42km (26 miles) W of Venice, 81km (50 miles) E of Verona, 32km (20 miles) E of Vicenza, 234km (145 miles) E of Milan

The University of Bologna had already grown to 10,000 students by the time Padua (Padova) founded its university in 1222. Padua was long the academic heartbeat of the powerful Venetian Republic -- and far before that, an ancient Roman stronghold -- and for this reason one of the most important medieval and Renaissance cities in Italy. Dante and Copernicus studied here, and Petrarch and Galileo taught here. When you wander the narrow, cobbled, arcaded side streets in the timeless neighborhoods surrounding the "Bo" (named after a 15th-c. inn that once stood on the present-day site of the university), you will be transported back to those earlier times.

Padua is a vital city, with a young university population that gets about by bicycle and keeps the city's piazzas and cafes alive. The historic hub of town still evokes the days when the city and its university flourished in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance as a center of learning and art, although you'll have to visit during the scholastic year to witness it: Padua in summer is something of a ghost town.

Most visitors bypass Padua in their rush to Venice. During peak season, when Venice's hotels are full, some travelers stay here but see little except for the train station. You can spend a few hours or a few days in Padua, depending on your schedule. Its most important sights for those with limited time are Giotto's magnificent frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel (fully restored between 1999 and 2001) and the revered pilgrimage site of the eight-domed Basilica of Sant'Antonio di Padova, whose important equestrian statue by Donatello stands in the piazza before it.