Verona wasn’t on our itinerary but I’ve always been curious about this Italian city so we booked an overnight to check it out on the way to Florence. Charmingly cheesy, stunningly beautiful, laid back and lazy. Verona is exactly what you want it to be. Romantic architecture, lots of public squares, Roman antiquity peppered around everywhere, candle lit restaurants by the river, and lots of allusions to Shakespearean plays as if they actually happened in the city. It’s clear they’ve been milking this love angle for a long time here complete with a Romeo’s Castle and Juliet’s balcony, even though these sites don’t actually match the play at all and are conveniently located blocks away from the tourist center. We accidentally arrived on Valentine’s weekend which apparently is (or is not depending on what you’re looking for) the time to be in Verona. There’s a giant love festival with street fair, events, bands, and lots and lots of people. It took us a while to figure out what was going on.
It was an easy train ride from Venice. Town center is about a mile away from the train station. We tried to save money taking the bus but ended up on the wrong one and walked the mile anyway. It’s a ten euro flat fee for a cab, probably the better option but walking is just fine too. The roads in the city interior are the rocky kind which can be a little hard on your rollerbag.
Verona is built in a large bend of the Adige river which provides natural protection, the old part of town surrounded on three sides by water and series of bridges. The city was originally walled and you can still find remnants of the old wall around here and there. The main square Piazza delle Erbe is in this area, though smaller than the square around the arena.
Piazza delle Erbe
Piazza delle Erbe is a beautiful oblong pedestrian area with a large tower, frescoes, and normally a market (it was decked out for the festival when we arrived) and our apartment was just around the corner. It’s a great location for exploration as all the sites are within a short walk. The large tower is the last remaining of what used to be many. Each of the big family houses would construct a tower to demonstrate their wealth.
A block or two up and you’ll find “Romeo’s Castle” or a block or two in a different direction you’ll find “Juliet’s Balcony”. Straight down is the arena and from there it’s very close to Castelvecchio and Castelvecchio Bridge.
Verona Arena and Piazza Bra
Straight down a pedestrian lane from Erbe you’ll find Verona Arena. It’s hard to miss, it’s enormous. It sits in the middle of Piazza Bra which is much larger than Erbe.
Originally outside of Verona’s walls, this large Roman arena was built in 30 AD and has been in continuous use to this day. The outer ring was destroyed in an earthquake in 1117, you can see a bit of remnants of it, but the interior ring has been decked out for modern shows. It often features opera but also pop music like Radiohead and Adele. It will be used for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games closing ceremonies in 2026.
The Bra Plaza is ringed with tourist restaurants and shops, a green park, lots of open space, and big old looking buildings that I didn’t have time to look up. It’s impressive. But when we were there it was too crowded to really enjoy.
Valentine’s Day Festival
So I guess in retrospect it seems obvious but lots of people come to Verona for Valentine’s Day. There’s a giant street fair and love themed things. Heart decorations up. There’s a giant “Love” statue to pose in front of. A heart shaped balloon release. Stands selling food and other love related things. It’s honestly a bit much for me. I’m not really into the commodification and commercialization of love and relationships. But hey, I’m not judging. It looked like people were having fun.
Romeo and Juliet
So I guess I should say first, if you’ve never read a book, Romeo and Juliet is a play by Shakespeare ~1595 set in Verona about two dramaqueen teenagers that get married like a day after they meet at a party on drugs then commit suicide when things don’t work out perfectly. Seems like a cautionary tale to me. Or maybe just natural selection. But some people find it really really romantic.
In reality Shakespeare “borrowed heavily” from The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567. Though originally set in Sienna not Verona. The Montagues and Capulets also didn’t really live in Verona but were real houses famous for fighting, but mostly in Cremona. Though it was the Montecchi and Cappelletti. Apparently they were the famous Italian equivalent to the Hatfields and the McCoys. And in Italian Juliet’s name is Giulietta.
The town however has no shame in latching onto the fictional characters and there’s quite a bit about town in their honor. There’s a plaque with quote about “Verona walls” at the city gates and most famously Juliet’s Balcony with a statue of Juliet out front that everyone seems to pose with while holding her boob and making lewd faces. Must be a thing. One down side is the tradition of scrawling love messages on Juliet’s wall because the trend has taken hold across town with people scrawling shitty sharpy messages across everything that looks old or interesting.
Castelvecchio, Castelvecchio Bridge, and the Arco dei Gavi
The “Old Castle” was built around 1354 by the ruling family of the time. It’s interesting, not adorned but the drawbridge still works. The bridge was originally built to allow the family to escape in case of a city uprising or coup. Napoleon used to stay in the castle when he visited Verona.
The German army destroyed the bridge during their retreat in 1945 but it was later rebuilt.
Where to eat.
There are certainly a lot of places to eat in town but our host told us that they’re all for tourists and no good. All of the locals eat along the river not near the squares. Just north of the Ponte Nuovo bridge where the road along the water (Lungadige Bartolomeo Rubele) curves around and back down towards the city is a great place to start your search. All down Via Sottoriva where it connects with Lungadige Bartolomeo Rubele you can find quaint local joints like the one we ate, Ostregheteria Sottoriva 23.
Ostregheteria Sottoriva 23
Cute bar and restaurant. It opened a bit earlier than the other restaurants which is why we picked this one. There was a Peal Jam cover ban planning and the place was packed.