Home to the world’s first botanical gardens
On our second part of this day, after visiting the city of Vicenza, we complete it with Padua, really next door. It’s only 40 kilometres to the east of the former, just 17 minutes by train, a bit more by car or bus, but easy to manage without any rush in the same day. Vicenza is too small, and while Padua has a bigger historic town, it is also very compact and easy to navigate through in a nice sightseeing pace. Include here there is a sight that is not architecture nor monument; it’s a botanical garden. To be precise, the world’s first of its kind, and so beautiful and historic that it made its way to be listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Padua is home to the second oldest university in Italy, founded in 1222, where Galileo Galilei was a lecturer in the 16th century. It’s also setting for most of Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew. And to complete with a further fact where this city has been showcased, there is the play by writer Oscar Wilde, The Duchess Of Padua. Much earlier in its history, the importance, development and power was such that during the 1st century BC it was the wealthiest city in the Italian peninsula only after Rome. Yet since the fall of the Roman Empire, the city succumbed to numerous invasions and rulings,periods of war, destruction and recovery. By when in 1866 it was annexed to Italy, it was the poorest region, only to be hit once again during WWI, WWII and through the fascist era.
So while you might expect from what was one of the important cities in Roman times some nice archaeological remains, scattered through the city, it’s not the case. A lot of of the classical and medieval fabric disappeared, however most of it has been rebuilt, together with the new fascist style buildings from the era; still, it’s an incredible beautiful and pleasant city to visit, and a strong tourist pole. After the fall of the fascist era, the city has boomed in every sense becoming once again one of the wealthiest in Italy.
A good half a day sightseeing tour is all you will need for visiting the entire city, or at least all the major sights that I will list you below. Any plan longer than this will perhaps lead you with nothing else to do, unless of course, enjoying a good rest with an aperitif at any of the many terraces through the nice squares, a great ice-cream and of course, whether if short or long time, a nice lunch or dinner.
There is something great about generally any city in the north of Italy and it comes towards the afternoon. Dinner time. So while of course you have countless restaurants of any kind anywhere, you also have the “happy hour” places where you buy a drink, and get a food buffet included! They call it apericena. Ok, do not expect having a huge choice of food, but it is great enough. For around 8 Euros for a cocktail as an example, then you can eat until you wish, although the general will be around 10 to 12 Euros. A fantastic alternative to an otherwise expensive business that can be finding a nice restaurant, and a much better way to chill out with friends or rest after a long sightseeing day.
For more information about Padua check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Padua
- City Walls Almost 11 kilometres, built by the Venetians in the 16th century surrounding the historic city centre.
- Arena Gardens In the northern edge of the historic town, on Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi not far from the train station.
-Scrovegni Chapel Contains what has been described as the most important fresco cycles in the world. Created by Giotto in 1305 it details the life of the Virgin Mary, and also includes one of the earliest representations of a kiss in the history of art (Meeting at the Golden Gate).
-Roman Arena Very few remains are there left from the Roman times, being the arena the largest of them. You can see the entire original shape and walls.
-Eremitani Church Built in the 13th century, largely destroyed by the Allies in World War II where majority of its great frescoes were lost. It is home to the Municipal Art Gallery and contains the tombs of Jacopo (1324) and Ubertinello (1345) da Carrara, lords of Padua, and the chapel of Saints James and Christopher.
- Piazza Garibaldi Following south from the Arena Gardens is this very elegant square giving access to the proper historic centre.
-Porta Altinate One of the 2 city gates left from the medieval fortifications.
- Piazza Cavour-Piazza Garzeria Just a street ahead south from Piazza Garibaldi.
-Pedrocchi Café At the southwest corner of the square. Founded in the 18th century, decorated and structured by architect Giuseppe Jappelli, in a blend of neoclassical and Venetian Gothic with exotic references as Egyptian and Chinese. It’s the only survivor in the whole of Italy from the ancient Italian Cafe tradition.
-Palazzo del Bo’ The main building from the university of Padua, the second oldest in Italy, founded 1222. Along the eastern side south of the square, on Via 8 Febbraio.
-House of Dante Not right in any of these squares, but on the eastern side of the Palazzo del Bo’ on the intersection of Via San Francesco and Riviera dei Ponti Romani.
-Palazzo Municipale The City Hall, just opposite the Palazzo del Bo’, with farther western facades over Piazza delle Erbe and della Frutta.
- Piazza delle Erbe and della Frutta Both squares, west from the City Hall have their traditional street markets for fruits and vegetables surrounded by old houses and the impressive Palazzo della Ragione in the middle of both.
-Palazzo della Ragione Completed in 1219, arguably having the largest roof unsupported by columns in Europe. Inside houses a centuries old market.
- Piazza dei Signori The next square a street west from the Palazzo della Ragione. It’s the heart of the city.
-Palazzo del Capitaniato Former residence of the Venetian governors. The most important fact is the great door from 1532, work of the Veronese architect and sculptor Giovanni Maria Falconetto, who introduced the Renaissance architecture to Padua.
-Clock Tower In between both buildings of the Palazzo del Capitaniato.
-Colonna Marciana Towards the western side of the square near the Clock Tower.
-Loggia del Consiglio At the southwestern side of the square, built in 1496, to accommodate the Maggior Consiglio di Padova.
-Palazzo Monte di Pieta By the southwestern corner of the square, where the Via Monte di Pieta heads towards the Piazza Duomo to which projects the south facade. Headquarters in the city of one of the oldest banks in the world.
- Piazza Duomo Meters away south from Piazza dei Signori.
-Duomo and Baptistery Although of small proportion, the current structure was designed in 1551 with the help of Michelangelo, but the facade never finished. The Baptistery has 14th century frescoes by Giusto de Menabuoi.
-Palazzo Vescovile The former Bishop’s Palace built in the 15th century is nowadays the Diocesan Museum.
- Piazza del Castello Few streets south from the Cathedral is this nice garden at the front of the castle of Padua.
-Castello Carrarese Part of the medieval fortifications, built at the intersection of two internal waterways from the Fiume Bacchiglione river that runs south. The main tower was converted in the 18th century into an observatory. The views across the canal are worth to get.
- Prato della Valle One of the highlights in Padua, considered as the biggest square in Europe. Built on what was the Roman theater and later a fairground, it looks dates from 1775. It contains a canal aligned with statues, grass and landscaped paths. It’s at the south of the city, outside of the historic core, and east from the Castello Carrarese.
-Palazzo Amulea Located on the western side of the square, in Venetian Gothic style.
-Palazzo Zacco Armeni By the southwesternmost corner of the square.
-Velodrome Gates Along the southern side, in the style of a Roman tempietto.
-Santa Giustina Basilica At the southeastern corner. Founded in the 10th century, the current structures date form the 17th, with the main facade never finished. The interior is extremely austere and empty.
- Botanic Garden Located across from Santa Giustina Basilica, although the entrance is towards the northwest in Via Orto Botanico, is the world’s oldest academic botanical garden that is still in its original location, from 1545. Its architect, Daniele Barbaro, followed the example of the medieval Horti Conclusi, (enclosed gardens), marking the design by a perfect pattern of a square within a circle, divided into four parts by two paths oriented according to the cardinal points. Listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site. 1 Euro for students and seniors, 5 Euros for adults.
- Piazza del Santo North from the main entrance of the Botanic Garden.
-Basilica of Saint Anthony Built from 1200 right after the death of Saint Anthony, becoming a pilgrimage place, and major landmark in the city. Noteworthy are the statues and crucifix on the main altar by Donatello, and the four cloisters.
-Gattamelata Statue Known as “the honeyed cat”, located at the front of the cathedral was created by Donatello.
-Saint George’s Oratory On the south of the square, it has beautiful frescoes created by two of Giotto’s students. 2.5 Euros entrance fee.
- House of Galileo Galilei Along the parallel street north of Piazza del Santo is the house where Galileo lived during his 18 years teaching in Padua’s university.
The nearest airports to Padua are Verona 100 kilometres to the west, Bologna 120 km to the south, Bergamo 190 km west and both airports serving Venice, with Treviso 64 km and Marco Polo 46 km to the east. Connecting from any of these airports is easy and straightforward either by buses from the airport terminal or via downtown with buses and trains linking each of them.
Coming overland will probably be the most common way any tourist reach this city, either on any of the multiple day trips from any of the nearby cities such as Verona, Venice or Milan, or as part of a wider tour through the northern region of Italy. The fact is that you do not really need to rent a car in order to move around the region, the railway and bus connections are fantastic, very frequent and reliable. Padua lies in the main north line connecting Milan to Venice through the other important cities such as Bergamo, Brescia, Garda, Verona and Vicenza in between. To the south are frequent trains towards Ferrara and Bologna, and farther northeast to Trieste.
Once in the city, the historic centre is very compact and easy to navigate around. There is no need for taking any public transportation to move around, considering many of the streets are pedestrianised. There is a tram line crossing the entire city, and of course plenty of public buses through the entire metropolitan area.
Padua is a strong tourist centre in northeast Italy, mostly for lying so near to the key tourist destinations in Italy of Venice and Verona, therefore needless to say the amount of hotels is really good, of any kind, from the large chains to small family run business and a lot of B&Bs. Prices in the other hand can surprise you, and not in a good way. A nice, good standard hotel will generally be over budget, especially when considering high season months.
Our visit was at the brink of the high season, but we could still benefit of lower prices although not by staying overnight in the city, but in the outskirts of Verona where prices were way much lower. Our plan was doing a large tour through different cities counting with our own transport, therefore this worked as the best for us. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Hotel Montemezzi, in Via Verona 92, Vigasio. Only 15 kilometres south from Verona downtown, this 4* property was absolutely perfect. Furthermore even if this is along a road with not much around you, there is a great pizzeria within the building, and another one meters walk, so don’t think at all you will be stranded without food. The room was extremely comfortable and super quiet at night, we had an incredible rest especially when we needed the most after such busy days touring through the cities. The staff was very professional and friendly, and the breakfast although small in choice was well more than enough and great quality. We recommend this hotel to anyone on a tour as was our case, however if you want to be in the city, this will not make too much sense as you depend on your own transport to get here and from here to anywhere.