Only a 30-minute train ride from Venice, Padova is a city that runs around two things: the prominent University, and commerce. Close to sixty thousand students are currently studying at Padua University, whose foundation as a school of law dates back to 1222 and makes it the fifth oldest in the world. You can still admire the remnants of such glorious, ancient past by walking into the courtyard and under the frescoes vaults of the oldest building belonging to the University, Palazzo del Bo, headquarters of the Law faculty; and in the lush Botanical Gardens, created in the 16th century and still a place of studies for many botanists. You might also notice the high presence of students rushing on their bikes, slaloming cars, buses, trams, pedestrians (for lack of proper bike paths)on their way to the next class on the other side of town. Although often subject to much public criticism – they degrade the city, some say! – the high number of students has always had a good influence on the economy and liveliness of Padova: businesses thrive thanks to the money they pump into the economy of the city in the form of rents and living expenses; and bars and vendors often offer a range of inexpensive, honest, good eats and drinks to cater their cravings.
Padova is not just students, though. Residents enjoy a high standard of living and reflect their buying power on the commerce of the city. Padovani love to dress up and look cool, they love shopping and strolling up and down the city centre on a Saturday, stopping in front of the many sleek boutiques where they can find the latest trends. When it comes to eating, drinking and shopping for food, though, most still enjoy the same small pleasures their parents did. Impeccably dressed couples taking a break from their shopping to grab an ombra of wine (a small glass of house wine, that is) and a panino with porchetta, standing at the counter of a scruffy-looking osteria, won’t be such an unusual sight; the same goes with spotting them queuing, or trying to, in front of the folparo, ready for their dose of folpetti (baby octopus). Likewise, most will still shop in the independent food businesses that have become institutions in the city, calling the vendors by name and trusting their weekly recommendations.
This diverse demand sums up in a wide range or pretty great food options, all fairly concentrated in the heart of the city. You’ll find a bit of everything, from real street food institutions alongside bars feeding the hungry with panini or tramezzini washed down by spritz, to traditional osterie that offer more substantial dishes linked to the typical flavours and recipes of the province. What is more, there is no shortage of good spots to do some food shopping, so you get the chance take a taste of the city home and savour it without rush. I recently visited Padova again to re-write and confirm my list of favourite places to eat drink and shop, most of which are still fairly undiscovered gems only known to locals – you’ll find them all below. At the bottom, I also listed some beautiful things to see while you’re at it, including a few key monuments and museums. I hope it’ll help you navigate the city and tempt you to visit it next time you find yourself in the area. It’s well worth your time.
° Bar dei Osei
Piazza Dei Frutti 1
Don’t miss their spritz with both Aperol and Cynar; sip it while you munch on a rustic paninetto with mortadella tagliata al coltello (sliced with a knife). Popular on Saturdays.
° Hostaria Ai Do Archi
Via N. Sauro 23
Tucked in an alley right off Piazza dei Signori, this little bar is one of the few hot spots for aperitivo in town. Being tiny inside, most people often stand outside – no matter the season – chatting in the street while sipping your drink. They make mean Americanos and Negronis here, and their mojitos aren’t bad either if you feel like a change. You can, of course, also find spritz.
° Osteria L’Anfora
Via del Soncino 13
A Slow Food osteria serving traditional fare, but also a place where people of all ages gather to grab a glass of wine. For food, booking is highly recommended, but for a drink, you can just sit at the bar or stand in the picturesque alley in the heart of the historical Jewish quarter. Good wine list from the region as well as labels from all over Italy.
° Enoteca Il Tira Bouchon
Sotto il Salone, 23/24
You go for the ombra in this wine bar and shop hidden underneath the vaults of Palazzo della Ragione, the imposing building that separates the two market squares in town – Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Frutti. An ombra (literally, ‘a shadow’) in Venetian is a small glass of house wine, either red or white. The house wine here is always good. They’ll serve it to you from the big barrels behind the counter, and you can have a made-to-order panino with prosciutto to go with it if you’re feeling peckish. Good choice of wines by the glass, too, and a nice selection of bottles to choose from and take home.
For a Quick Bite:
° Any of the above-mentioned places doing ombre of wine with panini.
Piazza Della Frutta (food truck, late afternoon only)
This is the place (maybe the only one) to eat seafood in town. Order from the vast selection, including steamed fish salad, boiled folpetti (baby octopus) with oil and lemon, and seppie (cuttlefish). Then sit at Bar dei Osei (mentioned above) and have your fish with a glass of white wine. Savour the moment…it won’t get much better than this.
Piazza delle Erbe (at the corner by the stairs of Palazzo della Ragione)
One of the local specialities in Padova is tramezzino, a small sandwich made with soft bread, often a layer of mayonnaise, and a series of filling combinations such as egg and pickled artichokes, tuna and pickled onions, ham and mozzarella and so on. If you want to savour the best tramezzini in Padova, then, this is definitely the place. You can have them at room temperature or lightly toasted. I highly recommend them warm, particularly in the winter, as this bar is the only one doing it and it’s their signature dish of sorts. Take a look at the long list or ask your waiter for availability as they sell out fast. Then, have a spritz to wash them down and carry on with your explorations.
Just around the corner from Caffé Pedrocchi is this anonymous (no signs) hole in the wall selling piping hot panzerotti (pockets or pizza stuffed with mozzarella and tomato, or mushrooms, or ham etc) to a crowd of hungry customers. Davide is not a Padovano (he’s originally from Piedmont) but locals surely love him. This is the kind of food that makes you happy and fills your belly, but they sure are darn tasty, too.
Via Gorizia 12
There’s no way around it: if you want a sandwich, come here. It’s another hole in the wall (no seats), but that wall is wallpapered with all sorts of colourful signs listing the various panini (over 200) on offer, one more tempting than the other. I found this place deliciously dangerous every time I was going out for one too many spritzes and was feeling hungry for something substantial. Boozy judgement aside, this place is good, uses good ingredients, and truly hits the spot. Try their signature panino con porchetta, or something with garlicky sopressa (a Venetian salame).
° Antonio Ferrari
Via Umberto I 15
This place will feel very different from all the above. It is a fancy wine bar (they call themselves bottega-bistrot) where you can also enjoy a great selection of excellent cheeses and cured meats while at it. I used to visit when I wanted a quiet environment that felt a bit more formal or was in the mood for a more sophisticated aperitivo with cheese, salumi and a glass nice sparkling wine. Let the knowledgeable staff behind the counter guide you through their offer. You can also buy wine, deli meats and cheese to take away.
For a Meal:
Via del Soncino 13
As mentioned above, this is a Slow Food osteria, and one of the few in town where you’ll find traditional fare using local ingredients at modest prices. The food is very good, but the dimly lit dining room gets crowded and noisy, so it might not be the best place for a date night. Book ahead.
For a Coffee Break:
Piazza delle Erbe 6
Good varieties of coffés and hot chocolates, from a roaster based in the nearby town of Treviso.
Via VIII Febbraio 15
This is the place to go for people watching and to indulge in the atmosphere of a historical Italian café. The oldest and most renowned in town.
For Sweet Treats:
Via Jacopo Facciolati 12
A bit out of the beaten track, right by the University hospital, here is where you’ll find the best high-standard patisserie assortment in the city. The pastry chef has been world champion a number of times (his signature cake being the Sette Veli or ‘seven layers’), and his creations are something not to be missed. Great especially for afternoon tea.
Via Umberto I 26
Good coffee, (Diemme, a local roaster), hot chocolates and good pastries. Try their specialty, the Pazientina Padovana – a cake made of chocolate, almond shortcrust, polenta shortcrust and a filling of zabaione custard – as it’s almost impossible to find it anywhere else.
Via Domenico Vandelli 2
I love to go here for breakfast. Their cornetti are excellent (their almond one especially), and so are their capuccini. It gets busy, so it’ll be hard to sit down, but most Italians take their breakfast standing at the counter, so it’s worth joining in.
Hidden in a tiny alley behind a large department store, this is an old pastry shop specialising in chocolate creations – their Easter eggs are real works of art. Walk in to buy some cioccolatini, or have a coffee with a biscotto at the counter.Note: at all the above places, you have the option to consume inside with a buon caffé or a drink, or to buy pastries and sweets to take away.
Bread and Other Baked Delights:
Piazza dei Frutti 26
Hands down the best bakery in the city – don’t let the ladies in a costume trick you! Their range of bread and focacce is endless, from traditional formats to innovative shapes and flour mixes. You can also find fantastic cakes and crostate, biscotti, and all sorts of sweet and savoury leavened delicacies. There is also a wide range of quality artisan dry goods such as pasta, oils and sauces. Another specialty is chocolate, and especially their chocolate and hazelnut spread (a sort of artisan Nutella), which you can buy by weight. Dangerous, beautiful place. I was a regular and had my graduation cake made here – my whole family still remembers it.
° Pasticceria Giotto
This is the pastry laboratory that the non-profit association Giotto opened in the prison of Padova. they produce award-winning leavened sweet breads such as Panettone, Focaccia Veneziana, Colomba and some sweets typical of Padova, some of which date back to the Middle Ages, like il Dolce del Santo. You’ll find them in many retail shops and pastry shops in the city, just ask at the counter.
For Fruit and Vegetables:
Mercato di Piazza delle Erbe – Every day until 1 pm
Il Salone – Palazzo della Ragione
To Buy a Bottle of Wine or Beer:
° Enoteca Il Tira Bouchon
Sotto il Salone, 23/24
Via del Santo
° Casa della birra
Via Roma 128
° Palazzo del Bo
° Orto Botanico
° Cappella degli Scrovegni
° Basilica di Sant’Antonio
° Prato della Valle