Piazza delle Erbe
This beautiful square is right at the heart of Verona’s historic center, so there really is no excuse not to wander through. Take in the beautiful architecture of the square, including the town hall (on the north side), with its impressive Torre dei Lamberti, the intricately frescoed walls of the Mazzanti houses, the Palazzo Maffei, completed in the Baroque style (recognized by its statues of the Greek gods) and the oldest piece in the square: the fountain. It features a statue of Madonna Verona, which actually dates back the time of Roman rule. Piazza delle Erbe also has a few restaurants and bars dotted around – that is, if you don’t mind paying the tourist premium.
Hidden only a few hundred meters away from Piazza delle Erbe, Juliet’s balcony is the reason most tourists flock to Verona, the city of tragic love stories. Shakespeare did indeed take inspiration for his famous play from a true story of family rivalry, forbidden love and feuding, all of which happened in Verona during the 1300s. The names Montecchi and Capuleti (from which we get the Capulets and Montagues) were at the time genuine rival political factions, and it is possible to visit their respective houses as well. The love story between Romeo and Juliet has long been popular in Verona, and Shakespeare was just one of many playwrights to jump on the bandwagon and put his own spin on it. In the Casa di Giulietta museum (which includes Juliet’s balcony), there are extracts from a number of different sources and performances which help tell the tale to visitors. During high season, it is best to visit first thing in the morning to be able to take some time over the exhibitions. It is possible to see the balcony without entering the museum, but true fans will want to be able to pose on it for themselves!
This gigantic piece of Roman architecture is situated in the comically named Piazza della Bra and is truly unmissable, not least because it’s so big. From June to September the arena plays host to the Arena Opera Festival, featuring famous operas such as Orff’s Carmina Burrana and Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia to name just a few. In its heyday (circa 130-1100 AD), the arena could seat 30,000 spectators and was one of the biggest of its kind in the world. The games featured here were often so spectacular that Verona attracted a large and impressive crowd of visitors who came to attend.
Older than the arena, completed in 100BC, the Teatro Romano is now all but a set of ruins, some of which have been partially reconstructed to be functional as a cultural center during the summer period. The site includes the semi-circular seating area which is easily accessible and close to the river, and then a more expansive area of Roman ruins which are set into the hillside behind the theater itself. The view from the top is of the famous Ponte Pietro bridge as well as the beautiful red-tile roofs of the town. Definitely worth a visit, though there is little or no information given about the ruins; you just have to have a sense of imagination and history as you wander its confines!
Situated on what was probably once a Roman fortress site just outside of the city walls, the Castelvecchio is a square-shaped fort which was the most powerful military construction in this area during the Middle Ages. Although not particularly decorative (it was designed to be functional, after all), the castle is now home to the Castelvecchio Museum and Gallery. The castle and museum can be easily accessed from the town and are perfect for half a day’s entertainment in Verona.
Slightly further out from the town (and up a bit of a hill) are the beautiful Giardino Giusti. Planted by the Giusti family in the 1400s, the gardens, grottoes and fountains here have been landscaped into and onto the hillside, providing a peaceful, intriguing and relaxing place to visit. They have long been a tourist attraction, with the likes of Goethe and Mozart both coming to spend time wandering through and taking inspiration. Arguably the best view of Verona is to be had here, and the gardens are an excellent place to spend an afternoon, take a picnic, and hear the church bells chime in the early evening.
Torre dei Lamberti
Back in the town (in fact in the Piazza delle Erbe again), the Torre dei Lamberti is one of the only remaining towers in Verona, each of which would originally have displayed the wealth and importance of a particular aristocratic family. This tower was started in 1171, but was continually built upon, giving it that peculiar look; the newest part is the marble on top. Such towers would have helped to organize city life during the Middle Ages, with one bell (the Marangona) ringing to signal the end of the working day, or to alert citizens to a fire, and the second bell (the Rengo) ringing to summon war councils.
Shopping in the Centro Storico
Maybe it’s the Italian love of all things beautiful and fashionable, but the shopping scene in Verona is superb! The centro storico (old town) is home to one main shopping street (Via Mazzini), which has everything from H&M to Valentino. There are also a number of really funky Italian or Central European high-street shops which are largely unavailable in the UK or USA (such as Calzedonia and Stradivarius), selling a huge variety of creatively designed and patterned clothing products. This is the place to splash out, grab a coffee and wander!
Castel St Pietro
For an afternoon walk, head up the hill behind Ponte Pietro (take the steps next to the Teatro Romano), towards Castel St Pietro, a mysterious and seemingly abandoned fort that has the most beautiful tree-lined avenues surrounding it. Every imagined picture of Italy features these cypress trees and this place doesn’t disappoint! After taking pictures of the view over the city, head behind the fort into the valley and have a leisurely walk back down, admiring the hairpin bends in the road and enjoying the slightly more suburban area of Verona.
Piazza dei Signori
This piazza is easily and often overlooked but was once very important for the governing of the city of Verona, not to mention an intricately structured and beautiful square in its own right. The square features a number of high arches and the monument of Dante, as well as all the major buildings of the former city council, such as the courts and the seat of power of the ruling family of the time, the Scaligers. Worth a quick look (just a few meters from the Piazza delle Erbe), this Piazza is both a place of history and of beauty.
By Liz English