03 March 2017

A Weekend in Padua

You wait a lifetime for an Italian wedding two crop up in the space of six months: my cousin’s wedding in Sorrento in August and last weekend, a good friend from university was married in the northern Italian city of Padua (AKA Padova). I’ve been to Venice, 25 miles to the east, a few times, but never to Padua and I was looking forward to visiting a new city as well as celebrating with my friend and his friends and family. 

Padua is a pretty, historic university city, that reminded me a lot of my hometown, Oxford. There are certainly as many bookshops and bicycles! Two to three full days would give you enough time to explore most of the city’s attractions — and sample plenty of its food and drink.

General Tips
Arriving. Regular (1–2 per hour) direct buses run from Venice’s Marco Polo airport to Padua. You can buy a ticket in the arrivals hall for €8.50 one-way and the journey takes about an hour; the bus stops are just outside arrivals (turn right and head to the end for the Padua stop). The Padua bus station (autostazione) is a 15-minute walk from the city centre and a 30-minute walk from Prato della Valle. There are plenty of local buses and trams in Padua.

You can also take the train but you will first need to take a bus to Mestre train station; the journey also takes about an hour in total. Buses from Treviso airport to Padua take a bit longer. 

Money. Many restaurants and shops, particularly the larger ones, take credit cards but you will  probably want to have some Euros in cash for purchasing quick coffees and to pay the city tax at your hotel. There are multiple banks in the city centre with ATMs, although it took me a little while to find one when I arrived.

Accommodation. I booked my hotel, Hotel Al Prato, a few months in advance as the wedding took place during the Venice Carnevale, and we had been warned that hotels might get booked up. I paid about £45 per night for a large single room at Al Prato, and it worked very well: quiet, clean and comfortable with a European queen bed and understated modern décor. The wifi was a bit spotty but there was a free buffet breakfast. Most importantly, it was located just steps from Prato della Valle, the beautiful, ovoid piazza at the south of the city centre. It takes five or ten minutes to walk into the city centre proper but Padua is small, so finding a very central hotel isn't too important.

Things To Do
I was only in Padua for a three-day weekend, with most of Saturday being taken up with the wedding. As such, I spent most of my time strolling through the city and admiring the sights from the outside. I arrived on Friday afternoon in a cold, grey fog and the historic city centre still looked lovely, but it looked even nicer in the sunshine and blue skies of Saturday and Sunday. The sights include the following (the Padova Card might save you money if you plan to do a fair few of these):

Duomo di Padova (Padua's cathedral; €3 to enter the baptistry)

Palazzo della Ragione (grand, 13th century court of justice — stunning ceiling frescoes)

Torre dell'Orologio (visits are by guided tour only) 

Basilica di Sant'Antonio di Padova (a grand, multi-domed church near the Prato; free to enter)

Prato della Valle (a gorgeous, verdant piazza, encircled by a moat with statues and bridges. Great for people-watching, especially on sunny evenings and weekends). 

Orto Botanico (botanical garden; entry is €10)

The wedding ceremony was held in the town hall, followed by a reception at Palazzo San Bonifacio, a beautiful venue that, from the street, you would never know was there.

It is easy to find serviceable ~€1 espresso in any Italian town or city (Caffè Pedrocchi is Padua’s most famous caffè-bar) but third-wave coffee is harder to come by. I thought I might be out of luck in Padua, but I found three places that served third-wave-style coffee, although the quality isn't quite up to London/Melbourne standards.

I found this café, just along the Prato from my hotel, online, and the single-origin beans displayed prominently in the window made it easy to spot. On my first visit, I had a nice V60-brewed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, although I was amused to find the barista corrected my Italian pronunciation (voo sessanta) to the English (vee sixty). I returned twice more and had a single-origin espresso from Honduras and a ‘regular’ espresso; the former, recommended by the barista, was a subtler, more citrusy drink.

Interestingly, the menu provided an explanation in Italian not just of V60, syphon and cold brew, but of filter coffee itself: “a brewing technique popular in America and northern Europe.” It will be interesting to see whether and how quickly the third wave spreads in Italy.

As my fellow coffee-aficionada chum put it, Caffeine, on Via Roma, looks the part but doesn’t quite talk the talk yet. The menu lists Aeropress, siphon and French press filter coffee options but they aren’t serving them until next month; instead, I had a good (€1) macchiato at the zinc bar. Aesthetically, Caffeine looks great (I particularly liked the cups with their caffeine-structure design) and they even have avocado toast!

Aeropress coffees are also on the menu at The Coffee Box, a bustling café opposite the Coin department store. I didn’t have time for a filter coffee, though, so instead ordered a macchiatone (‘large macchiato’), which seems to be the equivalent of a cortado or piccolo. It’s a shame I couldn't try the Aeropress because the macchiatone was fine but slightly overheated. However, it only cost a very reasonable €1.20.

Food & Drink
There are stacks of trattorie, pizzerie, caffè and bars throughout Padua's  city centre. Note: most restaurants close in the afternoon (usually between 2:30 pm and 7 pm, although this varies). As such, if, like me, you arrive in the city at around 3 pm, finding somewhere for a decent late lunch may be tricky. I ended up going to Bigoi, a sort of fast-food pasta bar serving the titular bigoi pasta (chunky spaghettti), served with a variety of toppings (€5). I had a tasty duck ragù, which kept the hangriness at bay. Another ‘fast food’ option in the evening is La Folperia, a popular street-food stall in Piazza della Frutta.

On Friday evening, my friends and I met for an aperitif at Antonio Ferrari on Via Umberto I. Prosecco and Aperol spritzes were €3.50 and €4 and my negroni was €8. We also shared a large platter of cicchetti (charcuterie) for €20. The food was good and it was a casual, fun place to hang out.

I wanted at least one pizza while in Italy, and as both Pago Pago and Al Duomo, which had been recommended, were closed at lunchtime, I couldn’t partake (Osteria Pizzeria La Vigna, to the west of the centre, was also recommended). But on Friday night, we went to Box Caffè, on the Prato, which was suggested by both the internet and my hotel’s receptionist. The restaurant was quiet at 7 pm, but had filled up by the time we left. Box serves wood-fired pizzas in a sleek, modern setting. My pizza bufala was very good.

Naturally, we were very well fed at the wedding (I was particularly impressed by the giant hunk of parmesan and the cured ham available with our aperitif, ahead of our four-course meal).

A few friends and I wanted a traditional Venetian lunch on Sunday, and my research identified two spots, both just east of the town hall. The more modern of the two and my first choice, Osteria Ai Scarponi, was fully booked so we headed to the second, the more traditional Trattoria Nane della Giulia, which had a hand-written menu in Venetian dialect with an Italian translation (no English, so it was a lucky my friends brought their translator!). It was a very authentic experience and the colourful, rustic décor complemented the lively ambience. The food was great too: I had a local speciality, bigoi pasta (see above) with an anchovy and orange sauce. We also had a lovely bottle of Prosecco for only €15 — perché no?

Padua is a smart town and there are plenty of nice shops, including some great leather handbag and shoe shops. Il Borsaro (Via del Santo 163), had some lovely leather handbags but is closed on Sundays (surprisingly, quite a few shops in the city centre were open on Sunday, some opening after 3 pm). Decor had some pretty homewares and Merci is a chic clothing boutique, and there are branches of the usual chains (Sisley, Zara, Mango et al.) as well as two small department stores (Coin and Rinascente), as well as a fair few designer shops. Bottega Bonin provides chic provisions for the city’s many cyclists.

There are lots of great delis around town, various food markets (including one in the arcades of Palazzo della Ragione), and a great general store called Drogheria Preti, near the Prato, which has been selling gourmet food and drink and home goods for over 80 years.


  1. Anonymous13:54

    Thanks for this. One year later and there is no other way to find a specialty coffee place in Padova than reading your blog.

  2. Thanks! I'm glad that you found it helpful, and hope you enjoyed your time in Padova.