Top 5 Hidden Gems in Italy
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
One of my absolute favorite things about Italy is how vastly different each city is. Italian culture is beloved my many already, but when you take a closer look at the individual uniqueness of each town, you tend to fall in love even more. As much as I love the touristy hubs like Rome and Florence, there is so much beauty to this country that is often overlooked and truly deserves a shout out.
Ever since I studied in Verona, the town has held a very special place in my heart. It's not over-crowded, but it still has some extremely popular monuments. Many times, visitors come to the region of Veneto to visit Venice, but while you're on your journey, don't forget that Verona is only an hour and a half train ride away from Venice. Plus, Milan is also an hour and a half train ride away from Verona. The Northern Italian culture and cuisine is very different from that of other regions—from risotto to donkey meat, there are tons of amazing and unique options. Here are some of my favorite experiences in Verona:
Casa di Giulietta (Juliette's balcony)—Whether you've read the play or not, everyone has heard of the famous story of Romeo and Juliette. Here in Verona, you can actually visit Juliette's balcony, post or mail a love letter if you'd like and even take a photo with her statue (for good luck)! It's tucked away very close to Piazza delle Erbe, if you keep walking down Via Cappello, you'll notice its entrance. Most of the time, it can be found by looking for the crowds of people, but during the off-season, you may have to look a little closer.
Verona Arena—The Verona Arena is truly the perfect centerpiece to Piazza Bra. Though it looks very similar to it's older brother in Rome (the colosseum), the Verona Arena is much smaller and still functions as a amphitheater. From classical operas to modern concerts, you can see several types of performances there year round.
Piazza delle Erbe—In addition to leading the way to Juliette's balcony, Piazza delle Erbe is home to an amazing market most days of the week. Often times, I would grab some fresh fruit for breakfast from the market on my way to class, but there are also tons of great restaurants surrounding the area.
Piazza Bra—Not only is this the home of the famous Verona Arena, but Piazza Bra also houses dozens of restaurants in a beautiful square. If you keep walking past the Arena, you'll also find some of the best shopping in Verona.
Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore—This is the main basilica of Verona. Besides the natural beauty of the church, San Zeno Maggiore is also home to some amazing Renaissance artworks. There's also a lesser known square in front of it, where you can often find a market on Sundays.
Castelvecchio—This is one of my favorite stops in Verona. Castelvecchio is not only a historic bridge and castle combined but is also home to some of the most beautiful pieces of art in Verona. Focusing mostly on Renaissance pieces, you could spend a whole day exploring the museum inside. Plus, it has rooftop access with incredible views.
Castel San Pietro—OK, this one is my absolute favorite stop in Verona. Castel San Pietro is such a beautifully unique structure. Once you make it to the top of the hill where the castle is, the views are indescribable. I recommend visiting around sunset for the best photos and memories.
12 Aposotli—Likely one of the best restaurants for dinner in Verona, 12 Aposotli looks like a hole-in-the-wall from the street. But rest assured, the food is divine.
Bottega del Krapfen—Now Bottega del Krapfen is actually a hole-in-the-wall, like you have to order out of a window. But if you're on the east side of the river late at night, you must stop for a pistachio doughnut for less than €2, you will not regret it.
Don't forget to order a Cafe Shakerato! Italians don't really make iced coffee, so this is the closest thing they have, and it's amazing (see photo in gallery above).
Though Montepulciano might not be the most popular town in wine country, it is still in Tuscany, not too far from Siena. If you're a red wine drinker, the town is a must-see. Plus, while you're there you can easily get to other wine town like Siena and San Gimignano! For a full travel guide on Montepulciano, click here!
In between Verona and Venice lies the small and quaint town of Padua in Veneto. Padua has a lot of history, and there's much more to explore than you would expect. Still, the town is small enough to walk so you could even fit a day trip in if you want! Here are my favorite things to do in Padua:
The Basilica of St. Anthony—The construction began in the early 1200s, which shows you how far back a lot of this town's history goes. In addition to the breath-taking architecture, the Basilica of St. Anthony is also home to St. Anthony's tongue. Though seemingly gross at first, the preservation of this important relic illustrates the Holy Spirit working to keep the faith alive.
Prato della Valle—This area is seriously huge. The Prato della Valle is a giant circular piazza, with four bridges that cross the circular river and dozens of statues. Not only are there several restaurants that surround, but often times, you can find a produce market.
Bo Palace (The University of Padua)—The Bo Palace is the historical seat of the University of Padua since 1493. It was the world's first anatomical theatre, and today still hold a prestigious law school.
Torre dell'Orologico—This clocktower is a beautiful center piece to a piazza, which generally houses a daily market.
Pedrocchi Caffe—Not only does this cafe have some seriously amazing coffee, but it also has remarkable architectural features. Built in the 18th century, Pedrocchi Caffe still serves an amazing Caffe Pedrocchi, which is a mint coffee (see the green coffee in my picture above).
Lake Garda—Sirmione + Desenzano
Lake Garda is less than an hour away from Verona and is an extremely underrated version of its cousin: Lake Como. Desenzano is one of the towns on the south end of the lake, and Sirmione is a little beach town that extends into the middle of the lake.
My biggest recommendation here is to not plan too much. Go with the flow. Visit the "beach" in Sirmione and the Castello di Desenzano, but other than that, wander freely.
We wandered throughout our whole stay, and stumbled upon a white wine festival in a castle!
Right next door to more popular towns like Sorrento, Capri and Positano, both Ravello and Amalfi shouldn't be overlooked. Their coastline and mountains are equally beautiful. There's something about this Italian coast that drives people in, but my favorite part about these two towns is that they are significantly less crowded than their neighbors. Plus, they're only about an hour drive away, so you can fit all the coastal towns in!
God created such a beautiful world, it would be a shame not to explore, preserve + appreciate it.
Explore: the cities. Get lost! These towns are a lot smaller than most European cities, so you can let yourself wander and know you won't go too far.
Preserve: the water. From the famous Amalfi coast to the lesser known Lake Garda and even the small rivers that flow through every town, these Italian waters deserved to be preserved. With that said, it's important to do your part to reduce & recycle. I recommend bringing your own water bottle to Italy and filling it up throughout your journey in one of the various public fountains that are both clean and safe vs. buying several plastic water bottles a day.
Appreciate: the breath-taking views of these hidden Italian gems. Since these towns are less visited, you'll be able to enjoy them in a lot more peace!