Vicenza, located in the Veneto region in northeastern Italy, is a must-visit if you love architecture and history. Home to famous Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, Vicenza boasts many of his best works. Read on to discover the best things to do in Vicenza, Italy!
Palladio’s stunning creations are undeniably Vicenza’s major draw. The city of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto are designated a UNESCO World Heritage site on account of his work.
But Vicenza also has some lovely churches and a beautiful location, with not one but two rivers running through the historical center: the Retrone, and the Bacchiglione. Its piazzas invite you to linger, to savor the charming medieval atmosphere, and everywhere you look, you’ll see a photo op.
Vicenza is definitely among the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Italy. We loved our visit to this gorgeous city, and would not hesitate to return!
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN VICENZA
Vicenza was under the rule of Venice from the early part of the 15th century to the end of the 18th century. You will see a pleasing blend of architecture in Vicenza, with Palladio’s works, influenced by classical Roman architecture, interspersed with Venetian Gothic architecture.
About midway between Venice and Verona, Vicenza is easily accessed from either. With dozens of beautiful buildings, streets made for strolling, and a laid back vibe, Vicenza will steal your heart and keep you enthralled as you explore.
Here, then, are 12 amazing things to do in Vicenza, Italy:
#1 Visit the Basilica Palladiana
One of the most impressive buildings in Vicenza’s main square, the Basilica Palladiana boasts a beautiful loggia designed by Palladio. With its distinctive aqua roof and regal facade, the Basilica Palladiana should be at the top of your Vicenza sightseeing itinerary!
The 15th century building was originally built in the Gothic style, and housed shops at the bottom and a government meeting room on top. When a part of a double row of columns and porticoes around the building collapsed, Palladio was chosen to rebuild the structure. It was his first commission, and the first example of the Palladian window.
Palladio designed the new loggias in white marble, to create the gorgeous Renaissance basilica we see today. Work on the basilica started in 1549, but was only completed in 1614, 30 years after Palladio’s death.
Did you know that “basilica” actually originally meant a Roman public building used as a court or for other official purposes?
Inside, there are three separate exhibition spaces, where art and architecture exhibitions are held. Climb up to the roof for beautiful views. For hours and admission, visit the Civic Museums of Vicenza website.
#2 Admire the Teatro Olimpico
Just like Palladio’s first work, his swan song, the Teatro Olimpico, is magnificent. One of Vicenza’s most visited historic sites, the Olympic Theater was built in the late 16th century. It was not completed until after Palladio’s death. Performances are still held in the theater, one of only three Renaissance theaters still standing.
Palladio fit the theater into an existing old fortress at the site. Although he is said to have envisioned a three-dimensional stage, it was his successor, Vincenzo Scamozzi, who actually built the gorgeous trompe-l’œil stage with street views and a painted sky in the ceiling that you see today.
The exterior is modest brick, and there is a little courtyard with sculptures and plantings. It belies the treasure awaiting you inside! If a Palladio Olimpico Project (POP) tour is offered on the day you plan to visit, grab the opportunity! With lights, sound, and narration, you’ll be able to experience the full magic of the theater.
But even without the sound and lights show, the Olympic Theater is still gorgeous. Climb up and take a seat in the viewing area, look around, and spend a few minutes admiring the genius of the talents that created such a masterpiece! For hours, admission, and more information on performances and POP tours, visit the theater website.
#3 Enjoy the exhibits in the Palazzo Chiericati
The Palazzo Chiericati, another one of Palladio’s masterpieces in Vicenza, is home to the Civic Museum. It is a handsome two-story Renaissance building, with a facade featuring two levels of columns and a roof decorated with sculptures at the fringes.
The interior of the palazzo is beautiful as well, with ornamental ceilings, many of them coffered. Some ceilings are painted, and others feature beautiful frescoes and stucco reliefs. Even if there were no exhibits, viewing the interior is still worthwhile if you enjoy art and architecture.
When we visited, we saw an exhibition of little toy soldiers and military equipment, with some arranged as battle enactments with information in English. It was very interesting! The art exhibits focus on artists of the Veneto region.
For hours and admission, visit the museum website.
#4 Stroll the Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza’s main square…
Vicenza’s main square, the Piazza dei Signori, is both gorgeous and impressive. A long piazza lined with beautiful buildings, cafes, and restaurants, the Piazza dei Signori is a great spot for people watching or just relaxing for a bit with a drink.
On one side of the square, you’ll see two columns, reminiscent of the Piazzetta di San Marco in Venice. Here in Vicenza, one column is topped by the Venetian winged lion, similar to the Venetian plaza, but the other one is topped by a statue of Christ the Redeemer. There’s also a statue of Palladio in the square.
Apart from the Basilica Palladiana, you’ll see many other beautiful palazzos on the square, with facades in pretty shades of ochre, amber, and rust. The medieval tower rises gracefully into the sky. It’s a beautiful place to stroll, and looks lovely lit up at night.
#5 …Gaze up in awe at the Torre Bissara
Rising up almost 280 feet into the sky, the medieval Torre Bissara stands in the Piazza dei Signori, right by the Basilica Palliadiana. The slender clock tower is one of the tallest structures in the city.
Built in the 12th century by the Bissari family, the tower was bought by the city and its height was raised to the present level in the 15th century. There are five bells in the tower, and they chime the hour and the half-hour, but also play a special melody twice each day.
You can’t go inside the tower or climb to the top. Admire the slender red brick structure from the square or take photos of it from Monte Berico (read more below!).
#6 Visit the Palladio Museum
Housed in the gorgeous Palazzo Barbarano, designed by Palladio, the museum displays many of the architect’s original drawings as well as his books, technologies he used to design La Rotonda and other buildings, and scale models.
You’ll also see and hear experts talk about Palladio’s work via video projections. The museum is worth visiting to get a deeper understanding of the man that shaped much of the city’s architecture.
The building itself, the only one Palladio saw completed and decorated in his lifetime, contains some lovely frescoes by Tiepolo.
#7 Step into the Chiesa di Santa Corona
Built in the 13th century, the Chiesa di Santa Corona features a simple facade with a rose window, and a gorgeous Gothic interior. If you only have the time for one church interior in Vicenza, make it this one!
Inside, you’ll see many paintings and sculptures created by famous Italian masters. The most significant work is Giovanni Bellini’s Baptism of Christ, which is displayed in an ornate altar. Also look for Adoration of the Magi by Veronese.
The design of the Valmarana Chapel in the church is anecdotally attributed to Palladio, and the architect is buried here as well. The church was built to house a thorn from the crown of thorns reportedly worn by Jesus.
#8 Wander the historical center of Vicenza
Vicenza’s historical center houses 23 buildings by Palladio. If you wish to see all of them, you can stop by the tourist information center and pick up a map.
But even without a purpose, Vicenza’s centro storico makes for pleasant wandering, with narrow streets and colorful facades. It’s not very large, so you can cover quite a bit in an hour or two.
At the edge of the historical center, you can walk through the green Parco Querini, with its classical temple. And the outer road, along the rivers, is a lovely stroll as well, with beautiful reflections and old bridges.
#9 Visit the Vicenza Cathedral
The Vicenza Cathedral was completed in the 16th century. The original cupola, and likely the north entrance to the cathedral, were designed by Palladio.
Most of the cathedral was destroyed in bombing during World War II and has since been rebuilt, so it looks somewhat new. The exterior is impressive, with a beautiful Gothic facade that survived the bombing.
If it’s open, touring the interior is worthwhile. It contains many beautiful chapels, including one that features one of Bartolomeo Montagna’s Madonnas.
#10 Tour Palladio’s Villa Capra “La Rotonda”
A little outside the historical center of Vicenza is Villa Almerico Capra, also known as La Rotonda. It was designed by Palladio for Bishop Paulo Almerico in the late 16th century.
Both the architect and the client died before the villa was complete. Architect Vincenzo Scamozzi completed the structure for the Capra family. The villa is currently owned by the Valmarana family.
Said to have inspired the portico design of the White House and Jefferson’s Monticello, La Rotonda is the most famous of Palladio’s villas. The villa features four identical porticoes, one on each of its four sides. It is a magnificent sight!
Walk around to view all four sides of the exterior. Admire the beautiful walkway leading from the entrance to the villa. Roses bloom along the walkway in season, making for the perfect photograph.
If you visit on a day when the interior is open to the public, don’t miss the opportunity to walk the central hall and view the beautifully frescoed dome. Photographs are not permitted inside: an attendant will politely hand you a bag in which to stow your camera while you gawk at the paintings.
#11 Visit the beautiful Villa Valmarana ai Nani
Just a short walk from La Rotonda, you’ll find another beautiful villa open to the public: the Villa Valmarana ai Nani. This is actually a complex of three buildings, and the gardens are absolutely gorgeous.
The villa’s outside walls are decorated with statues of dwarfs, inspired by the legend of Princess Layana, who was born a dwarf. She was kept confined by her father in her high-walled mansion, with dwarfs as her attendants, so she would never realize that she was a dwarf.
But one day she saw a knight who was not a dwarf, and realized that she was different. Consumed by grief, she jumped to her death from a tower. Her grief-stricken dwarf attendants were turned into stone.
The Palazzina and the Foresteria, the owners’ residence and the guesthouse respectively, contain a wealth of frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo and his son Giandomenico Tiepolo. The Rococo villa is considered one of the Tiepolos’ most magnificent works.
#12 Climb to the Sanctuary of Monte Berico for fabulous views
The Church of St. Mary of Mount Berico sits on a hilltop outside Vicenza. From the Piazzale della Vittoria in front of the church, you get panoramic views of the rooftops of Vicenza and the surrounding countryside.
You can walk up via the porticoes like the pilgrims of old, or you can drive up to the church entrance. We walked up and down and while it is not an easy climb, it is not too bad if you take your time.
Inside the church you can see a number of works of art, including The Supper of St. Gregory by Veronese. When we visited, a service was in progress, so we just viewed the interior from the very back.
A little about Andrea Palladio
Andrea Palladio is considered to be one of the most influential architects that ever lived. He was born in Padua, but lived in Vicenza most of his life, and worked in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy.
The Palladian style of architecture is based on classical Roman architecture. Aside from designing monuments and villas, Palladio wrote several books on architecture.
Palladio’s architectural style became popular in many parts of Europe as well as in the USA, with prominent buildings like the United States Capitol, the White House, and Jefferson’s Monticello influenced by Palladio’s style.
Getting into Vicenza
Vicenza does have an airport, but most visitors to northern Italy will arrive here via Venice, Milan, or Verona.
The distance from Venice to Vicenza is about 47 miles. You can drive to Vicenza from Venice in about 50 minutes in normal traffic. From Verona to Vicenza, the distance is about 32 miles, and you can do the drive in about 40 minutes in normal traffic.
And the distance between Milan and Vicenza is about 128 miles, and the drive should take you a little over 2 hours in normal traffic.
If you drive, park and then explore all the places I have described above on foot. If you will stay in Vicenza for 2 or 3 days, you can explore other outlying villas and wineries in the surrounding countryside by car.
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A fast train from Verona to Vicenza takes about 25 minutes. Regional train times vary, but you can pick one of the faster choices, which take between 33 and 39 minutes. There are multiple departures each day in both directions.
A fast train from Venice to Vicenza takes about 40 minutes. A faster regional train can get you from Venice to Vicenza in 45 minutes. There are numerous departures in both directions each day.
You can get from Milan to Vicenza by direct fast train in about one hour and 40 minutes, with multiple departures each day in both directions.
It will take you about 12 minutes to walk from the train station in Vicenza to the Piazza dei Signori in the historic center.
To book bus (and train) tickets for Europe in advance, consider Omio. I found the booking experience easy and hassle-free. They do charge a small service fee but I thought it was well worth the convenience!
Getting around in Vicenza
Vicenza’s centro storico is compact and you can walk everywhere. La Rotonda and Villa Valmarana are about a 30-minute walk from the Piazza dei Signori. The walk to the villas is very pleasant, especially if you visit in the late spring, when wisteria and jasmine bloom along the walls.
You can also take the bus or a taxi from the historic center to La Rotonda.
Where to stay in Vicenza
Palazzo Valmarana Braga is located in the centro storico. A 16th century palace designed by Palladio, the building contains seven gorgeous apartments, with classic furnishings and comfortable beds. Apartments feature kitchenettes and laundry facilities.
Book a stay here
Antico Hotel Vicenza is also located in a historical building very near the Piazza dei Signori, close to all major attractions. Rooms are spacious and beds very comfortable. Breakfast is included.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a stay here
If you want to treat yourself, consider the Palazzina di Villa Valmarana! Each unit comes with a kitchen and a washing machine. The furnishings are beautiful. The villa’s grounds are gorgeous, and the balconies offer beautiful views of the countryside and Monte Berico in the distance.
Book a stay here
Where to eat in Vicenza
We had lunch at a self serve restaurant, just for the experience! Most of what we ate was delicious, so I rate our experiment a success. Righetti Restaurant is in the historic center, and has vegetarian options. Go early, because it gets very full at regular lunch time.
We had soup, pasta, grilled vegetables, and tiramisu for dessert. The prices are ridiculously low, and payment is based on the honor system: after you eat, you tell the cashier what you ate and pay. We didn’t find anyone that spoke much English.
If your itinerary doesn’t include the foodie destination of Modena, you can try some Modena cuisine in Vicenza at FuoriModena. The pastas are out of this world! You’ll find a great wine selection as well. It’s a family-run restaurant and the service is exemplary.
How long should you spend in Vicenza
You can see the major sights in the centro storico and visit Monte Berico, La Rotonda, and Villa Valmarana ai Nani in one active day. In fact, Vicenza is a popular day trip from Verona, Venice, or even Milan, by car or by train.
But Vicenza is worth exploring at leisure, over 2 or 3 days, if your itinerary allows, and you enjoy architecture, art, and history. And you can even base yourself in a Palladian palazzo or historic villa while you explore some of the other Palladian (and other) villas scattered about the surrounding countryside.
The best time to visit Vicenza
The ideal times to visit Vicenza are late spring and early fall. In late spring, you’ll see the villa gardens in full bloom. We visited in early June and came across huge walls covered with scented jasmine and lots of blooming wisteria as we walked around. It was lovely!
Summers are warm and very humid, plus you’ll likely run into crowds (although Vicenza is not on the popular tourist trail), and higher prices on accommodations.
Vicenza Museum Pass
If you plan to visit the Teatro Olimpico and a couple other museums, consider the Vicenza Museum card: it will likely save you money and time. The card is modestly priced and is valid for several days. You can buy it at any of the museums on the list or at the tourist information office in Vicenza.
So there you have it: my suggestions for what to do in Vicenza, Italy! If you haven’t yet visited, I hope I have inspired you to add it to your itinerary for northern Italy!
And if you are planning a visit to Italy, check out my Italy guide for lots of ideas on where to go and what to do! From large historic cities like Florence and Rome to small towns like Ravenna and Orvieto, we’ve covered quite a bit of Italy. You’ll find insights on what to see and do plus suggestions for where to stay and eat.
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