Cited by UNESCO for its outstanding architectural landmarks dating from ancient Rome through the Renaissance, Verona is a place where the past becomes the present, in both headline-making and everyday ways. The city’s extraordinary Roman-era amphitheater hosts a world-famous opera festival each summer, this year marking its 100th anniversary, and the two-thousand-year-old forum, today the Piazza delle Erbe, remains a vital hub for urban life.
Here are reasons to check out Verona now.
The don’t-miss opera
For those in search of indelible travel experiences, it’s hard to beat attending an open-air performance at the Arena di Verona, the former Roman amphitheater that was once the site of grisly gladiator combat. You can count on gentler fare (even with some fierce opera plotlines) as the Arena, which dates from the first century, stages the 100th anniversary of its summer festival this June through September, with favorites like Aida, Carmen, Nabucco, La Traviata, Madame Butterfly and the Barber of Seville. The amphitheater, which can accommodate some 15,000 spectators (make sure to book a cushioned seat), is steeped not only in Roman history, but has also been the site of legendary opera moments—the great Maria Callas made her debut in 1947, and mega-stars like Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras hit plenty of high notes here.
It’s heaven for bibliophiles: Verona has the oldest library in the world.
Biblioteca Capitolare di Verona, located in the Piazza Duomo, dates at least from the 6th century A.D. (possibly earlier). Miraculously surviving barbarian invasions during the Middle Ages, earthquakes, floods and bombing in WW2, the biblioteca drew illustrious literati like Petrarch and likely Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy), along with Charlemagne’s son,Pepin. To visit you will need to book a guided tour.
Take in a sweep of architectural history while people-watching in the main piazza.
One of the most welcoming squares in Italy, Piazza delle Erbe (or, more prosaically in English, “herb square”) was named for its origins as a produce market in the late Middle Ages, which it remains to this day. (There are also stalls selling a variety of wares from small leather goods to souvenirs.) The piazza stands on what was the forum in Roman times, and has remained the center of Veronese life for two millennia. It’s also prime people-watching territory, as both locals and out-of-towners fill the piazza’s outdoor cafes late morning to midnight, even when the weather is nippy. (At night the caffès are magnets for twenty-somethings.) Don’t miss
the Casa Mazzanti Caffè, in an historic building with Renaissance-era frescoes. Order a caffè macchiato or an Aperol Spritz and take in the scene while admiring the notable architecture, like the medieval Casa dei Mercanti and the Baroque Palazzo Maffei.
Art from ancient Rome to Warhol
Whether your interests run from antique sculpture to Picasso, Verona has a niche museum for you, hosting collections that entice rather than overwhelm. The Archeological Museum at the Roman Theater, devoted to Roman-era artifacts in Verona and nearby territories, contains pieces ranging from bronzes and statues to everyday artifacts depicting ancient life. The exhibit, “Animals in the Ancient World,” will run through October 1, 2023.
A long-time Verona landmark and monument to the ephemeral nature of power, Castelvecchio was the ruling Della Scala family’s stronghold in the 1300s, a military outpost during Venetian rule, a garrison for Napoleon and later Austrian troops. It is now the site of a museum with works by Giovanni Bellini, Tintoretto, Tiepolo and Veronese, which provdes good views of the city and Adige River.
The Maffei Palace, one of Italy’s newest museums, was once owned by an area aristocrat; although construction began in the 15th century, it was completed nearly two hundred years later, hence the fanciful Baroque facade. Recently, businessman and philanthropist Luigi Carlon donated his art and furniture collection to Maffei. Among the 350 pieces are paintings by Picasso, De Chirico and Warhol, along with historic Veronese works, which are displayed among period furniture and decorative objects reaching to ancient times.
Explore the cluster of great churches.
Verona has a cathedral complex, a compound of ecclesiastical structures with parts dating to the paleo-Christian era. The main cathedral (Santa Maria Matricolare) beautifully blends Romanesque and Gothic elements, and houses the renowned Titian work, The Assumption. Attached to the cathedral are two other churches, San Giovanni in Fonte with a masterful sculpted baptistery, and the Church of St. Elena with archaeological remains from Verona’s first (4th century) Christian basilica. A short walk from the cathedral is the Gothic Basilica of Sant’ Anastasia, built in the 13th and 14th centuries with the support of the ruling Della Scala family. Highlights include the glorious frescoed ceiling and Pisanello fresco.
Experience the robust food and wine culture.
Verona sits close to prime wine territories producing well-known reds like Valpolicella, Bardolino and Amarone; such whites as Soave and Lugana; and the sparklers Franciacorta and prosecco, so there are plenty of well-priced wines to sample. In many parts of Italy first courses will lean more to either pasta or risotto, but you can find a nice mix of both in Verona, for example, risottos with radicchio or made with Amarone, and pasta in the form of tortelli and tortellini (filled with cheese or meat). Sample authentic Verona cooking at an osteria—the city has a long history with this kind of eatery, which typically serves local wines and popular traditional or rustic dishes. If you are renting an apartment, head to one of the city’s gourmet delis, like Salumeria Albertini, fronted by a light-blue facade from the 1930s, and Gastronomia Stella, both conveniently in the historic center, to load up on local cheeses, salamis or prepared items to take home.
Sweet lovers should make time for stops at such historic pastry shops as Pasticceria Perlini, presenting endless ways to eat into your resolve with 50 varieties of cream pastry and 80 types of cake. At Pasticceria Barini Coffee Shop don’t miss the Sbrisolana, a crumble cake with almonds, popular in the region, and the stuffed brioche with sweet (jam, chocolate, pistachio) and savory (prosciutto and cheese) fillings. Dolce Locanda is known for many temptations, including panettone; the local specialty cake, pandoro; Bovolone (a type of pandoro); focacce and millefoglie.
Live the history.
The Hotel Due Torri is a grand, five-star property with an unbeatable location (Piazza Sant’Anastasia), an extraordinary guest book and intriguing past. With a history that stretches back to the Middle Ages—a palazzo was first built on the site in the 14th century—it became a place for travelers to stay in 1674. Mozart himself was a guest, and in recent times other music megastars like Pavarotti, Springsteen and Sting booked here. The hotel has also been the setting for history-making events: Giuseppe Garibaldi, a leader for Italian unification in the 19th century, spoke to the town from one of the hotel’s balconies, and an exiled French king, Louis XVIII was crowned on the premises.
Due Torri, a short walk to the Piazza delle Erbe and about a 10-to-15-minute stroll along the Adige River to the Arena, has 89 rooms and suites furnished with period antiques (Empire and Biedermeier), fabric wallpaper, Murano lamps and chandeliers, linen sheets, parquet floors, and marble bathrooms. The hotel’s marble lobby, where you’ll find the bar and restaurant, is enormous, and becomes a magnet for those in town for Vinitaly or the opera season. There’s also has a rooftop terrace and restaurant.
Make a romantic pilgrimage.
Romeo and Juliet were fictional characters, their ill-fated romance depicted in various forms in the 1500s before Shakespeare put quill pen to paper and set his play in Verona, even though it’s doubtful he ever came to town. Dante Alighieri, who did spend time in Verona, wrote about feuding local aristocratic families, the Montecchi (Montagues) and Cappelletti (Capulets) in The Divine Comedy (but not Romeo and Juliet). Another family may have been the source of Juliet’s surname, the Del Cappellos, whose 13th century house is now a museum, the Casa di Giulietta, and one of Verona’s most popular attractions. Its Juliet Balcony is an Instagram favorite, and one floor has costumes from Franco Zeffirelli’s movie about the star-crossed lovers.
For more information about Verona: VisitVerona.it. While Verona is an easy city to navigate, a good guide can make sure you hit all the high points, especially when time is limited. (A special thanks to Katia Galvetto of Juliet & Co. for showing me so many interesting aspects of her wonderful city.)
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