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Lonely Planet Writer

Seven spectacular day trips from Venice

Whether you're seeking delightful walled towns, artistic treasures or gastronomic treats, it's well worth taking a day trip from Venice to explore the surrounding area.

From Roman amphitheatres to Palladian villas and Renaissance frescoes, the Veneto region has plenty to offer right on the lagoon city’s doorstep.

Sunset view over Verona, showing the river and rooftops
Fair Verona makes an excellent day trip from Venice © Javen / Shutterstock

Verona – so much more than Romeo and Juliet

Although visitors flock to Juliet’s house in ‘fair Verona’, the city's real treasure is its magnificent Roman Arena. Opera performances and concerts are staged here, but you can also simply visit and enact your Gladiator fantasies. Nearby on the banks of the Adige river, the impressive 14th-century Museo del Castelvecchio houses works by Renaissance and contemporary artists.

Stop off at the Ristorante Castelvecchio for risotto all’Amarone (made with red wine) before visiting the magnificent Romanesque Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore. Across the Ponte Nuovo on the other side of town is the enchanting Giardino Giusti, where you can relax in verdant surroundings before heading home.

Getting there: train from Stazione Santa Lucia to Verona Porta Nuova. A regionale veloce train takes 90 minutes and costs €9.25.

The frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, showing heaven on one side and hell on the other
Giotto's vibrant frescoes in Padua's Scrovegni Chapel © EQRoy / Shutterstock

Padua and the Scrovegni Chapel

Padua is said to be the oldest city in northern Italy and boasts Roman archaeological remains to prove its pedigree. Yet the real jewel in its crown is the Cappella degli Scrovegni. The humble exterior belies Giotto’s dazzling frescoes inside. Depictions include the story of Christ and a particularly graphic depiction of hell. Advance booking is essential.

From the chapel, head to Palazzo del Bò, home to Padua University. Guided tours in English include the anatomy theatre and Galileo’s lectern. For sustenance, Pasticceria Graziati specialises in pastries but also has a charming restaurant in its cellar. After lunch, walk to the Basilica di Sant'Antonio, which houses the patron saint’s relics, before sauntering through the university’s Botanical Garden.

Getting there: train from Stazione Santa Lucia to Padua (Padova). The regionali veloci (regional fast trains) cost a fraction of the Frecce high-speed trains (26 minutes; single €4.35).

View along a canal in Treviso, with colourful buildings reflected in the water
With its pretty canals, Treviso is sometimes compared to a little Venice © Roman Sigaev / Shutterstock

The medieval walls and art of Treviso

One of the closest outings from Venice is the medieval walled town of Treviso. With its pretty canals, Renaissance buildings and frescoed churches, Treviso is something of a mini Venice, minus the tourist hordes.

Artistic treasures include an Annunciation by Titian in the Duomo, while frescoes by the 14th-century artist Tommaso da Modena can be found in churches dotted around town. One fresco, in the chapterhouse of the Chiesa di San Nicolò, shows the earliest depiction of glasses in art. For traditional Trevisan fare, including dishes made with the famous magenta radicchio di Treviso, head to Ristorante Toni del Spin.

Getting there: train from Stazione Santa Lucia to Treviso Centrale (29 minutes; single ticket €3.55).

The stage set of the Teatro Olympico uses false perspective to create a sense of depth
Palladio's stage set in Vicenza's Teatro Olimpico shows an impressive use of perspective © Laura Facchini / Shutterstock

Vicenza – the city of Palladio

Vicenza is the adopted hometown of the great Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and his influence can be seen everywhere. His most prominent achievement is the Teatro Olimpico, Europe’s oldest surviving indoor theatre. Although the structure looks like marble, most of it is built in wood and plaster. The Renaissance stage set is still used today for theatre performances.

Other Palladian treasures in the centre include the Museo Civico, which contains works by Montagna, and the Loggia del Capitaniato. Lunch can be had at the friendly Antica Casa della Malvasia, which serves inventive takes on traditional dishes. Next, head to the pretty Chiesa di San Lorenzo, with its tranquil cloister, and the Chiesa di Santa Corona, which contains a Baptism of Christ by Giovanni Bellini.

Getting there: train from Stazione Santa Lucia to Vicenza (the regional fast train takes 45 minutes; single ticket €6.40).

A path winds through the green Euganean Hills at sunset
A trail winds through the Euganean Hills © Luca Lorenzelli / Getty Images

Volcanic spas and butterfly farms in Montegrotto

If you’ve overindulged on art or food, you might want to head for the Euganean Hills for some rest and relaxation. Visitors to these fertile hills have enjoyed the hot springs since Roman times. Local hotels and spas offer everything from the luxurious to the purely medicinal. The Hotel Mioni Royal San has half-day packages from €35 and an excellent restaurant.

For all things bucolic, take a walk in the hills or visit the town's Roman archaeology. Alternatively, visit the Butterfly Arc and Fairy Wood in Montegrotto, a great place for those travelling with children. Take a packed lunch.

Getting there: train from Stazione Santa Lucia to Terme Euganee-Abano-Montegrotto (the regional train takes 1 hour; single ticket €5.10).

Palladio's symmetrical Villa Foscari sits on the edge of the Brenta Canal
Palladio's Villa Foscari is one of the highlights of the Brenta Canal © Massimo Parisi / Shutterstock

Float down the Brenta Canal past Palladian villas

When the heat got too much for Venice’s patrician families, they headed for their country estates along the Brenta Canal. You can do the same by embarking on a cruise aboard Il Burchiello. Those rural abodes are actually sumptuous villas, some of them designed by the great Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Villa Foscari, known as ‘La Malcontenta’, is one of his most celebrated works and its gardens are particularly delightful.

The cruise ends at Villa Pisani in Strà. This gorgeous building contains breathtaking frescoes by Tiepolo and its garden has a charming maze. The cafe, an erstwhile stable, is an excellent place to eat.

Getting there: Il Burchiello leaves Venice from San Zaccaria stop A at 8.45am (Tue, Thur & Sat, Mar-Oct; from €60, does not include return to Venice). The 53E bus from Piazzale Roma station leaves every half hour and takes around 45 minutes (ACTV bus ticket €9; the Ville Card Plus, which includes bus fare and free entry to the Barchessa Valmarana, Villa Foscarini Rossi and Villa Widman, costs €18.90).

The square towers of Castello Estense
The imposing towers of Castello Estense in Ferrara © Martin Hughes / Lonely Planet

Ferrara – a dynastic city and foodie paradise

Ferrara was home to the d’Este noble dynasty, which left an indelible mark on the city. The imposing 14th-century Castello Estense towers over the centre. The site of executions, its dungeons recall the d’Este family’s fearsome power. For a less blood-curdling visit, see the Romanesque-gothic Duomo with its stunning facade. The fascinating Museo della Cattedrale is housed across the road in a deconsecrated church.

It’s difficult to eat badly in Ferrara and the city is positively bulging with eateries and food emporiums. Big Night, Ristorante da Giovanni not only serves excellent local dishes, but also has views of the castle. Take a postprandial walk around the Palazzo dei Diamanti for a mix of contemporary and Renaissance art.

Getting there: train from Stazione Santa Lucia to Ferrara (the regionale veloce trains run hourly and take 90 minutes; single ticket €9.25).

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