Verona. The city of Romeo & Juliet, Renaissance romance and charming piazzas. Most of the time associated with Shakespeare, Verona attracts a lot of people from around the world in search of forever love. However, it is so much more than just Casa di Giulietta, the city is also the home of Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheatre dating back to the 1st century & it is one of the world’s largest open-air theatres in these days. Thousands of art and culture lovers come here each year for the summer opera season to watch the most spectacular performances under the blue sky. There’s also fascinating bridges connecting people of Verona on both sides of the Adige river and countless amounts of churches, museums and archaeological sites. Today, Verona has got one of the richest collections of Roman remains in northern Italy.
Most of the time people visiting Veneto, a northeastern Italian region, dedicate all their time to Venice, which is a city like no other, but if you jump on a train and drive for an hour away from big groups of tourists and queues, you will find Verona, the fourth most visited city in Italy. Even thought it is still popular with tourists, the city’s layout and size makes it less hectic and more laid-back… more Italian.
Everything seems to be within reach in Verona. If you travel by train to Verona Porta Nuova station, you can walk your way into the city centre within minutes (or you could take a bus but you will miss an opportunity to discover the outskirts of Verona). If you decide to walk, your road will most likely lead to Piazza Bra, a beautiful town square slightly overshadowed by the imposing Roman Arena. Piazza Bra is the biggest piazza in Verona and one of the largest squares in Europe. On the west side of the square you will see the beautiful Portoni della Bra which is the official entrance of the square.
There’s a charming little garden with the fountain and a statue of the first king of Italy Victor Emmanuel II in the centre of Piazza Bra too, usually busy with couples wanting to soak in the delightful piazza without getting involved into the city bustle.
The piazza is one of the busiest places in Verona and it has got a great variety of restaurants and street cafes, as well as notable buildings. Be careful and smart if you decide to stop at Piazza Brà for a bite because you’ll most likely pay a lot more here for a slightly touristy experience. However, if you are looking for a good Italian ice cream, try Gelateria Savoia which is just around the corner and is selling some of the best gelato in Verona. I opted-in for Strawberry & Lemon sorbets and it was divine. Also, they put whipped cream on top of your ice cream! The Roman Arena in Piazza Bra is the symbol of the city and where the journey would normally start from if you came to Verona. It was built 50 years before Rome’s Coliseum and brings city visitors back to the past.
As in all amphitheatres of their time, gladiator fights were held here as well as Venationes (type of public spectacle that featured the hunts of exotic animals). Today, the amphitheatre is a world-famous music and theatre venue with regular operatic and contemporary music performances. What we found unusual but incredibly inspiring is that various decorations, huge in size, are hold just outside the arena so you can actually walk around it and see it all for yourself!
From Piazza Bra you can easily walk to another star of Verona, Piazza delle Erbe. At the end of Bra square walk across Via Mazzini street, the most elegant and busy pedestrian street of the city with incredibly shiny Verona marble floor that at first makes you feel like you are walking inside the shopping centre.
This street heads you straight through the heart of the city to Piazza Erbe. The town square is an original centre of Verona and as some call it the city’s beating heart. Piazza delle Erbe used to be town’s forum during Roman Empire times and is still loved by many locals.
Piazza Erbe is dominated by the tallest of Verona’s towers, Torre dei Lamberti, where the best city views open up. During the Middle Ages tall towers were a visible symbol of the wealth and power of the noble families which lived in them. This tower was built by the powerful Lamberti Family back in 1172 and is 84 metres in height. The tower has two bells which kept time & regulated city life. One bell signalled the end of the working day as well as alarm in the case of fire, while the other one called citizens in times of war. The views from the top are spectacular and you can go up by stairs or a lift!
Today, Piazza Erbe is buzzing with cafes and little market shops selling fruits, pizzas and other snacks that people takeaway or eat right there, sitting around on the steps of various buildings and watching people walking by. That’s where our lunch breaks were spent. As we didn’t want to waste all our time eating in restaurants and not seeing much, we decided to opt-in for a quick lunch and have a more relaxing experience at dinner time. Calzone pizzas here were delicious and you can choose from quite a few!
If you are in Verona, you have to see Juliet’s House. It’s not like you will be able to miss it anyway. Signs, crowds of people and tour groups will be leading you to Casa di Giulietta. The place is incredibly unique and nothing you have ever seen before with walls covered in love notes and letters, love locks affirming the love of arriving couples and the famous balcony of Juliet.
In the courtyard you’ll find a bronze statue of Juliet too. It is said that rubbing her right breast will make you lucky in love. Try it, you never know! Even though today Juliet’s house could not be imagined without a balcony, it was added on only in the 20th century, trying to strengthen the connection to Romeo and Juliet. What delighted me the most and questioned my mind is how many single people and how many couples have left their love letters there? How many hearts felt enlightened after they went and done their part?
You can visit the house and stand on Juliet’s balcony if you wish. It will cost you money and time as, depending on the season, there might be a lot of keen love seekers queuing for a picture. However, coming just for a wander is entertaining enough and mind-blowing to be honest. We left our love lock on the wall too as it became our tradition travelling around the world.
Everything seems to be very compact in Verona, except from the Roman Theatre, located on the other side of the Adige river but still within walking distance. If you choose to walk to the Roman Theatre, cross it using Ponte Pietra bridge. It’s extraordinary! The stone bridge dates back to the 1st century BC and is another symbol of Verona. The Roman Theatre has excellent views from the terraces where the ancients watched plays. It also has an archaeological museum showcasing the history of Verona as well as marble decorations, mosaics, artefacts and findings of the Roman past.
Where to go for dinner in Verona? Check a tiny restaurant next to Piazza dei Signori, called Osteria Macafame. As the poster on their wall says, they are against war and tourist menu… and that was exactly what we wanted – to be Italians for a few days. The food was simple and delicious, and only a few tiny tables to sit outside made it all even more special. I had homemade potato Gnocchi with tomatoes & Ricotta cheese with Tiramisu to finish it off like a true Italian. My boyfriend tried homemade fusilli with cacao (yes, cacao in pasta) and seafood. As a very highly rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, it was very reasonably priced and we were not disappointed with our choice.
I didn’t have great expectations of Verona when we were planning our trip to Italy. I just wanted pasta, pizza and gelato to be honest… and Venice was kind of a big deal on our trip planner too! How wrong I was not to expect a lot of this city because at the end of our holiday, Verona was the star of the show that absolutely stole my heart and made me fall in love with the Italian culture, delicious food and beautiful architecture. If you are planning a trip to Veneto, make sure Verona is on your list!