I still vividly remember the day I moved to Padova. It was smack bang in the middle of summer in 2014 and the city was a ghost town. I remember thinking to myself that we had made a huge mistake and that we needed to get our butts back on a plane to England asap.
Well, we’ve been here for nearly four years now and looking back all I can say is that I’m glad we gave Padova a shot. In my defence, I had been up since 2am that morning travelling, landed in Venice to 35 degree heat, took two hours for someone to tell me where my dog was and a whole lot of other Italian bureaucracy and frustrations.
Anyways, my point is that Padova is actually pretty damn great! Amazing even. And you should definitely add it to your Italian bucket list and come visit me. Aside from great company and a free tour guide, I promise to ply you with copious amount of Spritzes and feed you yummy food, because we all know food is life in my house.
Padova city centre.
Where is Padova?
Padova or Padua in English is a medium sized city in northern Italy, about half way between Venice and Verona. So if you’re travelling through Italy any time soon and happen to be going to either of those cities, it’s definitely worth a stop. Even if it’s just for the day.
Like most Italian cities, Padova is both rich in culture and history, and is a bustling mix of university students, well dressed professionals and surprisingly, quite a few expats as well.
Piazza dei Signori.
It is also home to one of the oldest and most prominent universities in Italy. Second, only to Bologna. In fact, Galileo was a professor here! For this reason, Padova has a very youthful vibe and on any given day you’ll find it busy with students making their way to class, socialising at a local cafe over a Spritz or relaxing in the sun in Prato della Valle.
Also, one of the things that I love most about Padova, is the fact that it’s off the beaten – tourist – track. That’s not to say that we don’t get tourists, because we do, but you never feel as though the city is too crowded or over run by tourists which can often be the case in other Italian cities.
Via Roma in the city centre.
What to see and do
Whether you’re visiting for the day or the weekend, Padova has plenty to offer. The city centre itself is totally doable in a day, so if that’s all the time you have then that’s perfectly fine. You’ll still be able to take in its charm and beauty, and see most of the city’s sites.
However, if you are staying for a couple of days, Padova as a region has a lot more to offer than just the city centre. If you’re hiring a car, I would definitely suggest also exploring the Euganean Hills, Abano Terme and the many villa’s Padova has to offer.
Abano Terme is home to some of the best thermal spas and hotels in Italy, and the Euganean Hills give Tuscany a run for it’s money in terms of views, vineyards and gastronomy. My favourite towns are Arqua Petrarca and Teolo.
Prato della Valle on Saturday when the markets are on.
Things to do in the city centre
- 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.
Daily fruit & veggie market in Piazza della Erbe.
- 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 it’s 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 name sake church. 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.
Saint Anthony’s Basilica.
- Palazzo Bo is not an actual palace but a shrine to the Universities past and present teachers and students. Through an archway directly in front of Pedrocchi Cafe, you’ll find a small piazza filled with coats of arms and plaques.
- Pedrocchi Cafe is a Padova institution and is often referred to as the ‘cafe without doors’ because in it’s early days it was open 24 hours a day. Now a days it’s a fancy cafe, with expensive prices and classy clientele. Aside from an event, I haven’t actually dined here but given it’s 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, it does have some pretty amazing frescoes inside dating back to the 13th century.
Jewish Ghetto in the city centre.
- Enjoy Padova’s many piazza’s and boy do we have many. I’ve already mentioned Prato della Valle, but within the city centre there are several more. Piazza dei Signori which is a lively square which comes to life for aperitivo and after dinner drinks, especially in the spring. Piazza della Fruitta and Piazza della Erbe for it’s daily market stalls ranging from fresh fruit and veggies to clothes and knick knacks. And, Piazza Duomo for a break from all the walking to enjoy a Spritz or even some lunch.
- Take a wander around the cobbled streets of the Jewish Ghetto and take a million photos of the architecture and overgrown vines. Remember to look up, some of the best views are the balconies and windows.
Aperitivo time in Piazza dei Signori.
Where to eat and drink
- Caffeine for the closest thing Padova has to brunch and 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 later.
- 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.
Tramezzini from Bar Nazionale in Piazza delle Erbe.
- 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!
Calzone from Da Prette.
How to get here
The closest airport to Padova is Venice Marco Polo. Most major airlines fly into Venice, as well as your budget European airlines like Easy Jet, Ryan Air and Vueling. From here, Padova is a bus and train ride away. Treviso and Verona airports are also less than an hour away too.
Italy is very well connected via train. You can catch a train to and from Padova to most major cities including Florence and Milan which is an hour an half away, Venice which is half an hour away or Rome which can be reached in three hours.
Despite Italians being some of the craziest and annoying drivers, hiring a car is incredibly feasible and easy. Like the train network, the entire country is very well connected via a series of motorways.
Prato della Valle.
Where to stay
So, confession, I have absolutely no idea where to stay when visiting Padova. Because I actually live here, obviously I’ve never needed a hotel. But watch this space for an update soon. It might be fun for me to even have a little fun and enjoy a staycation in my own city!