Exploring the Veneto Region
Efficient public transport makes it easy to explore the Veneto. Most trips can be completed by train, though some of these itineraries work best with a rental car. You can also leave the driving to someone else by taking a guided tour. For the best things to do in Venice, check out our Ultimate Guide.
It never seems that busy in “Little Venice” (piccola Venezia), a small city of narrow medieval streets, Gothic churches, and its own network of canals, graced by weeping willows and romantic waterwheels. Fashion giant Benetton was founded here in 1965; more enticingly, the city claims to have invented tiramisu.
Much of the artistic appeal in Treviso comes from its association with Giotto’s disciple Tomaso da Modena (1326–79), who frescoed many of its churches; visit Santa Lucia on Piazza San Vito, Italian Gothic San Nicolò and the Museo di Santa Caterina to see the best examples. Piazza dei Signori lies at the historic heart of the city, a graceful square surrounded by grand buildings. Via Calmaggiore, lined with designer boutiques, runs northwest from here towards Treviso’s grand Duomo (cathedral), which has a fine Titian altarpiece.
To sample that addictive dessert, make a pilgrimage to Le Beccherie (Piazza Ancilotto 9), where legend has it tiramisu was invented the 1960s. Treviso is an easy day-trip from Venice (30- to 40-min by train).
Just 26 minutes from Venice (by express train), Padua would be just a workaday Veneto industrial city if not for one, sensational sight: the Giotto frescoes of the Cappella degli Scrovegni. Commissioned in 1303 by Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy banker, the Scrovegni Chapel (aka Arena Chapel) looks fairly plain from the outside. Inside, however, it’s a different story.
Florentine genius Giotto smothered the walls and ceiling with an astonishing cycle of frescoes depicting the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Entrance to the chapel is limited; to visit, you must make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance. If you have more time, check out Padua’s other major crowd pleaser, the Basilica di Sant’Antonio. This ornate church is the resting place of St. Anthony of Padua, the Portuguese Franciscan best known as the Catholic patron saint of "finding things".
In the piazza outside, don’t miss Donatello’s seminal 1453 equestrian statue of the Venetian condottiere Gattamelata, the first large bronze sculpture of the Renaissance.
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Heard of a play called Rome & Juliet? The folks in Verona definitely have. This affluent city, with its gorgeous strawberry- and peach-colored medieval buildings, is one of Italy’s major tourist draws, thanks primarily to William Shakespeare. He immortalized the city in his (totally fictional) romance (as well as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Taming of the Shrew).
Pay your respects at the Casa di Giulietta, a 14th-century house (with balcony, of course), claiming to be Juliet Capulet’s home. There’s not much to see inside, but folks line up in the courtyard to touch a bronze statue of Juliet – rubbing her chest is said to bring good fortune. The rest of Verona is well worth exploring.
The 1st-century Arena di Verona is the third largest classical Roman arena in Italy, after the Colosseum and the arena at Capua, while the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore is the most beautiful Romanesque church in northern Italy. The present edifice was completed around 1135, over the 4th-century shrine to Verona’s patron saint, St. Zeno. The highlight of the interior is Madonna and Saints by Mantegna.
Vicenza is the less-visited cousin of Padua and Verona, despite being crammed with yet more architectural wonders, this time by 16th-century master Andrea Palladio. Though today the city is at the heart of Italy’s “Silicon Valley” and a major industrial hub, much of the historic center has changed little since Palladio’s time.
Piazza dei Signori is dominated by Palladio’s gorgeous Basilica Palladiana and its enormous copper dome (today it’s occupied by the Jewelry Museum). Palladio also designed the elegant Palazzo Chiericati, home to Vicenza’s civic art museum. Palladio took inspiration from classical Roman amphitheaters for his Teatro Olimpico, and decorated many churches in his new Renaissance style: the Chiesa di Santa Corona contains his delightful Valmarana Chapel (as well as Veronese’s Adoration of the Magi).
A short bus ride from the center, Palladio’s gorgeous Villa La Rotonda was the inspiration for Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Nearby (but built much later), Villa Valmarana ai Nani takes its name from the statues of the 17 stone dwarfs on the walls surrounding the house, but it’s the 18th-century frescoes by Giambattista and Tiepolo inside that really makes a visit worthwhile.
The Wine Routes
If you can rent a car (in Piazzale Roma or across the causeway in Mestre), the bucolic wine country of the Veneto is within easy reach of Venice. The closest of Italy's “wine routes” is the 26-mile Strada del Prosecco. Snaking through a landscape of rolling vineyards from Conegliano (about 1hr north of Venice) to Valdobbiadene, the main attraction here is prosecco, the dry, sparkling white wine known as Italy’s champagne.
Most local wineries are open for tastings (and purchases), with Arturo Vettori and Sorelle Bronca just two standouts of many. If you prefer red wine, Conegliano is also the start of the Strada dei Vini del Piave, which runs for 42 miles southeast to Oderzo (think cabernets, merlots and Italian raboso). With more time (1.5hr drive) you can explore the Valpolicella wine region outside Verona.
The Strada del Vino-Valpolicella is an umbrella for several itineraries created by the local association of growers. Peruse the wines in the Allegrini stable at the stunning Villa della Torre, sample the organic vintages at Massimago, admire the stylish contemporary design at Zýmē, or visit the wineries of the late, legendary Giuseppe Quintarelli.
Fans of Italy’s fiery grape-based brandy should make the pilgrimage to Bassano del Grappa on the banks of the River Brenta (1hr 30min drive from Venice). Its namesake spirit is made at distilleries in town and the surrounding countryside – check out the Poli Grappa Museum then visit Grapperia Nardini in the center to get started.
Historian Paul Johnson wrote “Palladio never repeated himself…each design is a little world in itself.” Fans of architecture can see just how true this is with a tour of Palladio’s most spectacular Veneto villas (by car or on a guided tour). Around 37km northwest from Venice, the Villa Cornaro looks like a grand palace, with its distinctive two-tier classical façade of Ionic columns designed by Palladio in 1552.
The Villa Serago, north of Verona, is totally different, with its unique “rusticated” Ionic columns completed in the 1560s. Villa Barbaro (aka Villa di Maser) – which can be combined with the wine routes – has a more subtle Classical design, a bit like a Roman temple, enhanced by frescos by Veronese.
Find out more about what to do and see in the Veneto region and beyond in our comprehensive Guide to Italy's Regions.