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Ancient Italy comes alive in Verona

Annual festival draws opera lovers to a 2,000-year-old arena

Created date

January 2nd, 2018
There are many wonderful examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture in Verona, Italy.

There are many wonderful examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture in Verona, Italy.

Situated along the Adage River midway between Milan and Venice, Verona is the perfect destination for those looking to explore the cuisine and culture of Italy’s northern region.

Its ancient city center is so packed with buildings and monuments dating back to medieval and Renaissance times, UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site.  

Like many Italian cities, Verona is home to a number of beautiful and artistically significant churches. And Castelvecchio, a fourteenth-century castle exhibiting historical art alongside a sprinkling of modern works, is sure to impress art lovers. 

But the essence of Verona lies not in the visual arts but in the performing arts. During the summer months, the population swells as opera fans descend on the city to attend Verona’s celebrated opera festival. And if that weren’t enough, it simultaneously hosts jazz, ballet, theater, and Shakespeare festivals.

Romeo and Juliet

Three of the bard’s most famous works, most notably Romeo and Juliet, take place in Verona. While many experts maintain that Shakespeare never set foot in Verona, it hasn’t stopped the city from embracing his famous fictional characters. 

At the Casa di Guilette (Juliet’s House), you can pose beside Juliet’s statue and see the balcony purported to be the one where the star-crossed lovers declared their love for each other. 

While the site is fun, the truth is that the balcony was added in 1936, created as nothing more than a tourist attraction. Stop by and have a look, but don’t pay the entrance fee to go inside. Your time and money are better spent exploring the authentic history and romance of Verona.  

The gardens

True romantics should head directly to the Giardino Giusti, a masterpiece of Renaissance landscaping dating back to the sixteenth century (giardinogiusti
). Populated with fountains, acoustic caves, pergolas, mythological statues, and a hedge maze, it is one of the finest gardens in the country. 

Don’t let the relatively small size of the garden’s boxwood labyrinth deceive you. Getting through it is so challenging, it is said that lovers who manage to find each other within its walls are destined to stay together forever.

Open year-round, the garden is spectacular in the summer but still worth visiting in colder months because its beauty lies in the design, not in the color-scape of a traditional flower garden. 


Verona is heavily populated with osterias, trattorias, and ristorantes offering delicious food and tasty wine. Two of the local specialties, horsemeat and donkey, can be enjoyed braised as they are traditionally prepared, or in a pasta dish. Try them with bigoli, a thicker version of spaghetti; it is the region’s signature pasta.

As a rule, expect to pay a bit more at restaurants located in the center of large piazzas like the Piazza Bra. Find a quaint place on any side street and you will likely pay less for a higher-quality meal.

For those seeking more of a dining experience, head directly to Ristoranti 12 Apostoli ( Run by the Gioco family, the restaurant has been at the center of Verona’s cultural life for well over a century.

Ristoranti 12 Apostoli is the perfect combination of old and new—embracing modern concepts like local sourcing while remaining true to Verona’s culinary traditions. The restaurant’s six-course tasting menu presents diners with a thoughtful, creative, and delicious dining experience. To drink, enjoy a bottle of locally produced Amarone, considered to be one of Italy’s finest red wines.  

At the conclusion of the meal, the proprietor Antonio Gioco often invites guests to tour the restaurant’s wine cellar. Descending down the narrow stairway, it soon becomes obvious that wine is not the main attraction. 

During some routine maintenance in the 1980s, it was discovered that the restaurant was built over an ancient temple dating back to the time of Christ. Working with the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture, the restaurant excavated the site and preserved it. Gioco clearly takes great pride in sharing this discovery with restaurant patrons, and it is an incredibly unique way to end a singular meal. 


In the center of town is the 2,000-plus-year-old Roman arena ( Similar to but smaller than the great Coliseum in Rome, Verona’s arena continues to stage spectacles.  

The summer of 2018 opera festival will include performances of Carmen, The Barber of Seville, and Aida. Tickets for seats close to the stage can cost 200€, but general admission to the stone benches near the top of the arena are an affordable 23€.

If you prefer your opera indoors, Verona is also home to Teatro Filarmonico. One of the leading opera houses in Europe, the theater was built in 1716. It collapsed during allied bombing in 1945, and restoring the building to its former glory was a long and expensive process. Teatro Filarmonico was finally re-dedicated in 1975.   

If opera isn’t your thing, you might enjoy a performance at the Roman Theater (Teatro Romano). Constructed in the first century, it is an amphitheater built into a hill overlooking the Adage River. When the weather is warm, it hosts festivals celebrating jazz, dance, theater, and Shakespeare.

With its many performing arts venues, Verona offers travelers a unique opportunity to experience the romance and drama of Italy as it was in ancient times. Make sure to include it in your itinerary the next time you find yourself in Northern Italy.