In the heart of Italy, nestled among hills and vineyards, you'll find Verona, the setting for William Shakespeare's tragic play "Romeo and Juliet." Of course, the city is famous for much more than that. As the sun bathes the terracotta rooftops in golden light, Verona awakens to embrace its role as the sanctuary for lovers. So, let's explore the city's most captivating attractions.
Map - Where Is Verona?
Verona is located in northern Italy, in the Veneto region, along the banks of the Adige River. It's approximately 120 kilometres west of Venice and 40 kilometres from Lake Garda. The city lies at the foot of the Italian Alps, which stretch northward. While towering mountains do not surround Verona, you'll find several hills beyond its borders. Notable hills include the western Torricelle, which offers breathtaking views, and the eastern Montorio. Distance from Other Cities:
You can take a high-speed train from Rome to Verona. The journey takes around 2.5 to 3 hours, and there are frequent departures. Several bus companies operate long-distance routes between the two cities. The travel time can vary, but it typically takes 4 to 5 hours by bus.
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Verona comprises 23 districts divided into four historical sections, nine modern neighbourhoods, and ten suburban sections. Our article will primarily focus on the historic districts, home to most of the city's attractions.
- Antica (Città Antica): The historical centre of the city, Città Antica, is a charming neighbourhood filled with ancient Roman ruins, medieval architecture, and bustling squares. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the Verona Arena, Piazza delle Erbe, and Juliet's House.
- Cittadella: Named after a defensive fortress built here in the late 14th century during the brief Visconti rule, the Cittadella district is a lively area with bustling squares, green spaces, and museums.
- San Zeno: Located south of the city centre, the San Zeno district is known for the stunning San Zeno Maggiore Basilica, one of Verona's most influential churches. The area exudes a peaceful and authentic atmosphere.
- Veronetta: Situated east of the Adige River, Veronetta is a bohemian and artistic district with narrow streets and a calm atmosphere. It's a great place to experience local life and discover hidden gems.
Romeo and Juliet
Did you know that Shakespeare never visited Verona? He wrote the play while living in England. The association of Verona with his play is purely artistic and literary. So, why did he choose Verona?
- The Romance of Italy: In Shakespeare's time, Italy was often associated with romance, art, and passionate love. Setting the play in Verona played into this romantic Italian notion, which was appealing to his audience.
- Italian Culture: Verona, as an Italian city, provides a rich cultural backdrop for the story. Shakespeare incorporated Italian names, customs, and references, adding an exotic and foreign flavour to the narrative.
- Tale of Tragic Love: Verona had a genuine history of romantic tragedies and ill-fated love stories. By placing the play in Verona, Shakespeare leveraged the city's reputation in love and tragedy to intensify the story's emotional impact.
- Source Material Influence: Shakespeare's play was inspired by various earlier works and legends. Some sources had already set the story in Italy, and Shakespeare likely followed this tradition.
Juliet's House (Casa di Giulietta)
Juliet's House is one of the city's most famous attractions, drawing thousands of tourists. It is deeply intertwined with the legendary story of William Shakespeare. Although no historical evidence supports Romeo and Juliet's existence, the house's legend has persisted for centuries. The most renowned part of Juliet's House is the balcony, which is believed to be where Juliet spoke with Romeo.
The city offers many attractions, combining historical sites, cultural venues, and picturesque surroundings. Here are some of the most popular ones:
Verona Arena (Arena di Verona)
Built in the 1st century during the reign of Emperor Augustus, it was initially used for various public spectacles, including gladiator contests and theatrical performances. It can accommodate up to 30,000 spectators and is one of the largest arenas in Italy. Today, it is primarily used for opera performances, concerts, and other cultural events. It has become one of the world's most renowned open-air opera venues, attracting thousands of visitors annually. Its acoustics are remarkable, and the setting offers a unique and unforgettable experience for performers and audiences.
Piazza delle Erbe
It is one of the most charming and vibrant squares in the city's historic centre. It is lined with beautiful medieval and Renaissance buildings. Prominent structures include the impressive tower of Palazzo Maffei, the unique clocktower of Casa dei Mazzanti, and the ancient fountain known as Madonna Verona.
Castelvecchio, which means "old castle" in Italian, is a medieval fortress in the city, originally built as a defensive structure. It features impressive walls, colonnades, and towers, including the Mastio Tower, which provides beautiful city views. The castle was constructed from red brick and was strategically designed to withstand sieges and attacks. Today, it operates as a museum, housing an extensive collection of artworks.
Ponte Pietra, meaning the Stone Bridge, is one of the city's oldest and most picturesque bridges. It was initially known as Pons Marmoreus (the Marble Bridge) during Roman times due to its marble decorations. It served as an important crossing point. Throughout its history, it faced numerous challenges, including natural disasters and wars.
The most devastating event occurred during World War II when retreating German troops blew up a significant portion of the bridge in 1945. However, Veronese citizens were committed to restoring the bridge to its former glory using the salvaged original stones from the river. Today, it is used exclusively as a pedestrian bridge.
Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore
The basilica's construction began in the 9th century, although the church has undergone several renovations and expansions over the centuries. It is dedicated to San Zeno, the patron saint of Verona. The church features a Romanesque architectural style with a stunning facade adorned with three portals intricately carved with bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the Bible and various saints.
Above the central portal, there's a rose window that adds to the grandeur of the church. Its interior is equally captivating, with beautiful frescoes adorning the nave and an intricately designed wooden ceiling that is a work of art in itself. One of the highlights is the bronze door of the basilica's crypt, known as the "Porta dei Leoni" (Lions' Door), adorned with biblical scenes and symbols. The crypt is also home to the tomb of San Zeno, making it an important pilgrimage site for many Catholics.
A magnificent Renaissance garden, one of the city's most beautiful and well-preserved historic green spaces, offers visitors a serene and enchanting oasis. It was originally designed and established as a private garden for the Giusti family, Verona's noble family. The park follows the classic Italian Renaissance style with an elegant, symmetrical layout.
An ancient basilica dating back to the 4th century is named after Saint Anastasia of Sirmium, a Christian martyr. Its architectural design harmoniously combines Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance elements, providing a home to various valuable artworks from different periods.
A medieval tower that has been a significant part of Verona's skyline for centuries, offering a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and its surroundings. The tower was originally built in the 12th century as a watchtower for observation and defence. It follows a Romanesque architectural style with Gothic elements and stands approximately 84 meters tall with an octagonal base.
Also known as the Scaliger Tombs, this group of Gothic funerary monuments was commissioned by the powerful Scaligeri family, who ruled Verona in the 13th and 14th centuries. They were prominent lords of the city and left a lasting impact on its history and architecture. The monuments were built to serve as the final resting place for members of the Scaligeri family.
Within the Arche Scaligere, you can find a total of five tombs, with the most famous one being the tomb of the family's most renowned figure, Cangrande I della Scala, as well as the resting place of Mastino II della Scala. These tombs are highly elaborate, adorned with statues of the deceased lords and intricate decorations.
A Roman theatre, an ancient theatre, and one of the city's most important archaeological sites. It could accommodate up to 5,000 spectators and served as the old city's central cultural and entertainment hub. Its semi-circular structure is built into a hillside, providing excellent acoustics. Today, it functions as a museum.
San Fermo Maggiore
A Roman Catholic church that combines two separate churches, creating a unique and remarkable architectural complex. Initially, these churches were dedicated to the martyred saints Saint Fermo and Saint Rustico. They coexisted side by side, but in the 16th century, they were merged into the single basilica that is visible today.
One of its highlights is the Cappella dei Notai, a chapel adorned with frescoes depicting the life of Saint Fermo. These frescoes were created by the renowned artist Pisanello in the 15th century. It is an architectural masterpiece and holds religious significance and cultural heritage. The unique combination of Romanesque and Gothic elements, beautiful frescoes, and historical value make it a captivating destination.
An ancient Roman gate that served as one of the main entrances to the old city, known in Roman times as "Verona Augusta." The gate was a part of the city's defensive walls and a crucial access point for travellers and goods entering and leaving the city. Built from local limestone blocks, it features a massive arch. It is a beloved sight for history enthusiasts and tourists alike.
Duomo di Verona
Also known as Santa Maria Matricolare Cathedral. Its construction began in the 12th century on an existing Christian basilica site. The cathedral blends Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architectural elements. Its facade features a magnificent rose window and intricate sculptures depicting biblical scenes and figures.
The cathedral's interior is adorned with beautiful frescoes in the nave, and the main altar is a finely crafted masterpiece. One of the significant elements of the cathedral is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a Renaissance-style marble altarpiece.
The city hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, including the Verona Opera Festival at the Arena, which is internationally renowned. The Verona Christmas Market is a nationally celebrated event, as are Vinitaly (one of Italy's most important wine fairs) and the Verona in Love festival, dedicated to love.
Near the city, numerous natural attractions offer beautiful landscapes and outdoor activities. Here are some notable ones, all within an hour's drive:
- Lake Garda (40 km): Italy's largest lake, the stunning Lago di Garda, is less than an hour away. With its crystal-clear waters, palm-lined shores, and snow-capped peaks surrounding the lake, it provides breathtaking views that are almost unique worldwide.
- Valpolicella wine region (20 km): Just half an hour north lies Valpolicella, famous for its vineyards and wine production. The rolling hills and charming villages make it an excellent destination for wine enthusiasts and those seeking a peaceful getaway.
- Lessinia Regional Park (55 km): A nature reserve characterized by its karst formations, rocky plateaus, and deep gorges. The park offers opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and discovering unique geological features. It is reachable by car in about an hour.
- Parco delle Cascate di Molina (35 km): A natural park featuring waterfalls, caves, and rich vegetation. It's an excellent place for nature lovers, with hiking trails leading to beautiful viewpoints.
The history of the city began around the Roman era. Originally inhabited by a Celtic tribe called the Euganei, it later became a Roman settlement. Under Roman rule, it prospered and became an important centre.
During the Middle Ages, it developed into a powerful city-state ruled by various noble families. In the 15th century, it came under the dominion of the Republic of Venice, and during this time, Venetian styles influenced the city's architecture and layout.
In the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic era, Verona came under French control. After Napoleon's fall, the city became part of the Austrian Empire and, later, part of the Kingdom of Italy during the Italian unification.
Today, it continues to be a popular tourist destination, welcoming visitors with its rich history, romantic charm, and cultural diversity. It's considered a place where love blooms like fragrant roses that adorn its streets, offering a magical setting for heartfelt confessions and exploration of the surrounding area.
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