Things To Do In Verona Off The Beaten Path
Verona, Italy. Maybe you’ve heard of it? If you have, you’ve likely seen something about how it’s the city that inspired Shakespeare’s Rome and Juliet. Perhaps you read somewhere that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage city. However you ended up on Verona, the important next step is that you make plans to visit.
After years of travel around the world, I can confidently say that Verona is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It feels like you’re walking in a painting with its history stretching over 2,000 years evident in the densely-packed, astonishingly well-maintained buildings packed into 77 square miles.
I stayed in Verona for the better part of a week in November, snatching up an affordable AirBnB with the Adige River flowing within eyesight of my second-floor window. (Usually, I prefer hotels, but the AirBnB was just as nice as a modest hotel room and much more affordable over multiple days.) Most locals — and indeed, travel guides — will tell you that Verona can be done in a day or two. For the most part, I agree, but for the additional extra days I stayed in Verona, it served as a convenient home-base as I traveled around northern Italy by train (which is another reason to visit Verona). It’s an opportunity to further explore a region of Italy that’s far less romanticized than the rest of the country, ironically so considering the Romeo and Juliet connection.
Below, we’ll run through some things to do in Verona, how to get around, and what to do before you visit Verona.
First thing’s first — walk. Verona is a walking city. You might not initially get that impression walking out of Porta Nuova, Verona’s central station, thanks to the number of times you need to cross wide thoroughfares to make any progress, but things change drastically as you shuffle closer to the city center. You’ll pass underneath the stone arches of I portoni della Brà and the pedestrian paradise begins with Piazza Brà closed off to vehicular traffic. The centerpiece of this area is Arena di Verona or the Verona Arena. You’d be forgiven for getting flashbacks of the Roman Collesium. Arena di Verona was designed with its famous cousin in mind, but noticeably much smaller. Its smaller size, however, doesn’t seem to scare off tourists. Though lines and crowds were far more manageable in the late fall, a local told me that lines stretch all across the piazza during peak tourist season in the summer.
Castel San Pietro
Continuing with the walking theme, drop your bags at your hotel, head across the pedestrian-only Ponte Pietra, and hike up to Castel San Pietro. It’s a bit of a climb that’ll get the heart pumping, but nothing overly strenuous for anyone in relatively good shape. Once you’re at the top, you’ll get arguably the best aerial view of Verona and see for yourself why it’s a UNESCO-protected city. Heading to Castel San Pietra from the train station will take you through the city and from this vantage point, you can get a better sense of the city.
Shopping in Verona
Via Giuseppe Mazzini connects to Piazza Brà along the northern edge of the Verona Arena. This is the primary commercial shopping street of Verona with your popular, designer brands lighting up the pedestrian street with their storefronts. I won’t pass myself off as a shopper or one who knows a lick about the various brands that line this street, but I’m happy to rely on locals here who passed on that this is the place to go for anyone interested in shopping in Verona. For everyone else, it’s an aesthetically nicer take on the obligatory European shopping street that will connect you to lesser-populated corners of the city.
The street dead-ends at Via Cappello where just around the corner you can find Casa di Giulietta — the house of Juliet. Yes, that Juliet. I can honestly say I did not walk down the alley to visit. One, it’s not terribly off the beaten path, and though I’m a firm believer that some tourist attractions are attractions for a reason, this piece of history just didn’t do it for me. Plus, if you do a Google Streetview of the area, you can see the mob of tourists and that’s enough to keep me away. (Granted, like all things tourism in the fall, it was nowhere near as crowded as the summer pictures indicate.)
I’ve yet to have a disappointing meal in Italy and Verona remains no exception. Though it should be mentioned that northern Italian cuisine, particularly that of Verona, is different than central or southern Italy. You can get your pasta and sauce, but Veronese Cuisine and that of the Veneto state have something on the menu that might surprise some North American travelers. I’m talking about horse. They eat horse here and have been for centuries.
If you find that surprising or even disgusting, that’s fine, but keep your opinions to yourself. What animals we choose to eat and protect is in many ways arbitrary. Just look for the word “cavallo” on the menu and stay away.
Now for some actual restaurants, I started off at La Pizzeria Nazionale following a local recommendation. Here you’ll get your traditional Italian, flatbread pizza. It’s also far enough away from the tourist hubbub surrounding the arena that it’s easy to get in, order, and enjoy.
Nearby you’ll also find Osteria Sottoriva, which I found right on the gorgeous Via Sottoriva just steps away from my AirBnB. There are a number of small, low-key restaurants on this cobblestone thoroughfare and I went in on a whim. If you’re looking for that quiet, dimly lit, romantic Italian ambiance, this is it. It’s a small joint with just a handful of tables illuminated by candlelight. Add a glass of Valpolicella (Veronese wine) to the mix and it doesn’t get more idyllic than that.
Osteria Dogana Vecia felt especially off the beaten path in a city where ditching the tourists isn’t a given. That’s probably because it’s a bit isolated as the only restaurant within a few blocks. Though in the grand scheme of Verona, it’s just an eight-minute walk away from the tourist hub of the Verona Arena.
The entrance is non-descript with a simple sign above the door like so many other Osterias in Verona. Google Maps calls it “down-home cooking,” and inside, you get the feeling you’ve entered a familial establishment. Impressive oil paintings decorate the walls with bottles of wine adding character to the various mantels constructed throughout the interior. Simple brown wooden tables welcome you, and on a quiet night like when I dropped by, expect to be pulled into a conversation with any passersby and the waitress as the chef, who looks like she could be your very own grandmother, shuffles by. Indeed, a gentleman enjoying a glass of prosecco pulled me into a conversation, sharing his story of touring with the band Simply Red. Eventually, the waitress took a seat behind me and their blend of English and Italian entertained me as I dined on a plate of gnocchi di mango.
The typical Italian breakfast is a blip on the radar consisting of a quick shot of espresso and maybe a croissant. Hardly a grand affair. For a full breakfast, head across the river to Elk Bakery where you get that local, café atmosphere with a full menu of delicious breakfast options.
Verona Fast Food
Not every Italian meal needs to be a romantic or momentous occasion. Locals are happy with quick eats as much as any other nationality and I’m lucky enough to have experienced two fantastic options right next to each other in Verona. Right on Corso Cavour and just after you pass underneath the remarkable Borsari Gate (if you’re walking away from the city), you’ll find a small square with both Biogi Verona and Piadineria Artigiana Bacchabundus Cavour.
Bigoi Verona I came up on looking for a lunch spot and was surprised to find a quick service joint. Inside you pick your pasta, your sauce, and it’s quickly delivered to you in what looks like a large ice cream cup. I went with a simple bowl of pasta, marinara sauce, and a dash of parmesan cheese. I couldn’t believe how tasty and filling it was. If you’re looking for something fast, I can’t recommend this enough. In fact, I grabbed another bowl on my way out of the city.
Right next to it is Piadineria Artigiana Bacchabundus Cavour, which I ended up at with a couple of locals showing me around. I suppose the best comparison is something of an Italian take on Chipotle, but the food takes a bit longer to prepare.
Verona might feel overwhelming if you’re not used to dense, Italian cities, but in reality, it’s actually quite small with some locals complaining that they have to go outside of the city for any sense of nightlife. “Nightlife” in this instance refers to bars and clubs. Obviously eating out is no issue in Verona. This is still Italy, after all. Apparently, there’s an ordinance on file with the city that forbids noise beyond a certain decibel at a relatively early hour.
As I’m not the clubbing type, Verona was perfect for me. There are few things I enjoy more than walking around at night in a picturesque city like Verona with the echo of footsteps over cobblestones and sidewalks reverberating against the historic buildings. That’s the city center and Via Giuseppe Mazzini around 10 p.m. within the Adige. You’ll still find a bit more action on the eastern side of the river near the university like at Osteria ai Portegheti where you can grab a glass of Italian craft beer and relax. Wine aficionados might prefer Osteria ai Preti around the corner where you can have a glass in a dimly lit, rather romantic atmosphere. Want to try more craft beer? Go back into the city center to Archivio where you can drink to your heart’s content in the cozy bar.
Weather in Verona
The weather in Verona varies throughout the year. Temperatures don’t rise as high as the Italian boot or even central Italy during the summer months, but it can get rather unpleasant. Even Rome during a similar time of year can warm to the point where a tee shirt suffices — so long as the sun is out. Plus, something Italian cities don’t do as well as, say, Paris, London, or cities in its Germanic neighbors are city parks or green spaces in general. That means there are few places to get a respite from the heat in the summer. When that local mentioned the lines covering Piazza Brà in Julz outside of the Verona Arena, I wondered how miserable they must be burning up in the sun while they waited.
Though the Fall can be characterized as cold and rainy in northern Italy, I thought the weather was perfected. This could be because I’m a bit more acclimated to chillier weather having grown up in the northern United States and living in Germany and that I lucked out. While I was in Verona, in November, I had clear, sunny skies and a light sports coat was plenty to keep me warm during the days. In other words, maybe I’d like to hike in the Dolomites in the summer, but I’m more than happy to wait until fall to visit Italy and Verona.
Transport in Verona
Italy might not have the reputation for trains and public transportation of its Germanic neighbors, but northern Italy is actually one of the most well-connected rail regions I’ve ever traveled. Not to mention tickets are generally affordable thanks to Tren Italia purposefully keeping fares low to encourage train travel. (Granted it does come at an absurd financially loss for the public company, but that’s not your problem.)
After spending a couple of days in Verona, I spent the remainder of my time in northern Italy taking day trips to some of the region’s surrounding towns and cities, like Mantua (Mantova), Bologna, Vicenza, and Modena. Ticket prices went as low as $5-$12 one-way. Tren Italia worked well for the smaller cities, but I went with the privately-run Italo to get to Bologna. What’s remarkable is that prices continue to be affordable even if you want to go as far south as Rome or east to Venice. It’s a stark contrast to Germany’s Deutsche Bahn where a last-minute ticket from Düsseldorf to Munich can cost you a few hundred euros.
Most who want to arrive directly in Verona will fly into Milan and take the train just an hour east to the city. Another option to consider, especially if the airfare is cheaper, is to fly into Munich where you can pick up the Austrian-run RailJet. It’s a longer, slower train journey than Milan, but worth it if it will save you on airfare. Plus you might want to stop in one of the Austrian cities along the route, like Innsbruck, before crossing the border into Italy. It’s also a stunning train ride as you cross through the Alps.
Before You Go
As a theme of my trip was riding the trains to and around northern Italy, I’m thrilled I found out about Tim Parker’s Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo beforehand. Not only does Parker live in Verona (at the time of writing the book), but he gives such wonderful insight into life in northern Italy, cultural peculiarities (like not moving to the right on an escalator), and not to mention the Schadenfreude-hilarity of his experiences on Italian trains.
Something else to do before you go is to learn some Italian. English is proficiency is not as widespread in Italy as it is elsewhere in central and northern Europe. Wait staff and other Italians I interacted with at restaurants and bars spoke zero English, a young woman at Bigoi Verona being the exception. Knowing how to pick things out on a menu, like the word for horse, and express myself, albeit minimally, made the trip that much more enjoyable.
See more photos of Verona here.