Even those who are not avid readers of Shakespeare are likely to have heard of Romeo and Juliet, the tragic love story that the old Bard wrote and which was set in Italy's northern city of Verona. Whilst the characters are said to be fictional, Juliet's 'house' and in particular, its balcony, are one of Verona's key attractions. But it's not the only thing to do in Verona, as I found out on an afternoon visit.
Verona is ideally situated for day trips from many of Italy's more famous cities so even if you're short of time, it's worth making the effort to spend a few hours in this lovely city. Around two hours by train from Milan, Venice or Bologna will have you in Verona with the journey time from Florence and Rome closer to three hours. My afternoon visit to Verona started when I set off from Lake Garda, with the drive taking about an hour.
Arriving on a warm summer's day, the Piazza Bra, the city's main square, was humming and attracting most attention was the impressive Arena. Built in the 1st Century AD, it is one of the largest surviving amphitheatres of the Roman world. Today it is home to world famous operas - a far cry from its gladiatorial beginnings. Originally built to seat 20,000 spectators, it truly is a magnificent engineering masterpiece with the highly-acclaimed acoustics making it one the most popular venues for opera performances in the world. Climbing to the upper tiers of the Arena, I was rewarded with the best views of the town and a real appreciation of the master craftsman who built the Arena almost 2,000 years ago.
Outside the Arena, with gelato in hand, I headed up Via Mazzini, Verona's main street which is lined with stores selling everything the shopper could possibly need. The pedestrian-only street joins Piazza Bra with Piazza delle Erbe, which is surrounded by medieval townhouses and Renaissance palaces, and on this day, was filled with shoppers, workers and tourists by the hundreds.
A little further along, and well signposted, I found Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's house). Stepping into the courtyard, which was packed with people, I gazed at the balcony where the fictious Juliet once stood. But I didn't want to just see Juliet's balcony, I wanted to stand on it as Juliet had done, so I parted with a couple of euros and climbed the stairs in Juliet's house for my turn.
Returning to Piazza Bra, I admired the Palazzo della Gran Guardia (the palace of the grand guard), which is right next to the Portoni della Brà, the old city gate. The palace was built in 1610 and was the headquarters and registered office of the city guard. It's just one of many impressive buildings throughout the city.
Which just an afternoon to spend in Verona my sightseeing was limited but there are plenty more things to and see in Verona. San Zeno Maggiore, arguably Italy's most magnificent Romanesque church can be found in Verona, and the Teatro Romano, a ruined Roman theatre, and the archeological museum are places I'll have to visit in the future. Perhaps next time I'll plan my visit for April when Vinitaly, Italy's biggest wine fair takes place!
Have you visited Verona? What were your favourite things to see and do?