, open courtyard for outdoor dining of which we took full advantage, plus a fun bar for evening drinks. Its location in the heart of Verona makes Palazzo Victoria perfectly situated for exploring the city on foot.
One of the main things that sticks about about Verona is how walkable it is. Because of its relatively small size, most of the old part of Verona can be discovered by wandering the narrow streets which are full of interesting shops, restaurants, and galleries. Half the fun in visiting a new place is meandering without any purpose other than being open to the new experience, and maybe getting a little lost.
Amongst the narrow streets you inevitably come across “Juliet’s Balcony.” Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet in Verona (along with two other plays). People love to crowd around and take pictures of the balcony and “Juliet’s House”. It’s a fun thing to do even though there are no historical ties between Shakespeare and this particular balcony. If you are really into Romeo and Juliet though, there are other tours and interactive performances for which you can buy tickets.
Verona has some beautiful public squares with markets, shops, and restaurants that are perfect for a mid afternoon gelato or souvenir shopping. We spent time in both Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza Bra and loved both of them. Piazza Bra is right next to the Verona Arena, which is hard to miss, but definitely something you want to take some time to check out.
The arena opened in 30 AD, almost 2,000 years ago, and it is still used today for concerts, operas, and other events. When it was first built it could seat around 30,000 people. These days capacity is capped at 15,000 for safety, and to accommodate a stage. Simply to see a building that old still used today is amazing, but to actually go inside and see a performance there is almost “otherworldly,” like stepping back in time.
We were able to attend the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. This was my first opera, and I wasn’t sure what to expect or if I would like it. I LOVED it. English subtitles are displayed on screens during the performance for English speakers who don’t know Italian. The opera itself is so much more than just singing (obviously). There was a lot of action on stage with giant blowup formations behind the set, and two stationary cranes that built a three or four story mirrored structure during the performance. At one point they flooded some of the stage with water, and even had some fireworks! This was like an opera mixed with a bit of Cirque du Soleil and some special effects thrown in as well.
I would highly recommend going to an opera at the Verona Arena, even if you don’t think opera is quite your thing. I would go again in a heartbeat. The opera we saw started at 9:00 pm and was about 4 hours long. They break it up into acts with intermissions between each act, so you have plenty of opportunities to get up, move around, and get a drink.
If you can’t make it to an opera or concert, there are tours available so you have a chance to get inside and learn about the history of the arena.
Close to the arena and the historical area of Verona is the Adige River, which winds its way through the city. We spent some time along the banks of the river, eating gelato and taking in the views from various bridges. One of the more famous bridges is part of the Castelvecchio, (pictured below and to the left) which was designed to allow those who lived in the castle to escape north towards their family in Germany if they were attacked. The original bridge was built in the 1300’s, but that was destroyed during World War II. After being rebuilt between 1949-1951, it is used as a pedestrian bridge today.
If you like to hang out on or near the water, then you will definitely want to make your way over to Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake. It is a short 45 minute drive from downtown Verona, and there are all manner of activities from various water sports, lakeside towns to explore, and postcard worthy views everywhere.
During our time with the wonderful people at Giovanni Rana, we drove out to Lake Garda where we walked through the gorgeous town of Bardolino. Here we boarded a sailboat for a cruise out on the lake. I can’t begin to describe how picturesque the scenery was. I love all the cypress trees scattered through the surrounding hills, and the deep blue water hugging the shoreline.
Our destination on the lake was Villa San Vigilio, a XVI century mansion where we had lunch and enjoyed the afternoon in the sun. Villa San Vigilio and Lake Garda are easily some of the prettiest places we’ve ever visited. I would love to go back and spend some more time in some of the other lakeside villages.
Verona and the area around it definitely have a more laid back feel than some of the other heavily traveled places in Italy. Sure, there were some crowds, but overall the feeling was more relaxed. Even though it is a popular destination, I somehow feel that Verona can be overlooked for more famous places like Rome, Florence, and Venice. Verona is quite spectacular in its own right though, and should not be missed.
After leaving Verona, we spent the next couple of nights in Venice, which I hope to write about soon.