Padua, just a 30-minutes train ride from Venice, seems a world away with its medieval marketplaces and hip student population. Home to Italy’s second oldest university, founded in 1222, Padua has retained the vibrant atmosphere of a university town, with lively piazzas and arcaded streets, plenty of cafés and bars. Holding a rich historical heritage and well-known for its innumerable masterpieces of art, is this town a lovely mix of old and new.
The best way to see Padua’s historic center is on foot, strolling its porticoes, piazzas, and ancient bridges.
The perfect points of departure are Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Frutti, for centuries a daily produce market that is inseparable from local life as well as the ideal venue for seeing and socializing. Overlooking the two piazzas is one of Padua’s symbolic monuments, Palazzo della Ragione. Steps away is Piazza dei Signori, an elegant square with Renaissance touches and the imposing tower adorned with its famous astrological clock. Then there is Piazza del Duomo, dominated by the majestic Cathedral and the ancient St. John’s Baptistry, with magnificent artworks and frescos.
You cannot miss the fresco cycles from the golden age inside the Scrovegni Chapel; they are one of the most magnificent masterpieces of Western art.
Prato della Valle is another landmark located at the southern edge of the historical center. This 90,000-square-meter square has been a focal center of the city’s social and economic life, since Roman times and is still today a popular gathering spot for the locals, who call it ‘il Prato’.
Another of Padua’s symbols is Caffè Pedrocchi, built in the early 1800s, a favorite haunt of intellectuals, artists and writers and a beloved Paduan locale, hosting cultural exhibits and events.