Meredith has traveled extensively and offers advice and life hacks to make your journey more enjoyable.
Vacation in Verona, Italy
If you're visiting Italy this year, be sure to include Verona in your itinerary. Like many Italian cities, its history is long and fascinating, and it deserves a place on your vacation destination list.
Top 7 Attractions in Verona
- The Duomo of Verona
- Castelvecchio Bridge
- Gavi Arch
- Piazza Bra
- Porta dei Borsari
- Juliet's Balcony
Scroll down for details about each of these stunning places.
1. The Duomo of Verona
If this is the first Italian cathedral you've been to, expect to have your breath taken away. You will be awed by the vastness of the building, the coolness of the stone walls, and the pervading sense of wonder so rarely found in today's busy life. You may not know where to look first, as there's beauty everywhere—on the walls, ceilings, and even the floors. The cathedral is still in use, and if your visit coincides with a service, the atmosphere is enriching even if you don't understand what is being said.
In addition to its overwhelming splendor, the Duomo is also home to many historical treasures, including the Renaissance artist Titian's oil painting Assumption of the Virgin—the only example of his work left in Verona. The apostle on the left is said to be the likeness of the architect Michele Sanmicheli who worked on the cathedral at the time.
To help you get the most out of your visit to the Duomo of Verona, an audio tour is included in the price, which is exceptionally reasonable. Taking advantage of the audio guide will allow you to understand more about what you're seeing and enjoy your visit to the fullest.
Get the Most out of Your Ticket
When you enter, go with an open heart and open mind, and let yourself be absorbed into the peacefulness and majesty of this beautiful cathedral. Built on the sacred ground of two earlier churches that were destroyed by an earthquake 900 years ago, you can see the archaeological remains of the previous buildings. This is all part of the cathedral's rich history.
What's more, the Duomo is part of a complex of other buildings, and are all included in your ticket price. Be sure to see the honey-colored marble font. This baptismal font was carved out of a single piece of marble and depicts biblical scenes on all eight sides. The population of Verona has a particular fondness for it as most were baptized here.
The sarcophagus of St. Agatha is also housed in the Cathedral of Verona. She is considered the patron saint of breast cancer and those who have been victims of a fire. Although her life was short, her's is a story of bravery and devotion, and her sarcophagus is a must-see when visiting the Cathedral.
To avoid being turned away after waiting in line, you must wear suitable clothing, keeping the shoulders and knees covered. This applies to both men and women. For women, a simple scarf or shawl around the shoulders and a knee length skirt or dress will do. For men, a shirt and long pants are advisable. Remember, you aren't just a tourist, you're a guest, and dressing modestly is a sign of respect.
The Castelvecchio of Verona (or old castle) has a colorful past. In fact, you might even say its history has had a 180-degree turn. Let's turn the clock back to 1354 when the world was much different; there were feuds within Italy and even feuds within families. Out of this turmoil began the construction of the Scaligeri Castle, or as we know it now, Castelvecchio. At the age of 19, Cangrande II became the Lord of Verona, not as a result of a public vote but after the death of his father. He was young, cruel, and greedy and became hated in Verona. The population called him the 'angry dog' because he stole from the people of Verona to line the pockets of his family.
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Castle or Fortress?
Fearing for his safety, he had the castle built as a military fortress at the river Adige. The castle was designed to protect those inside from enemies both in Verona itself and outsiders who might attack the city. Trusting few—and rightly so—he surrounded himself with mercenaries from Germany. The Castelvecchio Bridge was built as a means for Cangrande II to escape to Germany with his bodyguards. He was in power for eight years before his brother had him assassinated.
Although we call it a castle, it has the look of a fortress. Its look tells the story of its day. Although most castles have battlements, the merlons atop the Castelvecchio were a statement to the church. Built at a time of upheaval when the Catholic church and the Pope were in sharp contrast to the Lords and the Roman Empire, the castle's crown-shaped merlons were a symbol of defiance against the power of the Catholic church and featured not only on the Castelvecchio but also on other buildings throughout the city.
Attacks on any castle or monument are often a symbolic gesture to weaken the resolve of the city's population. The Castelvecchio was no exception; it was one of the iconic symbols that Napoleon and his troops attacked and raided during the occupation. Paintings by Pablo Veronese and Tiziano Vecellio (Titian) were seized and sent to Paris as part of the plunder of Verona. Not only were they interested in stealing the artwork, they also destroyed parts of the castle. The ramparts and towers were removed, and the Napoleonic troops used the castle as a barracks and an armory during their time in Verona.
A century later in the 1920s, the city of Verona decided to turn the castle into a museum and reconstructed the towers and replaced the battlements. Alas, this was to last only a few years. During World War II, the castle was used to house Austrian troops and was bombed by the allies. The castle bridge was bombed by the Germans.
I mentioned that the castle has made a complete turn. In a way, it has. From housing an arrogant and much-hated local tyrant to being the headquarters for two foreign armies, it has finally become one of Verona's most loved buildings. Part of this is due to the architect Carlo Scarpa who was chosen to turn the old castle into a museum. He was a popular choice and added his own Italian style while preserving and enhancing the ancient edifice. He opened up large windows so natural light could illuminate the interior of the museum and show the construction of the castle walls. His juxtaposition of ancient art, sculptures, and military artifacts within this contemporary structure works. What you'll see today is a blending of history both in the building and in the works it houses.
Although modern conveniences have made this ancient castle more accessible and enjoyable, people with limited mobility may still experience difficulties as there are many stairs.
3. Castelvecchio Bridge
Don't miss a stop at the Castelvecchio bridge when visiting the castle. There's no charge for soaking up the scenery from this viewpoint, and the pathways along the river make for a relaxing and rewarding stroll. Besides, the bridge itself has an interesting history.
An Elaborate Escape Route
You may simply see the brick and marble Castelvecchio bridge as a convenient way to get from one side of the river to the other, but don't be fooled. This bridge was not meant to be used by the likes of the general public. This bridge was Canegrade II's escape route, constructed to allow a quick getaway from the castle.
A Glorious Restoration
The bridge as you see it now is a restoration after the Germans blew it up while fleeing during World War II. Salvaging the bricks from the fast flowing river below, it is now one of Verona's most majestic bridges.
4. Gavi Arch
Whether your first glimpse of the white limestone Gavi Arch is in daylight or at night, when it is brightly illuminated by a golden light, it's an impressive sight. You may find yourself wondering why it's in its present position. As an arch, you might think it should be flanked by walls or have a road running through it. You'd be right. It previously had both, although not in its present location.
The Former Gateway of Verona
The Gavi Arch stood across the now ancient Via Postumia when it was first built in the 1st century by the noble Gavi family of Verona. Because of its beauty and prominence, walls were built up to the arch during the middle ages, and it was used as a gateway into the city of Verona.
As a four-fronted arch, it allowed the traffic of the day, both pedestrian and otherwise to pass through. Those on the road passed from front to back, where the arch is decorated with Corinthian columns, whereas pedestrians passed through the sides.
Destruction and Reconstruction of the Arch
Unfortunately, Napoleonic troops demolished many monuments during their time in Verona, including the Gavi Arch. If they couldn't take it back to Paris with them (remember the famous works by Titian and Veronese?), they would destroy it in an effort to quash the spirit of the people.
What the marauding Frenchman didn't know was that there was a wooden model made of the famous and much beloved Gavi Arch. When Mussolini wanted to show support for Italy's past history as part of his propaganda campaign, he had the Gavi Arch reconstructed using the wooden model and original stones where possible. Interestingly, when the stones were dismantled, writing from the quarry was visible, indicating which stones should be placed where when building the arch. In addition to helping in the reconstruction of the arch, this information helped historians better understand the construction methods of the era.
Things to Notice
On your visit to Verona be sure to see the Gavi Arch and feel the stone. Unlike some ancient monuments, you can get up close and really experience this piece of history. Take note not just of the stones that are used to build the arch but also those on the ground. The black basalt stones below the arch were transferred from their original location, and if you look closely, you can still see the tracks of ancient chariots that carved grooves in these dark stones many centuries ago. This is history as it should be—up close and personal.
If you stand under the arch and look up, you may see the inscription of the architect, Lucio Vitruvio Cerdone. Some of the members of the Gavi family also inscribed their names or initials, but these were only seen when it was dismantled and are now hidden once again.
The Gavi Arch is located near the Castelvecchio, so you can easily add this to your itinerary. It's worth a visit and is a great photo opportunity. The small shady park next to it offers the chance for a relaxing break, or if you prefer, there are cafes and restaurants which are close by in the small piazza.
5. Piazza Bra
You simply can't go to Verona without seeing the Piazza Bra. Don't think all piazzas are small and quaint, either. The Piazza Bra is large and full of life.
The Arena di Verona
Within the vast area is the Arena di Verona. Externally, there is only a small section of the ancient wall standing, but the majority of the structure's interior is original. Although many ancient monuments have been re-purposed or turned into museums, the arena has stayed true to its original purpose and is still an open-air amphitheater. Operas and concerts by world-famous performers are held here on a regular basis. If you have the opportunity to see a concert, go, as it is a venue like no other.
Be aware that the evenings can feel chilly even after a glorious day of summer sunshine. Expect a 20-degree temperature drop during the night. A light jacket or sweater is a good idea.
Cafes and Restaurants
In the piazza, with its pink marble pavement, you will be spoiled for choice with the cafes and restaurants. Don't just rush off like a tourist, though. Take the time to 'become Italian' and soak up the scenery, which captures the essence of Verona. Explore the various restaurants, where you'll see legs of ham hanging from the ceilings of many family-run restaurants who produce their meat the traditional way.
Cured meats are abundant and delicious in Verona. Find a table in the piazza and people watch while you enjoy some of the traditional dishes of Verona. Polenta, pasta, and risottos are the staples of the region. You should also try some of the local favorites such as bollitamista with peara sauce—a mixture of boiled meats with a pepper sauce thickened with polenta. Another favorite to tempt you is ragù di cavallo, which is a stew made with horse meat and served with a creamy polenta. Combine your meal with a locally produced wine such as a Soave, Valpolicella, or a Bardolino and you may not want to ever leave Verona!
Piazza and Park
As you sit at your restaurant table on the Piazza Bra enjoying your meal, you'll notice two other palaces, the town hall and a Gran Guardia which is used for exhibitions and conferences. The Piazza Bra is an excellent example of how Italy—and Verona, in particular—blends its rich history into everyday life. Opposite you, in a park with cedar and pine trees, a statue of King Victor Emmanuelle II on horseback takes pride of place and commemorates the first ruler of a unified Italy.
More recent history is evident in the fountain that some say resembles a lemon squeezer, and which was a gift from Munich, Verona's twin city. In the park, there is also a memorial to the Italians who were taken to the German concentration camps.
Thanks to its sheer size, Piazza Bra can be busy without ever feeling crowded. There's a great mixture of locals and tourists all enjoying the space, the history, and the eclectic atmosphere of Verona.
6. Porta dei Borsari
Though it has stood proudly since the first century, to look at the Porta dei Borsari you might not realize the importance of this grand gateway. Initially a military stronghold for the city, this became a tax collection point for goods coming into Verona, and vendors with their carts, wagons, and chariots lined up there to enter the city.
Verona's Ritziest Shopping District
Now, this once strategic entrance is the start of Corso Porta Borsari, one of Verona's most affluent shopping areas. The pedestrian-only area is home to upscale boutiques housed not in modern malls but in sympathetically restored historic buildings. Cafes, gourmet restaurants and specialty clothing shops of well known Italian designers are located in this famous narrow street.
Taste the Best Pastries in Verona
It is here you'll find the Pasticceria Flego—an excellent place to sample one of Verona's famous breakfast brioches with a cup of Italian coffee. Could there be any better way to begin your day of sightseeing in one of Italy's most beautiful cities? I don't think so!
7. Juliet's Balcony
Made famous by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, you can visit Juliet's house in Verona and even stand on her balcony.
Touch Where for Luck?
While there, you'll have the opportunity to take a photo with a statue of Juliet. You will see people placing their hands on her right breast, as this is supposed to bring luck.
Love Letters From Visitors
You'll also see a wall of what looks like graffiti in the passageway, but it's love message left by visitors. Don't forget your Sharpie marker so you can leave behind your prose for your beloved.
Weather in Verona
Highs/Low (F) (C)
43° / 30°F (6° / -1°C)
48° / 33°F (9° / 0°C)
57° / 39°F (14° / 4°C)
64° / 45°F (18° / 7°C)
74° / 54°F (23° / 12°C)
81° / 60°F (27° / 16°C)
86° / 64°F (30° / 19°C)
85° / 65°F (29° / 18°C)
77° / 57°F (25° / 14°C)
53° / 39°F (12° / 4°C)
44° / 31°F (7° / 0°C)
Getting to Verona
This northern Italian city is easy to get to, with 42 high-speed trains departing daily between Milan and Verona—a journey of just an hour and 20 minutes. If you're flying into Verona Villafranca Airport, jump on a shuttle bus for the 6-mile trip into the city or rent a car if you plan to travel further afield during your stay.
Accommodation in Verona
Verona is a popular tourist destination with visitors from around the world. Although accommodation is plentiful, it's a good idea to book ahead, especially during the summer months when the tourist season is in full swing in the north of Italy.
© 2018 Meredith Davies