“Do you think they mop the streets every night?” I asked my husband as we walked to lunch. “Probably,” he responded.
The first thing that hit me about Verona—despite the fact that we’d just walked past one of its most impressive monuments, the Arena—was how clean it was. Putting aside the smell of asphalt that they were laying near where we parked our car, I was amazed at how clean the air was in Verona. There was a freshness similar to being in the forest, but we certainly weren’t. There were buildings everywhere and lots of people. But no cars polluting the streets. And while I didn’t consciously notice the lack of cars until after we were on our way home, I’d clearly experienced its benefits.
To be honest, we went to Verona mostly out of laziness. We’d planned on going to Alpe di Siusi in the Dolomites, but then we realized that it was going to be a three-and-a-half hour drive to get there. And with a toddler in the car, being cooped up that long wasn’t something either of us was looking forward to.
Not one to (try to) disappoint me, Fernando didn’t say anything about changing our plans. But my dread was mounting. “I’ve been thinking,” I started. “I don’t think L can handle that much time in the car. Maybe we should just go to Verona this time.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” he said, much to my relief. And so we loaded ourselves into the car, feeling a bit lighter already.
We go to northern Italy every year to visit Fernando’s grandmother. But while the town is charming, there’s not much to do there. So we always try to tack on an extra destination or two to our visit. Fortunately, this being Italy, there is a lot to see relatively close by. On this particular trip, we’d already been to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, with a quick tour of Lake Como and Lake Lugano. But five days in a small town was a little much, so we wanted to break it up with a day trip in the middle.
As I started thinking about where we might want to go, I broke out my (now very dated) Rick Steves’ guide that I bought before my first trip to Italy eight years ago. Over the years we had made it to many of his top choices, but there were still a few places in the north we hadn’t gone yet—including Verona.
I never actually read the section, though. As a result, when we set out that morning, I assumed that we’d go, eat lunch, stop by La Casa de Giulietta, and then head home having exhausted what the town had to offer. But as luck would have it, there is a lot more to Verona than being the setting of a famous Shakespeare play.
On the road, I googled “best place for lunch in Verona” and decided on an osteria that was recommended by a local. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was closed. No sign on the door other than the one saying that they were open for lunch from 12-14:30. Hmm. Feeling a little defeated, I pulled out my phone and looked for places nearby. The pictures of Osteria de Ugo included some cute tiles, so we headed there.
I entered the restaurant a few minutes behind Fernando and L, having stopped to take pictures along the way. “Dove è il bambino?” I asked the waiter, and he pointed to a doorway. I stepped outside into a courtyard surrounded by bright yellow walls and carved busts and filled with bubbly waitresses. We sat down at a table in the back, and I thanked my lucky stars that our original plans fell through.
Of course, ambiance, while important, isn’t everything. But lucky for us, the food lived up to the vibe. The fettucini with truffles was particularly good.
Exploring the City
After lunch we walked around, trying to see at least the outside of as many sights listed in my guidebook as possible. We could tell by the crowds that we’d walked by Juliet’s house, but we didn’t go into the courtyard. Instead, we headed to Chiesa di Sant’Anastasia (known for its little hunchback) and the impressive Chiesa di San Fermo. The latter contains an exciting mix of beautiful art and architecture and ancient ruins. (The interior of the main church was under renovation when we were there, but we were able to see most things.) And while it is easy to become jaded when it comes to Italian churches (there are just so many of them) these—particularly San Fermo—were some of my favorites from any of our Italian vacations.
From there we headed to the famous Ponte Pietra. This stone bridge from 100 BC(!) is not only the oldest bridge in the city; it is also the best place for taking photos of the beautiful Castel San Pietro. (You can also go to the castle and its rooftop terrace, but it looked rather far, so we didn’t.) Then we stopped at Gelateria Ponte Pietra before continuing our walk to Castelvecchio. There’s a museum inside, but we skipped it since it was getting late, and we wanted to spend some more time in Piazza Bra before heading home.
If you want to feel the magic of Verona, you could just sit here all day. Wide pedestrian streets, outdoor cafes, and a fountain that L could have watched all day, stand next to a (not-so-) miniature coliseum. Although it is somewhat smaller than the Colosseum in Rome, the Arena di Verona is much more impressive in my opinion. I just can’t get enough of the way it rises above the comparatively modern buildings that surround the piazza.
Our Return Visit
You know it’s been a good trip when you start planning your next one before you even get home. Which is precisely what we did as we drove back to Porcia.
Often these excited plans fade away as new destinations pull you toward them. But not in the case of Verona. Six months later we were back for a weekend of wine tasting and sightseeing. (And, of course, eating.)
For our day in Verona, L and I took the shuttle from our hotel, which dropped us off at Castelvecchio. By the time we got there, the little guy had fallen asleep, and I didn’t have his stroller or a carrier, so I awkwardly carried him through the streets in the direction of Piazza Bra. After he woke up, we spent a good half hour taking pictures with random people in front of the Arena and eating gelato while we waited for Fernando and Bella to arrive. Then we went to a recommended restaurant, Bottega del Vino, where Fernando and I shared a tasty braised beef cheek in Amarone sauce. Along with some pasta, of course.
After lunch, we decided to walk around Giardino Giusti. I hadn’t heard of these Italian Renaissance gardens before, but they turned out to be a perfect place to spend the afternoon. On the opposite side of the river from all the tourists, they were by no means empty, but they were quiet. L could have spent hours watching the turtles in the fountains and wandering through the hedge maze, but alas we eventually had to hurry him along. At the top of the gardens, there is a grotesque mask that once breathed fire—above it is a belvedere with lovely views of the city. Since we still haven’t checked out the view from the top of Torre dei Lamberti, we did this instead.
Practical Tips for Planning Your Trip
How Many Days Should We Spend in Verona?
One full day is sufficient to give you a nice taste of the city. The first time we went, we were there for about 5 hours (2 of which were spent eating lunch), and we left with a very strong desire to go back. Our second trip was about the same length, and while there are plenty of things we still haven’t seen, I don’t feel that we have to go to Verona on our next Italy trip.
Of course, based on all we haven’t done, I’d recommend two full days if you want to really see it and not just get a taste.
Where Else Should We Go?
Do you drink wine?
If you do, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Amarone. A traditional Northern Italian red, Amarone is from the region (Valpolicella) surrounding Verona. Wine tasting in Valpolicella is quite different than wine tasting in Sonoma or the Willamette Valley. Even wineries built close to their grapes aren’t the big estates I’d been to in other places. Tucked into residential neighborhoods, they were rather unassuming and almost out of place considering how close they were to medieval churches and other buildings.
During our second trip to Verona, we spent one day in Valpolicella visiting two wineries. The first, Remo Farina, has a long history but is also decidedly modern. With roots in the 16th century, Farina makes excellent Valpolicella and Amarone, but doesn’t limit itself to these traditional wines. Indeed, one of my favorites was the white “Apassilento” (“slow-paced”) although white wines are not typical of the region. After spending the morning touring the cellars and drinking wine, we headed to Trattoria dal Taio in nearby Parona. Recommended by our host, this trattoria specializes in Umbrian cuisine. If you go, be sure to get the strangozzi.
The second winery we went to was Speri. This is a very traditional wine made by one of the historical families of Valpolicella. Unlike Farina, Speri grows all their own grapes, and as of the 2015 vintage, they will be organic-certified. And as a bonus, they ship to Norway, so we’re looking forward to getting some more of their wines soon!
Or would you prefer to play in the water?
If it had been summer (and we’d had a few more days), we probably would have spent our time outside the city at Lago di Garda. Italy’s largest lake, this popular vacation destination features plenty for kids to do from boat rides to the Gardaland theme park.
Where Should We Stay?
If all you plan on doing is seeing the city, you can visit Verona as a day trip from Venice. Just make sure it’s a LONG day.
But if you want to slow down, there are plenty of places to stay in the area. On our second trip, we decided to stay at Byblos Art Hotel, which is located about 25 minutes from Verona city center. The most colorful hotel we’ve ever stayed at, it’s not perfect (the beds are hard and it’s near the train tracks) but its worth the trade-offs for a short (1-2 night) stay. It’s particularly convenient for wine tasting (the wineries are only about 15 minutes away) and there is a free shuttle to the city center. Oh, and the eggs at breakfast (you have to order them, they aren’t on the buffet) were some of the freshest, most flavorful chicken eggs I’ve ever had.
If you would rather spend a few days at Lake Garda, this Kid & Coe property looks like a good (and very affordable!) option.
What Two Things Shouldn’t We Miss?
Deciding what to do with your precious time when you have a little one can be hard. You don’t want to rush them when they are delighting in turtles, but you also want to see some sights. That’s why we like to pick the two things we most want to do before going to a destination. While we’re always able to see more, this prioritization is excellent for avoiding FOMO.
So of all the things above, what are the two things we most recommend to you?
It would be challenging to go to Verona and NOT see the Arena from the outside. And you may decide that’s enough. (We did.) But do make sure to take some time to wander around and enjoy it.
If you would like to go inside, you have a couple of options. Year-round, you can go inside for 10 euro (free for children under 7). Alternatively, if you are visiting in the summer and don’t have an early bedtime to accommodate, you can go to a show.
- Ponte Pietra and Castel San Pietro
“When we think of Italy, this is what comes to our minds.” So said a blog post I read recently. I couldn’t agree more. The view of this fortress from across the river is one of two images of Verona that is always with me. (The other is the Arena in the distance as we walked towards Piazza Bra.) And as an added bonus, walking between the Arena and the bridge will take you past many of the city’s other sights, giving you plenty of opportunities to stop and see whatever strikes your fancy.
Where Should We Eat?
It’s safe to say that we didn’t have a bad meal (or gelato) in Verona. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a favorite. If you have time, do yourself a favor and drive to Trattoria dal Taio. It will be well worth it.
Have you been to Verona? What was your favorite thing to see or do?