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Mantua is famous for its Renaissance Architecture and for being a very cultural and artistic city. The Gonzaga Family dominated the city for long time (about 400 years) and therefore put their stamp on most of the city. In 2008, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Sabbioneta (which is also part of the Province of Mantua – which is not the same thing as the city) and, in 2016, it was elected the Italian Capital of Culture. 

Mantua is surrounded by three artificial lakes (upper, middle and lower lakes) created to increase the city’s defense system even before the Gonzaga’s dinasty. As a result of being surrounded by wetlands, the city has not increase much since its medieval time (currently about 48.000 people), nor has it changed much either. Full of palaces, paved mostly in cobblestones, preserved size and renaissance architecture as well as not having a lot of tourists, Mantua will definitely take you back in time. So, let’s have a look at what to do in Mantua!

What to do in Mantua

Palazzo Ducale in Piazza Sordello, Mantua

The Palazzo Ducale in Piazza Sordello

– Walk from Piazza Sordello to Piazza Andrea Mantegna, going through Piazza Broletto and Piazza delle Erbe.

Start at Piazza Sordello, where the city was founded, and where you will see the Duomo (main cathedral) and the Palazzo Ducale. Then, head towards Piazza Broletto, where you can visit the Arengario and the Palazzo della Podestà. At Piazza delle Erbe, you will be able to see the Palazzo della Ragione, the Clock Tower and the Rotonda di San Lorenzo. Finish your walk at the Piazza Andrea Mantegna to see the Basilica of Sant’Andrea.

– Duomo di San Pietro (Mantua Cathedral)

Duomo of Mantua

Fe and the Duomo at the back

The most important religious place of town but not as beautiful as its nearby Basilica of Sant’Andrea (Saint Andrew).

Entrance: Free

Opening hours:

  • Mon-Fri (10am-1pm; 3pm-7pm) – Summer
  • Mon-Fri (10am-1pm; 2pm-8pm) – Winter
  • Sat and Sun (10am-6pm)

Location: Piazza Sordello

– Palazzo Ducale and Castelo di San Giorgio

Mantua Castle at night

The home of the Gonzaga’s family, it is the second largest residence in Italy (giving the first place to the Vatican). The whole development is huge and includes countless rooms, basilicas, galeries, gardens, courtyards and the castle.

When visiting Palazzo Ducale, you have two tour options: you can visit just the Old Court, which encompasses the Palazzo del Capitano and the Magna Domus; or you can make the full tour, which includes the Saint George Castle and the Camera Degli Sposi (Bridal Chamber). The Bridal Chamber is the the highlight of the tour and a must if you are after art and paints.

You can get a guided tour to have a better explanation of the place.

Entrance:

  • €12 (Adults); €7,50 (reduced) – Old Court+Bridal Chamber+San George Castle
  • €6.5 (adults); €3.25 (reduced) – Old court only
  • Plus €5 for a guided tour (10am, 11am, 12pm, 3pm, 4pm) booked at the entrance.
  • Free with the Sabbioneta and Mantova Card (it costs €20)

**Free every first Sunday of each month! Do you want to know why?! Check it out this article here. 

Opening hours: Tue – Sun (8.15am to 7.15pm)

Location: Piazza Sordello

The Sabbioneta and Mantova Card (price: €20) grants access to the place – Further info here.

Further infoducalemantova.org and mantovaducale.beniculturali.it

– Arengario

An archway from the XIV century which connected the Palazzo della Podestà and the Palazzo del Massaro. In this place, judges announced the sentences to criminals, where most were tortured from ropes tied into iron rings just below the arch. These iron rings are still there to be seen.

Entrance: Free

Opening hours: 24h

Location: Piazza Broletto

– Rotonda di San Lorenzo

The oldest church in town (dated from 11th century), the Rotonda was build after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and its location once was a Jewish stronghold. One feature of this church is its level, sunk below the level of the square.

Entrance: Free

Opening hours:

  • Mon-Fri (10am-1pm; 3pm-7pm) – Summer
  • Mon-Fri (10am-1pm; 2pm-8pm) – Winter
  • Sat and Sun (10am-6pm)

Location: Piazza Delle Erbe

– Basilica of Sant’Andrea

Piazza Sordello in Mantua

The dome seen from Piazza Sordello

The story says the Roman soldier who speared Jesus on the cross, picked up the earth with Christ’s blood and buried it in Mantua (being considered a part of the Holy Grail). Nobody could find this, until Sant’Andrea indicates where. After the discovery of the earth, a small church honoring apostle St Andrea was built, and afterwards restored into a bigger construction.

Inside the church, there is also a tomb of Andrea Mantegna, the painter of the famous paints in the Bridal Chamber, at Palazzo Ducale.

Entrance: Free

Opening hours:

  • Mon-Fri (8am-12pm; 3pm – 7pm)
  • Sat (10.30am-12pm; 3pm – 6pm)
  • Sun (11:45am-12:15pm; 3pm-6pm – summer or 3pm-5pm – winter)

Location: Piazza Andrea Mantegna

– Palazzo Te

A resting palace of the Gonzaga family (and a getaway of Duke Federico with his mistress), the palace is also a must if you are after paints and art. The highlight is the Giants Room, with a series of paints.

Entrance:

Opening hours: Tue – Sun 9am-6.30pm; Mon 1pm-6.30pm

Location: Viale Te, 13

Further info: palazzote.it

– Piazza Virgiliana

A vast green area near the centre of Mantua, great for an afternoon walk

– Sunset by the river

sunset in mantua

Enjoy the beauty

One of the best sunsets we have seen was at the Motonavi Andes Negrini Pier. However, anywhere between there and the station will be great to appreciate the sunset.

– Cross the bridge and look back at the city

Crossing the bridge in front of the San George Castle all the way to the end and appreciate the view of the city.

– Bike trip

Mantua, as for most of the North Italy, is flat and full of cycle paths. To rent a bike and visit the nearby cities of Lago di Garda and Verona is not a bad idea at all.

– Sabbioneta

aerial shot of Sabbioneta

Drone view of the city

33Km away from Mantua, Sabbioneta was also included as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. A walled city built in Renaissance style and inspired by the Ideal City’s principal, mentioned at Thomas More’s Utopia. It used to be the home (fortress) and residence of the Gonzaga Family prior to their move to Mantua.

Although we liked Sabbioneta, we couldn’t help feeling the city is quite abandoned. As in many other Italian cities, the younger generation of Sabbioneta fled town to sick for better opportunities, causing the city to shrink. If you are really into this kind of Renaissance starred shape construction, what we recommend you instead is to visit another place, a city called Palmanova (280 km from Mantua), which is definitely one of the most impressive citadels we have ever seen!

Where to stay in Mantua

When we were there, we stayed at the Hotel Dei Gonzaga, right at the centre of Mantua. You can read our review in here. Nevertheless, the city offers lots of choices for different budgets. See deals here:

Where/What to eat in Mantua 

Mantua is famous for its gastronomy too. Once you are there, you ought to try the Tortelli di Zucca, different sausages and, obviously, the torta sbrisolona. More about it in here.

For those on a tight budget, we recommend the Ristorante Pizzeria da Gigi, at the city centre, which served good and cheap food (pizzas from 4,50 euros and half liter of the house wine for 7 euros).

Getting around Mantua

The city is quite small and you can do practically all of it by foot. The longest you will walk will be to Palazzo Te, which is 1.5Km away or about 20min walking.

The train station near the city centre takes you to and from the main cities of Milan, Venice or Verona.

Just watch out if you rent a car as in most of Italian cities, you are not allowed within the historical city centre without a permit.