Halfway through our two months in Italy, we ended up embracing the laid-back Italian lifestyle and abandoning our usual, planning-heavy approach to travel. So, when we arrived in Verona we hadn’t done any of our usual research and didn’t know quite what to expect. Other than the obvious Shakespeare connection (In fair Verona where we lay our scene…) and a few short guidebook mentions, we hadn’t heard much about the city. But it only took a few hours of wandering the old quarter to make us fall in love with the city. With charming, cobblestone streets and a picturesque riverfront, it feels like the far less crowded little sister of Florence. There might not be many museums or major sights, but the city center feels more authentic because of it. In the café’s and bars you hear mostly Italian spoken and on the street you can watch the fashionable locals cycling to work. There is beautiful architecture, great shopping and a tasty, affordable trattoria on every corner. We have a special place in our hearts for Rome, but Verona is definitely a strong contender for the Italian city we would most like to live in.
If you are a big Shakespeare fan and want to see Juliet’s balcony and statue, make it a quick trip early in the morning before the small courtyard fills up with wall to wall tour groups. Otherwise we recommend skipping it altogether. There really isn’t much to see other than a line of tourists waiting to have their photo taken while groping Juliet’s breasts (creepiest tradition ever). Instead, we suggest heading up to Castel San Pietro to take in a wonderful panoramic view of the city followed by a stroll through the picturesque Palazzo Giusti gardens. If you are visiting in the summer, check the event calendar for the Arena Di Verona which has to be one of the world’s coolest concert venues. The historic arena, built in the first century, holds up to 15,000 people and hosts operas, plays, and concerts throughout July and August.
To our surprise, Verona ended up having some of the best shopping of anywhere we visited in Italy. There is a busy main drag with a variety of brand-name shops for every budget, but more importantly, a bunch of really great independent boutiques hidden off on the side streets. We loved Folks, which had more casual, workwear inspired clothing and a great vinyl collection (plus the friendliest husband and wife owners who gave us a long list of local food and drink recs), Wooden Store for Japanese and Nordic-inspired menswear, and the concept store Macondo for emerging luxury designers.
The tiny, cluttered Café Borsari is the perfect place to start your day. The service is fast, the espressos are strong, and the cornetti con crema (cream-filled croissants) are out of this world. Be sure to get there on the early side before they sell out of pastries. For lunch, we loved Gusta where they serve the largest panini we have ever seen. Thankfully, they don’t sacrifice quality for quantity, the bread is perfectly baked and the fillings are fresh and delicious. The whole size is easily large enough for two hungry people to share, so go for the half size if you are eating solo. If you need an afternoon pick me up, grab a few scoops of gelato at the stylish Gelatateria La Romana (our second favorite gelato in all of Italy). Their homemade flavors are unique and incredibly creamy. Plus they will put melted milk chocolate in the bottom of your cone -amazing! For dinner, head to Saporé Downtown if you are looking to try something different. The chef specializes in experimental pizzas. Think pumpkin cream instead of tomato sauce or soft bagel dough instead of your usual crust. It’s certainly pricey for pizza but you probably won’t try anything like it elsewhere in Italy. For something a little more traditional, Trattoria Trota da Luciano is a good bet. Reasonable prices for hearty Northern Italian fare. Fair warning though, the specialty of the area is horse meat, so maybe not a great option for horse-lovers.