This week has been very busy for Vicenza with both the Italian president and the First Lady of the US gracing this lovely Northern Italian city with their presence.
You should definitely follow in their steps and put Vicenza on your travel wish list. I have already given you the main six reasons to stop off here on your way from Venice to Verona. Plus, my series of blog posts ‘Exploring Vicenza‘ focuses in detail on the most important and picturesque sights here.
So to entice you further, today I want to share with you my insider tips for ten unmissable things you should do and see in Vicenza. My selection is based on the ten months I have so far spent living here, so everything is personally tried and tested.
1. Have a coffee and sweets in Pasticceria Aliani
This little coffee shop towards the end of Corso Fogazzaro is one of my most favourite places in Vicenza. I love spending a quiet half an hour having a coffee there. The outside tables are under a picturesque arcade which guarantees a nice refreshing breeze even on the hottest days that we have been having lately. The selection of sweets and chocolates is irresistible and everything is handmade on site. I always order two sweets, as I find it impossible to pick just one – there are so many choices.
2. Go for a walk on the Terrace of Palladio’s Basilica
The Basilica is the gem in Vicenza’s crown. Designed and built by a young Andrea Palladio – one of the most prominent architects in the Western world – it dominates both the main square Piazza dei Signori and the city’s skyline. The Basilica is crowned by a huge terrace commanding splendid views over Vicenza and the nearby Berici Hills. It is a great place if you want to take some fabulous photos, enjoy a new point of view to Vicenza or simply relax on a hot summer day. There is a bar serving drinks, too.
3. Visit the Criptoportico Romano
This is a seriously cool place in the heart of Vicenza which is hidden in plain sight and has such restricted opening hours that you need to make an actual effort to go and see it. A simple door will lead you down several flights of steps until you are really deep underground. This is where following the bombing of Vicenza by the British and the American forces during the Second World War the preserved portico of a Roman villa was discovered. You can only go there as part of a group led by volunteer guides every weekend. The guides only speak Italian, but are happy to talk slowly if your Italian is not that good, so that you can follow what they say. When I say that they are happy, I mean one of them, who was such a lovely person with a welcoming smile and a real enthusiasm for the place. The other guide was really serious and strict and several times started talking over the first guide adding her perspective on things. Major cringe! Plus, be aware that photos down there are not allowed! I didn’t know that, there are no signs or anything advising to that, so I took a picture with my smartphone only to have the serious guide lay into me with gusto. In the end of her incomprehensible to me speech about my seemingly terrible transgression the whole group had turned to stare at me. I really suffered for my art!
4. Have an Italian breakfast
Italians eat sweet things for breakfast. A brioche or even a slice of cake being the staple. What they call a brioche looks very similar to croissant, but it is very big and can have different fillings – raspberry or apricot jam, creme patisserie, honey, chocolate, etc. When I started this blog, I wrote a piece dedicated to the brioches. They are everywhere in the morning. Just walk into any local bakery or patisserie and get yourself one. Enjoy it with your favourite hot drink. Yum! The great thing is that you can also buy mini-brioches so that you can taste different fillings without having to eat huge portions. My favourite filling is creme patisserie which in Italy is called crema pasticcera.
5. Admire the display of Aldighieri’s jewellery shop on Corso Fogazzaro
I stop to look at the window display of this jewellery shop every time I pass by it. The displayed jewels are some of the best I have ever seen – the designs are truly original and are built around some spectacular gemstones emphasising fully their beauty. Even better, the jewellery designer – Paolo Aldighieri – not only creates the jewels, but also sources the stones personally, so every gem in his shop has a story which makes it even more exciting and unique.
6. Enjoy a drink on Piazza dei Signori
Piazza dei Signori is the atmospheric main square of Vicenza. It pulsates with city life – all important events take place there, people go for a walk on it and it is surrounded by some splendid architecture. The piazza is dotted with cafes and coffee houses with outdoor seating areas so that you can enjoy fully the weather and observe vicentini (the citizens of Vicenza) just taking it easy. No matter where you choose to sit on the square you will have a great point of observation. The prime tables though are on the tiny balcony of Caffetteria alle Colonne which is right by the two pillars at one end of the piazza. Sit on that little balcony, enjoy your drink (hot chocolate in winter and caffe shakerato in summer for me) and feast your eyes and soul on the amazing vista. Right next to you will be the pillar crowned by the Venetian lion, opposite will be the Palladio’s Basilica and all around you will be some of the most beautiful buildings you can see on this side of Italy.
7. Take a passeggiatta
Partake in the Italian ritual of taking a walk in the evening. This is when Vicenza truly comes to life to the point where Corso Palladio – its main avenue – is completely overrun with people. Everyone is elegantly dressed in their best attire. Whole families walk slowly en masse and then sit down at one of the many cafes to enjoy gelato and aperitives. Parents carry their babies facing the passing people, so that the baby can also take part in the passeggiatta and make eye contact. Everyone is out there to see and to be seen. It is a custom which supports the sense of community and conviviality.
8. Visit The Church of the Carmine
For me this is the most beautiful church in Vicenza not just because of its elegant building and striking interior but also because of how it makes me feel. It is located at the end of Corso Fogazzaro and it has a beautiful blue ceiling which always makes me thing of the sky. I love spending a few peaceful minutes there just contemplating the ceiling and the art on the walls. I am not really religious and usually churches attract me mostly from the point of view of their architecture and art. This church though makes me understand a little why people seek refuge in religion and the Church. It is very calming and very soothing being there. Sometimes when I walk in the church the atmosphere is really lively and spirited with a youth orchestra rehearsing a beautiful piece of music or with a child playing the organ. At Christmas the church set up the most amazing Nativity scene I have ever seen. It represented the city of Bethlehem with its houses and workshops and people engaged in daily life. Everything was mechanised and moved bringing the whole city to life.
9. Try to spot as many faces as you can on Vicenza’s façades
Large stone faces adorn the façades in Vicenza. They can be male or female with realistic or fantastical features. They look down on you smiling or frowning from every major building in town and from residential houses, too. I have asked several people about these faces and what purpose they serve, but I am as of yet to discover their true use. For now I just enjoy spotting them all around town and I continue to discover new faces all the time, even after ten months spent here.
10. See Vicenza from Monte Berico
Admire Vicenza and the pre-Dolomites from the top of Monte Berico. There is a fabulous panoramic view all the way to the horizon of the Venetian plain. Vicenza lies at your feet with Palladio’s Basilica towering over it. You will feel free like a bird enjoying the best view. Then you can spend some time exploring the Sanctuary of Monte Berico. After that tuck into a pizza in the nearby Ai Sette Santi restaurant which also commands stunning views over the city.