The charming city of Padua is perhaps one of the most underrated destinations in Italy. From the picturesque piazzas of the historic centre to the magnificent frescoes by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel – now a UNESCO world heritage site – there are so many reasons to start planning a trip.
Why you should visit Padua
Padua tends to get overlooked in favour of more famous nearby cities like Venice and Verona. Admittedly, it’s tough to compete with the romance of the Grand Canal and Romeo and Juliet respectively, but Padua has plenty of its own attractions. Here are just a few reasons to plan a tour of Padua:
- Incredible history. The city was founded in 1183 BC – centuries before Rome! Visiting Padua is a journey back in time, from Roman ruins to Renaissance frescoes. Attractions include the remains of a Roman amphitheatre, the historic market in Piazza della Frutta, and the atmospheric alleyways of the Jewish Ghetto.
- Amazing atmosphere. Padua feels laidback and authentic, as it lacks the tourist hordes and crowds of other cities. Thanks to the University of Padua (founded in 1222), there’s a big student population. Therefore, the city feels lively and youthful despite its ancient history. From aperitivo time onwards, there’s a vibrant nightlife in the bustling streets of the historic centre.
What makes Padua even more interesting?
- Delicious food and a great café culture. Local specialities include dishes like bigoli (similar to a thick spaghetti). This dish is typically served with various sauces such as duck with tomatoes and herbs, or sardines and capers. The rich, meaty gran bollito misto is another local favourite – apparently back in the day, Galileo was a fan! The centre is full of excellent restaurants serving up hearty local dishes. Also, you can find many historic cafés and pasticcerie, where you can find wonderful desserts.
- Home to two UNESCO world heritage sites. There are many UNESCO sites in Italy, but considering the relatively small size of Padua, it’s an impressive achievement. Padua has not one but two sites on the list, the 16thcentury Botanical Garden and the 14th century frescoes by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel.
Giotto’s masterpieces in the Scrovegni Chapel
In 2021 the Scrovegni Chapel was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site – a place of unique cultural importance. While there are infinite beautiful churches in Italy, few are as spectacular as this one. Behind the rather plain exterior of the chapel lies one of the greatest masterpieces in Western art – make sure you don’t miss it on your trip to Padua!
The chapel is named after Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy banker who commissioned the building’s construction and decoration. This small church was intended to be a private family church and funerary monument.
More about Giotto…
Raphael and Michelangelo were chosen to decorate the Sistine Chapel and the adjoining rooms. Just like them, Giotto, one of the greatest artists of the day, was selected for the Scrovegni Chapel. The Florentine painter began work in 1305, and worked with a team of 40 collaborators to decorate the walls and ceiling of the chapel with vivid frescoes.
The frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel depict the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary and the story of salvation. Key images include famous scenes such as the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi. These frescoes would remain common subjects for artists for centuries to come.
Giotto’s frescoes are a masterpiece of artistic technique and storytelling. Giotto was a pioneer, paving the way for Renaissance artists like Raphael with his richly realistic portrayals. To truly appreciate his achievement, take a tour of the Scrovegni Chapel and try “reading” the story on the walls. In addition to the chronological horizontal narrative, there’s also a symbolic story in the vertical panels, with one scene foreshadowing the next. And to understand the complex symbolism of the “Vices and Virtues” paintings, you’ll definitely need the explanations of an expert guide.
Day trips to Padua
Padua is easily accessible by public transport. There are regular high speed trains from Rome (3 hours 30 minutes) and Florence (1 hour 50 minutes), and regional trains from Venice (30 minutes).
Given its compact size and transport links, a day trip to Padua is perfect if you’re based in Venice, or even Florence. The train station is just a short walk from the city centre. So don’t worry, you can easily see the Scrovegni Chapel and other attractions in a day, or even just an afternoon.
Let us give you so advise…
Consider making Padua your base. It’s a relaxing and convenient place to stay, as you can easily visit nearby towns and cities like Vicenza, Verona, and of course Venice!
For help with planning your trip to Padua, or information about our customized itineraries (including day trips from Venice and Florence) contact the team at Roads to Rome Private Tours!
Read more: 15 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Padua (Planetware)
Written by Alexandra Turney