Not very popular among travellers but very much worth the visit, Padua is a modest Italian city in the province of Veneto that just waits for you to discover it. It doesn’t boast like Venice or Florence with its history or treasures but nonetheless it offers those special little surprises that leave you with the feeling as if you have found your “own” piece of Italy.
A few years ago my Italian teacher was telling us that many people rush to Venice and just forget about Padua. She told us so vividly about the frescoes of Giotto and the big villas along the Brenta canal, as if she herself had been there. Well, she hadn’t, but passionate story teller she was, she won me to visit this city one day.
It’s easy to travel to Padua, you can fly either to the Marco Polo Airport of Venice or to the airport of Treviso. I flew to Treviso and used this site to plan my transfer to Padua. It’s very helpful when it comes to itineraries and public transport schedules. However, at the end my landlord offered me a private taxi to pick me up at the airport, which was quite convenient and absolutely not expensive even if you travel on a budget. I stayed in this beautiful one-bedroom apartment just one block away from the cathedral and right in the historical heart of the city.
Walk the streets of Padua
Plan half a day to spend on discovering the city, making sure you are walking all those arcaded streets from the Duomo to the Piazza dei Signori, Piazza dei Frutti en Piazza delle Erbe, up to the Piazza Eremitani and all the way down to Prato della Valle. The best way to discover the city is to walk around. Do not forget to stop from time to time to enjoy a cup of cappuccino, or a glass of Moretti if it is an extremely hot day, and observe the passers-by and the everyday life.
The Botanical Garden of Padua (Orto Botanico) is the world’s oldest academic botanical garden, created in 1545, and is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has a historical garden and a biodiversity garden located in a solar active building.
The Scrovegni Chapel
Do not miss this masterpiece of Giotto (1267-1337) – the father of the Italian Renaissance, one of the first painters who diverted from the flat images of the Byzantine painting traditions. Take a good look of the faces, they are so vivid and full of emotions. I must admit I had the impression that Giotto knew quite a lot of beautiful women. The frescoes in this small chapel are simply mesmerizing. Unfortunately, you can’t enjoy them endlessly, unless you visit the chapel multiple times. You need to book tickets in advance and visitors are allowed in the chapel in small groups, first having to wait in a climate controlled room.
Yes! Spend the day shopping! Padua is a city that offers not only a fine combination of art, history, culture, this special academic halo (the university of Padua is the second oldest in Italy, established in 1222), but also a whole lot of shops, scattered around the historical centre. When you are shopping around, just do not forget to look up and around, then you won’t miss for sure:
- Palazzo del Capitanio
- Loggia della Gran Guardia
- Palazzo della Ragione
- Palazzi communali
- Cafè Pedrocchi
- Palazzo del Bo
- Palazzo Zabarella
Il Duomo is the cathedral of Padua. It took 200 years (1551 – 1754) to build it and the facade has still remained unfinished. It has been initially designed by Michelangelo, but later on the designs have been changed. Enjoy a drink on the square in front of the cathedral. Highly recommended is the Pizzeria al Duomo.
A boat trip on Brenta Canal
If you happen to be in Padua between March and October you should go on a boat trip on the Brenta canal, that’s gonna take you past majestic villas straight to Venice. You can book the trip via Il Burchiello or via I Battelli del Brenta, which more or less is the same company. The trip is inclusive a visit to 3 villas (Villa Pisani, Villa Widmann and Villa Foscari, aka the Malcontenta) and you can opt for a lunch. The villas are actually summer residences of the wealthy built throughout the 16th, 17th and the 18th centuries. You can spot frescoes of Veronese or Tiepolo and enjoy the Vitruvian beauty of the Palladio’s architectural genius.
At the end of this amazing Brenta canal trip a city will open to you with all its beauty and grandeur – Venice. There’s no better way to enter it than from the water. It gives this special feeling of the city offering itself to you, like it did in the glorious days of the Maritime Republics to the sailors arriving there. Venice is not a city for one day but you can make the most out of it in a few hours by allowing yourself to get lost in its labyrinth of alleys and channels. At a certain moment all tourists will be gone in the evening and you will find yourself all alone on a bridge and then you will have Venice all for yourself! And if you fall in love with it you will come back again one day.
You can go back to Padua by train. There’s a train each 20 minutes from Santa Lucia train station and it takes about 25 minutes to Padua. Prices start from as low as 5 EUR per person.
The former tower of the Carrarese Castle has been transformed into an astronomical observatory in the 18th century. The Specola hosts today an astronomical museum.
The name of Saint Anthony is immediately associated with the name of the city. Saint Anthony is the patron saint of Padua. The Basilica of Saint Anthony forms a large complex together with the Franciscan Friary (a network of 5 cloisters) and the oratory of Saint George. The relics of St. Anthony are kept in the Treasury Chapel and the basilica is one of the international shrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
Do not forget to take a break at one of the cafés across the square where you can enjoy a refreshing gelato feasting your eyes on the church, the square and the statue of Gattamelata, cast by Donatello.
Spend some time at the famous Padovan markets hosted on the three central squares of the city: Piazza dei Signori, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Frutti. Smell Italy! Taste Italy! Sense Italy! And when you just think you’ve seen it all, venture into Palazzo della Ragione, the old town hall of Padua, where on the ground floor you will find numerous deli shops.
And just like magic all the stalls will be cleared in the late afternoon and Piazza dei Signori will turn into a big outdoor restaurant with all cafés and restaurants claiming their terrace space under the big tower with the astronomical clock built in 1344.
If you have time…
- Palazzo Zuckermann, hosts an applied and decorative arts museum
- Basilica of St. Giustina
- Cafè Pedrocchi
- Eremitani Town Museums
- Palazzo della Ragione
- Eremitani Church
Padua will surprise you. It will cast a spell on you. It will leave you wanting more of it. So that one day you will return to rediscover it, to relive it.
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