Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Emilia-Romagna
Bologna’s beating heart is Piazza Maggiore, in the city’s old center. A classic example of Renaissance town planning, it is one of the most graceful public squares in Italy.
The pedestrianised square is surrounded by the Basilica di San Petronio, the Palazzo Communale (city hall), palatial public buildings and Bologna’s trademark covered walkways ringed by arches.
Sit at an outdoor cafe to enjoy people watching in the sunshine during the day, and visit in the early evening to see the beautifully floodlit Fountain of Neptune, sculpted in 1566.
Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, and the city owes much of its youthful vibrancy and thriving cultural life to the formidable student population, concentrated in the lively University Quarter. Tour this area to discover its cache of cafes and clubs, along with fascinating historic museums and university buildings.
The most evocative name in Italian sports cars is Ferrari, and this dedicated museum in Maranello, Italy, focuses on the auto manufacturer’s history and production. It features 25 cars, including road cars and prototypes, a section devoted to the historic Formula 1 racing team, and fascinating automotive artifacts and memorabilia.
More than 100 towers pierced the sky above Bologna in the Middle Ages, but only 20 still stand today. The most famous are the city center’s Two Towers (Due Torri), which lean at a gravity-defying angle that rivals Pisa’s Leaning Tower. Climb to the top of the taller one for fabulous views over the city and surrounding countryside.
In 402 AD, during the latter days of the Western Roman Empire, Ravenna was made its capital, so it is fitting that this lovely city has some of the most important religious sights dating from the early days of Christianity. Now UNESCO-listed with all the other glorious mosaic showstoppers in the city, theBasilica of San Vitale (Basilica di San Vitale) dates from the mid sixth century; work started on it in 526 at the behest of Ecclesius, Bishop of Ravenna, and it was consecrated in 547. However, the Byzantines conquered Rome in 540 and took over the construction of the octagonal marble basilica. The resulting internal decoration is believed to be the finest example of Byzantine art in the world, executed by unknown master craftsmen over many years and liberally coating the interior with bejeweled mosaics. Detailed Biblical scenes contrast with depictions of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, ornamented with stylized patterns in green, red and gold, while the cupola is adorned with Baroque frescoes added in 1780 by artists from across northern Italy.
Dedicated to the fifth-century bishop Petronius, who became Bologna’s patron saint, the San Petronio Basilica (Basilica di San Petronio) dominates Piazza Maggiore in the heart of the city. One of the largest churches in the world and a soaring example of Gothic grandeur, the basilica Is a highlight of any Bologna city tour.
UNESCO-listed with all the other glorious Roman mosaic masterpieces in Ravenna, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is testament to the days when the city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Galla Placidia was the powerful sister of Honorius, the last emperor of Rome; she married Ataulf, King of the Visigoths, acted as regent for 12 years, died in Rome in 450 AD and is probably buried there, but nevertheless her official mausoleum is found in a terracotta-colored brick chapel among neat gardens behind Ravenna’s San Vitale Basilica. Unassuming on the outside, the chapel’s entire vaulted interior glitters with Byzantine mosaics dating from around 430 AD and representing the star-strewn night sky and intricate Biblical scenes, decorated with highly colored geometrical patterns. Gently lit by shafts of light from narrow windows, depictions of the Good Shepherd and the Martyrdom of St Lawrence adorn the niches, with figures of the Apostles floating on the upper walls. Three marble sarcophagi are reputed to contain the bodies of Galla Placidia, her second husband and son, but these were placed in the mausoleum in medieval times.
Parmesan cheese, officially known as Parmigiano-Reggiano, has been handcrafted in a specific area between the northern provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia for centuries. Learn about the history and production of this famously sharp aged cheese, one of the pillars of Italian cuisine, at this small museum just outside of Parma.
Bologna is home to the world’s oldest university, and one of the city’s most remarkable sights is part of the university’s medical school: the 17th-century Anatomical Theater in Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio. Visit this richly paneled and decorated hall to see where students once heard lectures and observed surgical procedures.
The Lamborghini Museum (Museo Lamborghini) is a tribute to the passion and life’s work of founder Ferruccio Lamborghini. It showcases Italy’s most famous luxury vehicles in a journey through the past, present, and future of the coveted car brand.
More Things to Do in Emilia-Romagna
The 15th-century Palazzo dei Diamanti (Diamond Palace) is one of the top places for art in the Renaissance city of Ferrara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is home to two of Ferrara’s most important art museums and holds temporary art shows throughout the year.
Giambologna’s 16th-century Fountain of Neptune (Fontana del Nettuno), also known as Il Zigànt, or The Giant, is one of the most famous landmarks in Bologna. A bronze Neptune stands watch from atop the ornate Renaissance fountain in Piazza Maggiore, a popular and picturesque gathering spot for locals and visitors.
This iconic castle located in the heart of Ferrara dates back to the 1300s and stands as an homage to an ancient era that still attracts travelers and history lovers to its towering gates. Visitors who want to explore this scenic destination will find restored prisons, barracks and weapon stores, in addition to gardens, a council hall, and dozens of other restored and renovated rooms that showcase what life here was like thousands of years ago.
Travelers say the idyllic drawbridge, Giants’ Room and the old school dungeon are some of the spots in this massive castle that are not to be missed. And while the castle’s interior is still covered with frescos, visitors say some are badly in need of restoration to return them to their original beauty.
Perched on Colle della Guardia 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest of Bologna’s historic center, the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca (Santuario della Madonna di San Luca) was built to house a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary. Its portico, running from the city’s Porta Saragozza to the hilltop sanctuary, is the longest covered arcade in the world.
In the center of Modena, a historical brick factory building is dwarfed by the adjacent contemporary glass-and-steel hangar topped with a bright yellow car hood–shaped roof. Together, these two structures and their contents tell the story of Enzo Ferrari, race car driver and founder of one of the most famous car brands in the world.
Behind its understated Romanesque façade and distinctive rose window, the Basilica of San Domenico (Basilica di San Domenico) is teeming with Renaissance treasures, as well as ranking among Bologna’s most important churches. The church was built in 1221 to house the tomb of San Domenico, Founder of the Dominican Order of Preachers, and the Ark of St. Dominic remains the church’s grand centerpiece – a magnificent marble shrine created by Nicola Pisano and Niccolò dell’Arca.
The church’s elaborate interiors also include colorful frescoes and paintings by Michelangelo, Filippino Lippi, Guido Reni, Ludovico Carracci, and il Guercino, while one of its three grand organs was once played by Mozart. Other priceless artifacts are on display in the basilica’s small museum, including a terracotta bust of St. Dominic by Niccolò dell’Arca and a gothic-style reliquary once belonging to French King Louis IX.
Only four churches of the original seven that once made up this stylistic jumble of buildings remain, but a visit to the Bologna’s Basilica of Santo Stefano (Basilica di Santo Stefano) is still a fascinating stroll through centuries of religious architecture. With winding passageways linking chapels and cloisters, this is one of the city’s most captivating churches.
Tucked deep in the Apennine Mountains between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, this fanciful 19th-century castle is a mash-up of architectural styles, from Moorish to Gothic. Explore the labyrinthine interiors of dozens of rooms connected by passages, spiral staircases, and towers designed and decorated by the eccentric Count Cesare Mattei.
Tucked away in Via Zamboni Portico, just moments from the Church of San Giacomo Maggiore, the Oratory of Santa Cecilia (Oratorio Di Santa Cecilia) hides a wealth of artistic treasures behind its simple façade.
The Romanesque church was built as a family chapel for Bologna Lord Giovanni II Bentivoglio, and is most renowned for its exquisite series of frescos. Dating back to 1505, the frescos showcase the mastery of some of Bologna’s most important Renaissance artists, including Lorenzo Costa, Francesco Francia, Amico Aspertini and Raffaello Sanzio. Stretching over ten panels, the elaborate scenes depict the life of Saint Cecilia and her husband Valentine, while the church’s main altarpiece was so impressive, it’s now on display in the National Art Gallery of Bologna.
More than 100 towers stood guard over Bologna in the Middle Ages, but only 20 survive today. One of the few left standing is Torre Prendiparte, the second-highest in the city, soaring almost 200 feet (60 meters) above street level. Climb the internal staircase to the panoramic rooftop for bird’s-eye views over the historic center.
Emilia-Romagna’s Motor Valley is legendary among fans of luxury Italian cars and motorcycles, and the Ducati Museum (Museo Ducati) is one of the area’s most impressive attractions. Housed in the Ducati factory headquarters outside of Bologna, this museum is a must for motorcycle enthusiasts.
Real-life Italy is a sight to behold, but travelers who are tight and time and still want to see it all can do just that during a visit to Italy in Miniature (Italia in Miniatura). Located in Viserba, this micro-version of the entire nation showcases intricate and detailed versions of some of Italy’s most prized attractions and iconic landmarks.
With some 273 unique buildings, plus tiny trees and plants, this destination is a handcrafted wonderland that’s ideal for the whole family. Take a tour of Venice by boat, check out the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, and gaze out over a mad-to-scale version of the Alps—plus so much more! Travelers will even have the chance to tour a replica of the Vatican. Whether it’s an entire day or only an afternoon, this popular stop is the perfect place to experience the beauty of Italy—alone or with the entire family!
Mirabilandia is an amusement and adventure park located in Ravenna, Italy. The main park covers an area of 30 hectares, and there’s an additional water park known as Mira Beach. Both sections include highoctane rides and slides, plus various shows, attractions, and facilities.
Some of the most popular rides at Mirabilandia include Divertical, which at 60 meters tall is the highest water coaster in the world, plus the new Legends of Dead Town, which lays claim to being the biggest horror house in Europe. There’s also the highspeed Katun inverted roller coaster and the iSpeed launched coaster, plus El Dorado Falls, which features a 27-meter water jump and a final 15-meter high wave. Mirabilandia also boasts the 90-meter tall Eurowheel, the second tallest Ferris wheel in Europe.
The park has plenty of gentle rides and attractions for younger children too, as well as various shows, shops, and restaurants.
Oltremare is an aquatic theme park in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. The park is a fun way for both adults and children to explore nature and science mixed with adventure. Visitors can learn about dolphins at the dolphin lagoon where experts teach about the life, behavior, and biology of the dolphins. In the butterfly garden, visitors can walk around in a greenhouse where local butterflies fly freely. In the Pianeta Mare (Planet Sea) section, there are six tanks representing different ecosystems. Visitors can learn about the different marine species that live in various seas, including the Mediterranean Sea.
The Pianeta Terra (Planet Earth) section focuses on Earth's journey from the Big Bang to the evolution of life. In other sections of the park, visitors can learn about fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The exciting Adventure Island has rope courses, suspended bridges, ladders, boat rides on a river, and water cannons. The park also has special programs, which must be booked ahead of time, including ones that focus on dolphins, birds of prey, farm animals, and dog ownership.
- Things to do in Bologna
- Things to do in Ferrara
- Things to do in Modena
- Things to do in Ravenna
- Things to do in Parma
- Things to do in Tuscany
- Things to do in Veneto
- Things to do in Lombardy
- Things to do in Florence
- Things to do in Chianti
- Things to do in Padua
- Things to do in Istria
- Things to do in Umbria
- Things to do in Piedmont & Liguria
- Things to do in Friuli-Venezia Giulia