Overshadowed by Venice, Padua doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Only 30 minutes by train from its famous neighbour, it has stunning Venetian-style architecture, picturesque squares, world-class museums and the relaxed atmosphere of a university town. Rents are low, prices in restaurants and bars are reasonable and you can enjoy the ancient streets in peace without selfie-snapping tourists getting in your way.
When I first visited Padua, it was a late afternoon in spring, the sun was casting a golden glow over the historic palaces on Piazza Della Frutta. A subdued murmur floated above the square where patavini, as locals call themselves, were partaking in their beloved ritual of an evening aperitivo–a pre-dinner drink. I sat at a table facing the glorious piazza to sip an Aperol spritz, watch the sun go down and bask in la dolce vita.
What to Do
The majority of foreigners visit Padua on day trips from Venice, however, to appreciate the city’s charm and beauty, you might want to stay for a few days. Padua is a treasure trove for art and culture buffs, who come here to admire the 14th-century frescoes by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel, masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Tiepolo in the Pinacoteca, the imposing Palazzo della Ragione. Pilgrims from across the globe come to Padua’s Basilica of St. Anthony to see the saint’s tomb and well-preserved relics.
On hot summer days I like to chill-out in the magnificent 16th century Botanical garden, the oldest of its kind in Europe or stroll around Prato della Valle, the largest square in Italy surrounded by a canal with four magnificent bridges.
Where to Eat
Food lovers will be thrilled to sample the delicious local cuisine in the city’s excellent restaurants. Osteria l’Anfora is one of my favourite, with its cluttered interior, dark wooden tables and noisy crowds of locals enjoying simple, honest dishes. For around $40 you can have a three-course meal to remember.
No visit to the city would be complete without shopping at the famous Sotto Il Salone covered market where locals have been stocking up on cheeses, fresh and cured meats, bread since medieval times. I can spend an entire day walking around the stands and sampling delectable artisanal produce here.
For a good cup of coffee I love popping in to Café Manin which, following centuries-long traditions, still roasts its own exquisite coffee blends. The 19th century Café Pedrocchi is another place to stop for a drink. Once a venue for balls and parties of the local aristocracy, today it is renowned for its signature coffee: a shot of espresso topped with mint-flavoured milk foam.
To spoil my foodie friends I grab a few gifts at the historic Drogheria Preti shop, which is like Aladdin’s Cave, filled to the brim with rare liquors, quality chocolate, spices, fragrant soaps and some unexpected goods such as bee’s wax wood polish and natural paint pigments.
Where to Stay
There are several elegant hotels in the historic centre of Padua to suit all budgets. The sumptuous Hotel Grand’Italia, a stone’s throw from the central train station, will set you back $175 for a double room per night. I’m not a big fan of short stays, so I always choose more economic options for five or so days, outside the city’s medieval wall yet only a short stroll to the main landmarks. On my recent visit I stayed in a quiet apartment found on Airbnb, a 15-minute walk from downtown, surrounded by tall linden trees and fragrant jasmine hedges. It was a steal at $58 per night.
For longer stays, rentals vary from $550 to $1,150 (in some cases, frescoed ceilings and antique furniture are included in the price!) per month depending on the location and the apartment size.