When it comes to northern Italy, Padova is not usually a city that pops into one's head. Venice, obviously. Florence, of course. Verona, possibly. But Padova? Hardly any tourists know about this little gem of a town and truth be told, that's half of the reason why Padova is the perfect city to add to your bucket list. Padova (or Padua in English) is half an hour from Venice, an hour from Verona and roughly two hours from both Milan and Florence. Thus, making it the perfect in-between town to spend a couple of days or a day trip. Like most Italian cities, Padova is rich in history, culture and beauty and if you're anything like me you'll fall in love almost instantly. Take it from me, I moved here on what was meant to be a yearlong adventure and four years later, I'm still here!
So why Padova?
While it might not have droves of tourists visiting each year, Padova is a still a very lively and energetic city. As well as well dressed professionals and a large expat community, much of its vibrancy is largely due to some 40,000 thousand students that attend university here. The University of Padova is one of the oldest universities in the world. Galileo Galilei was a professor here and the first woman to ever obtain a degree studied here. It's also home to world's first anatomical theatre which is still standing today. And while we're talking about world firsts, Padova also boasts the oldest Botanical Gardens in which is still home to over 7,000 botanical species today. And what would an Italian city be without a handful of beautiful churches? Well, Padova's grand Saint Anthony's Basilica is definitely a must see when in town. Saint Anthony is the patron saint of Padova and is actually buried here which makes it one of the most visited attractions in town. There is also the Basilica Santa Giustina which houses the remains of the apostle St Luke and Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel in which his famous frescoes adorn the walls and ceilings which is often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the north.
Aside from all of the above, my favourite places to spend my time in Padova is in one of the several piazzas. There's Prato della Valle which is the largest piazza in Italy and is a grand, open space adorned with lush green grass, a canal and many nice cafes and restaurants that line it.
There's also the smaller ones in the historic centre — Piazza delle Erbe which is home to daily markets, Piazza della Fruita with it's fresh fruit and vegetables and Piazza dei Signori which is the meeting place of the city to name a few.
How to get here?
Padova is very well connected, whether you're flying, driving or training. Its closest airports are Venice which most large international and budget European airlines fly into or Treviso airport which is a base for Ryan Air and Wizz Air.
Trains depart and arrive daily from all over Italy as well as internationally from countries like Austria, Slovenia and France. Via train, Padova can be reached in half an hour from Venice, 3 hours from Rome, an hour and a half from Florence and two hours from Milan.
Things to do and see
- Hire a bike and explore the city like a local. Personally, I think this is the best way to see Padova. Good Bike Padova has pick up and drop off stations across the city and start from as little as €8 for four hours. Look for the red and black Good Bike logo and a row of red bikes.
- Prato della Valle is the largest piazza in Italy and is also one of my favourites in Europe. Spend an afternoon lazing in the sun or taking in the atmosphere. No matter the time of the year, Prato della Valle always feels lively. Whether it be people reading a book under a tree, market stalls or some kind of special event.
- Check out the Botanical Gardens of Padova. It is the oldest of its kind in the world and is home to over 7000 botanical species. It’s also really pretty and is a great way to spend an hour or two.
- Visit Giotto’s famous Scrovengi Chapel and the surrounding churches and museums. If you’ve heard of Padova before, then you’ve most likely heard of the stunning frescoes by Giotto. Take in the masterpieces and learn about the history of Padova and its churches.
- Saint Anthony’s Basilica is the highlight of Padova. Despite not being from Padova, or even Italian, Saint Anthony is the patron saint of the city and is buried within his namesakechurch. The church itself is a piece of work, and is a combination of Roman, Byzantine and Gothic architecture. Thousands of people make pilgrimages to Padova every year just to visit the basilica.
- Palazzo della Regione is Padova’s stunning town hall. Situated in the centre of town in between Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza delle Fruita. Although it’s not the official town hall anymore, it’s open to the public to explore and is often home to special exhibitions. The top floor has a beautiful wooden roof and is adorned with frescoes. Also, be sure to check out the rows and rows of shops and delis on the ground floor showcasing and selling local specialties and delicacies.
- The Univeristy of Padova and Palazzo Bo both of which you can see with a guided tour. Included on the tour is also Galileo's old classroom and the world's first anatomical theatre.
- Pedrocchi Cafe is a Padova institution and is often referred to as the ‘cafe without doors’ because in its early days it was open 24 hours a day. Nowadays it’s a fancy cafe, with expensive prices and classy clientele. Aside from an event, I haven’t actually dined here but given its significance to the city, I felt as though I had to add it to the list. If for nothing else, it is actually a very pretty building and happens to be right in front of Zara.
- Padova’s Duomo is also a site to add to the list. Not as impressive as Saint Anthony’s Basilica, however, it does have some pretty amazing frescoes inside dating back to the 13th century.
Where to eat
- Caffeine for the closest thing Padova has to brunch and for coffee.
- Gourmeteria for modern take on Italian and the vibes.
- Hamaericas Burgers for the best burgers in town! Try the 212 burger and thank me
- Bar Nazionale for tramezzini, spritz and people watching in Piazza della Erbe.
- Gran Caffe Diemme in Piazza dei Signori. Their menu changes with the season, just as
- many Italian restaurants do.
- Zairo in Prato della Valle for traditional Italian.
- Have a Spritz Aperol in any of the several piazza’s. Spritz is a typical Italian drink consisting of prosecco, soda/sparkling water and Aperol. If bitter is more your liquid try a Spritz Campari, and if you have sweet tooth try a Spritz Hugo.
- Gabin Gusto Esclamativo! for an Italian twist on ‘street food’. Also, good for wine or aperitivo.
- Da Prette for a cheap, tasty lunch on the go. Think calzone but smaller and super yummy. They have also just introduced a couple desert versions as well!
Amber is a freelance writer, travel blogger, pasta lover and book nerd who is currently living, breathing and eating all things Italian. She occasionally explores, but also spends a lot of time binge watching bad TV on the couch with her English Bulldog.
Catch more of her adventures here: https://wanderlustandpasta.com/