Because my time is limited and I have to decide where to begin, whenever I travel to a new city, I always head for its town center. If I want to experience the spirit of a place, that’s the best starting point. – Stefania Fregni, blogger.
Modena is a city of art, of automobiles, and of music, a capital of excellent food and relaxed living. Though it is a major Italian city, Modena has managed to remain welcoming and lively while maintaining its human scale.
This excursion takes you to five stops not to be missed. They’ll give you a chance to appreciate Modena from five different perspectives: art, history, the traditions of opera, automobiles, and food.
The Five Sites You Won’t Want To Miss
This one-day excursion introduces you to Modena on what is mostly a walking tour of its main streets. Contemplate the beauty and the history of the architecture and monuments you’ll see along the way, then spend a few hours in some of Modena’s most prominent art, history, and automobile museums.
Ready to go?
First stop: The UNESCO World Heritage Site
The only place to start your tour is the beautiful Piazza Grande, which has always been the heart of the city. In 1997, this piazza, along with the imposing Romanesque-style Modena Cathedral and the elegant Ghirlandina Tower, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As you walk through the piazza, you’ll very likely notice two interesting details. First, a slab of red marble across from the stairway at the entrance to the Palazzo Comunale, the Preda Ringadora (the “Haranguing Stone”). The Ringadora was once used as a platform for orators to address the crowd. Second, the mysterious Bonissima, the statue of a woman installed at one corner of the building.
Stop to admire the exterior of the Modena Cathedral. This Romanesque-style architectural jewel, whose design is the work of the architect Lanfranco and the sculptor Wiligelmo, will leave you spellbound. Take your time as you enter, immersing immerse yourself in its solemn atmosphere. Once outside again, complete your visit at the nearby Museums of the Cathedral.
Be sure to include a climb up the 200 steps of the Ghirlandina Tower in your plans. From the top you’ll enjoy a spectacular 360° view of the city—a truly special experience!
Finally, if you’re an art lover, don’t miss the beautiful Historic Rooms of the Palazzo Comunale, where you can admire splendid frescoes and paintings.
Second stop: Good Things to Eat
When it’s time for lunch, dive into the cheerful ambiance of the historic Albinelli Market, an art-deco style marketplace that offers PDO (protected designation of origin) and PGI (protected geographical indication) products, welcoming areas to enjoy a quick bite, and take-out options.
For a more classic lunch, choose one of the many traditional restaurants in the city center where you can sample such appetizing specialties of Modena as the city’s famous tortellini, cotechino and zampone (dishes made from a mixture of ground pork flavored with herbs and spices and stuffed into the hollowed-out lower-leg of a hog), or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese served in large flakes and sprinkled with Modena’s traditional balsamic vinegar.
All of that, of course, can only be accompanied by a nice glass of Lambrusco, our local red wine, sparkling and vivacious. A vast selection of mouth-watering local sweets and pastries is also available, including the bensone (a traditional pastry made with flour, milk, eggs, butter, and sugar and sometimes filled with jam); zuppa inglese (a trifle made with sponge cake, a red herbal liqueur, and custard), and almond-flavored amaretto liqueurs. They’re a great way to end your meal on a high note.
Third stop: Palazzo dei Musei and Estense Galleries
After lunch, it’s time to pick up the tour and head for the Palazzo dei Musei, home to the city’s most renowned cultural institutions. Once there, our advice is to visit the beautiful Estense Galleries.
The Estense collections testify to the Este Dukes’ passion for art, and they house a rich gallery of paintings and portraits, drawings, bronzes, majolica, medals, ivory, and musical instruments.
Fourth stop: The Ducal Palace
Take the Roman-era Via Emilia toward the sumptuous seat of the Este court, the Palazzo Ducale. Along the way, you’ll notice, on Corso Canalgrande, a statue commemorating the great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti at the entrance to the Teatro Comunale. The Theater bears his name today, evidence of the deep connection between Modena and music.
Once you’ve reached the Ducal Palace, now the home of the Military Academy, you’ll surely be enchanted by its beauty and by the vastness of the space that surrounds it, the fascinating Piazza Roma. Construction of the Ducal Palace, a project of architect Bartolomeo Advini, began in 1634. The building’s well-proportioned façade hints at its spectacular interiors.
Fifth stop: Ferrari Museums
Finally, to gain a deeper understanding of the rumble at the heart of the city, we suggest you end your day with a visit to the nearby Enzo Ferrari Museum. The building’s futuristic architecture covers more than 2,500m2 and is a major work of the brilliant architect Jan Kaplicky of the London-based Future Systems firm. In addition to admiring the automobiles on display, you can enjoy an engaging video presentation that recounts the magical story of Enzo Ferrari’s ninety years of life. Alongside this pavilion is the historic factory of Enzo’s father, now perfectly restored and home to the Ferrari Automobile Museum.
If you’re hoping to get to know Modena in a day, these five not-to-be-missed stops will show you various perspectives on the inviting life of this part of Italy. If you’d like to make a change to the excursion, or want suggestions based on what you’d most like to see in Modena, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help you organize the best visit possible.