If you come here to see Juliet’s balcony, you’ll be going home talking about everything else, says Alice Mulhearn, as she guides us through one of the world’s most romantic cities…
In Verona there is a golden hour. It starts at around 6 o’clock – later during the languorous days of summer. Bathed in the gilded light of dusk, the squares fill with spritz-drinking couples and elderly locals on a pre-dinner passeggiata. In Piazza Erbe, the bell tolls, glasses chink, and Verona truly comes to life.
Contrary to her literary reputation, Verona is not a city caught in the wild throes of love, but one that drips with old-time romance. Her summer opera, world-famous balcony and Renaissance galleries bring in the tourists – but it’s her secret gardens, underground remains, and hidden churches that offer the most mystique. Even the Veronesi remain resolutely in love with their city, despite the centuries of soppiness and Shakespeare. Sit down for an aperitivo with a local and they’ll talk dreamily of Ponte Pietra at sunset, or of driving out to Lake Garda for an evening swim. They’ll tell you about the grandeur of the summer opera, or, if you’re lucky, give directions to the town’s best gelateria. Verona, they’ll tell you, is the most romantic city in the world. And love bird or not, you may find yourself agreeing with them.
Best of the Beaten Track
Most visitors to Verona head straight for Juliet’s balcony, but this mythologised site shouldn’t be at the top of your itinerary. Instead, soak up the hustle and bustle of the city with a cappuccino on Piazza Bra – Verona’s unofficial arrival hall. Here, medieval walls stand side to side with Renaissance architecture, but it’s the Roman amphitheatre that steals the show. Better preserved than Rome’s famous offering, the Arena is well worth a visit – especially as a 10 euro ticket gives you free reign to explore every detail of the amphitheatre. You won’t get that at the Colosseum.
Next, hit the streets and shoot for Piazza delle Erbe. You can get there via Via Mazzini, Verona’s best shopping street, or take a stroll through the city’s interlocking streets, ducking into Verona’s many small churches on the way. After all, there are worse fates that getting hopelessly lost in the streets of Verona. Now’s the time to check out Juliet’s balcony. Whether or not this was actually the meeting place of the star-crossed lovers is debatable, but copping a feel of a bronze Juliet’s breast makes for a mandatory photo.
For a view of Verona’s famous red rooftops and campanile, climb Torre dei Lamberti, just off Piazza delle Erbe. Before leaving the square in search of the breathtaking Ponte Pietra, make sure you take a peek at the whale rib hanging from Arco della Costa. Legend has it that the bone will drop on the first person to never tell a lie.
If you’re after a touch of culture, you have to take a visit to Castelvecchio – an imposing castle containing a wonderful museum and gallery. Look out for the collection of pre-Renaissance art by Canaletto, Tiepolo and Tintoretto.
Verona is mercifully free of any achingly cool districts. Instead, Italian youth drink alongside glamorous pensioners in the main piazzas, and the best attractions are still populated by the city’s down-to-earth locals.
As with most Italian cities, for a true taste of the passionate, romantic and devout character of the city, you’ve got to head to church. The cathedral is the most visited site, but the swirling frescoes of Santa Anastasia, the elaborate funerary monument of Santa Maria Antica, and the cloisters of San Zeno, make these churches the city’s most beloved.
For a completely unique side of Verona, you’ll need to head underground. Like many Italian towns, Verona is made up of many layers, each revealing a different slice of history. You’ll stumble across excavation sites across the city, but the only way you’ll get to properly explore these underground streets is with a guided tour.
Finally, forget Juliet’s balcony, Giardini del Gusto – a beautifully landscaped Renaissance garden – is truly the city’s most romantic spot. A near-deserted oasis at dusk, the gardens should be followed by a stroll across the banks of the Adige as the sun sets behind Ponte Pietra. For an unbeatable view of Verona climb through the cypresses to Castel San Pietro, a stone’s throw from the Roman theatre. Speaking of which make sure you catch one of the many open-air performances during the summer – remember to bring along a nice bottle of local prosecco too.
Experience & Events
From the Festival of Love (timed for Valentine’s Day) to the Carnivale, a weekend rarely goes by when Verona is not in the midst of a festival. One of the most magical is the festival of Santa Lucia – a celebration of Saint Lucy, who brings gifts for the city’s children on 13th December. The feast day is marked with a sprawling market in Piazza Bra, selling everything from toys to local sweets. After a bit of retail therapy, warm yourself up with a cup of hot vin brule in the German Christmas market in Piazza Dante.
A trip to the Arena Opera is a must during the summer months. Seats vary hugely in price and comfort, so make sure you rent a cushion if you opt for the bare stone steps at the back of the Arena. Even so, sore bums are a small price to pay for the impressive spectacle. For foodies, make sure you book yourself onto a walking food and drink tour. Led by a food-obsessed local, it’s the best way to uncover the city’s gastronomic gems – and you definitely won’t come back hungry.
A few years ago the grand opening of Il Sogno di Giulietta – a luxury hotel located opposite Juliet’s house – was met with squeals of glee from lovesick tourists everywhere. But Verona has more than its fair share of affordable, yet romantic, accommodation. If you like your hostels with a side of Italian grandeur, pick the Villa Francescatti hostel – a breathtaking 16th century villa 20 minutes walk from the city centre. Although night owls be warned – there is a strict midnight curfew. Another cheap and cheerful option is Casa Coloniale. Located in Piazza delle Erbe, this stylish B&B is only a hop, skip and jump away from Verona’s best bars and restaurants. For the perfect romantic getaway, stay at Casa e Natura. This three bed B&B prides itself on being as eco-friendly as it is luxurious. Everything from the soap to the bed linen is organic, not forgetting the sumptuous breakfast served in a shaded garden.
Locals will tell you that Verona is an altar to some of the country’s finest food, and I’m not about to argue with them. Home to creamy risotto, buttery pandoro, and polenta so thick you can stand your fork up in it, the Veronese cuisine comes into its prime in the cold winter months, when a craving for all things carbohydrate comes a’calling. For a real taste of Verona, head to Hosteria La Vecchia Fontanina and order bollito misto con pearà – a selection of boiled meats with a bone marrow and breadcrumb sauce. If boiled tongue isn’t quite your thing, stop by Hosteria Il Punto Rossa, a lively restaurant just off Piazza Bra that has the best (and cheapest) set menu in town. And for breakfast, don’t miss the pastries at Caffe Wallner. Full to bursting with sweet pistachio cream, these brioches will put you in a blissful stupor before the day’s even begun.
The sun doesn’t have to be over the yardarm to enjoy a drink or two in Verona. The Veronesi love their spritz – a bitter mix of aperol and prosecco – and will happily drink them from morning to nigh. Do as the locals do and sip your spritz in Piazza delle Erbe before grabbing a bite to eat. Or, kill two birds with one stone and seek out one of the many bars that offer stuzzichini – a free buffet to accompany your drink. One of Verona’s cosiest bars can be found steps from Piazza Bra at Vini Zampiera alla Mandola. Serving excellent wine alongside delicious bar snacks of arancini and local ham, this snug wine bar is not to be missed. For a relaxed night of live jazz and good wine, book a table at Cantina del’Arena – an unexpected delight in the centre of the city. If you’re up for something a bit more lively, head to Alter Ego, where you can dance the night away on a starlit terrace.
Getting There & Around
Getting to Verona from the UK is exceptionally easy, with Ryanair, Easyjet, Monarch and British Airways all serving the city’s Valerio Catullo airport. From there, it’s either a 15 minute taxi ride or bus journey away from the city centre. Many visitors take a day trip to Verona from Venice – a feasible option considering the train journey is only around an hour on the high speed rail, and an hour and a half on the regional trains. The train station is a 20 minute walk from Piazza Bra, or hop on one of the many buses heading towards Porta Nuova.
Veronissima is a hub for all thing Verona. As well as offering a huge range of guided tours, the site offers some great info on the local cuisine, cultural festivals and history of the city. To get all the latest info on events and ideas for trips further afield, check out Verona’s official tourist website.
For an insight into Verona’s quirky side, get hold of Venice and Verona for the Shameless Hedonist – an endearing little guide that does exactly what it says on the tin. Of course, no trip to Verona would be complete without a reading of Romeo and Juliet. So what if Shakespeare never actually set foot in Verona? Over the centuries his plays have helped shape the character of the city – reason enough to dust off your copy of his most tragic play. Iambic pentameter not really your thing? Romeo and Juliet vs. Zombies is an outrageous (and surprisingly good) take on the classic tale.
Verona is the true star of Letters to Juliet (2010). More than making up for the creaky plot line, the panoramas of the sun-soaked city and her surrounding countryside completely steal the show. A Little Romance (1979), one of Olivier’s lesser known movies, is also partly set in Verona. In a nod to the city’s famous star-crossed lovers, a teenage couple run away to Italy to elope, but their plans are thwarted by their disapproving parents. Definitely worth a watch, of only for an insight into vintage Verona.
Soundtrack to the City
We selected Verona as one of our favourite destinations for a romantic city break abroad! Read the article for other perfect getaways for amorous couples…
Feature photo by Barnyz.