We ended our year-long trip around the world with three months in Europe. A combination of reward flight availability and our love of good food took us from Singapore to Northern Italy. After several months on the other side of the world in Southeast Asia and Oceania, we wanted to ease back into European life with some lesser-known spots. So our first stops were the small cities of Vicenza and Ferrara. We spent three days in each, eating all the pizza we could get our hands on and soaking in all the charming Italian-ness they had to offer. Though they’re only about an hour away from each other, they each had different feels and offered us two interesting looks into the region. In this post, we recount our time there and offer (hopefully convincing) reasons why you should consider adding both Vicenza and Ferrara to your trip to Northern Italy.
Table of Contents
- 1 Our three days in Vicenza
- 2 What to see in Vicenza
- 3 Fun things to do in Vicenza: support the local club
- 4 Our three days in Ferrara
- 5 Things to do in Ferrara
- 6 Enjoying aperitivo and pizza in Northern Italy
- 7 Final thoughts
Our three days in Vicenza
Vicenza is located in the Veneto region of Northern Italy, between Venice and Verona. It’s most well known for architectural marvels designed by 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio. The city and 24 Palladian villas in the Veneto region were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1990s. Though we thoroughly enjoyed our three days in the city, it would be super easy to visit Vicenza as a day trip from Verona, from which it’s 25-45 minutes by train. If you want to see the surrounding villas (which we didn’t do), that is best done by car (which we didn’t have) or by arranged tour.
What to see in Vicenza
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring all of the city’s nooks and crannies during our three days in Vicenza.
Vicenza Palladio buildings
Palladio was considered to be one of the most influential individuals in the history of Western architecture. There are over 20 buildings designed by Palladio in the city of Vicenza. You can’t miss the enormous Palladian Basilica in the center of the city, visible from far above.
Across from it stands the stunning Loggia del Capitanio. We also enjoyed finding and admiring some of the others scattered around town, like Palazzo Chiericati and Teatro Olimpico.
Other points of interest in Vicenza
In addition to all the Palladio, there are so many other beautiful buildings and sites throughout the city. It’s always a pleasure to wander through small Italian streets, but Vicenza was in a league of its own with the interesting architecture and colors everywhere. Not to mention its small canals winding through residential areas. There’s also a beautiful, dilapidated park right by the center of the city called Giardino Salvi, which makes for a lovely stroll or sit.
The best view in Vicenza
We were in Vicenza on Easter Sunday and nothing was open. So we took a long walk up to the Church of St. Mary of Mount Berico to see the best view of the city. There are two options for the walk from the city center: you can go up a pretty big set of stairs or up a longer incline through a series of beautiful archways. We chose to take the stairs because it seemed faster (and Sarah wisely used her oxygen to make the climb). We were still able to walk through the last archway on the final stretch up to the church and viewing area. The archways and church itself are impressive, but the true reward is the view from the top. It wasn’t the clearest day, but we could still see a tremendous view of the city including the Palladian Basilica and the mountains in the background.
Fun things to do in Vicenza: support the local club
We love going to international sporting events, but football is our favorite. Our hotel in Vicenza was right across from the local football team’s home turf and we were lucky to be there when they were playing. We’ve been to football matches of all sizes, and while the big ones are often more exciting, you definitely get a better local feel from the tinier teams. Sadly, Vicenza lost the match we saw (and has since gone bankrupt), but we still had a great time.
Do you love seeing sports when you travel too? Read next: travel inspiration for sports fans.
Our three days in Ferrara
Ferrara is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. Its historical center is also a UNESCO site with medieval city walls and a medieval castle. And similar to Vicenza, you can get a good feel for Ferrara in a shorter period of time. If you are looking for day trips from Bologna, specifically, you should definitely put Ferrara on your list as it’s only about a half hour away by train.
Biking in Ferrara
Ferrara is known to be one of Italy’s most bike-friendly cities, so we had to do like the locals. We rented bikes for one day through our hotel, Bed & Bike. They offered reasonably priced relatively large rooms and arrange bike rentals for you, so we were all set. The bikes were perfect for getting to know the city better. We first used our bikes to head a bit outside the center to do what many long-term travelers need to do when they get to a new place: laundry. During the wash and dry cycles, we explored the neighborhood and came upon the Acquedotto Monumentale, which as it turns out, is one of the most important meeting places in the city. The piazza was pretty and green and quiet and there was a farmer’s market going on. It felt like a very local spot.
Things to do in Ferrara
Este Castle and Ferrara Cathedral
The Castello Estense (Este Castle) is a very well-preserved medieval castle, which sits in the center of the city. Complete with moats, it’s quite an impressive building. You can tour the castle, and its Renaissance-era palace, but we didn’t – preferring (as usual) to just marvel at it from the outside.
Nearby is the also impressive Ferrara Cathedral. It stands at the Piazza Trento-Trieste, which is a popular spot. There’s a market there on the weekends and people just enjoy hanging out there in general.
There are many wonderful ways to explore the medieval city walls in Ferrara. You can follow a path that goes along the whole inner city or get up on the walls themselves. We did both, first riding our bikes along the path on the ground through green grassy parks. Another day, we took a stroll atop the walls. If you have the time, we would recommend both as they offer different perspectives of the city and this unique attraction.
All throughout the historical center are perfectly Italian, narrow, winding streets that you can enjoy getting lost wandering through (because how lost can you really get in such a small city like Ferrara). We did this every day and every evening to find new spots to have aperitivo.
Speaking of which…
Enjoying aperitivo and pizza in Northern Italy
We discovered the joy of aperitivo – the Italian happy hour – on a trip to Northern Italy a few years ago. It was perfect for us on this trip since we were jet-lagged and didn’t always want a big meal. Sarah’s favorite thing to drink in Italy is the Aperol spritz, especially when it’s accompanied by copious amounts of Italian appetizers. We could recommend places in both Ferrara and Vicenza to have aperitivo, but we think part of the fun of it is wandering about, peeking your head in somewhere and deciding if the spread of food is worth the 3 EUR cost of a spritz.
Good pizza is hard to find in this world. Growing up in New York, we both had pretty good access to it throughout our lives. But this past year on the road, it was lacking. So we were psyched to get to Italy and eat it all up. We found two great spots in Ferrara and Vicenza that we would go back to in a heartbeat.
Andrea and Lauretta in Ferrara
The pizza from Andrea and Lauretta was the first thing we ate after our long journey from Singapore. So our first taste was of course heavenly. We couldn’t trust our jet-lagged selves to judge it based on that first visit alone, so we ate there again for lunch another day to confirm our findings. Our first impressions were indeed justified. Their personal pizzas had a super thin, delicious crust and a choice of interesting toppings.
Pizza Da Iganzio in Vicenza
Pizza Da Ignazio saved us. As we previously mentioned, we were there on Easter Sunday. In case you’ve never been to a small Italian city on Easter, everything is closed. Everything. So we ordered enough pizza on Saturday to hold us over on Sunday. Their pizzas were huge with chewy crusts. It’s a bit outside the city center, but worth the walk if you’ve got a big party of hungry people.
We’re really glad we made the decision to visit Ferrara and Vicenza during our brief stint in Northern Italy. Even though they were only an hour away from each other, they were both very different, had a lot to offer, and we honestly can’t decide which we enjoyed more.