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Top things to see in Verona

Andy Stevens / 06 October 2016

Your essential guide to the top things to see in Verona, including cultural and historical highlights and the best places to visit.

Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore, Verona
The Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore is one of Verona's top attractions.

Your essential guide to the top things to see in Verona, including cultural and historical highlights, plus all the best places to visit and things to do when you're lucky enough to spend some leisure time in this enchanting Italian city.

Verona opera house and opera

The city of Verona can claim - with some justification - to be the home of opera. Although it’s Italian musical rival Milan may have something to say about that.

But for sheer drama and grandeur in an incomparable setting, Milan may have to grudgingly concede that Verona has the proud boast of its Arena di Verona, the first century Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra, as the majestic venue for its opera festival.

Either way, Verona's famous annual summer opera festival hosts the finest performances of the genre's most internationally-acclaimed exponents performing opera's greatest works, with the operas of Verdi and Puccini often figuring heavily, you won't be surprised to hear.

The Verona festival normally runs from mid-June to early September, and as a magnet for opera lovers the world over, very early booking for the best prices, seats, performances and accommodation is an absolute must.

Outside the blazing summer months, Verona's stunning Teatro Filarmonica takes the music indoors with programmes of classical concerts, ballet and opera.

Related: Top tips for visiting the Opera in Verona.

Verona Arena, Roman amphitheatre

The gladiators and the animals are long gone, of course. But Verona's spectacular marble Roman amphitheatre has remained a dramatic focal point of the city's entertainment and cultural life for nearly 2000 years.

Verona's amphitheatre was built around AD 30 between the end of the reign of the Emperor Augustus and the start of Emperor Claudius' rule. 

Today its fame is cemented worldwide as the stunning open air venue for the annual Verona Opera Festival (see above), with musical performances in their current guise going back to 1913.

Opera lovers often note with awe the tiered Arena's magnificent acoustics during performances, and as the third largest amphitheatre in Italy, it remains the best preserved building in Verona from Roman times.

Juliet's house, Verona

The historical veracity of the Verona connection to Shakespeare's mythical star-crossed lovers Romeo & Juliet is hotly disputed. But when in Verona and all doesn't really matter.

Casa di Giulietta, Juliet's house, balcony and all, is a must-tick sight on the Verona tourist trail. 

Romantic notions and pledges of eternal love aside, the building itself houses quite enough of an interesting tale; it dates back to the 13th century and was once in the ownership of the Cappelletti family, which isn't a million miles from the name 'Juliet Capulet', if you can see the link.

Visitors today make a point of touching Juliet's statue, which stands mournfully beside the charming house. Quite how much luck in affairs of the heart this sweet gesture has given people down the years has yet to be established!

Related: A visit to Verona – and insiders account.

Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore, Verona

Verona is the proud home to several of the most historically significant and ornate churches in Italy. And that's some claim in a country which boasts many of the most awe-inspiring ancient places of Christian worship in the world.

Arguably the most loved - and certainly fascinating - among these treasured Veronese churches is Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore.

Named after the patron saint of Verona, San Zeno, alongside the basilica you will find a 14th century bell-tower which is name-checked in Dante's Divine Comedy. You're never far from Romeo & Juliet in Verona, and San Zeno's crypt - which houses the corpse of the saint himself - is where the young lovers were married in Shakespeare's great romance.

San Zeno was founded on the site of a Romanesque basilica, and no visit would be complete without time to marvel at the church's vibrantly-restored Majesty of the Virgin altarpiece, which dates back to the mid-1400s. Plus, make sure you take in San Zeno's 13th- and 14th-century frescoes, and its large rose-shaped window known as the Wheel of Fortune, which was later to become a hallmark style of much Gothic architecture.

The cuisine of Verona

All that sightseeing in Verona will sharpen the appetite. And eating out in Verona will change any established notions you may have about the humble risotto. In Verona, risotto is king - and never from a packet.

Vialone Nano is a local speciality rice which lifts Verona's trademark risotto dishes into the realm of culinary excellence.

Recommended specialities to look out for on the city's many fine 'osteria' (restaurant) menus include risotto all'Amarone, with an intense flavour underpinned by the regional Valpolicella wine, risotto al radicchio (deriving a sweet taste from the eponymous vegetable), and the peppery pork sausage risotto known as risotto al tastasal.

So you don't fancy a Veronese risotto. Well, not to worry: regionally-focused meat signature dishes are plentiful (yes, and sometimes including horse, donkey and veal, we might add), and the local 'bigoli' pasta choices - a larger cousin of your everyday spaghetti - are joy on a plate. 

The sweet-toothed among you should try a tempting traditional pandoro Veronese cake to top off your visit.

Related: The best Italian food and drink.

Shopping in Verona

For the slick and stylish shopping experience you've come to expect in Italian cities, with a focus on all things designer, make a beeline for Verona's pedestrianised Via Mazzini.

In Via Mazzini and its surrounding streets you'll find emporiums to all the big gleaming brands of Italy. 

But there's more to Verona's main shopping area than buying stuff: it's a genuinely enjoyable place to window shop and feel the city vibe, while stopping off here and there for a fabulous ice cream in a proper Italian parlour, or sipping a cappuccino at a pavement cafe for a spot of people-watching.

If you enjoy the authentic buzz of open-air markets, head to Verona's main market square, the Piazza della Herbe, once the site of the city's Roman forum.

This picturesque square remains a hub of Verona life and is notable for fine architecture including the Lamberti tower, which climbs to more than 80 metres high and at its top houses two bells dating back to the 13th century.

Market day, you'll be pleased to hear, is every day apart from Sunday, from 8am to 7pm, where mouthwatering local produce from this rich agricultural area and beautiful flowers will dazzle you as you walk from stall to stall.

Related: The best food markets to visit when in Italy. 

Discover Saga’s range of holidays to Italy.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.