“Two households, both alike in dignity / In fair Verona, where we lay our scene / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” So begins Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in Verona in Italy’s northern region of Veneto, a city so beautiful it inspired the greatest of bards.
I left Venice for Verona a bit apprehensive because I tend to prefer larger, more chaotic cities. My first step into the massive Piazza Bra, arguably the country’s largest piazza, assuaged my fears; Verona is a city with much to offer.
Start your adventure in the city’s premiere piazza. Within Piazza Bra are a number of eateries, a fountain, the Arco di Verona (now a concert space), the Gran Guardia (an exhibition space in a historic palazzo) and Palazzo Barbieri (Verona’s town hall).
Head north through the busy shopping street Via Giuseppe Mazzini, where you’ll find a number of top international brands, leading you to the Piazza delle Erbe, another prominent piazza with restaurants and a market. Here rises the Torre dei Lamberti, an 84m-tall tower where you can get a great view of the city. Nearby are the Arche Scaligere, Gothic funerary monuments dedicated to the Scaliger family, the Lords of Verona who ruled from the 13th to the late 14th century. Next to the Arche is the Chiesa di Santa Maria Antica, a Romanesque church built in 1185.
Down past more shops along Via Cappello will lead you to perhaps Verona’s most popular attraction: the Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s house). Pay some money to go up to her balcony or simply rub the right breast of her statue for good luck in love (apparently). Just bear in mind that Juliet was likely a product of pure fiction, so she probably never lived here. Makes you wonder who exactly is buried in the Tomba di Giulietta (Juliet’s Tomb). Regardless, her presence makes for good photo ops and souvenir sales.
Head north through the romantic historic center to find the grand Basilica di Sant’Anastasia, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Matricolare (the Duomo di Verona – the city’s main church) and Ponte Pietra, a wonderful bridge that crosses the Adige River. Continue beyond the ponte and up the hill to Castel San Pietro, where the views of the city rival those from the tower, and whatever romance you found within the city pales in comparison to the sunset.
West of the historic center is Castelvecchio, a historic castle and museum, and (much farther west) the Basilica di San Zeno. It was within the tomb of this basilica that Romeo and Juliet were wed. While entry requires an admission fee, the basilica is huge and an audioguide is included. Worth it!
Verona is full of great wine bars and restaurants. I mostly stuck to more affordable options. Gusto Piadinerie, located near Castelvecchio, is a good option for flatbread sandwiches. Focacceria Ponte Pietra, near Ponte Pietra (duh), is crazy cheap for focaccia. And Pizzeria Dai Butei satisfies those craving artisan pizza and craft beer; it’s some of the best pizza-by-the-slice you’ll find in Italy. For something different, Doner Kebab, in the heart of the historic center, serves an incredibly tasty and non-greasy kebab, the best in Verona, some say. Grab a cup of dessert at the historic Gelateria Savoia at the entrance to Piazza Bra. Their signature Gianduiotto da Passeggio combines hazelnut, gianduja (hazelnut chocolate originally from Turin) gelato, hot chocolate and whipped cream into a portable dessert. Finally, for drinks, Lady Verona in the Piazza delle Erbe is a nice place to sit outside with a relatively affordable (and strong) Spritz. For expertly made craft cocktails, visit Raffaello at Archivio. He made me a custom drink of various scotches and liquors, and it was one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had (and I’m a cocktail snob).
The beauty of Veneto, and being in Italy in general, is that it’s easy to take train trips to other cities for very little cost. I visited a friend in Brescia, in the region of Lombardy, and enjoyed this city as well. Notable stops include the Piazza della Vittoria, a major piazza inaugurated in 1932 with fascinating architecture, notably displayed by the Palazzo delle Poste (Post Office Building) and the Torrione (high tower). Piazza della Loggia features the Palazzo della Loggia and the Orologio Astronomico (Astronomical Clock). The Capitolium, otherwise known as the Tempio Capitolino, offers a look into the history of Ancient Rome; the remains of which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Duomo di Brescia is a must-see church, of course, but the high point of the trip (pun intended) for me was the Castello di Brescia, a castle overlooking the city with a wonderful view.
Though perhaps the best moment I spent in Brescia was sitting in the cozy Tout Court Café with a friend, meeting for the first time over coffee, a reminder of what travel is truly about.
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