22 top things to do in Padua, Italy, and experience the city like a local
Here is my bit about the most interesting things to do in Padua, Italy. The city of Padua is one of the most underrated places in Italy. Most foreign travelers approach Padua as a diversion on the way to Venice, or as a stopover when going to more interesting towns in North Italy, like Verona or Milan. After having spent almost a week in Padua, and being a lover of off-the-track, slow-paced cities, I regretted much that I had not seen and promised myself I would visit a second time.
You want to visit Padua from Venice… What about the other way round?
It only takes half an hour by train to reach Venice from Padua. A local traveler would rather stay in Padova and take one or more day trips to Venice than the opposite solution… Venice is overcrowded, and Padua is lovely. Forget the lines, the high water, the tourist scams. Have a stroll in Venice and then retire to cute medieval Padua to have a quiet evening and night. And guess what? Padua’s train station lies 15 minutes by foot from the city’s historical center. So, no need to rush. Choose Padua as your strategic base to explore north Italy. Discovering Padua means more than a visit to the Scrovegni Chapel. There are at least eight other sites in Padua where you can admire the frescoes of Master Giotto and his disciples.
Padua: a lesser-known legendary city
There’s a popular saying that people from Rome and people from Padua (that’s how Italian call it…) are cousins. This originates from the narratives of at least two eminent historical figures: the poet Virgil and the historian Tito Livio. According to their knowledge, the city of Padua was founded by Antenor, one of the Trojans that, together with Aeneas, had to leave his homeland because of the conflict with the Greeks. Aeneas crossed the Mediterranean Sea and laid the foundation of Rome, while Antenor fled to the north of Italy via land and founded Padua. There is more than one landmark to commemorate this event in Padua. During the Middle Ages, a citizen of Padua built a monument in the place which today is Piazza Antenore, after he had found an ancient sarcophagus with a skeleton and identified it as the remains of Antenor.
Grab the city map at the Tourist Info Center and plan your itinerary in Padua
Padua’s historical center is tiny compared to other cities in Italy. I’ll pin the main places of interest on my map here, but in case you like to hold a paper map while you sightsee, you can get a nice one for free at the Tourism Info Point inside the train station, just in front of Caffè Natoo. It has some great coffee and fresh juices too.
Self-guided walk through Padua’s historical center
From the train station, take Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi that passes through the Scrovegni Chapel, the Giotto Public Park and the free Paleontology Museum. Reach Piazza Garibaldi. Take Via Cavour and visit Piazza Cavour, Caffè Pedrocchi, and Palazzo Bo, then turn right to enter Piazza Delle Erbe. You’ll be at the heart of the historical center. See the Ragione Palace, Piazza Dei Signori, and Loggia dell Guardia, then go back and have a stroll in the ghetto quarter. Walk under all the different porticos until you reach the Sant’Antonio Cathedral and the immense square of Prato della Valle.
Let’s go into more detail about the best things to do in Padua.
Have breakfast at one of these beautiful cafes
Speaking of coffee… one of the things I appreciated the most during my stroll around Padua was the presence here and there of cute coffee shops which I couldn’t resist entering. Way more relaxed and friendly than most of the cafes in Rome. Try and pay a visit to at least a couple of the ones I liked the most.
– Caffè Pedrocchi – an immersion in the 19th century
Much more than a coffee shop! Actually, I’ve never seen a café in Italy that could be compared to this. Caffè Pedrocchi is one of the icons of Padua. Its founder, the coffee master Antonio Pedrocchi, conceived of a monumental building, an abode of intellectual excitement and international exchange. The café gained the name of “open door café” because it remained open day and night from 1831 to 1916. Take a rest on one of the soft benches of the “green room” while you read a book; that’s what that room was created for! It’s a welcoming place for students and travelers, even if they don’t buy a thing… But don’t miss what’s happening in the other rooms, in particular, the best seller Pedrocchi coffee, a large espresso covered in minty pistachio foam and a sprinkle of cocoa (€3). And of course the cuisine at Pedrocchi is excellent. A must visit in Padua.
– The Coffee Box
This is an American style cafeteria on two storeys, just a quick walk from the Scrovegni Chapel. Their muffins are an out-of-the-world-experience! You’re probably going to need two of them, at least I did… not always easy to find a perfect muffin in Italy. They have all kinds of coffees and teas, and they make you choose your favorite cup. Go sit on the second floor if you want to spend a few hours there. They serve juices, bagels, pizza slices, and soups with a generous handful of Grana during the cold months. It’s a really colorful and cozy place.
A stylish café decorated with black marble, less than 1 km from the train station and a few steps from the Scrovegni Chapel. The customers here are mostly local. The place is great for a savory breakfast. Snack on their delicious tramezzini sandwiches or on the micro-panini. Join the locals for the Italian aperitivo ritual in the evening. Everything is fresh and I’ve heard the service is one of the best in town.
This tiny café was too beautiful not to stop by and get my daily fix of vitamin C (€2.5 for an orange juice). I really enjoyed the soft white couches and the botanical illustrations on the wall. The elegance of this coffee shop fits perfectly with the architecture of the street where the café is located. If you want to see some more beautiful objects, visit the neighboring furniture design shop that shares the name with the café.
And what about Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel?
The frescoes by the medieval Tuscan artist Giotto, covering the whole surface of the Scrovegni Chapel, are still considered the top attraction in Padova’s historical center. I don’t agree fully with this view, as there are many more interesting things to see and do in Padua. There are more frescoes from Giotto in other churches, and the urban architecture is so graceful you’ll feel a sense of wellbeing simply by walking in the streets… The rich owner of the Scrovegni Chapel summoned Giotto to Padua in 1302, after having heard of the great work he had performed in the Cathedral of San Francesco in Assisi. The frescoes on the walls of the chapel recount episodes from the life of Christ and Mary, and Judgement Day, while the vault is a starry sky. Giotto’s sojourn in Padua was very productive and influenced the work of many other artists of the time.
How to visit the Scrovegni Chapel
Booking is mandatory and you’re best to do it well in advance or you risk failing to find a spot. An adult ticket costs €14. You can reserve your ticket online or by calling the number +39-049-2010020. The day of your visit, retrieve your ticket at the ticket office of the Eremitani Museum (100 m from the Scrovegni Chapel), and be at the entrance of the chapel 10 minutes prior to the time slot you have booked.
More of Giotto’s frescoes in Padua
This year (2020), for its candidacy to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, Italy will propose the fresco cycles of eight places within Padua’s historical center, including the Scrovegni Chapel. The project’s name is “Padova urbs picta.” Here are the sites in Padua where you can admire frescoes from the 14th century, by Giotto and other not less gifted artists, all united by a similar composition style and subject, and all included in the candidacy.
Basilica and Monastery of St. Anthony | Frescoes by Giotto | Free admission
Address: Piazza del Santo, 11.
Church of Santi Filippo e Giacomo agli Eremitani | Free admission
Palazzo della Ragione
Address: Piazza delle Erbe | Ticket €7
Frescoes by Giusto dei Menabuoi | Address: Via Dietro Duomo, 5.
Chapel of the Carraresi Palace
Frescoes by Guariento di Arpo | Address: Via Accademia, 7 | Free admission with guided tour (Tue. thru Sat 10 AM-12 PM)
Oratory of St. George
Frescoes by Altichiero da Zevio | Address: Piazza del Santo.
Oratory of St. Michele
. Frescoes by Jacopo da Verona | Address: Riviera Tiso da Camposampiero, 32 | Ticket €3.
If you love medieval painting, you surely need to add these to your bucket list of things to do in Padova…
Eat something in Padua’s ghetto
Now that you’ve looked at walls painted with religious subjects for hours, you must have gotten very hungry. This is good news, since Padova won’t disappoint a foodie traveler. The cutest district of the historical center where you can look for a place to eat is the ghetto. Take a stroll down the cobbled Via Dei Fabbri, along Via Soncin, and Via Delle Piazze. You will see art and antiques galleries, the Museo Ebraico, and lots of places where locals and travelers meet for aperitivo and lunch. Try the Osteria L’Anfora for a meal, Café Tulipes for a light lunch with a glass of wine (one of the dishes here is the focaccia with porchetta and radicchio, which I had in the vegetarian version), and the Jolly Roger for a beer. This is my favorite neighborhood in Padua. I love taking pictures here, with the soft light reflected on the elegant buildings and the columns of the porticos. If you’re in a hurry and want to save a few coins, have a delicious homemade pasta at the takeaway Bigoi.
Walk under Porticos, peculiar trait of Padova’s architecture
Porticos are everywhere in Padua! It reminds me of the city of Bologna, which is only 120 km from Padua. Both cities have endless strings of porticos at the bottom of the medieval houses. They were both flourishing cultural and commercial centers during the Middle Ages. The architecture of Padua looks like a blend between Bologna and Venice. While you walk under the portico galleries, which are all different, try and spot some peculiar columns, like the one decorated with the bas relief of a mocking devil near Palazzo Zabarella, or the missing column behind the Ragione Palace. One of the coffee shops in the stunning Piazza Delle Erbe has a medieval column nestled within the bar’s counter (Bar Nazionale).
Visit Palazzo Bo – the 13th century University of Padua
The “Bo Palace” corresponds to the Faculty of Law and the rectorship of the University of Padua, which is the second most ancient university in Italy (1222). Padua University will soon be 800 years old! When you enter the beautiful courtyard from VIII Febbraio Street, you will see an incredible number of emblems (3,000, counting the ones in the other halls as well). Those are memories of the deans and counselors of the university. The Faculty of Medicine was particularly influential and considered the number one in Renaissance Europe. With a guided tour, you can visit the oldest parts: the rooms of the professors, the ancient library, the great hall, the Medicine Hall, and lastly, the spectacular “anatomical theatre.”
Adult ticket: €7 for a 45-minute visit.
Bask in Piazza delle Erbe
Piazza delle Erbe is the heart of Padua. The most representative buildings of glorious Padua’s past, when Padua started being a powerful center in the Middle Ages, overlook the Piazza Delle Erbe. Every morning it hosts the fruit and vegetable market. At any hour of the day, with a peak at the aperitivo hour (6 pm-9 pm), the cafes at the four sides of the square come alive with people chatting loudly and ordering a spritz (you can have it with or without alcohol) and the tramezzino (the local small sandwich filled with ingredients of your choice). You can have both for €5 at the Bar Nazionale.
Go inside the Palazzo della Ragione
This is a monument that you really can’t miss while in Padua. The entry fee is low (€4 for an adult) and you don’t need to spend a long time inside, but you’ll probably choose to take a seat and admire the impressive salon for a few minutes, once you’re inside. The Ragione Palace consists of a huge hall, Europe’s biggest ancient hall without columns. The walls are entirely covered in amazing frescoes (these frescoes are included in the UNESCO nomination fresco cycles), concerned with justice, astrology, and symbolic animals. Palazzo della Ragione was the Palace of Justice of ancient Padua. The cherry on top is a tall wooden roof in the shape of an upside-down hull. The only object in the hall is a wooden horse realized in the 15th century on the occasion of a great party where common people.
MORE FREE THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN PADuA
The astronomical clock in Piazza dei Signori
After visiting Piazza delle Erbe and the Ragione Palace, it feels natural to keep walking through Piazza della Frutta and reach Piazza Dei Signori. All of these three squares have markets in the morning, and become quieter in the afternoon, when you can observe their beauty without distraction. Piazza Dei Signori was the place where the “lords” (signori) held festivals, like the carnival, celebrating the identity and union of the city. Today you can admire the astronomical watch tower “Torre dell’Orologio,” and notice, if you pay attention, that it’s got 11 zodiac signs instead of 12. What’s the missing one? And why?
The Paleontology Museum: best thing to do in Padua with kids
You’ll be eager to visit the relaxing Geology and Paleontology Museum of Padua if you’re traveling with kids. If you’re not on a family trip, don’t skip it either! Entrance is free, and this is already an invitation. Even if you’re not so much into science, you will find the hundreds of fossils extremely fascinating. I’ve found the fossilized trees showcased in the “Hall of the Palms” a great example of interior deco. I asked myself if I wasn’t visiting an art gallery instead of a museum, and, full of admiration, I wondered if I would look that beautiful in 300 million years. In the other rooms are all kinds of fossilized beings which you’ll identify with the help of the museum’s welcome brochure. The building that hosts the permanent exhibition is Palazzo Cavalli, a baroque mansion full of paintings from the Bible and mythology, and would deserve a visit itself.
Loggia della Gran Guardia
Another lovely place with free admission in Padua! The palace became the seat of the city council at the beginning of the 15th century. Enter from the large staircase that lets you access the loggia in Piazza Dei Signori. Visit the hall on the first floor; it hosts exhibitions from local artists and has big frescoes from the 17th century with three historical (and mythical) episodes that happened in Padua, including a representation of the Trojan Antenor founding the city.
Prato Della Valle: the 2nd biggest square in Europe
Coming from the narrow streets of the center, you’ll hold your breath when you arrive at Prato Della Valle. This is the second largest square in Europe, second only to the Red Square in Moscow. The square has had different functions throughout the centuries, and always represented a hub for the common people, even if located slightly outside the city walls. In Roman times, it was a theater and a track for horse races. During the Middle Ages, it used to host popular festivals and trade fairs. The contemporary architecture dates back to the 18th century, when a Venetian lord, with the help of the clergy, undertook the complex reclamation of the swampy lands. Now, at the center of the elliptical square, lies an island with a small park, trees, and a fountain. The island is surrounded by a channel crossed by four bridges and decorated with 88 marble statues of eminent figures (including Antenor).
Relax at Parco Giotto with vin brulé or hot chocolate
To wrap up your day in Padua, take a walk in the enchanting Giotto Park at the back of the Roman amphitheatre and the Scrovegni Chapel. There are a few kiosks where you can get hot chocolate or vin brulé in winter, and gelato in summer.
Things to eat in Padua
In Padua, you’ll be able to eat all the traditional Italian dishes plus a few local specialties:
Being a vegetarian, I had radicchio in Padova a few times, cooked in different ways. I’m pretty fond of the red, bitter veggie! Try the risotto al radicchio, crepes al radicchio, focaccia con porchetta and radicchio.
Wines from the Veneto Province are on the pedestal of the most popular Italian wines, together with the ones from Tuscany. On the other hand, people from this region are considered the best drinkers in Italy, and my experience confirmed it! Besides wine, give the spritz a try, that the locals drink at any time of the day, and the Prosecco.
Take a day trip from Padova to the thermal baths in Abano Terme
It’s quite difficult to compare the thermal baths near Rome to any other in Italy, but the ones near Padua are exquisite. Abano Terme is an entire town dedicated to thermal baths and treatments. The name “Abano” derives from the god of thermal water “Apono.”
You can visit one of the 75 thermal hotels and centers and get access to the restoring water. Have a look at the accommodation in Abano Terme and choose the one that suits you best.
How to get to Abano Terme from Padova
In the square in front of the train station, get a bus ticket for Abano at the ticket office stand, and look for the bus stop “Linea Dei Colli.” Get on the bus “A.” It takes 35 minutes to arrive in Abano Terme. Ask the bus driver to stop at your hotel.
What’s that you enjoyed the most of these fabulous things to do in Padua?