Near Venice in Northern Italy, the two stately cities of Padua and Vicenza are well worth a visit and the top sights can be seen in 48 hours. Padua’s university and botanic gardens are among the oldest in Europe, Piazza delle Valle is one of Italy’s largest public squares, and the Scrovegni Chapel has beautiful frescoes by Giotto. Vicenza is the home town of Renaissance architect Palladio thus the city is a good place for an introduction to his architecture.
Before you go to Padua, or Padova, buy your tickets to see the stunning fresco series by Giotto, painted from 1300 through 1305. A limited number of people are admitted at one time and reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance.
If you have a morning booking for the Scrovegni Chapel, go there first. Then take the short walk into town, stopping for a coffee in the historic Pedrocchi Cafe, a famous coffee house from the early 19th century that was a meeting place for intellectuals of the period.
The entrance to Palazzo Bo is across from the Cafe. Stop in to check the tour schedule, as it is given only 2 or 3 times a day. Padua’s university was started in 1222 and was famous for its school of medicine in the 16th – 17th centuries. Sign up for a 45 minute tour that includes a look at the amazing anatomical theater built in 1594, able to accommodate 300 students (standing only).
Continue to the two big squares, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Frutti. Between the squares is the covered market that’s a great place to shop. Above the market is the majestic Palazzo della Ragione, dating from the late 12th century, whose walls are covered with frescoes.
Continue walking to the other end of town, to see the Pontifical Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, a pilgrimage church and complex dating from the 13th century. Inside are several decorated chapels in Renaissance and Baroque style, many art works, and Saint Anthony’s tomb. Visit the four cloisters next to the church and the museums. Then watch the multimedia presentation about Saint Anthony’s life.
Finally head to the edge of the historic center to Prato delle Valle, a huge elliptical piazza, said to be the largest public square in Italy. Ringed by historic buildings, the piazza has 78 statues and a park in the center.
In the evening return to Piazza dei Frutti for an apertivo at one of the bars. If the weather’s nice, sit outside and people watch while you enjoy the scenery.
See What to Discover for a map showing Padua’s sights.
While Padua can be visited as a day trip from Venice, it’s a great place to stay. Padua can be used as a base for visiting Venice, Vicenza, and other nearby cities. It’s less expensive and less touristy than Venice and has a lot to offer. We stayed in this spacious Garden apartment. It’s in a great neighborhood with several good restaurants, a very short walk from the historic center.
From Padua it’s a 15 minute train ride to Vicenza, home of famous Renaissance architect Palladio. From the train station it’s a short walk into town. 23 of Vicenza’s buildings were designed by Palladio. Ask at the tourist office for a map showing the Palladian buildings.
Start your visit at the Palladio Museum in Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, one of the Palladio-designed buildings. Here you’ll get a good overview of Palladio’s architecture.
The Basilica Palladiana, in Piazza dei Signori, is considered to be Palladio’s masterpiece. It’s a beautiful building designed in classical Roman style with marble columns and porticoes. Go up on the rooftop terrace for fantastic views of the city.
Stop in at the cafe across the square from the Basilica. Enjoy a coffee with a view in the upstairs room or at one of the balcony tables. Have lunch at Gastronomia Il Ceppo, Corso Andrea Palladio 196, dining in the wine cellar below the store (closed Mondays).
From Vicenza you can take a full day guided excursion, Off the Beaten Path in Veneto. You’ll visit four towns in the Veneto and a Palladian villa in the countryside. Also included is transportation to and from Vicenza.