As I’ll never get tired of saying, the true beauty of Italy lies in its lesser-known places.
Obviously, Roma will take your breath away the first time you see it, Venezia will enchant you with its dreamlike atmosphere, Florence will make you feel the need to change your career and become a painter right away, and you’ll probably never forget the blue of the sea in the Amalfi Coast or the focaccia and wine you had at sunset at Cinque Terre.
However, if you visit one of those places at peak tourist time, they might turn into some kind of nightmare: crowds and people everywhere, queues for everything, high prices, and an overall mess that makes you want to run away and just forget about Italy.
A way to see Italy in a different, more real and down-to-earth way is to choose one (or more) of its lesser-known cities. They could be a great base camp to explore more touristy areas or a perfect location to get to know the Italian way of life as it really is – or both, of course.
Aperitivo time in Piazza della Frutta
There are countless cities to choose from, everywhere in Italy. Last year I wrote a post about Trieste, which is one of the most beautiful Italian cities I have visited in my life, where I hope to return very soon. This time, I decided to write a similar post about Padova, a lovely town in Veneto.
I have been to Padova for the first time in my life a few years ago and it was love at first sight, literally. I had the opportunity of going back this year for a couple of days and my first impression was confirmed: it is a very beautiful and interesting little town. Well, actually it is not so little for Italian standards – it has 210,000 inhabitants – but it is a really nice and easy city to live in.
As you will see, Padova is full of interesting and unique things to do. At the same time, it is still a bit unknown among tourists and it can be a very relaxing place where you can spend your time.
If you book your hotel or Airbnb there, you can enjoy some quality time and do as the Italians do: go to the market in the morning, take a stroll with a nice gelato in the evening, or sit at a cafè in the late afternoon with a drink in your hand.
the Botanical Garden
This quality of life is combined with a lot of things that make this place worth visiting and that’s why I decided to write this post, listing some of the reasons – I am sure there are many more – you should add it to your itinerary if you decide to come to visit Italy.
Here’s your list of 10 reasons why you should not miss Padova when you come to Italy.
1. The chance of seeing the amazing frescoes of Giotto at the Cappella degli Scrovegni (Scrovegni Chapel). By entering the Chapel, you’ll be enchanted by the view of this 14th-century masterpiece, with a set of frescoes covering the walls and ceiling of the Chapel. Due to the necessity of preserving such a work of art, you’ll be allowed only twenty minutes there, but they are enough to admire the frescoes and to be moved by the fact that they are still there after more than 700 years.
2. The city has one of the biggest squares in Italy and in Europe (only the Red Square in Moscow is bigger). Its name is Prato della Valle and has an elliptical shape which makes it quite peculiar. In the past, the name was quite bizarre as it is called prato, which in Italian means field, but there was no grass in it. Today, instead, grass has been planted and it is now a lovely green area surrounded by canals and statues, which is one of the beating hearts of the city life.
Prato della Valle
3. Padova is the home of the oldest university botanical garden in the world, a place which should absolutely not be missed. Established in 1545, the Botanical Garden of Padova has a long history but it doesn’t show its age. As a matter of fact, next to the old part of the garden, which has amazing old-style charm, a new biodiversity garden has been recently built, hosting 1,300 different species coming from all parts of the world.
4. Needless to say, Padova is home to one of the oldest universities in the world as well. The Università degli Studi di Padova was founded in 1222 by a group of students and teachers coming from the University of Bologna and it’s been there ever since! Padova University is ranked quite high and is very popular among students, that’s why you can really feel and breath student life while you are there – plus visiting some of the old buildings of the university, where you can even see Galileo Galilei’s desk and the room where he used to teach.
Frescoes at the Cappella degli Scrovegni
5. Padova hosts a lot of old historical buildings and monuments but is also home to some quirky museums like the Museo del Precinema (Before Cinema Museum). Such a unique museum shows a collection of optical instruments, lanterns, and toys dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, a sort of museum of wonders devoted to all tools that came before the cinema and somehow fueled the human need for something magical in life.
6. But there’s not just sightseeing to be done in Padova, obviously. Padova is in Veneto, a region where wine is a very important part of the culture. The city is filled with wineries and wine shops, where you can taste some of the amazing wines of the region – where Prosecco is king, nowadays. Prosecco is also a very important ingredient of Spritz, a cocktail made with Prosecco wine, Aperol and soda, something you must not miss if you are in Veneto, as it was invented here.
tramezzino and Spritz
7. Speaking of food and wine, Padova is home to a very nice tradition: having a tramezzino with your aperitivo. Tramezzino is basically a cold sandwich, which in most of Italy is just a sad substitute for lunch when you find yourself at a bar and there’s nothing available. In Padova, though, and everywhere in Veneto, it has its own status and everybody loves it! Therefore, having a tramezzino is something you should do if you want to feel part of the culture. So, when it’s 6 pm, find a nice bar, order a Spritz and a tramezzino: it will really make you feel part of Veneto.
8. When you are done with history, museums, and food, Padova has still something in store for you: street art. As a matter of fact, the walls of Padova have been the canvas of Kenny Random since the 80s. Kenny Random, whose real name is Andrea Coppo, is a street artist who paints colorful murals usually depicting cats, black silhouettes, and cartoon characters. Walking around the city and suddenly spotting one of his murals is a real thrill.
street art in the city center
9. If you are a Catholic or are just interested in religious places, Padova is the place where you can find one of the most important sanctuaries in the world. It is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova, commonly referred to as “Il Santo” by people living in Padova. The church is one of the biggest in the world and it is a very important place of worship, being one of the most visited sanctuaries in the world, with more than 6,5 pilgrims visiting it every year. Even if you are not religious, it is a very interesting place to visit.
10. Last but absolutely not least, Padova is super close to Venice, making it a perfect place to stay if you want to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world avoiding its chaos and high prices. If you stay in Padova, you can easily reach Venice with just a 30-minute train ride or in 45 minutes, if you want to use your car. Therefore, you can relax in the quietness of Padova and go to Venice just for the day – sounds like a plan, uh?
in the courtyard of the Basilica del Santo
One last fun fact about Padova: it is called “la città dei tre senza”, which can roughly be translated as the city of the three without. As a matter of fact, it has “a prato senza erba”, referring to the fact that the Prato della Valle, its main square, had no grass in the past (prato means grass field in Italian). Then it has “a santo senza nome”, since Sant’Antonio has always been called just “il Santo”, the Saint. And last, it has “il caffè senza porte”, referring to the fact that its most famous coffee place, il Caffè Pedrocchi, in the past used to be open 24 hours a day.