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13 Absolute Best Things to do in Mantua, Italy (2024)

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Mantua (Mantova in Italian) is a small city in the Lombardy region. Home to beautiful Renaissance palaces, ancient history, and wonderful cuisine, this historic city is one of our favorite cities in northern Italy.

We have visited Mantua twice and both times we couldn’t believe how much history and culture is packed into this hidden gem of a place. You only need one day to see everything, but if you’re looking to escape the touristy side of Italy, then plan on spending a couple of days here.

In this guide, we’re sharing the best things to do in Mantua, including where and what to eat, plus other important travel tips.

About Mantua, Italy

Mantua is surrounded on three sides by artificial lakes – Lago di Mezzo, Lago Inferiore, and Lago Superiore. It’s believed that the city is about four thousand years old — first settled around 2000 BC. 

In the past decade this small but mighty city has been crowned both the Italian Capital of Culture and the European Capital of Gastronomy. And in 2008 the city’s old town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This cultural significance is nothing new for Mantua — it was in fact a center of arts during the Renaissance era some 600 years ago. The Gonzaga family ruled the city during that period and sponsored many artists to come and pursue their creative work here.

13 Best Things to do in Mantua

1. Ducal Palace

The same family who ruled Mantua from the 14th to the early 18th century, the Gonzaga family, had this massive complex of buildings built, originally as their private residence.

The complex, known as the Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale), has more than 1,000 rooms in total and is one of the finest reflections of the Renaissance riches in Mantua. Visiting the complex now can take an entire day if you really go slow and see the full extent of the rooms, the riches, and the art.

The palace was once absolutely overflowing with incredible artworks. Many of those pieces were stolen during wars and invasions, or sold off over the centuries and are now displayed in other museums in foreign countries (for example you can see the Parnassus and The Triumph of Virtue in the Louvre). 

Even despite the pieces that have been moved, so many remain in the palace. There are frescoes by Pisanello in what is called quite simply the Hall of Pisanello. The Bridal Chamber, Camera degli Sposi, is an incredible room with full walls of frescoes by Mantegna.

The Hall of the Labyrinth has a stunning ceiling which mimics a labyrinth or a maze. In Isabella’s apartments you can see an array of gorgeous wooden furniture. 

Castello di San Giorgio: This castle is part of the Ducal Palace complex. It is a beautiful moated castle which was built in the 14th century in the late Medieval architectural style. Later, the castle became the private residence of Isabella d’Este, and even later an Austrian prison. 

Truly, this complex is stunning and it can take a great deal of time to make your way through it all. Plan for a big chunk of your day to be spent here, don’t try to rush it. 

PRACTICAL INFO: The Palazzo Ducale is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:15am – 7:15pm. Last entry is an hour before closing time. You can purchase your tickets upon entry. For more information, reference the Palazzo Ducale official website.

2. Te Palace

Also built by a member of the ruling Gonzaga family in the 16th century, the Te Palace (Palazzo Te or Palazzo del Te) is slightly outside of the city center. The palace has a mix of great rooms and internal courtyard spaces — a sort of palace/villa combination. 

The Te Palace is filled to the brim with extravagant frescoes on nearly every wall. One of the most spectacular rooms is the Room of Psyche, or the banquet room, which shows the myth of the relationship between Eros and Psyche in intricate detail. 

In the chamber of the sun and the moon, look to the ceiling where there is a depiction of Plato’s Chariot allegory. The Hall of Horses has life size portraits of horses painted along the walls. 

Perhaps the most unique room in the Palazzo Te is the Chamber of the Giants, Sala dei Giganti, which was painted and designed by Giulio Romano in the mid-1500s. The walls and ceilings are covered in frescoes that depict the story from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” about the fall of the giants.

The layout of the palace is easy to follow as it wraps around the inner courtyard, bringing you from one room to the next to see all of the extraordinary artwork that brings it to life. Make sure to explore the gardens, including the Secret Garden and Grotto.

The Te Palace is much smaller than the Ducale Palace, and you only need a couple of hours for your visit.

PRACTICAL INFO: The Palazzo Te is open from 9:00am to 6:30pm (November-March) and from 9:00am to 7:30pm (April-October). You can purchase your tickets upon entry. For more information, reference Palazzo Te’s official website.

3. Piazza Sordello

While not the very first people to settle the area, the Etruscans lived on the land that is now Mantua back in the 6th century BC. It is believed their town probably sat on this square.

After that, the Romans took over. A mosaic from this time sits below the square, you can see a snippet of it in the southwest corner of the square. 

Torre della Gabbia: This tower in the center of Mantua was built in the 13th century. During the Renaissance times, a metal cage hung above Sordello square on the Torre della Gabbia holding dead or dying men who had broken the law or wronged the ruling family — sometimes with incredibly minor infractions.

The longest that one was held for was a pickpocket who was kept in the suspended cage for three months. The cage was meant to be destroyed many centuries ago, but it was not and therefore can still be seen hanging here today.  

The cobblestone square is now a much more peaceful place. It is one of the centerpieces of the city, its soul so to speak.

It is surrounded by three palaces – Palazzo del Capitano, Palazzo Ducale, and Palazzo Bonacolsi which was built by the ruling family Bonacolsi in the 13th century. And on the fourth side is a Romanesque, 11th century cathedral. 

4. Basilica di Sant’Andrea

The Basilica di Sant’Andrea is a Roman Catholic 15th century cathedral that was built in the Renaissance style. It is made of bricks covered with painted stucco. 

Inside is one of the most important items in Christianity — the holy relic of the Precious Blood of Christ. The relic is kept in the crypt but unfortunately it is hidden 364 days of the year and can only be seen on Good Friday. 

While the relic is kept hidden now, this cathedral was actually built to accommodate the thousands who once flocked here to see it.

There are a total of six chapels inside the church, each adorned with paintings by Andrea Mantegna and his pupils. 

5. Rotonda di San Lorenzo

This beautiful, unique, round church is the oldest church in the city. The Rotonda di San Lorenzo was built in the 11th century from brick. It is said that this church was built in this spot because it is where the blood of Christ was hidden and then later found. 

The church was used for many purposes over the years, with additions put on each time. More recently those additions were removed and its original structure was restored. While the original frescoes largely have not survived all that the last 10 centuries have brought, there are some remnants of them at the top of the church. 

The church is free to enter. 

6. Piazza delle Erbe

Nearby the Rotonda di San Lorenzo you can find Piazza delle Erbe. This is a small square in the old town center of Mantua. Each morning you can see market stalls here selling goods such as fresh flowers. 

Along the edge of the square you can see the Torre dell’Orologio, or the clock tower, and at the other end of the square is The Merchant House. A colorful, 15th century Venetian style building. This building has beautiful detailing along its exterior. 

The square also has a few nice spots to stop for a drink, or a meal, and some people watching. 

7. Astronomical Clock Tower

Built in 1473 by Luca Fancelli, the Torre dell’Orologio, or Astronomical Clock Tower, has an astronomical clock which tracks the position of the planets and phases of the moon.

Located at the center of the Piazza delle Erbe, the clock was most recently restored back to working order in 1989. Now, the bell in the tower rings out each hour on the hour. Inside the clock tower you can visit the museum of time.

8. Mantua Cathedral

The original church that was built here sometime around the first century burnt down and the only thing that remains of it today is the basement of the bell tower.

Luckily, the Mantua Cathedral was rebuilt in the 14th century and that is what stands here now. The cathedral is known as St. Peter’s Cathedral or in Italian — Cattedrale di San Pietro. 

Thanks to the rebuilding and all of the renovations and additions, you can see Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque elements in the church today. Inside you’ll see beautiful frescoes and artworks. As well, there is a large pipe organ which was built for the cathedral in the early 20th century. 

9. National Archaeological Museum

This museum houses artifacts discovered in excavations throughout the region. There are items from the Roman era as well as the Neolithic and Bronze ages. All items on display are well labeled in English. 

One of the absolute highlights of the museum is the Lovers of Valdaro. This is a pair of skeletons, estimated to be around 6,000 years ago. They were uncovered in a position which gave them their name — they were hugging, lying face to face.

The museum is in a building which itself is a remodeled market hall. You can visit the museum on a combined ticket with Ducal Palace. 

PRACTICAL INFO: The Archaeological Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 8:15am to 7:00pm and Sunday from 2:00pm to 7:00pm. Tickets can be purchased upon entry. For more information, visit the official website.

10. Teatro Bibiena

Photo credit: Hans A. Rosbach, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Inaugurated in 1769, this beautiful theater was designed by Antonio Galli Bibiena and is a masterpiece of 18th-century Baroque architecture. This intimate theater showcases a bell-shaped interior and is primarily made of wood.

Notably, the Teatro Bibiena is famous for hosting a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1770, who performed here at just 13-years-old.

Today, you can watch a live performance, or simply visit the interior.

11. Wander the Streets

Mantua is a gorgeous city full of art and history. Once you’ve seen the highlights, one of the very best things to do in Mantua is to just wander the streets, discover the canals, and the more local side of the city.

This city is considered to be one of the most important places in the world for the development of opera. It was where Monteverdi’s first opera ever premiered. So maybe you will happen upon a busker or a future opera star. 

You might explore the Piazza Virgiliana, a lovely park in the historic center. You might look for a good place to stop for a gelato. But really, just spend time getting lost and seeing what you stumble upon. 

12. Try the local cuisine

Torta Elvezia
Tortelli di Zucca

Mantua has a few lovely regional dishes that you should try during your visit. Tortelli di zucca is a beautiful autumnal dish. It is a pumpkin stuffed tortellini and one of our favorite dishes to eat in the fall.

Bigoli con le Sardelle is another pasta dish that is worth trying. It’s made of a spaghetti-like pasta and paired with sardines, garlic, and oil. Simple and delicious.

Make sure also, if you are a meat eater, to try Salame Mantovano, a slightly sweet local salami. Another specialty — which is very basic — is rice. It is actually grown in areas around the region so you can have really beautiful risotto dishes all around Mantua, such as Risotta Alla Pilota.

A popular must-try dessert is Torta Elvezia, which is a layered cake made of almond paste and a meringue-type cake.

13. Bike or walk around the lakes

Mantua is located on a sort of peninsula with three artificial lakes — Lago Superiore (Upper Lake), Lago di Mezzo (Middle Lake), and Lago Inferiore (Lower Lake) — closing it in. These lakes are a beautiful opportunity to escape to a bit of nature. 

In the Upper Lake, also the largest of the three lakes, you can see lotus flowers on the surface and swans floating about. 

While you can stay in the area and walk or cycle around the lakes, you can also follow the Mincio cycle path all the way north to Lake Garda. It’s about 44 km one way (around 27 miles) and is mostly flat and fairly easy to accomplish in a leisurely full day. 

Out by the lakes is also a great place to pause for a moment around sunset and enjoy the stunning views. 

Map of Things to do in Mantua

This map includes the best things to do in Mantua, plus the best places to eat. You can use it to easily navigate your way around town.

To save the map to Google Maps on your phone or computer, click on the star next to the title. Once you do this, you’ll be able to find the map in your “saved maps” list on your phone.

To see a list of all the items on the map, click the box with arrow on the left. To enlarge the map, click the box on the right.

One Day Mantua Itinerary

Spending one day in Mantua? Here’s an itinerary that you can follow for your day trip.

  • Morning: Palazzo Ducale, Mantua Cathedral, and Piazza Sordello, and Teatro Bibiena
  • Afternoon: Piazza delle Erbe, Astronomical Clock Tower, Basilica di Sant’Andrea, Rotonda di San Lorenzo, and Palazzo Te
  • Evening: Walk around the lakes and dinner at a local restaurant

This itinerary should fill your day; however, if you have more time, you can always stop by the National Archaeological Museum.

How to Get to Mantua, Italy?

Mantua is connected by train to other cities in the region. Depending on where exactly you are coming from you may need to include a transfer in your trip to Mantua. 

The train station in Mantua is located on the west side of the city and it is easily accessed on foot from most places in downtown. 

When booking your train to Mantua, keep in mind that you will need to use the Italian name — Mantova — in order to get accurate search results. 

You can book your train tickets in advance at Trenitalia.com or at the train station before departure. Keep in mind, tickets are usually cheapest when bought 2-3 weeks in advance.

Bologna to Mantua

  • Train: There are several train routes which connect Bologna and Mantua. On average, the train takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes with a stopover in Modena.
  • Driving: The trip from Bologna to Mantua by car is about 120 km (75 miles) and should take around 90 minutes.

Verona to Mantua

  • Train: There are direct trains going from Verona to Mantua approximately every hour throughout the day. The trip takes around 45 minutes. 
  • Driving:
  • From Verona the drive is just 45 km (28 miles) and usually takes about 40 minutes.

Venice to Mantua

  • Train: To get from Venice to Mantua by train you will need to connect through Verona. The trip in total should take around 2-3 hours.
  • Driving: From Venice the journey is 160 km (100 miles) and takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes

Parking in Mantua: Once you’re in Mantua, you’ll want to find a parking lot to leave your car as you won’t need it to explore the city. There are a few lots near the train station which can be convenient if they have spaces available. 

Best time to Visit Mantua

Mantua is one of those gems that you can comfortably visit any time of year. This is thanks to the low tourist numbers — things are simply never jam packed — and also its location in the north of the country which means that even during the hottest summer months the weather is still fairly comfortable.

You’re looking at highs around 85°F (around 29°C), which is warm but still comfortable for sightseeing.

That being said, fall and spring are also great times to visit as the scenery surrounding the city is stunning. In springtime everything is in full bloom, and in autumn you can get some deep oranges and yellows as nature gets ready for hibernation.

We visited Mantua in November and while it was a bit foggy and chilly, there is plenty to do indoors to keep you busy and warm throughout the day.

How much time do you need in Mantua?

One day in Mantua is really enough to see the sights and explore the highlights. Since it is so close to Verona, it’s a great day trip from there. And you can definitely see a lot of Mantua in one day. 

If you do want to spend more time exploring the countryside on a tour, give yourself two days — one for the city and a second for the countryside. 

Where to eat in Mantua

Mantua was named the European Capital of Gastronomy for a reason. For being such a small city, the culinary scene is quite impressive.

Take a look at some of our restaurant recommendations below.

  • Il Cigno Trattoria dei Martini– Our top pick for restaurants in Mantua and a Michelin Guide recommended restaurant. This fine dining establishment (with affordable prices) serves up local dishes, such as Tortelli di Zucca, Bigoli, and Risotto Alla Pilota.
  • Carlo Govi – For a taste of local Mantua cuisine, head to Carlo Govi, located outside of the center.
  • Osteria della Fragoletta – A traditional osteria serving up local dishes – from pumpkin tortelli to risotto and classic meat dishes like horse stew and boiled meats.
  • Sücar Brüsc – Another Michelin Guide restaurant, Sücar Brüsc has both a tasting menu and a la carte menu. Serving up modern takes on classic Mantua pasta and meat dishes, as well as a fantastic selection of cured meats to start.
  • Gelateria Loggetta – A fantastic local gelato shop selling fresh and homemade gelato in the historic center of Mantua.
  • Casa del Pane – A small bakery where you can buy Torta Elvezia and other local pastries.

Where to stay in Mantua

Luxury: Palazzo Castiglioni | The beautiful hotel, located next to the Palazzo Ducale, features historic rooms set in a 13th-century palace. With views overlooking the Piazza Sordello and a delicious breakfast included, you’re guaranteed to have a wonderful stay here.

Bed & Breakfast: Palazzo Arrivabene B&B | Stay with locals at this palatial bed and breakfast. Located in the center, this small hotel features well-decorated and spacious rooms set in a historic palace.

Boutique: Cà Uberti Palace Hotel | This modern, 4-star hotel features comfortable accommodation In the center of Mantua.

Mid-range: Hotel Casa Poli | Located a 10-minute walk from the old town center, this hotel has simple rooms with modern amenities, including air conditioning.

Mantua Travel Frequently Asked Questions

Is Mantua worth visiting? 

Yes! Mantua is absolutely worth visiting. Though it is small, the amount of history it holds is astonishing. We actually loved it so much that we went back twice. It truly is a special little city. 

What is Mantua famous for?

Mantua is well known as a sort of birthplace of the opera. This is just one of the many historical facts that make Mantua famous. It is also full of history and art — specifically from the Renaissance period. 

How long to stay in Mantua? 

You should plan on visiting Mantua for one day. This gives you enough time to see the highlights and explore the city. 

More Information for your Trip to Italy

ITALY TRAVEL PLANNING GUIDE

Italy Travel Insurance – Should you get travel insurance for Italy? YES! We always get travel insurance before all of our trips for peace of mind. Check out Travel Insurance Master to find the best plan for you.

Italy Rental Cars – Is it safe to rent a car in Italy? Yes! We’ve rented a car in Italy too many times to count, and it’s definitely the most convenient way to get around the countryside. We rented our car through Discover Cars (our go-to rental agency), which helps you find the best rates no matter where you are traveling.

Italy Phone Plans – If your phone plan does not offer free coverage in Italy, then we suggest getting an eSIM. We used Airalo during our trip to Italy, and we had fantastic coverage the entire time. It’s easy to download and you can even top up via the app if needed.

Italy Hotels – Wondering where to book your accommodations for Italy? We’ve been reserving all of our hotels through Booking for years. Their messaging tool makes it easy to communicate with the hotels, and there are endless options to choose from.

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