To start off our 3 week European adventure we flew into Milan International Airport (MXP). We honestly had little desire to see Milan, and with an early arrival we wouldn’t have been able to check into a hotel yet. So we decided to take advantage of Italy’s vast train system and spend a day in Verona. Verona is a UNESCO World Heritage designated city in Northern Italy. It is most commonly know as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, although we learned it is much more than that!
We stayed at the budget friendly Hotel Piccolo, mainly because it was a 5 minute walk from Verona Porta Nuova train station. It turned out to be an excellent choice! It was only about a 15 minute walk to the historic downtown area and it was convenient being so close to the train station, since we had an early departure then next morning to Venice.
This medieval castle is located right on the Adige river and dates back to the year 1354. Admission is €6 for adults, and includes access to a tower, the upper wall and a museum. We were on the hunt for a bathroom and only wandered around the courtyard for a few minutes. I wish we would have made time to make it to the tower, from looking at pictures I can see there is great views.
We did return later than night on our walk home to take pictures of the connected Castelevecchio bridge. This stone bridge had actually be destroyed by Germans during World War II, but it was restored so well that we didn’t even realize this fact until after we visited.
Piazza Delle Erbe
Wandering the winding streets of Verona was very enjoyable. However, as you get closer to Piazza Delle Erbe the streets become a little more crowded and you will enter the main shopping area, with high fashion stores. Shopping while traveling is one of the last things I want to do, so we quickly moved through the streets until we arrived to Piazza Delle Erbe.
The square is surrounded by tall buildings all around with beautiful façades and Torre dei Lamberti; Verona’s tallest Medieval tower. A fountain dating back to the 1300s is also located in the square. You can grab a cappuccino, or bite to eat or wander around the market stalls that are set up.
Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House)
While the story of Romeo and Juliet is fictitious, the town of Verona is not. And Verona realized very early that they could capitalize on the tourism from the tie to one of the most popular stories of all time. In the early 1900’s a balcony was added to a house from the 1300s and they called it Juliet’s balcony. It use to be that visitors would leave love notes on the brick wall in the courtyard, secured to the wall by a piece of chewed gum. Not surprisingly, it was considered unsightly by the town of Verona, so it is no longer allowed. However we did see a bunch of chewed gum on the wall in one area. There is a place to put love notes, without using gum and there is a door where you can place a ‘love lock.’
For €3 you can go up on the balcony and see the inside of Juliet’s house, which we did not. In the courtyard is a bronze colored statue of Juliet, with the bronze polish well worn over her breasts from ‘unlucky in love’ people rubbing them for good luck. In 2014 the statue was replaced with the current replica, and the original one was moved to the Castelvecchio museum because it was so damaged from all the touching.
We didn’t expect much so we weren’t terribly disappointed. The courtyard is rather small, considering how tourists were there. It is very gimmicky, but it is also very easy to visit since it is a short walk from Piazza Delle Erbe and it is free to enter the courtyard. Go. Don’t go. I don’t think it will matter either way. Verona is such a beautiful and historical city that you will enjoy your time there, regardless of if you visit Juliet’s balcony.
Arena di Verona
The Verona Arena is a Roman amphitheater that actually dates back to the 1st century, built before the Colosseum in Rome. The arena was used for public entertainment such as Gladiator fights and could seat over 30,000 people! The building is still used for concerts, with its largest event being the popular Arena di Verona Opera Festival held every summer.
If you plan ahead and are visiting in summer when the opera shows occur you can see a show for as little as €21 per person [see tickets]. Or you could buy a ticket to visit and wander around inside. Tickets cost around €10 per person. We decided to visit. It was interesting, just not very large and it was barricaded around most of the top of the arena, so the views weren’t great unless I held my camera above my head to try and snap pictures. 😉 For great views I would climb the Castelvecchio tower or Torre dei Lamberti. We only spent about 15 minutes here. I don’t think it’s worth going inside, unless you are seeing a show.
Piazza Bra is the main square in Verona, located in the same area as the Verona Arena. Other impressive structures around the square include the town hall (Palazzo Barbieri) and the Gran Guardia Palace. Normally I would suggest to not eat in busy or “touristy” areas, but we decided to eat at one of the many outdoor restaurants here. It was such a wonderful experience! The prices were actually quite reasonable. Also, the view of the Arena and other beautiful buildings lite up at night was enjoyable to watch as we enjoyed some delicious wine and Italian food.
Something that really annoyed us about Italy started here, without us realizing it. While sitting down to dinner at least 3 different people came up, “offering” us a rose. Walking around after dinner, another half dozen tried to sell us these toys you sling up into the air and they light up purple. If you look at my picture of piazza bra 2 pictures above you will note the purple streaks in the sky. It made it quite frustrating as a photographer to have touts throwing toys in the air, shining laser lights on monuments and constantly approaching me to sell stuff.
Throughout Italy we encountered this multiple times a day. Some people were more pushy than others. We had people grab our arms and try to place roses in our hands, the idea being if we held it then we had to pay for it. We quickly learned the nicer you are the longer they will pester you to buy stuff, since they think there’s a chance you will buy. Your best option is to give a firm, “no” or just ignore them. It sounds terribly rude, I know, but this will be something that you will deal with constantly in big cities in Italy.
Overall we enjoyed our time in Verona and it was the perfect place to start our time in Italy. It was big enough to be interesting but wasn’t overcrowded like other destinations we visited over the following 10 days in Italy.