Is Verona the most romantic city in the world? The massive romantic appeal of Romeo and Juliet has always seemed a bit dubious to me. Young lovers and doomed love; destroyed by fate or unlucky chance. Why would you want to model a relationship on that?
We love real life romance and the origins of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet lie in Italian folk tale set in the town of Verona. It is highly unlikely that Shakespeare ever visited but he did use Verona’s longstanding romantic reputation to excellent effect.
From the stylish Zeferelli film in 1968 to Baz Luhrmann’s update and the Romeo and Juliet 2013 modern take, the worlds of film and literature have been obsessed with the Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet play ever since.
The Real Romeo and Juliet
In the heart of the Middle Ages two factions struggled for power in northern and central Italy. The Guelphs supported the Pope while the Ghibellines were the party for imperial control. Families allied themselves fiercely to one or the other side. Added to the political mix was Verona’s reputation for hot summer weather; likely to ignite violence and passion, “the mad blood stirring”.
There’s no doubt Verona milks the whole Romeo and Juliet thing like crazy but fortunately they manage the hordes of tourists well, maintaining a genuine charm, liveliness and romance that is second to none, even in Italy!
The 13th-century ‘Casa di Giulietta’ did once belonged to the dell Capello family but the echo in the name is probably all that connects this place to Juliet Capulet. What the tour guides now call ‘Romeo’s house’ was the medieval home of the Montecchi family. The swallow-tail battlements on its high walls were symbols of alliance with the emperor’s faction.
Verona, Italy Photo by Natasha von Geldern
The spurious nature of Verona’s Romeo and Juliet history does not deter hundreds of thousands of tourists lining up each year to peer over the ‘Juliet’s balcony’, even though it was added in the 1930s. Milling crowds rub the right breast of the statue of Juliet for good luck or add graffiti and post-it notes to the walls.
Photos by Claudio Pimazzoni jpellgen and Mahmood Al-Yousif under the Creative Commons License
For a fee you can go inside the house and stand on ‘Juliet’s balcony’. There are some bits of furniture to see and the lush costumes from the classic 1936 Romeo and Juliet film by Metro Goldwyn Meyer.
A slightly more plausible historical connection to the legend can be found at the ruined monastery of the Capucins in Via del Pontiere, near the river. A stone sarcophagus said to be Juliet’s tomb lies in the dimly-lit crypt.
You can even get married in the Juliet house, or by Juliet’s grave – wedding couples line up to pose for photos under the monastery arches.
St George and the Princess, Verona Photo by Natasha von Geldern
If all this leaves you cold, leave the concentration of tourists behind and wander through the maze of winding alleyways to the church of San Anastasia. The interior of red Veronese marble contrasts with the horizontal stripes of tufa stone and brick on the austere facade. The church smells of cut olive branches. Painted flowers and leaves in red and green twine across the vaulted ceiling.
In Pisanello’s delicate and detailed fresco of St George and the Princess, the hero is on his horse farewelling the princess before going off to kill the dragon that was set to devour her. Her sumptuous clothes are trimmed with fur and the artist has paid great attention to how her mass of fair hair has been elaborately dressed.
Back in the heart of Verona’s old town, chic lovers pose on Vespas rather than balconies. Perhaps they are aware that the balcony so associated with the love story is never actually mentioned by Shakespeare. Juliet’s window is merely “above”.
Windows of Verona Photo by Natasha von Geldern
But you will soon find all your cynicism melting away, captured by Verona’s many attractions.
While away an hour or three with your lover in the Giardino Giusti, once the garden of a Renaissance family, full of tall cypresses and creeping roses. The panoramic view from the top of the hill is of a sea of terracotta-tiled roofs, Venetian walls and ancient church spires. Tranquil and serene, this is truly a place for romantic trysts and daydreams.
Giardino Giusti, Verona Photo by Natasha von Geldern
The riverside promenade offers views of Verona, the beautiful villas rising and curving along the river. The church bells in Verona peal like a symphony and old men with flat cloth caps hunch over their market stalls in the Piazza delle Erbe.
In the old streets the architecture is everything from pre-Roman onwards. In the summer the incredible Verona opera festival takes place inside the massive Arena di Verona, the first-century Roman amphitheatre that dominates the Piazza Bra. The audience members on the stone terraces light candles at sunset, in anticipation of the magnificent stage sets and music.
On every street of Verona your eyes will be caught by a feature in carved stone, a mysterious archway, a wooden doorway on which peeling paint is as full of beauty and romance as you could wish. You’ll find yourself seduced by Verona.
Travel guide to Romeo and Juliet in Verona – Things you need to know:
When to visit: Verona is romantically beautiful at any time of the year. If you want to avoid the crowds then a winter visit would be great. It is hot in summer but you can easily escape for a day trip to Lake Garda if necessary.
Where to stay: Verona has a wide variety of boutique hotels and pensions, as well as a good hostel. Large and chain hotels are to be found in the new town.
How to get there: Verona is well connected by train and bus with other northern Italian towns. Cities you could fly into from the US or elsewhere in Europe include Venice and Milan.
How to get around: Walk. I’m afraid you must. Take romantic strolls all day and every day while in Verona.
Visiting the Romeo and Juliet House in Verona: The Romeo and Juliet House is at 23 Via Cappello in Verona and opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday 8.30-19.30 and Monday 13.30-19.30. The entry fee is €6 (concession €4.50). It is only €1 for everyone on the first Sunday of the month from January to May and from October to December.
For more trip planning advice see the Verona tourism website.