Mantua: things to do and see

A few kilometers south of Lake Garda, following the flow of River Mincio, lies Mantua, a beautiful city almost entirely surrounded by water. In this article, I will talk about the things to do and see in Mantua that you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, Italian Capital of Culture in 2016, and European Capital of Gastronomy in 2017, Mantua is the city where culture, art, nature, and good food converge. The Superiore, di Mezzo, and Inferiore Lakes almost cover entirely the city perimeter, offering scenery of striking beauty.

You can admire one of those landscapes by taking a walk along the Superiore Lake in July and August. Turning your gaze to the water, you will see in front of you the broadest expanse of lotus flowers outside of Japan. An exposure of colours!

The mythological tales about the origin of this place to visit near Lake Garda are truly fascinating. Keep reading to discover them!

Things to do and see in Mantua: San Giorgio Castle and Palazzo Ducale
Credits: Comune di Mantova

The myth is related to the life of the fortune-teller Manto. After the fall of Thebes, her native city, she started wandering around looking for a place to settle. She decided to stop when, while walking along the Mincio River, she found a marshy and desolate land.

Her story is narrated in some of the world’s most famous texts. The poet Virgil, who was born in Mantua, pronounced the sentence “Mantua me genuit”, which means ‘Mantua gave birth to me’. In the Aeneid, he narrates that Ocno, Manto’s son, founded a city in honour of his mother and named it Mantua.

Dante, through the voice of Virgil, also narrates Manto’s adventure in the Inferno of the Divine Comedy. According to him, her story is slightly different. It was the people from nearby lands who founded the city on the prophetess’s tomb.

According to history, Mantua was founded by the Etruscans in the 4th century BC. In the following centuries, the city became a fortified center home to prominent families such as the Canossa, the Bonacolsi, and the Gonzaga. Under the Gonzaga court (1328-1707) it reached its peak splendor and became one of the most important art centers in Italy.


City centre – Credits: Comune di Mantova

Giulio Romano, Andrea Mantegna, and Leon Battista Alberti are just a few of the great artists who stayed in Mantua, enriching it with history and culture. Every corner of the city is a work of art and architecture; a week wouldn’t be enough to admire it in all its splendor.

Before telling you which are the things to do and see in Mantua, I will answer one question that I am sure you are asking yourself. How many days of your trip you should dedicate to this amazing place to visit near Lake Garda?

As always, there’s no correct answer to this question. If museum visits are not for you, and you would just like to admire the city and the surrounding nature from the outside, then a day might be sufficient. The most characteristic palaces and monuments of Mantua are all within a radius of about 2 kilometers, and easily walkable.

If you want to immerse yourself more in Mantua’s culture, I suggest you dedicate at least two days to your visit to the city centre. This way, you can get a closer look at the imprint that the great artists have left on Mantua over the years.

Among the things to do and see in Mantua that I will show you in a bit, there are some must-visit museums. I will now reveal which is the best tool to explore the city!

- PH Clara Bertasi
- IG: @clamaval
Credits: Clara Bertasi @clamaval

If you have already done a bit of research to plan your vacation in Mantua, you have probably already heard about Palazzo Te and Palazzo Ducale. But this place to visit near Lake Garda is full of hidden gems that not everyone knows about.

To make sure you don’t miss anything and save some money, I recommend considering the purchase of the Mantova Sabbioneta Card. It’s a card that grants you access to most of the city’s highlights, priced at €25.00 for adults (€13.00 for kids between 12 and 17 accompanied by an adult). You can buy it directly from the ticket offices of some of the main museums and monuments, or conveniently online.

If you are also planning to go from Mantua to Verona, with this card you can have a discount on a few of the main attractions of the city. And if you need some suggestions about what to do in Verona, here you can find our article!



Things to see and do in Mantua: Palazzo Ducale
Credits: alex1965

Known for being the residence of the Gonzaga, the dynasty that reigned the longest in Europe, the Ducal Palace was built in the 1200s. It is not your ordinary residence: it boasts a staggering 535 rooms, each a piece of the city’s story. One of them is Manto’s Room, where you can see the myth about the origins of the city that I mentioned earlier.

The palace itself stands proudly over Piazza Sordello, a square named after the Mantuan poet Sordello da Goito. Reach the centre of the square surrounded by the grandeur of the Ducal Palace on one side and the Episcopal Palace on the other and take a moment to admire your surroundings.

But that’s not all. At the tail end of the 1300s, the Gonzaga family decided to up the ante and built the Castle of San Giorgio, linked to the Ducal Palace. This castle, with its square plan and four towers, encircled by a moat, is a Mantuan icon. Originally conceived as a defensive fortress, it later morphed into a residence fit for royalty.

Step inside, and you’ll discover the treasure of the city: the Camera degli Sposi. Frescoed by the masterful hand of Andrea Mantegna between 1465 and 1474, it’s not just a masterpiece; it’s considered one of the greatest works of art in the history of, well, ever.

As you stroll through the hallowed halls of the Ducal Palace, it’s as if you’ve stumbled upon a secret portal to the past. Brace yourself, because once you’re in, you’ll find it nearly impossible to tear yourself away. This place will sweep you off your feet!

Things to do and see in Mantua: the Camera degli Sposi inside of the Ducal Palace and the Castle of San Giorgio.
Credits: Laerre

The daily ticket for the Ducal Palace and the Castle of San Giorgio costs €15.00 (€9.00 without the Camera degli Sposi) for adults and a mere €2.00 for young people aged 18 to 25.

If, on the other hand, you’ve opted for the Mantova Sabbioneta Card and you’ve got your eyes set on the Camera degli Sposi, there is an additional fee of €5.50. And trust me, it’s a splurge totally worth it!

The moment you step into the Camera degli Sposi, or Camera Picta, it feels like you’re time traveling and you have jumped right in the middle of an intimate Gonzaga family gathering. And don’t be spooked if you feel some eyes on you: it’s the painted characters peering at you from the ceiling. A sensation that’s truly unique and rare!

If I had to recommend the most enchanting thing to do and see in Mantua, this room would undoubtedly take the top spot.


Things to do and see in Mantua: historic Centre 

- PH Clara Bertasi
- IG: @clamaval
Historic Centre – Credits: Clara Bertasi @clamaval

The beauties of Mantua aren’t confined to palaces and museums. The historic center of the city is brimming with art and charming corners waiting to be discovered! Look up at the sky, take a stroll in the square, and let your eyes wander. Everywhere you glance, you’ll find marvelous sights to etch on your memory.

Start your journey from the vibrant Piazza Sordello and pass under the arch of San Pietro. Saunter along the arcades, and in the blink of an eye, you’ll find yourself in Piazza Erbe: the buzzing commercial hub of the ancient city. The square is a living book, with buildings that narrate the city’s history.

And there it stands, impossible to miss: the imposing Palazzo della Regione, joined at the hip with the Clock Tower. If you have a bit of time, climbing to the top of the tower is undoubtedly one of the things to do and see in Mantua. The ticket costs €3.00 (reduced rate of €1.50), and if you’ve got the Mantova Sabbioneta Card, admission is free. From up there, you’ll get a front-row seat to the clock’s intricate mechanisms. Explore also the time museum and soak in a panoramic view of the city and lakes. Trust me, it’s a vista you won’t want to miss!

The city’s churches unfold a unique narrative of Mantua’s rich history. So, let’s explore these hidden gems because even their walls whisper tales worth discovering!

Things to do and see in Mantua: Basilica of Sant'Andrea
Basilica of Sant’Andrea – Credits: riccardofachirocom

Next to the Clock Tower, you’ll find a distinctive building: the Rotonda di San Lorenzo. Drawing inspiration from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, it proudly stands as Mantua’s oldest church. Take a stroll around, look up, and feel the religious vibes that envelop this sacred space.

A bit further on Piazza Mantegna, the spotlight is stolen by the imposing Basilica of Sant’Andrea. Crafted by the skilled hands of Leon Battista Alberti, it’s a mandatory stop on your Mantua tour. And guess what? Inside, the most significant relic of Christianity is preserved: the blood of Jesus Christ.

Here’s a little secret not everyone’s in on: if you saunter down the left alley of the church, you’re in for a jaw-dropping view of the Basilica di Sant’Andrea’s dome. Suddenly, you find yourself in the enchanting Piazza Leon Battista Alberti. Soak in the view, and, of course, don’t forget your camera: it’s a moment begging to be captured!

This place to visit near Lake Garda isn’t just a feast for the eyes; it’s a symphony for the ears. Mantua has hosted some of the greatest musicians in history. Eager to know who’s left their melodic footprint?

Things to do and see in Mantua: Bibiena Theater
Bibiena Theater – Credits: Comune di Mantova

Some of the 20th century’s opera singer legends fine-tuned their vocal wizardly in Mantua. Among them, you’ll undoubtedly recognise the one and only Luciano Pavarotti. But hold onto your notes because that’s just the overture.

Mantua is where Vivaldi composed the timeless ‘Four Seasons,’ drawing inspiration from the enchanting Mantuan landscapes. And guess what? Mozart himself graced this city with his musical magic. Imagine this: a fourteen-year-old Amadeus Mozart, along with his father, performed at the Bibiena Academic Theater just a month after its grand opening in January 1770. The theater left such an impression on Mozart’s father that he couldn’t help but pen to his wife: “In my life, I have never seen a more beautiful one”.

Now, from Piazza Erbe, make your way towards Lake Inferiore to visit this marvelous Mantuan theatre. Undoubtedly, this has to be in the top 10 of the things to do and see in Mantua for music lovers and beyond! The entrance fee is €3.00 (reduced fee of €1.50) and is free for holders of the Mantova Sabbioneta Card.


Things to do and see in Mantua: Palazzo Te
Credits: Comune di Mantova

Palazzo Te, commissioned by the Gonzaga family as a villa for pleasure and leisure, was built between 1525 and 1535 based on the design by Giulio Romano. Located just outside the historic center, it stands today as one of the city’s most imposing and significant structures.

Amidst your wanderings through Mantua’s cobbled streets, take a delightful detour into the expansive halls, stables, and gardens of Palazzo Te. Don’t miss it!

Things to do and see in Mantua: Chamber of the Giants in Palazzo Te
Chamber of the Giants – Credits: Comune di Mantova

Embark on a journey through time as you step into the halls of Palazzo Te, where every corner whispers the elegance of Gonzaga hospitality. Get ready to be captivated by the Chamber of Cupid and Psyche and lose yourself in the lifelike allure of the Hall of the Horses. In there, the animals are so realistically depicted that they seem to come to life.

In the realm of things to do and see in Mantua, the Chamber of the Giants is a non-negotiable stop. Fun fact: the art inside this room is the pioneer of 3D art, a groundbreaking piece of history!

As you step into the room, it will feel like you are completely absorbed by the walls. Horizontal and vertical planes merge, creating a uniquely captivating optical illusion.

To top off your visit, during the summer months, don’t forget to savor an aperitif in the Gardens of the Exedra, right within the enchanting atmosphere of the palace. The setting, more unique than rare, will transport you back in time and offer you a truly special experience.

For those curious minds, the ticket to this captivating palace is priced at €15.00 for adults and €7.00 for youths aged 11 to 18 and university students. And if you’ve got the Mantova Sabbioneta Card, consider your entry ticket a gracious gift from the city.



Things to do and see in Mantua: Saint George's Bridge
Saint George’s Bridge – Credits: Comune di Mantova

Until the 12th century, Mantua was an island completely surrounded by water during the floods of the River Mincio. However, the water would recede during dry periods. It was Alberto Pitentino who, in 1190, regulated the course of the river, unveiling the enchanting lakes we marvel at today.

During those years, a dam was built, separating the Upper Lake from the rest of the basin, along with a wooden bridge linking the city to the village of San Giorgio. Fast forward to the 14th century, the Gonzaga family waves their architectural wand, replacing the wooden bridge with a sturdier masonry version, birthing the Middle Lake and the Lower Lake.

But wait, once upon a time there were four lakes! The southernmost one, Lake Paiolo, was drained in the 18th century, paving the way for urban expansion and transforming Mantua from an island to a peninsula.

If this is your first time in Mantua, you can’t leave without taking a stroll on the Saint George’s Bridge. The bridge that separates the Middle Lake from the Lower Lake offers a view of one of the most beautiful skylines in Italy.

Whether day or night, clutch your camera and embark on a delightful saunter along the pedestrian path tracing the edges of the bridge. Trust me, it’s a stroll you won’t ever regret!

As a Mantuan, there are times when even I take the scenic route, extending my journey to savor what might just be the most enchanting view this place to visit near Lake Garda has to offer.

Picture the city gracefully mirroring itself in the lake’s waters, the medieval castle standing sentinel, and in the background, the majestic dome of Sant’Andrea. Can you fathom anything more splendid? At any hour and in every season, this spectacle that seamlessly blends history and nature captivates every visitor. As the evening lights grace the skyline, it becomes even more evocative, sometimes mysterious, other times incredibly romantic.

And if you fancy a bit of relaxation, the lakeside is the perfect retreat for you! After all, it’s one of the things to do and see in Mantua if you have a few spare hours and prefer a leisurely stroll. From Giardini Belfiore to Porta Catena, you’ll feel transported away from the city hustle, into an oasis of tranquility where everything moves at a gentler pace. Soak in the beauty of the lake and let the soothing sounds of the water cradle you.

Indulge in a sunset aperitif at one of the charming bars with a view and relish the spectacle of colors! Surely one of the things to do and see in Mantua.

If you’re the sporty type, you can also opt for a jog, a bike ride, or a workout in one of the equipped areas: the choice is yours! Explore all the walking and cycling routes on www.mantovadestinazionesostenibile.it


Mantua is not just about art and architecture. The surrounding nature is also one-of-a-kind and deserves to be explored. Immerse yourself in the expanse of lotus flowers with a cruise on the lakes or along the Mincio River.

The sweet spot for this magical escapade? The summer months of July and August, precisely when the lotus is flaunting its full splendor.

A symbol of purity and rebirth, sailing amidst the lotus flowers will make you feel like you’ve taken a spontaneous trip to Japan. A unique and rare atmosphere!

Lotus flowers on Lake Superiore
Lake Superiore – Credits: Comune di Mantova

The lush green expanse begins at Lake Superiore and gracefully follows the waters of the Mincio River towards the village of Grazie. The Mincio, though a humble river, unfolds a tale rich in history, culture, and environmental wonders, earning its title as the ‘River of Poets‘. It meanders from Valerio Catullo (Peschiera del Garda) to Virgilio (Pietole), passing through Teofilo Folengo (Mantua), before merging into the Po River.

The Mincio Valley is a burst of colors, reaching its peak vibrancy in the summer. As you navigate upstream from Mantua to Grazie, keep an eye out for the elusive white herons in the shallower waters. They’re quite the masters of disguise!


In this article about things to do and see in Mantua, I have to talk to you about food! Did you know that Mantua boasts the highest number of Michelin stars per capita in Italy? That’s right, the locals take their “buon mangiare” (‘good eating’) seriously.

So, what’s on the menu in Mantua? Think rice, pumpkin, pork, and a generous splash of Lambrusco, forming the backbone of the local culinary scene. And don’t forget about the cheese! Mantua is the only province where both Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano are produced.

Surely, during your stroll under the arcades of the historic center, you’ll be drawn to the windows with sweets on display. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

In your journey to this place to visit near Lake Garda, make sure to savor two must-try dishes: the luscious tortelli di zucca (pumpkin-filled pasta) and the soul-warming risotto alla pilota. And for the grand finale? Enter the world of sbrisolona, a crunchy almond cake meant to be broken, not sliced. It’s a sensory journey for your palate that you won’t want to miss.

Now, if you’re wondering where to savor these delights, fear not! The historic center is brimming with restaurants and typical taverns where you can taste the essence of Mantuan culture.

Moreover, you don’t necessarily have to sit down at a table to enjoy these mouthwatering dishes. Many local spots now offer takeout services, ensuring you can relish tortelli and a variety of cakes on the go! Don’t forget to try the delectable torta delle rose if you lean towards the softer side of sweetness.


Fiera delle Grazie – Credits: Comune di Mantova

Countless events are organized in this magnificent city. From scenic cruises along the Mincio River valleys to charming country fairs in the nearby Grazie and the quaint village of Sabbioneta, boredom is not on the itinerary!

However, the main event is undoubtedly the Festivaletteratura, held during the second week of September. If you’re planning your Mantua escapade around this time, buckle up because it’s a non-negotiable addition to your list of things to do and see in Mantua!

Born in 1997, it is the first cultural festival organized in Italy. For 5 days, you’ll have the opportunity to attend cultural events and listen to literary giants and scholars both nationally and internationally acclaimed. Feeling a bit lost? No worries: just flag down one of the ‘blue shirts,’ the army of volunteers making this spectacle possible each year.

The locations chosen for the events are always top-notch! Can you imagine what it’s like to meet your favorite writer in some secret garden in the historic center?

Christmas markets Mantua – Credits: www.mercatinidinatalemantova.it

But wait, there’s more! Mantua hosts numerous exhibitions every year for culture enthusiasts, so I suggest keeping a close eye on the events calendar. In any season, you’ll always find some activity to join!

Theater lovers, rejoice! Catch one of the performances at the Teatro Sociale or the Teatro Bibiena. It’s a chance to spend an evening differently and immerse yourself in culture.

Winter in Mantua? Brace yourself for the enchanting Christmas markets in Piazza Virgiliana. Shop amidst the stalls, twirl on the ice rink, and warm up with a good glass of mulled wine

I warn you, once you’ve experienced these events, you won’t be able to resist coming back for more! For details and the event calendar in Mantua, I recommend checking out the official website.

Is Mantua worth visiting? I would say yes! So, now that you know the things to do and see in Mantua… you just have to decide when to set off!


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