Padua (Padova) is a large town (population 210,000) in the Veneto region in north-eastern Italy. Padua is home to an ancient university, and parts of the town centre have a very studenty feel to them: young people revising under shady trees or meeting up before lectures. Successful modern business exists alongside unspoilt historical sights, and there’s lots for the visitor to do. There are some troubled housing areas in the outskirts, but these don’t impinge on the tourist’s experience. Padua’s nearest equivalent in Britain would probably be Oxford, and while the Italian town may lack punting undergraduates, it can match Oxford’s dangerous cyclists. Padua’s biggest tourist attraction is the Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni), with its priceless frescoes by Giotto.
Despite the town’s many other interesting sights, this is the only place in Padua where tourism has taken over. The Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua (known simply as Il Santo) is also on some tourism/pilgrimage circuits but through the rest of town you’re more likely to encounter students and smartly-dressed businesspeople than tourists. There is a lot more to Padua than these two sights, however. The town centre is an attractive place to explore, with many historic streets to wander. It’s always been a wealthy town, and has fine architecture dating to different eras. Giotto’s are not the only frescoes in town, and the art-lover has masses to admire in the town’s churches and art gallery. And after the visitor has enjoyed Padua’s lovely parks and gardens, and strolled the pleasant arcaded streets, there is still plenty to do in the area around the town: villas to visit, boat trips and thermal spas.
The keen traveller really needs more than one day in Padua. Many of the town’s attractions have limited opening hours, with those infuriatingly long Italian lunch breaks, meaning that you will need to plan your schedule carefully to fit everything in. If Padua appeals to you, we’d recommend staying several days and giving yourself time to potter around, visit local villas and maybe take a boat trip. If you really only want to see the highlights, though, you can get an idea of the city in a shorter visit.