My wife and I have travelled extensively across Italy over the years and Verona undoubtedly remains our favourite city, a city made famous by Shakespeare’s legendary tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. This romantic city is somewhat overshadowed by the more popular Venice, which is only one hour away by train, and is far less touristy, so you can move about freely without having to wait in long museum queues for hours on end. The centre of Verona is filled with quaint little alleyways and pedestrian promenades lined with shops, from the high end and boutique to lovely little delicatessens and chic cafes. If given the chance I highly recommend anyone to visit Verona on a city break just once and let its magical atmosphere envelope you.
Verona has sometimes been known as piccolo Roma, or little Rome, and I can easily understand why. Coming from the train station, passing the south gate, called the Porta Nuova and then along the Corso Porta Nuova you arrive at the open aired Piazza Bra and the impressive amphitheatre, simply known as The Arena. The Arena is said to be the third largest Roman amphitheatre in the world and is still in use today, with lavish opera’s and concerts put on during the summer months. During the day it is open to visitors and if you climb to the top tier of the Arena you have fantastic panoramic views of the whole city. All throughout the city there are great examples of well preserved Roman architecture, such as the old Roman Theatre which is built into the side of a hill and still hosts theatrical and musical performances, and the Ponte di Pietra, a Roman arch bridge that spans the Adige River and is still in use as a pedestrian crossing. Along the bridge you find padlocks with names written on the lock. The tradition is that couple will lock two padlocks together and then throw the keys into the river, as a symbol that their love will last forever!
Apart from the city’s fascinating Roman history, Verona is probably best known as the city of love, mostly due to the tale of Romeo and Juliet. You can visit the Casa di Giulietta, or Juliet’s House, during the day where you can see the famous balcony of Shakespeare’s play or rub the right breast of a bronze statue of Juliet which is meant to bring you good luck in love and life. Although the house has no connection with Shakespeare's fictional characters, the names of Capulet and Montague are historical families from the medieval period and are said to be the inspiration for his tale of unrequited love. The city is also full of magnificent churches and cathedrals. The pick of the bunch is possibly the San Zeno Maggiore, known in English as the Basilica of St Zeno, which is was built in the 12th century in dedication of Verona’s patron saint, Zeno, and has beautifully crafted Romanesque façades and reliefs depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament. South east of St Zeno is the Castelvecchio, a large red-bricked castle on the banks of the river Adige. Open to the public, the castle is a now museum and art gallery that holds fascinating collections of jewellery and weapons and many priceless paintings from the likes of Bellini and Pisanello.
Although most of the cafés around the main piazza’s can be a little touristy and somewhat expensive, if you wander around the quieter streets away from the busy promenades you can find some delightful cafés. Most afternoons, after a busy day venturing around the city, we would settle down for a relaxing bottle of Peroni and delicious Italian cappuccino. On one particular trip we found a lovely little cafe, that pretty much only locals frequented, that we went to every afternoon and became friendly with the owners and staff, some much so that gave us a free meal on our last day in Verona! In regards to restaurants in Verona there are loads to choice from, from high end cuisine to small family run trattorias. Most of the restaurants around the piazzas are packed by 9pm, so it’s best to either eat early or book earlier in the day.
A little tip for anyone staying in Verona, especially if you are going to be in town for a couple of days, pick up the Verona Card. Each time we have been to Verona we pick one up, costing between 10-15 Euros, and not only does it let you into loads of attractions, like the Roman Arena and the Natural History Museum, it allows free access to the local public transport which makes getting around Verona (although most of the city sights are within walking distance) more accessible and much more cheaper.
Written by Chris Eakins