40 kilometers from Venice lies Padua, a city of around 210,000 that is home to Italy’s second-oldest university. It was also my home for two years. Here’s my guide to Padua, which is a great place to stay in if you want to get off the beaten path in Italy. It’s also an easy day trip from Venice!
Table of Contents
A sightseeing guide to padua
Why visit Padua?
I’d recommend visiting Padua for a few reasons. The first is that it’s really not overrun with tourists, as many other Italian cities are. Venice, for example, has been suffering under the weight of overtourism for decades.
This means that Padua largely has not been shaped with tourism in mind. Local restaurants serve up traditional foods, rather than those suited to foreign tastes. You’ll hear and see the dialect. You can have a spritz at 11am and no one will judge you. What’s not to love about that?
Another reason to take a day trip from Venice to Padua, or to just base yourself in Padua, is that she’s gentle on the old wallet. Lots of the sights in Padua are free. Drinks are cheap (we’re talking 3-3.50 for a prosecco or a spritz). There’s lots of delicious, affordable street food, too. Lodging is cheaper than it is in Venice. All in all, Padua is a great place to consider staying if you’re visiting northern Italy on a budget.
This guide to Padua will take you through some of the logistics of getting to the city and getting around while we’re there. I’ll then cover the sights that you shouldn’t miss, and I’ve included some tips on where to eat, too.
How to get to Padua
Flying to Padua
The nearest major airport is Venice Marco Polo. From the airport, you can take a bus to Padua for 8.50. The bus departs from outside of the airport. You can ask about the platform at the ticket counter, because I’m not entirely sure which one it is anymore. It’s about an hour bus ride from Venice Marco Polo to Padua. The bus runs from 7:40am to 10:40pm. Here’s the winter timetable (valid until June 8, 2019).
You can also take the ACTV bus 15 from the airport to the Venezia Mestre train station, and then hop on the regionale to Padua. The 15 runs from 5:45am to 8:15pm Monday through Saturday, and hourly from 6:50am to 8:50pm on Sundays. Tickets are 8 euros, and you’ll have to pay a few more for the train, so the bus to Padua is actually cheaper.
If you’re arriving very late at night, you can book a shuttle service. I like GoOpti. They’re reliable, punctual, and affordable.
You can also fly into Treviso and catch a bus to Padua. The first bus departs the airport for Padua at 5:32am, and the last one leaves the airport at 8:27pm. The trip takes just over an hour, and tickets cost €4.90.
Getting to Padua by train
If you’ve decided to take a day trip from Venice to Padua, you can hop on the train. Regional trains from Venezia Santa Lucia are €4.35, and for that price, you can either take the regular Regionale, which takes 49 minutes, or the Regionale Veloce, which takes 26.
From Venezia Mestre, the Regionale and Regionale Veloce cost €3.55. The Regionale takes 35 minutes, and the Regionale Veloce just 14.
The fast trains from Venice are more expensive and take the same time as the fast regional trains, so just take the Regionale Veloce and save the cash!
If you’re coming from another city in Italy, you’re in luck – Padua is a stop on the high-speed line, so you can get there easily from Rome, Florence, Bologna, Milan and other cities.
Doing more train travel on your trip to Italy? Check out my post on how to get the cheapest tickets!
Getting around Padua
Assuming you arrive at the train station (the bus station is right next to it too), you can easily walk into the city center. In fact, you can walk to see all of the sights in my guide to Padua.
If you’re not up for walking or you or someone you’re with has limited mobility, you can hop on the tram which runs through the city center. Tickets are €1.50 and are valid for 75 minutes.
You can buy tickets at the Tabaccheria in the station, or at the automatic machines in front of the station. If you come out the front doors, slightly to the right there’s a building with two ticket windows and two tickets machines. Make sure you have coins for the machines.
If you’re staying in Padua for a while and plan on using public transportation while you’re there, consider buying a carnet (car-NAY), which contains 10 tickets and costs €12.
Like I said above, Padua is a great spot for budget travelers. Many of the city’s treasures are free! I’ve chosen six spots that I think everyone should see when visiting Padua, plus a few bonus sights if you have extra time!
Sightseeing in padua
Cappella degli Scrovegni
Any guide to Padua will probably start with its most famous sight, the Scrovegni Chapel.
The chapel was originally a part of the Scrovegni family palace, which was built along the remains of the Roman arena (part of which is still visible today). Also called the Arena Chapel for this reason, it houses magnificent fresco cycles by the early Renaissance artist Giotto. The frescoes were painted between 1303 and 1305.
I suggest starting your day in Padua at the Scrovegni Chapel because you have to book your visit, which you can do here. The chapel is costly at 13 euros, but if you book between Tuesday and Saturday, you get entrance into two other museums, Palazzo Zuckermann, and Musei Civici degli Eremitani. Once you’ve visited the chapel, you can wander around enjoying Padua’s other sights and not worry about having to dash back for your visit.
Giotto is one of the major players in the history of Western art. He’s famous for bridging the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by incorporating realism into his paintings.
In the fresco cycles, which depict the lives of Mary and Jesus, Giotto included facial expressions on those he painted, moving away from the smooth, stiff style used in religious painting until that point. The figures can also be seen gesturing, another first for Western art. Perhaps the most distinctive part of this move towards realism is the depiction of a kiss between Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, the first kiss ever depicted in Western art.
The chapel is full of curious little scenes, including the portrait of a mystery pope who can be seen burning in the fires of hell in the monumental Last Judgement fresco on the wall opposite the chapel’s altar.
Visits to the chapel are strictly scheduled. It’s recommended that you arrive 45 minutes before your visit. You will be invited into an antechamber to view a 15-minute long video about the history of the chapel, and then allowed into the chapel itself for another 15 minutes. The reason for this is that the frescoes began to deteriorate years ago, so systems of regulation were put into place to monitor the temperature and pollution levels to prevent the further degradation of the art.
Photography is strictly forbidden inside the chapel, so I don’t have any pictures to share. You’ll have to go see it for yourself!
After your visit to the Scrovegni chapel, continue strolling towards the city center to its busy heart – le piazze.
Padua’s three main piazze, Piazza dei Signori, Piazza dei Frutti, and Piazza delle Erbe, are probably my favorite part of the city. During the day, you can shop the markets there and enjoy a delicious coffee at one of the many cafés that line them, or sit on the steps in Piazza dei Signori with a gelato and people watch.
At night, the piazze come alive for aperitivo, dinner, and post-aperitivo drinks. Memories of hot, hazy summer nights in le piazze with friends are something that I’ll cherish for years to come. The atmosphere is somehow electric but relaxed, and the night sky fills with conversation, laughter, and the sound of clinking glasses.
If you want to do some sightseeing, you can visit Palazzo della Ragione, which connects Piazza dei Frutti and Piazza delle Erbe. Built in 1218 and expanded in 1306, the building was originally Padua’s courthouse. The walls in the main hall are covered with frescoes relating to astrology.
You can visit Palazzo della Ragione every day except Monday, when it’s closed. Tickets are €6.00, and children under five are free.
Underneath the Palazzo della Ragione is Padua’s 800-year-old covered market, full of food stalls selling fruit and vegetables, meats and cheeses, fish, fresh pasta, bread, wine, and all sort of other things.
Sotto Salone also has a few takeaway, street-food-style places if you want a sandwich or a piece of pizza to go. There are a few enoteche inside as well, if you’re feeling up for a spritz or a glass of wine.
Prato della Valle
After lunch, wander through the Ghetto (adjacent to Piazza delle Erbe) towards our next stop, Prato della Valle. The Ghetto is full of great little spots to have a coffee, a drink, or a meal. If you’re hungry, consider eating at Osteria dei Fabbri for an unforgettable and authentic meal!
Prato della Valle is considered to be Italy’s largest square, which is slightly peculiar, because it’s actually an oval. Regardless, it’s a great place for a stroll and a rest in the sunshine. On nice days, it’s full of people hanging out and reading, having picnics, and just enjoying the beauty.
The piazza is comprised of a central island which is surrounded by a circular canal. The canal is ringed with statues depicting famous people from Italian history.
On weekends, Prato della Valle transforms into various markets. Most Saturdays and Sundays you can shops for clothes, shoes, second-hand items, plants, and various other things. Every third Sunday of the month, there’s an antique market there.
La Basilica di Sant’Antonio
No guide to Padua (or any other Italian city, for that matter) would be complete without its main churches, so the next stop on our Padua tour is the Basilica of Saint Anthony, patron of lost things.
I have an extra bit of affection for Saint Anthony. My mom taught us a little rhyming prayer when we were little and couldn’t find something, and she still credits every single item that she misplaces and finds again to him.
The other reason is a bit more recent. When I found out I was moving to Senegal for a year and my sweetheart was moving to Padua, we split up. It seemed impossible to carry on at such a distance, and after only seven months of being together, we decided to just end things as gracefully as we could.
I started researching Ziguinchor, the city I’d be living in, and found out that the main church there was none other than Saint Antoine de Padoue. It made me feel connected to my sweetheart, like Saint Anthony was looking out for both of us on our new adventures. If you’re a regular reader or you know me and my story, you’ll know that we got back together after that year apart. So, aside from bringing me lost stuffed animals, books, and car keys throughout the course of my life, maybe old Tony brought me back my sweetheart, too.
Sentimental digressions aside, I think Il Santo, as it’s called by the locals, is definitely worth a visit, even if you’re not religious. It has beautiful artwork and fascinating artifacts inside, and it’s a bit part of the city’s history and culture.
Construction began in 1232, just a year after Saint Anthony died. One of the interesting characteristics of Il Santo is that it’s a mix of two architectural styles: the exterior is Romanesque and the interior is Gothic.
Inside, there are several small chapels to visit. The main attractions are Saint Anthony’s tomb, which you usually have to line up to see. People hang up pictures and write prayers and intentions, and generally run their hand along the tomb as they walk past.
The other main attraction is the chapel of the relics, which is famous because it has a few pieces of the Saint on display, including his chin, voice box, and tongue, which a friend recently pointed out to me looks like a rotten strawberry. He is not wrong.
For more details about Il Santo, including when masses are, check here.
Here’s church number two in our guide to Padua: Santa Giustina, which is very close to Il Santo, just across Prato della Valle.
The building itself is an abbey and a basilica. According to the official website, Santa Giustina (Saint Justina in English) was killed in 304, and her body was dumped on the current site of the basilica. In 520, Opilion, who was a Roman prefect, ordered the construction of the basilica to honor Santa Giustina and other Christian martyrs.
The basilica was looted by soldiers of Henry V, and gravely damaged by an earthquake around 1117. In the 15th century, it was considered to be a very important monastery in the area, and remained this way until Napoleon shut it down in 1797. Shortly after that, in 1810, the monks were sent away and everything was sold.
The building was also used as a military hospital and barracks. It was given back to the Catholic church in 1917, and in 1943 it became a priory again. It’s now a protected national monument.
Santa Giustina is much more sparsely decorated than Il Santo. It houses the bodies of martyrs and Saints, one of which is allegedly the body of Saint Luke the Evangelist. I’m not sure if it’s actually him. From what we could understand the last time I was there, a tomb was found and the Pope at the time declared that it was Saint Luke the Evangelist due to an image that was carved on it. That isn’t exactly reliable evidence, but people come from far and wide to see it. Who knows?
Located on the grounds of Santa Giustina, the University of Padua’s Botanical garden is the oldest university botanical garden in the world. Founded in 1545, the garden today holds over 7,000 different plants.
Of course, in ancient times, plants were often used for their medicinal properties. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an exact science, which occasionally led to some nasty accidents. The botanical garden in Padua was created to prevent these slip-ups from happening by allowing students to learn to study and properly identify plants that could be used to treat medical conditions.
Over time, the garden grew and became larger and richer due to the addition of plants from all over the world, thanks to the trade relations of Venice. It now focuses on educating the public not only on botany and pharmacology, but also on preserving endangered plant species.
In 1997, it was given a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Tickets for adults are 10 euros, with discounts for people over 65 (8 euros) and young people aged 6 – 25 (5 euros).
More details available on their website.
The Specola is another quintessential Padua sight, which I only recently learned is a ruse, wrapped in a legend, wrapped in a myth, which I will reveal to you now!
Galileo, the famous Italian astronomer who vastly improved telescopes, made several important discoveries about celestial bodies, and proved the Copernican theory that the sun is at the center of the universe, lived in Padua for several years. He moved there in 1592, and taught university math there for 18 years. This article, which has a lot more info about him and his life, also said that he wrote horoscopes for people as a way to earn money. Is anyone else picturing Galileo singing “WHAT’S YOUR ZODIAC SIIIIGN?” a la Busta Rhymes? Just me then? Cool.
People call La Specola as “Galileo’s tower,” and I was told that he studied there, making the aforementioned celestial observations from the tower with his innovative, astronomy-changing telescope.
When my parents came to visit me in Padua, we strolled over to the Specola, and I was delighted to be able to show them the place where Galileo studied. I thought this would be especially cool for my dad, who loves science. We reached the tower (which is only open for visits by the public on Saturday evenings) and I did some Googling to get some information about it and BOOM! The truth came out! The Specola wasn’t used as an observatory until 1761, so Galileo would have been a youthful 200 years old at the time.
I know the Mediterranean diet does wonders for the aging process, but come on.
Anyway, Galileo certainly left his mark on Padua, even though he didn’t observe the heavens from La Specola. There are buildings named after him, and the tower is referred to as Galileo’s tower (it houses the University of Padua’s astronomy department today, which is really cool).
Here’s a great article here about Galileo’s Padua.
I recommend visiting La Specola because it’s quite pretty to gaze at on a nice day, and it’s an interesting place, given the local legend attached to it. If you’re there on a Saturday, book (via email, email@example.com) and visit the museum! You can also take a virtual tour here.
Thanks for reading my sightseeing guide to Padua. Questions? Thoughts? Share them in the comments!
More Padua posts and guides
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