What to see in Padua

Cosa vedere a Padova- Prato della Valle- Basilica di Santa Giustina- Canale- Statue

A Brief Guide to Discovering the Most Fascinating Places in the Venetian City

Are you planning a vacation in Veneto and unsure where to go? Read on and discover what to see in Padua – you’ll be eager to visit!

Padua is an undeniably charming city that we’ve been drawn to for some time, enticed by the beautiful descriptions we’ve heard. When we finally visited, our expectations were not only met but exceeded. We’re considering returning to delve deeper into its richness.

During our short stay, we immersed ourselves in the art and cultural vibrancy that has characterized Padua throughout its history. Founded by the Veneti between the 13th and 11th centuries B.C., it was the home to great intellectuals like the Roman historian Livy. From the Middle Ages onwards, it became one of Europe’s cultural hubs, boasting one of the world’s oldest universities in 1222. Despite the transition to Venetian rule, Padua’s cultural fervor persisted, attracting notable figures such as Galileo Galilei.

In the 1500s, Padua pioneered the creation of a botanical garden and a space dedicated to theatrical performances. The latter hosted the first professional comedy troupe in modern history. Today, the city remains culturally vibrant, evident through various initiatives and a plethora of captivating examples of street art.

If we’ve piqued your interest, continue reading to discover what to see in Padua.

What to See in Padua: The Scrovegni Chapel and the Civic Museums at the Eremitani

Our exploration of what to see in Padua begins with the attraction that primarily drew us to the city: the Scrovegni Chapel. From the outside, one wouldn’t expect to find one of the most important cycles of paintings in art history within. However, upon entering, one is captivated by Giotto’s frescoes, marking the beginning of modern painting. The cobalt color of the star-studded vault immediately grabs attention. Scenes of the lives of Joachim, Anne, Mary, and Christ unfold vividly as one lowers their gaze.

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Interior of the Scrovegni Chapel wall of the Last Judgment(Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The gaze finally stops at the “Last Judgment,” covering the entire back wall—a masterpiece! However, accessing it requires advance booking, as only groups of 25 people are allowed for 15 minutes due to strict measures for optimal preservation.

The Civic Museums at the Eremitani

With the same ticket and a short walk from the Scrovegni Chapel, you can visit the fascinating Civic Museums at Eremitani. Housed in a former convent, the museum complex includes the Archaeological Museum on the ground floor and the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art on the first floor. The Archaeological Museum showcases significant collections of proto-Venetian and Roman artifacts, shedding light on Paduan history. Additionally, it features an extensive Egyptian section, mostly curated by the Paduan explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni.

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A room of the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art Musei degli Eremitani (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The Art Museum hosts a rich selection of works from the 14th to the 18th century by renowned Italian masters such as Giotto, Tintoretto, Giorgione, Tiziano, and Tiepolo, to name a few. A delightful surprise for art enthusiasts, so allocate time for your visit.

What to See in Padua: Basilica of Saint Anthony

Another essential stop in exploring what to see in Padua is the Basilica of Saint Anthony. This pilgrimage site, beloved by Paduans, is a testament to the city’s deep connection with Saint Anthony, referred to simply as “Il Santo.” Saint Anthony is not just a place of worship but also a treasure trove housing artworks by great Italian masters.

The exterior exhibits a blend of styles, with a Romanesque gabled facade interspersed with Gothic arches. Byzantine-style domes and two campaniles resembling Muslim minarets add an Eastern influence. The square also features Donatello’s bronze equestrian statue of the renowned Paduan condottiero Gattamelata.

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La Basilica di Sant’Antonio (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Inside, amid the backdrop of daily masses, you can admire various works. Noteworthy are the Chapel of Gattamelata, the 14th-century frescoes by Andriolo de Santi in the Chapel of Saint James, and the Chapel of the Crucifixion with a fragment attributed to Giotto. The “Treasury of the Basilica” holds the saint’s relics at the center of the ambulatory. Numerous masterpieces adorn the basilica, making it a must-visit.

What to See in Padua: Prato della Valle and Basilica of Santa Giustina

Our brief guide to discovering what to see in Padua continues by moving to the Prato della Valle area. This vast elliptical square is recognized as one of the city’s most famous symbols, the second-largest in Europe after Moscow’s Red Square. Originally conceived as an urban space, it evolved into a monumental complex. At its center lies the green islet, Isola Memmia, surrounded by a canal adorned with a double row of statues. Four scenic avenues cross the Prato on small bridges, converging at the islet’s center where a fountain stands.

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Fountain in Prato della Valle with the Basilica of Santa Giustina in the background (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Today, the square is a favorite spot for Paduans to stroll or relax, especially in warmer months, when people read or study, basking in the sun.

Basilica of Santa Giustina

Around the square, notable buildings and monuments abound. Among them, the neoclassical Loggia Amulea and, most importantly, the Basilica of Santa Giustina. This ancient place of worship, founded in the 5th century, is easily recognizable by its eight domes and incomplete brick facade.

The vast and luminous interior, considered a Renaissance architectural masterpiece, houses remarkable works by Paolo Veronese, Luca Giordano, and Sebastiano Ricci in various side chapels. Additionally, the precious reliquary in the ambulatory contains Saint Luke the Evangelist’s relics and those of Santa Giustina.

Slightly hidden is the beautiful Sacello di S. Prosdocimo, a votive chapel adorned with rich marble decorations and mosaics from the late 6th century, a true late-antique masterpiece.

What to See in Padua: Botanical Garden

A few meters from Prato della Valle lies the famous Botanical Garden of Padua. Beyond its extensive plant variety from around the world, the garden’s history is equally intriguing. Established in 1545 as the University of Padua’s medicinal garden, it played a crucial role in advancing fields such as medicine and pharmacy. Recognized by UNESCO since 1997, the garden continues to be a research hub.

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The tank that reproduces the freshwater environment

The futuristic Biodiversity Garden, built to showcase over a thousand plants from diverse regions, stands out. This environment narrates the planet’s story, focusing solely on the plant kingdom and its evolution.

Throughout the visit, we discovered five reconstructed natural environments within the garden, featuring the Mediterranean scrub, alpine rockery, freshwater habitat, succulent plants area, and the tropical orchid greenhouse.

Finally, we marveled at the garden’s oldest plant—a San Pietro palm planted in 1585, known as the Goethe Palm. Legend has it that this plant inspired the German writer Goethe’s theory on plant metamorphosis.

For us, the Botanical Garden was a delightful surprise, and we believe it would interest you even if you’re not a plant enthusiast. The garden narrates much of Padua’s past and future.

What to See in Padua: Streets and Squares of the Center

A visit to the streets and squares of the city center is a must. Walking allows complete immersion in Padua’s atmosphere, uncovering interesting places in Padua, even in less tourist-frequented areas.

Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta

Walking through the center of Padua means encountering numerous squares whose names evoke their historical functions. Among the most famous are Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta, separated by the imposing Palazzo della Ragione. Piazza delle Erbe, formerly called delle Biade and later del Vino, hosts one of the city’s picturesque markets. The square fills with about 70 stalls of fruits and vegetables each morning, surrounded by flower stalls near the fountain. In the evening, students and locals gather for a relaxing aperitivo.

What to see in Padua - Piazza della Frutta - Palazzo della Ragione
Piazza della Frutta and Palazzo della Ragione (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

From Piazza delle Erbe, you can reach Piazza della Frutta through the large arch near the fountain, called Vòlto della Corda. The name derives from the fact that liars, cheats, and insolvent debtors were beaten on the back with a rope there. Once known as Peronio’s square, selling clogs and boots, it now hosts a vibrant market of fruits, vegetables, spices, and cereals.

Palazzo della Ragione stands between the two squares, symbolizing one of Italy’s largest covered spaces. The 80-meter-long, 27-meter-wide structure, covered by a nearly 40-meter-high wooden framework, features 500 astrological and religious frescoes in its colossal hall. Lower band displays animal figures under which judges and notaries sat. The accused judge received a card with the assigned judge’s symbol, ensuring even illiterate individuals could easily find them.

Piazza dei Signori

A few meters from Piazza delle Erbe, you encounter another symbolically important square for Padua: Piazza dei Signori. This square once housed the grand Reggia dei Carraresi, rulers of Padua from 1318 to 1405. The square is now surrounded by porticoed houses with beautiful terraces on the upper floors adorned with wrought iron balconies. Some even display remains of medieval and Renaissance decorations.

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Piazza dei Signori (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Enriching the square are the ancient Church of San Clemente, Palazzo del Capitanio, and Palazzo dei Camerlenghi. The elegant Clock Tower with a large astronomical dial featuring zodiac symbols stands out on the southern side. The Loggia della Gran Guardia, a 16th-century building where the City Council convened, is another prominent feature. This ensemble of monuments makes Piazza dei Signori a fundamental point on our list of what to see in Padua.

The Jewish Ghetto

In the heart of the city lies a less-visited area by tourists but, in our opinion, rich in charm: the Jewish Ghetto. This small neighborhood forms a narrow labyrinth of streets bordered by tall buildings, limiting sunlight penetration. The height of these buildings is not arbitrary; between 1606 and 1797, the entire Jewish community was mandated to reside in this area. During the same period, as the population grew, the need for vertical expansion arose. The most prominent structures to observe are the tower houses at the intersection of Via Marsala and Via S. Spirito.

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Glimpse of the Piazzetta of the Jewish Ghetto (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Apart from the houses and narrow streets, we were fascinated by the picturesque views and small shops with ancient traditions. We recommend taking a break in one of the wine bars or local eateries to experience the charm.

The Riviere

Among the things to see in Padua that often go unnoticed in tourist itineraries are the canals and rivers. Perhaps unknown to many, Padua is a city traversed by many canals, which have been recently restored and made accessible. We recommend taking a stroll along the rivers, especially between Riviera San Benedetto and Riviera Paleocapa. It not only offers relaxation but also reveals another aspect of the city, providing a spectacular view of the Astronomical Observatory Tower.

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View of the tower of the Specola astronomical observatory (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

What to See in Padua: The Cathedral and the Baptistery

While wandering through the center of Padua, a visit to the Cathedral and, more notably, the Baptistery is worthwhile. The Cathedral may not stand out for beauty like other central buildings, and its facade is incomplete. However, the spacious and luminous interior, almost minimalistic in its lack of painted decorations, houses notable works. These include the honorary sepulcher of Francesco Petrarca, a Madonna and Child by Giusto de’ Menabuoi, and several paintings by Giandomenico Tiepolo.

Far more interesting is the adjacent Baptistery, dating back to the late 12th century but reconstructed in its current form in 1260. With a square plan, a high circular drum, a dome, and an apse with a small dome, the Baptistery is adorned with an extraordinary cycle of frescoes considered the masterpiece of Giusto de’ Menabuoi. The feeling while looking at the dome is as if hundreds of angels and saints are observing, arranged around Christ Pantocrator. Other walls and pendentives depict scenes from the “Stories of Genesis,” “Prophets and Evangelists,” and “Stories of Christ and John the Baptist.”

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Frescoed dome of the Baptistery (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

What to See in Padua: Street Art

A highly interesting aspect of Padua, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, is its cultural vibrancy. This is expressed through numerous events and, most notably, the presence of many street art works in the city. While strolling through the streets, it’s easy to come across vibrant murals by local artists, including Kenny Random, Tony Gallo, and the Ead Crew collective.

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A work by Kenny Random (Credit to Samuele Beltrame)

If you’re keen on admiring them without traversing the entire city, follow the Street Art map provided by Martinaway.com. It’s incredibly helpful!

Final Recommendations

A piece of advice we’d like to offer is to purchase the Padova Card. Valid for 48 or 72 hours at €28 and €35, respectively, the card provides entry to most of the places mentioned. Additionally, it offers free use of public transportation, both within the city and to the nearby thermal baths of Abano. It proved invaluable for us!

Now that you’re acquainted with the most interesting places to see in Padua, you only need to decide when to visit. If you decide to stay for a few nights, click here to discover the best accommodations at the best prices.

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What to see i Padua
Planning a Veneto vacation? Explore what to see in Padua - a captivating city blending history, art, and vibrant culture!
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La Scimmia Viaggiatrice

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