Highlights of Verona
When we told people that we were going to Verona we had a few ask us if we were going to visit Juliet’s House. For those who don’t know (as we didn’t) “Juliet’s house” relates to Romeo and Juliet, the fictional tragedy written by Shakespeare using Verona as a setting. As we were to find out, Verona – and Juliet’s House specifically – has become a place of pilgrimage for the Romeo and Juliet obsessed.
I’ll have more on Juliet’s House further below.
But honestly, there are about a million better reasons to visit Verona. I’ll cover Verona’s top sites, the majority of which can easily be visited on a day trip (as we did on a cloudy day in mid-April).
It is about a 15 minute walk from the train station to the center of the old town. As you near the old town, you will pass through the gates below (Portini della Bra).
1. Arena di Verona (Verona Arena)
One of the largest Roman amphitheaters, Verona’s arena was built in the reign of Diocletian, about AD 290. It can seat 22,000 spectators and is home to the Verona Opera Festival in July and August – but in the past they had gladiators and wild animals fighting to the death here. Walk through the tunnels under the arena and you can imagine the hands that touched these walls almost 2000 years ago. The Arena is Verona’s best preserved Roman monument.
2. Piazza della Erbe & Torre dei Lamberti
The Piazza della Erbe is known as one of the most picturesque squares in Italy and is the center of old Verona. It has several columns and statues, a palace, and many houses previously owned by Verona’s rich. It also has two towers including the Torre dei Lamberti which has one of the best views in the city (there’s an elevator that will take you up).
Related: The highlights of Incredible Bologna
3. Piazza dei Signori & Loggia del Consiglio
Right next to Piazza della Erbe, The Piazza dei Signori is surrounded by palaces, and in the middle stands a monument to Dante erected in 1865. The Palazzo della Ragione (Town Hall) is on the south side of the piazza while on the north side stands the Loggia del Consiglio, one of the finest Early Renaissance buildings in Italy.
4. Arche Scaligere (Scaligeri Tombs)
The Scaliger Tombs is a group of five Gothic tombs containing the bodies of members of the Scaliger family, who ruled Verona from the 13th to late 14th century. They’re located in the courtyard of the small church of Santa Maria Antica, separated from the street by iron grills. They are considered one of the most outstanding examples of gothic art in Europe.
Just a 5 minute walk from the sites above, Sant’Anastasia is a beautiful Gothic church built in the 13th century, famous for it’s frescoes painted by Veronese artists.
6. Duomo di Santa Maria Matricolare (Cathedral)
Verona’s Duomo stands where previous basilicas were built: The first church built here was in 380 AD. Its was replaced by a 2nd in the 5th century which was destroyed by an earthquake. Another church was built in the 8th century which was again destroyed by an earthquake. The present cathedral was built in the 12th century and is famous for it’s beautiful frescoes and marble pillars.
7. Ponte Pierna, Castel San Pietro, and Palazzo Giusti
As we walked from the Duomo to the Ponte Pierna it started to rain and we decided not to cross to the other side of the bridge and instead stay in the old town. But there are a few places of interest here. The Castel San Pietro was an old Roman theatre built on a hillside overlooking town and is the place to go for those photos of Verona you see in postcards. A little further, the Palazzo Giusti is a large Renaissance style garden.
8. Arco dei Gavi, Castelvecchio, and Ponte Scaligero
This area, located on the river close to the arena (and just out of the historic center), has a few great sites of interest. The Arco dei Gavi was an arch built in the 1st century over the road into the city. In medieval times it became a city gate. If you walk under it today you see the grooves in the road worn by chariot wheels.
Next to the arch is the Castelvecchio, a fortress with ramparts and towers built in the 14th century (it today houses an art museum featuring famous Veronese artists). Part of the Castelvecchio is the Ponte Scaligero, a pedestrian-only bridge that brings you to a small park on the other side of the Adige River.
Walking from the above to the next site (San Zeno Maggiore) takes you along the river where you have views over the Lessinia Mountains (part of the foothills of the Alps).
9. Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore
We arrived at San Zeno just as it was closing and didn’t get a good photo of the interior. It is one of Verona’s most beautiful churches and considered the finest Romanesque building in northern Italy. Built in the 11th century, it has a beautiful facade with stone lions as guardians and engraved scenes depicting life at the time.
10. And finally…Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House)
Really, I shake my head at the popularity of it. Here we were, in incredible Verona with all these historic monuments and the most popular tourist site is something totally fictional.
As mentioned at the top, Verona was the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This building has no historical significance. But the city has played the Romeo and Juliet facade to the max, building that famous balcony (in the 1930’s) and later adding a bronze statue of Juliet (recently replaced because of too much wear and tear caused by people rubbing her breasts for good luck).
You can visit the museum for 6 Euros, see some old furniture and step on that balcony. I refused to do that. But multitudes of tourists did and we were amazed by the circus going on in that courtyard, mostly young people coming in, rubbing Juliet’s breasts and leaving messages on the tunnel wall leading to the courtyard. I wondered if any of them actually read Shakespeare or even know who he is? Me thinks not.
Anyway, our friend Heather at Conversant Traveller wrote in more detail about Juliet’s House and actually went and paid for the museum. Have a look at her post of you’re interested in knowing more about Juliet’s House.
Want to join the ‘Juliet Club’? Well, they even have a website.
Our Base in the Area. We visited Verona from our base in Padova, 40 minutes away by train. As previously mentioned, I had thought of using Verona as a base but had found accommodation here to be quite expensive. Read more on that here.
Organized Tour: This walking tour is recommended
Accommodation: want to stay a night or two in Verona? A couple of recommendations we were given: Hotel Milano & SPA***S (really nice place right in the center, as you can guess it has a spa. Excellent value). Hotel Europa (good value, great location, nice place).
Despite not-so-great weather and being a touristy city, we enjoyed Verona. Apart from Juliet’s House, we didn’t encounter much of the crowds when we walked around town. Logistically, you have to save yourself some time to visit Verona as some of the sites are a bit spread out, including the walk from the train station. Give yourself a full day to see all the sites.
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