Being a Tourist in Verona

The other weekend I took another step into the world of travelling (bear with me, I’m a slow starter), spending a whole day in the beautiful city of Verona with nothing but a basic map, courtesy of Google images, and some train times – oh, and my phone with GPS, plus an external charger. I apologise to the hardened travellers, but I would like to see you follow my sense of direction: it always results in resorting to GPS to find my way back from some desolate suburb of a city.

Verona had always been top of the list for places to see in Italy, largely because of my love of literature; how could I not want to see the setting of the world renowned romance of Romeo and Juliet? Yet it is not just literary delights that this city holds; its history, religion and modern culture are all fascinating attractions.

It is clear that it thrives on tourism, and if you are a tourist yourself, it is easy to get your hands on a map of the city centre, highlighting the main tourist attractions. Though there are a few signs directing you towards the Duomo, Juliet’s Balcony, and other popular places, they are sparse and not always clear. However, if you have a whole day, as I did – it is slightly more thrilling to see where your feet can take you. There are a few must see places:

The Duomo (cathedral) is truly stunning on the inside.  Though the outside still holds an architectural beauty, it is one that doesn’t really surpass others in Italy. If you are looking for a particular beauty on the outside, look up as you enter under the archway.

The Roman Arena. Unfortunately ruined slightly on my visit by construction work, yet it is an extraordinary reminder of an ancient and epic history. Its location is juxtaposed between similar historic buildings, and the modern addition of pizzerias and tourist delights; a strange but fascinating environment. There is a small amount to pay if you want to enter the arena and take in the full effect of its circular architecture, and I highly recommend doing so: not only does it allow you to witness the theatrical atmosphere of past centuries, but the walk along the top of the stands provides a birdseye view of the stunning architecture in the city centre.

Juliet’s Balcony. This is one of those places which everyone will ask you about if you’ve visited Verona (as I am discovering), and obviously it holds a literary interest, so my own expectations were high. Unfortunately, it didn’t by any means reach them. If you want to take in a Shakespearian atmosphere, you would do better to visit his birthplace in Stratford, England, as Juliet’s Balcony, though inspired by his writing, is little note than a tourist trap. I discovered this upon entry: the area around the balcony and Juliet’s statue is tiny, just allowing for twenty or so tourists to squash in, and equalled in size by a shop selling every romantic cliché under the sun. The balcony itself is also unimpressive, holding less beauty than several others just a few steps down the street. This is a place to say you’ve visited for the reputation, but in my opinion it holds little true delights.

Castello Vecchio and the Bridge. This remains my personal highlight in Verona: due to my awful sense of direction, it was the first attraction I reached, so I suppose holds some emotional attachment as the moment I began to see the beauty in travelling solo. Yet this personal bond is by no means all that holds me to it. Exploring the castle itself is relatively brief, with only a large courtyard open to the public. The delights here are in the Latin inscriptions on the stones, and looking up to the surrounding fortress walls. However, if you are wanting to be truly stunned, exit this courtyard onto the bridge. I was fortunate enough to attend on a market day, when along with all the usual stalls, you can find those following the “vecchio” theme – to the point one man dressed in mediaeval garb was chipping away at stone to create the ornaments for his stall. If you have the nerve, it can also provide the greatest view I have found in Verona; stone ledges follow along both sides before the outer walls, allowing enough room for two feet and some spectacular sights of the river and city below.

As well as these four main tourist attractions, those looking for history may also be interested in The Old Roman Theatre and Roman Ruins; distanced only a minutes walk from one another, they are yet more reminders of the city’s link with this epic and theatrical history. I would also recommend looking out for the smaller churches, that while arguably not so grand as the Duomo, hold quite as much character. I was stunned at how often they were to be found, sometimes of seemingly deserted side streets, and others surrounded by the more urbanised centre.

Verona remains one of my highlights of Italy so far, and the beauty in it is you can see all the grandeur in a day, yet upon further visits still discover new delights (as I have recently, found through two shorter visits with friends). Though it remains busy throughout the year, the city centre has largely escaped the usual urbanisation, and it is only outside the city gates (a lot of Italian cities still have their old entrances, from when they were provinces) that you may recognise you are in a city, and not a fairytale.

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