12 Amazing Things to Do in Mantua (Italy)
The charming Mantua in Italy is a truly beautiful historic city in Lombardy and is still considered an insider tip for a trip to this region. It is one of the main cultural cities in northern Italy and a true jewel of medieval architecture. Mantua is not only famous for its extraordinarily enchanting old center, but also for the three picturesque lakes that surround the small city and give it an almost magical flair. In addition, the Old Town of Mantua was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008. Walking through the center, you will be amazed by the variety of things to do in Mantua, such as the world-famous Doge’s Palace of the noble Gonzaga family and Palazzo Te with its imposing frescoes. But what are the most beautiful attractions in Mantua, what are the real insider tips, and what are the highlights that should not be missed?
In this travel guide, you will find all the important information and tips about Mantua in Italy. We also show you great pictures, the best things to do, the most interesting sights in the old town, and the best places to stay.
General Information about Mantua
The city of Mantua, also known as Mantova, has a population of 48,000 and is located in Lombardy, Italy. Together with Sabbioneta, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It was once the capital of the Gonzaga Dukes, one of the most powerful families of the Renaissance. Thanks to its rich history, unique architecture, art treasures and many historical attractions, Mantua has been named “Cultural Capital of Italy 2016“. Truly impressive is especially the historic center of Mantua, which can be easily explored on foot and which captivates visitors from all over the world with numerous spectacular sights. The squares are also charming, with excellent restaurants and cafés for enjoying.
A unique thing about Mantua are the 3 lakes, Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo and Lago Inferiore, that surround the city. Fed by the Mincio River, they were built in the 12th century for defensive purposes, and today they characterize the wonderful panorama of the old town. A popular activity there is, of course, a boat trip to experience the beauty of the city from the water. A stay of 1 or 2 days in Mantua is the perfect length of time to do some sightseeing. However, if you also want to do some sightseeing and excursions in the surrounding area, then you should have 3 to 4 days.
The Best Things to Do in Mantua
During a trip to Mantua you can look forward to a whole series of attractions worth seeing. Most of them are located in the old town and can be easily explored on foot. To help you get around, we’ve put together the best places to visit and the best things to do in Mantua:
Piazza delle Erbe
The Piazza delle Erbe is one of the most magnificent main squares in Mantua and a real highlight not to be missed on any trip. It is located in the heart of the historic center, between Piazza Mantegna and Piazza Broletto. Once a fruit and vegetable market, this picturesque square with its charming cafés and restaurants is now a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike. Absolutely impressive are the beautiful monuments from different eras that surround the square and give the Piazza delle Erbe a dreamlike setting. These include imposing buildings such as Palazzo della Ragione, Rotonda di San Lorenzo, Casa del Mercante, Palazzo del Podestà and the iconic Torre dell’Orologio.
Tip: The “Torre dell’Orologio” with its astrological clock can be visited. From the top you will definitely be able to enjoy one of the most beautiful views of Mantua!
Mantua Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Pietro)
One of the most beautiful attractions in the city center is the Mantua Cathedral, dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle. The original structure of the church dates back to the Middle Ages, and the bell tower was also built at the same time. In the 15th century the church began to be enlarged, but the present façade is from 1755. It is not only from the outside that this cathedral is a splendor, but also the interior is absolutely worth seeing. During a tour, you can admire valuable sculptures and paintings by various well-known artists. Among them are Guiseppe Bazaani and Teodoro Ghisi. It is also interesting to note that the body of St. Anselm, the 11th century patron saint, is kept under the high altar.
The Palazzo Ducale, also known as the Ducal Palace or the Doge’s Palace, is a true pearl of the Renaissance and a visit is definitely one of the best things to do in Mantua. Built between the 14th and 17th centuries, this imposing palace was once the residence of the Gonzaga family. With 1,000 rooms spread over 35,000 square meters, it is one of the largest building complexes in Italy and a visit inside is almost a must on any trip. Among the most important attractions are the frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, which are located in the Wedding Room “Camera degli Sposi”. During a visit, you can also admire masterpieces by Antonio Pisanello, Giuseppe Piermarini and Peter Paul Rubens.
Saint George’s Castle
The Saint George’s Castle, also known as Castello di San Giorgio, is definitely a beautiful historical attractions in Mantua. This imposing fortress dates back to the 15th century and is one of the most extraordinary structures in the old town center. Moreover, it is one of the most important late medieval military complexes in northern Italy and is still surrounded by a well-preserved moat. The Castle of St. George is actually part of the Palazzo Ducale, and the imposing rooms with their beautiful frescoes and precious works of art can be visited in combination with the Palazzo Ducale.
Basilica di Sant’Andrea
The Basilica di Sant’Andrea, located in Piazza Andrea Mantegna, next to Piazza delle Erbe, is a true jewel of Mantua’s historical center. This impressive church was built in 1470 by the noble Gonzaga family, although it was not completed until the 18th century, when the transept and the cupola were added. It combines various architectural styles, including Gothic and Renaissance, and is not only one of the most beautiful churches in the center, but also the largest. The interior of the church is also worth seeing, where, in addition to numerous works of art, there is also an organ from 1850. Furthermore, the well-known Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna is buried in the Basilica di Sant’Andrea.
The Piazza Sordello is definitely a must-see in Mantua. It is considered one of the most picturesque squares in the city center and was once dedicated to the 13th century Mantuan poet Sordello da Goito. Particularly fascinating are the many old buildings that make Piazza Sordello one of the jewels of the historic center. Many of its attractions and monuments date back to the late Middle Ages. Worth seeing are the Palazzo del Capitano, part of the great Palazzo Ducale, and the imposing Duomo of Mantua. Moreover, the square is lined with charming cafés where you can enjoy a cappuccino or an apéritif in an impressive setting.
Rotonda di San Lorenzo
Located in the historic center of Mantua, the Rotonda di San Lorenzo is an imposing building. One of its peculiarities is its position, since it is situated 1.5 meters below the level of the square of the Piazza delle Erbe. It is one of the oldest religious buildings in Mantua and was built in the 11th century. Even from the outside it is a real eye-catcher thanks to its round Romanesque style. Throughout the centuries, the building has maintained its original charm and historical importance, although it has been rebuilt and restored several times. Also worth seeing is the interior of the Rotonda di San Lorenzo, where there are still remains of Byzantine frescoes from the 11th and 12th centuries.
The Bibiena Theatre, also known as the Teatro Scientifico, is a real insider’s tip in the center. It is an architectural jewel of the 18th century and a beautiful example of Rococo theater architecture. Designed by Antonio Bibiena, it was built between 1767 and 1769. To this day, the theater continues to impress with its extraordinary beauty and elegance. Even the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came to perform here, shortly after it opened. Nowadays, it is possible to visit Bibiena Teatro during daytime when there are no performances. You will be able to stand on the stage yourself and admire the spectacular setting with the original bell-shaped floor plan and the 4 tiers of lounges.
The Palazzo Te is definitely one of the most famous sights and a tour of this magnificent palace is a must on any visit to Mantua. In 1524, the Marquis Federico II Gonzaga decided to build a pleasure palace on the edge of the marshes outside the city walls. Plasterers, sculptors and fresco painters worked for ten years to decorate all the surfaces of the loggias and salons. Visiting the area, one is amazed by the numerous imposing rooms with impressive frescoes, a beautiful garden and elegant courtyards to discover. Among the main attractions are the Hall of Amor and Psyche and the fascinating Hall of the Giants.
Tip: The Palazzo Te is located just outside the old town, but it can be reached by a free shuttle bus from the center of the city. It runs every 15 minutes.
National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum is of particular interest to those interested in history and archaeology. It was opened in 1998 and is located on the site of the municipal silkworm market in 1896. The façade still reflects this historical aspect. On 3 floors, this museum houses an extensive permanent exhibition of historical evidence from prehistory, early history, Neolithic, Roman archaeology to the Middle Ages. Among the most famous attractions of the museum are definitely the Lovers of Valdaro. The discovery of the bones of the lovers in 2007 in Olang/Valdaora has been the subject of worldwide media attention.
Boat Tour in Mantua
A boat tour in Mantua is a unique opportunity to admire the charm of this Italian city from the water’s perspective. Surrounded by three lakes, Mantua offers ideal conditions for excursions by boat, where visitors can fully enjoy the historical heritage and natural beauty of the region. One of the most popular cruises in Mantua is on the Mincio River. The trip takes you along the picturesque historic center and offers beautiful views of the impressive buildings. During the trip, visitors also learn interesting facts about the history and culture of the city. The trip usually lasts about 2 hours and can be booked directly on the riverbank.
Where to Stay in Mantua
Mantua offers visitors a wide range of excellent accommodations, both in the historic center and just outside the city. From intimate guesthouses to apartments and agriturismo to chic hotels, everything is available. Here are our recommendations for the best places to stay in Mantua…It’s worth a look!
- Great 4-Star Hotel: The Cà Uberti Palace Hotel is a lovely 4-star hotel with tasteful rooms, quality amenities, and a fantastic central location.
- Beautiful B&B: The Palazzo Arrivabene B&B is an insider’s tip. It is located in a charming city palace and a stay there is a real experience!
- Cheap 3-Star Hotel: The Hotel dei Gonzaga is an affordable choice for a trip to Mantua. Its location at the beautiful Piazza Sordello is also fantastic.
- Charming Vacation Apartment: The Maison Blanche is a charming apartment not far from the center. The free private parking is also a great feature.
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