With so much to see and do in Italy, Verona is often sacrificed for Venice and Milan – but on a two-day short break, you can get to know a city that is famous for more than just Romeo and Juliet
One of the treats of travelling in Italy is that, if you get lost, you always end up somewhere interesting and beautiful. Verona is no exception. Steeped in history and art, the city’s backstreets and lanes – vicoli, corticelle and piazzette – are worth a wander just for the thrill of rounding a corner and finding yourself in front of a Romanesque church, 17th-century fresco, or crumbling ruin. Here are 10 things to discover in Verona:
1 The Roman Arena, built in the first century AD, is the third-largest amphitheatre in Italy after Rome’s Colosseum and the one at Capua, near Naples. Now host to the Opera Festival of Verona (+39 045 800 5151, www.arena.it), it attracts fans from around the world to see the likes of Aida, Tosca and Carmen each summer.
2 While no one knows if Shakespeare ever visited Verona to pen his famous Romeo and Juliet love story, Juliet’s house and balcony at 27 Via Cappello have become a major tourist attraction. The walkway to the house is covered in graffiti, a traditional scrawling venue for modern-day star-crossed lovers. The statue of Juliet in the front garden gets a fair bit of attention, too. Visitors can touch her right breast for luck.
3 Like most Italian cities, Verona has its share of churches. The Basilica of San Zeno, named after the patron saint of Verona, is one of the best-preserved examples of Romanesque architecture in northern Italy. Often full of Italian school kids and tourists, it has two enormous west doors as its main highlights. Carved in bronze in the 11th and 12th centuries, by unknown artists, they portray scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The Duomo, Verona’s cathedral, and Sant’ Anastasia are also worth a look.
4 Nestled into the hillside along the river Adige is Verona’s Roman theatre. Built in 1BC and restored in the 1900s, it is now home to the city’s annual summer Shakespeare Festival (+39 045 807 7500, www.estateteatraleveronese.it) as well as jazz and dance performances. There is also an Archaeological Museum on site.
5 Piazza delle Erbe, named after Verona’s old herb market, has been in use for more than 2,000 years. These days, the square hosts an umbrella-covered market selling mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, and tourist paraphernalia. Surrounding the piazza are facade- and fresco-encrusted buildings dating back to the Middle Ages – including Verona’s highest tower, the 83m Torre dei Lamberti. The tower, started in the 1100s, took several centuries to complete, which accounts for its changing styles. The views are worth the climb.
6 Linked to Piazza delle Erbe is Piazza dei Signori, an aristocratic square that is home to Dante’s statue and, among other things, a once-elegant Renaissance building with now-fading frescoes. Nearby there are a couple of round viewing windows looking into Roman ruins recently discovered below the current level of the city.
7 Built in the 1300s, Castelvecchio with its turrets and now-empty moat was restored last century and has been home to the city’s collection of medieval and modern art since the 1920s. It includes a fine collection of Renaissance paintings, sculptures and ancient weapons.
8 The Ponte Scaligero leads from the Castelvecchio across the river Adige. The bridge, originally constructed in the mid-1300s as a defence structure for the castle, was destroyed during the Second World War. It was faithfully rebuilt by the Veronese in the 1950s, using bricks and stones salvaged from the river below.
9 For four centuries, Verona’s Giardino Giusti has been one of the most beautiful and well-visited gardens in northern Italy. Its typically Renaissance geometrical layout of flowerbeds and hedges – including a sprinkling of fountains, grottos and statues – makes for a quiet reprieve from the commotion of the city.
10 No trip to Verona is complete without a stroll down Via Giuseppe Mazzini. A narrow pedestrian-only street paved in pink Veronese marble, it is full of cafés and upscale designer shops. Even if you manage to resist buying something, it’s worth sitting back and watching the world go by.
Where to eat
After a day of pounding the cobblestones, Aquila Nera Café (+39 045 801 0172, www.aquilaneraverona.com), located between Piazza delle Erbe and the Arena, is an inviting and stylish bar for a prosecco aperitivo. For dinner, La Pigna Antico Trattoria (+39 045 800 4080, www.osteriapigna.it) is an authentic Veronese trattoria with fresh food and a good wine list. Cantina di San Rocchetto (+39 0458013695) at Via San Rocchetto 1, Verona, is small and stylish for a more intimate meal. All are reasonably priced.
Where to stay
The recently refurbished three star Hotel Giulietta e Romeo (see Make It Happen, top left) is a delightful little find in the heart of the old town. It’s steps away from the Arena and Via Giuseppe Mazzini. The rooms are comfortable, clean and quiet. The superior rooms give a bit more space. If you can’t get in here, Grand Hotel Verona is just as good and just as central.
If you can stay longer
Day trips to Lake Garda with its dramatic scenery, Vicenza, known for its architecture, and the old university town of Padua, famous for the Chapel of Scrovegni, are easily accessible by train or car.
Verona’s international Villafranca Airport, located 12km from the city centre, is serviced by Germanwings (www.germanwings.com) from London and Transavia (www.transavia.com) from Amsterdam. Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies to Verona Brescia airport, a further 40km away. There are also several trains a day from Florence, Milan, Bologna and Venice (www.trenitalia.com).