Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Emilia-Romagna
Bologna’s most important square, Piazza Maggiore, is lined by elegant medieval and Renaissance palaces. Today, you can enjoy views of the Basilica di San Petronio and the Fountain of Neptune from the bustling café tables beneath their porticoes, or enjoy the square as part of a food tour or sightseeing tour.
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.
Ravenna is known for its Byzantine mosaics, considered among the finest in the world. The most magnificent cover the interiors of the UNESCO-listed San Vitale Basilica with a show-stopping explosion of glittering gold, eye-popping color, and intricate compositions that remain glorious despite the passage of 1,500 years.
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.
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.
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.
UNESCO-listed along with other glorious Byzantine mosaic masterpieces in Ravenna, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a testament to the short period when the city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Its vaulted interior glitters with mosaics dating from around AD 430, among the oldest in the city.
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 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.
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.
More Things to Do in Emilia-Romagna
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.
A medieval gem in the UNESCO-listed Renaissance art city of Ferrara, the Estense Castle (Castello Estense ticks all the right boxes, with towers, dungeons, a moat and drawbridge, and the restored and renovated royal suites to explore. The most impressive sight in the city, this colossal castle is a must-see when visiting Ferrara.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t be fooled by the simple facade of this oratory tucked beneath the portico along the length of the Church of San Giacomo Maggiore. Inside, the small chapel is decorated with some of the most important works of the 16th-century Bolognese Renaissance, painted by prominent artists in the Bentivoglio court.
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.
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.
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.
Home to one of the most dazzling spiral staircases in Italy, the 16th-century Barozzi Palace (Palazzo Barozzi) is by far the main attraction of sleepy Vignola—a town just outside Modena. Take a jaunt through the area’s famed cherry orchards and admire the elegant structure, created by Renaissance architect Jacopo Barozzi.
Behind its understated Romanesque façade and distinctive rose window, the 13th-century Basilica di San Domenico is teeming with Renaissance treasures, and ranks among Bologna’s most important churches. The elaborate interiors, a paradise for art enthusiasts, house works by Michelangelo, Filippo Lippi, and others.
Kids can feel giant-sized at Italia in Miniatura, one of the most whimsical amusement parks in Italy. Located just outside Rimini, the park includes intricately detailed small-scale models of almost 300 famous Italian landmarks, as well as boat rides through mini-Venice, a kid-sized “driving school”, water cannons, rides, and more.
- 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