While northern Italy and especially Tuscany are extremely popular with tourists – for a good reason – Verona is located slightly off the beaten track but still very close to Milan, Florence, Pisa or Venice. Unlike these cities, Verona doesn’t feature any ‘must see’ sights. It’s the atmosphere and interest in culture and history that draws most visitors here and captivates them. Although Verona is the fourth most visited city in Italy, the attractions are spread throughout town so that it never feels too touristy.
The Roman theatre of Verona was built at San Pietro’s hill in the first century BC, but left to decay after the fall of the Roman empire, and finally completely covered by buildings. Only during the Renaissance did Verona become interested in its ancient heritage. Finally, in the 19th century, archaeologists started excavating the original site. But they decide to go a step further than marking the ruins just another Roman sight and asking visitors to pay an entrance fee: they reconstructed the entire building and started to show plays here once again, two thousand years after it was first built.
The Verona Summer Theatre Festival was founded in 1948 and has its main venue at the new/old theatre, although after the festival has grown so much, there are events taking place in various theatres and venues throughout the city. Courtyards, churches and other buildings in the medieval centre of the city are turned into stages for various plays and events.
In addition to traditional and modern theatre, the festival now also includes a Shakespearian Festival, a ballet and a jazz festival. On performance days, no traffic is allowed around the theatre, which means you can enjoy the plays with the gentle background music of the nearby river that visitors must have heard for many centuries. The festivals start in late June and then overlap throughout the summer months, which means that for the entire summer, Verona turns into a giant festival site where there’s always something to see and do.
Last but not least, Verona is a must see destination for every Shakespeare fan who wants to follow in the footsteps of the world’s most renowned couple – although Shakespeare himself never set foot in the city, Verona was more than happy about the free promotion it received through its play.
You can even visit many Romeo and Juliet related sights, such as Juliet’s house with the infamous balcony (although we’re not quite sure it was really hers, it’s fairly impressive) the Piazza delle Erbe or market square of the town or the cathedral where Romeo and Juliet are said to have made their marriage vows to each other. All of this should be taken with a grain of salt, but still, the cathedral of Verona is a sight to behold as you can see intricate wood carvings and impressive marble columns alongside a stunning number of paintings. Castelvecchio, a 14th century red brick castle on the river banks is home to the city’s art museum, while the courtyards is used for plays and concerts during the festival season.
Like anywhere in Italy, Verona is home to a lot of local culinary specialities – no matter what the touristy restaurants try to tell you, pizza is not one of them. Traditional foods of the area are rustic pasta and meat dishes and horse meat, which you might even eat in the completely innocent looking form of salami.
You can easily spend a week or more in and around Verona, especially during the Summer Theatre Festival, but consider using the cheap and efficient Italian train system to see more of the area. Verona is just an hour on the train from Venice (where the train pulls into the lagoon city via a 2 mile long railway bridge) and an hour and a half from Milan.
Verona is one of Italy’s most popular cities because of the play it’s set in. Has a work of fiction ever inspired you to visit a place?