Verona City Guide: Roman Gladiators, Risotto, & Romance

I have fallen in love with Verona, Italy. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Verona may be Romeo and Juliet – I get it. But I gotta say, Romeo and Juliet (and the associated tacky fanfare) is quite possibly the LEAST impressive part of this Italian city…and that’s saying something. We initially planned to visit Verona for a day trip. Man, was that a bad call. We quickly realized we needed to spend at least a weekend there (or MORE)…and thus we quickly bought another flight for the next weekend shortly after returning from our first trip, haha. Below I outline a comprehensive Verona city guide, from the must-see sights to the overrated ones.

verona city guide
The pretty streets of Verona

Verona City Guide

What to Eat & Where

Risotto all’Amarone

Get ready to loosen that belt because some of the highlights of this Verona city guide are gastronomic. Verona is home to a variety of tantalizing local dishes, but one stood out for me: Risotto all’Amarone. This grape-hued risotto gets its name and color from Amarone, a typical red wine from the region. You may be thinking, Hm…wine-flavored risotto? Sounds simple at best and weird at worst? Well, you’re WRONG-O. This risotto is creamy and rich and often includes truffle. I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed it – this was one of my favorite meals of all time. To recreate our marvelous experience, make sure to go to the centrally located Hostaria La Vecchia Fontanina. They offer the risotto for two, and portions for each person are generous: Pepe and I both left very full. I promise you won’t regret it!

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Risotto all’Amarone with truffle for two at Hostaria La Vecchia Fontanina. SO DELICIOUS

Bigoli with Ragu

Another Verona specialty is bigoli, which is essentially thick spaghetti. Horse is commonly eaten in Verona, so you’ll often see bigoli with a horse or donkey ragu. I recommend trying the bigoli and donkey ragu at Osteria Al Duomo, a cozy eatery popular among locals. They don’t take reservations, so plan to arrive 30 minutes to an hour before you want to eat. Italians seem to typically eat lunch between 12:30-2:30 pm and dinner between 8-10:00 pm, so those will essentially be the rush hour windows. Settle in with a glass – or bottle – of wine as you wait among cheerfully tipsy locals, like we did!

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Donkey bigoli at Osteria al Duomo

My Favorite Sights

The Verona Card allows access to most of the city’s sights for a reasonable price, so I recommend looking into it to make the most out of this Verona city guide. You can purchase it for 24 or 48 hours, for 18 and 22 euros respectively, depending on your plans. You’ll find the card on sale at the train station or other attractions. However, wherever you buy it, do inquire about any additional service charges or fees at the point of sale and look into comparing your options price-wise.

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Via Sottoriva, one of my favorite streets in Verona!

Roman Arena

Verona’s open-air arena on Piazza Bra is impressive (see the main pic for this post above) – it’s up there with the Colosseum in terms of historical importance. In fact, this amphitheater actually predates its counterpart in Rome! The arena was built in the 1st century AD and remains one of the best-preserved Roman monuments of its kind, making it a must-see in any Verona city guide; it now serves as an opera theatre. Its pink-colored stone is characteristically Veronese and gives the monument an interesting color palette. I highly recommend a visit to appreciate its grandeur and imagine the gladiator fighting that once took place here!

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The Arena di Verona

Piazza dei Signori

Piazza dei Signori is a sight for sore eyes. Surrounded by handsome palazzi on all sides, this plaza is a photogenic one: it’s got the brick Palazzo del Podesta, the medieval residence of Cangrande I Della Scala, member of the powerful Della Scala family; the mustard-yellow Loggia del Consiglio, built in the 1400s for the city council; and the striped Palazzo della Ragione. In the center of the plaza is a statue of Dante, who fled to Verona after being exiled from Florence. Upon exiting the plaza, you’ll find the intricate Arche Scaligere, the funerary tombs of the Della Scala family. Also check out the nearby Piazza delle Erbe, one of Verona’s most historic squares.

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Statue of Dante in Piazza dei Signori
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Palazzo della Ragione in Piazza dei Signori
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The mustard-yellow Loggia del Consiglio and the brick Palazzo del Podesta in Piazza dei Signori
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The Arche Scaligere outside the Piazza dei Signori

Via Mazzini

Via Mazzini is the city’s exceedingly pleasant central artery, so it’s likely that you’ll walk along it a few times during your time in Verona. Filled with shops and bustling with people, this buzzing street is wonderful for a passeggiata.

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Bustling Via Mazzini

Basilica di Sant’ Anastasia

Admission to this beautiful church comes with an audio guide, which is a game-changer: it’ll provide you with all the info necessary to enjoy your visit. The red marble in the church comes from Verona, and the artwork on its vaulted ceiling, chapels, and alcoves is masterful.

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Basilica di Sant’ Anastasia, featuring red Veronese marble columns

Chiesa di San Fermo

Admission to this interesting church also includes an audio guide, making the visit particularly worthwhile as well. This unique complex is essentially made up of one church built on another. On the underground level, you’ll find an 11th-century Romanesque church; on the upper level, you’ll find a 13th-century Gothic church. Although the newer Gothic church is more striking and features a greater variety of artwork – including the wooden ceiling, which is designed to look like a boat hull – both parts of the church work in tandem to make for a meaningful visit.

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The upper Gothic part of Chiesa di San Fermo. Notice the wooden ceiling that resembles a boat hull!

Watching the Sunset on the Scalone Castel San Pietro across Ponte Pietra

You may have seen pretty pictures of Verona and the river taken from the lookout point on the Scalone Castel San Pietro, the steps leading up to the San Pietro castle. To get there, cross the Ponte Pietra bridge from the center of town. On the right, you’ll soon see the steps behind the Teatro Romano. Walk up the stairs for various lookout points over the city, but no need to actually enter the castle. There is a restaurant up there, though. Fun fact about the Ponte Pietra bridge: parts of the bridge date from the Roman era as well as the Middle Ages, but it was destroyed by the Germans in World War II. Locals heroically rebuilt the bridge themselves by recovering the stones from the river!

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On the Ponte Pietra bridge with Castel San Pietro in the background
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Ponte Pietra – rebuilt by locals after WWII!
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Views from the Scalone Castel San Pietro

Other Cool Sights

Museo di Castelvecchio

This museum, a medieval fortress re-imagined by architect Carlo Scarpa, has great views of the Ponte Scaligero and river. It now showcases medieval art and other artifacts. I must say I did not find the exhibits themselves particularly exciting; however, walking along the fishtail ramparts of the museum was cool. If medieval art is not your thing, consider just appreciating the structure from the outside rather than going in.

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Views of the fishtailed Ponte Scaligero from the ramparts of Museo di Castelvecchio
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The courtyard of the Museo di Castelvecchio
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Views of Verona from the Ponte Scaligero

Torre dei Lamberti + Galleria d’Arte Moderna Achille Forti

I enjoyed visiting this modern art gallery and heading up to the top of the Lamberti tower (you can visit both of these attractions with a combined ticket). Nonetheless, I’d say this is something to do if you have extra time rather than making it a priority visit. The Torre dei Lamberti offers great views of the city; however, you can also get great views for free from the Scalone Castel San Pietro, as I mention above. The gallery has some really cool pieces, but it is fairly small and not particularly life changing. Conclusion: This visit is perfectly agreeable, I just don’t think it should be the first on the list in this Verona city guide.

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The Torre dei Lamberti as seen from the streets of Verona
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One of my favorite pieces in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna Achille Forti: an impressionist rendition of Verona!

The Duomo

Verona’s Romanesque cathedral is a pretty one, although I preferred the other two churches mentioned above – mainly because we were given audio guides with those tickets. Not sure what the Duomo’s policy is on audio guides, but we were not given any upon entry the evening we went. After being greeted at the door by statues with bulging eyes, you’ll proceed to the interior for some eye-catching frescoes.

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The vaulted and frescoed interior of Verona’s Duomo

Overrated and/or Non-Essential Attractions

Casa di Giulietta

This tourist trap has brought Verona worldwide fame, but it’s nothing special in my book. I mean, it’s fun to see and experience – any Verona city guide has gotta include a visit to Juliet – but just don’t expect too much. In fact, this is not actually Juliet’s house: it was historically the property of the Dal Cappello family, which created popular associations between the names Cappello and Capulet. We didn’t actually enter the house: the star attraction is a statue of Juliet under her balcony. It’s tradition to rub Juliet’s boob – yes, weird – when you visit. Among other oddities, you’ll see love tokens in the form of locks as well as band-aids…ew. Ultimately, I find the city itself full of romantic charm – more than any Romeo and Juliet can provide. Sorry, Shakespeare.

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A not so tasteful, yet traditional, way to greet Juliet…
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Juleit’s balcony…note the post-it love notes to the left
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Love locks under Juliet’s balcony
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Band-aid love tokens by Juliet’s house…ew?

Teatro Romano e Museo Archeologico

This Roman theatre may be interesting for an archeology buff, but I found it lacking in comparison to the Roman Arena. This theatre was carved into the hillside, and there is now a small museum above it housing some artifacts.

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Great views from the Teatro Romano…note the ancient theatre itself below. Beyond the views, though, I didn’t find this place particularly fascinating

Where to Go for Aperitivo Hour

Sipping on local wine during the evening aperitivo will be a critical part of any Verona city guide. Some of the best memories from my visit include enjoying drinks on Verona’s picturesque streets!

Archivio

This hip little nook has a wide variety of cocktails and wine, served up by friendly bartenders. The bar itself is small, so most patrons enjoy their drinks outside.

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Enjoying wine and cocktails outside Archivio

Antica Bottega del Vini

This traditional bodega, tucked on a little side street, is great for a bubbly Franciacorta, an Italian sparkling wine, and little tapas-style snacks. The inside is cozy, but we chose to enjoy our wine outside.

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An outdoor aperitivo at the Bottega del Vini

Osteria del Bugiardo

This osteria-bar bustles, inside and out. It’s a great place to street-drink and snack as locals spill outside to enjoy good weather.

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Enjoying a drink outside Osteria del Bugiardo

Where to Stay

Albergo Mazzanti

I would recommend booking this comfortable hotel, located right by Piazza dei Signori, to easily access the sights on this Verona city guide. The rooms are nice, reception is professional and friendly, and prices are very reasonable. We enjoyed our stay!

I hope you enjoy this Verona city guide!

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I miss the streets of Verona!