Modena: The Complete Guide

Piazza Grande A Modena
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Albypino

Nestled in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy, Modena is renowned for its delectable cuisine, a reputation rooted in its barrel-aged balsamic vinegar and exquisite cheeses. Culinary enthusiasts journey to this medieval city to savor tastes that embody the region’s unique flavors. Yet, the city’s allure goes beyond its gastronomic delights. Its center, a captivating blend of history, boasts a 12th-century duomo (cathedral), the Torre della Ghirlandina gothic bell tower, and the vibrant Piazza Grande. This trio forms a UNESCO World Heritage site, offering an unforgettable experience. Modena holds a special place in the world of opera, being the hometown of the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, and is also associated with the legendary carmaker Enzo Ferrari, attracting opera aficionados and sports car enthusiasts alike.

History of Modena

The area around Modena, known as Mutina in Latin and Mutna in Etruscan, has a rich history of habitation dating back to the Iron Age with the Villanovans. Over time, it was inhabited by Ligurian tribes, Etruscans, and Gaulish Boii. The settlement itself had Etruscan origins. The exact founding date is uncertain, but it existed by the 3rd century BC. During Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in 218 BC, the Boii revolted and besieged the city. It served as a fortified citadel where Roman magistrates sought refuge.

The outcome of the siege remains unclear, but it’s likely that the city was abandoned after Hannibal’s arrival. Mutina was reestablished as a Roman colony in 183 BC by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and it was used as a military base. The city was sacked by the Ligurians in 177 BC. Mutina was reconstructed and became a vital center in Cisalpine Gaul due to its strategic position and its location on important roads.

Modena’s significance persisted through history. It was besieged twice in the 1st century BC, first by Pompey and later by Mark Antony. The city thrived until the fall of the Roman Empire, at which point it went into decline. In the 7th century, it was abandoned after a great flood. However, its exiles founded a new city, Cittanova, a few miles northwest.

In the Middle Ages, Modena was restored and fortified by its bishop Ludovicus, and it was a free comune from the 12th century. It played a role in the conflicts between Emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX. The Este family gained control in 1288 and became the ruling lords of Modena. Under Borso d’Este, Modena became a duchy.

During the Renaissance, Modena expanded and was fortified under Ercole II. It became the primary ducal residence after Ferrara fell to the Pope in 1598. The Este family’s rule saw periods of prosperity and turmoil, including French invasions and Austrian rule. The city faced foreign-inspired revolutions and changes in ownership, eventually being annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century.

Throughout its history, Modena has seen shifts in power, artistic and cultural growth, and contributions to various fields, making it a city with a fascinating past and enduring importance.

Visiting Modena for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Modena on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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9 Best places to See in Modena

This complete guide to Modena not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.

This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Modena and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!

Modena Cathedral

Diomo Di Modena
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Giopie
Just off Via Emilia, which is named after the ancient Roman road it traces, stands the impressive Modena Cathedral. This Romanesque basilica was initiated in 1099 and completed in the 13th century. The cathedral is a masterpiece of European Romanesque architecture and artistry, with its exterior and interior adorned with exquisite stone carvings. The cathedral […]
Location: Modena Cathedral, Corso Duomo, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Website | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Modena Cathedral

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Piazza Grande & Palazzo Comunale

Piazza Grande And Palazzo Comunale
CC BY-SA 2.0 / nimame
Piazza Grande, a vast public square located at the heart of Modena and overlooked by the cathedral and the Ghirlandina Tower, holds great historical significance and is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage designation. This grand square has been a focal point of both civil and ecclesiastical power for centuries. The cathedral, with its […]
Location: Piazza Grande 41121 Modena MO Italy | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Piazza Grande & Palazzo Comunale

Click here to read our blog about Emilia Romagna, Italy: 7-Days Itinerary

Torre della Ghirlandina

Torre Della Ghirlandina
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Luca Nacchio
The Ghirlandina, also known as the Torre della Ghirlandina, stands as the bell tower of the Cathedral of Modena in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Reaching a height of 86.12 meters, this tower serves as the iconic emblem of Modena, its presence discernible from all vantage points outside the city. Erected in 1179 across five levels, it was […]
Location: Torre della Ghirlandina, Piazza della Torre, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Torre della Ghirlandina

Palazzo dei Musei

Palazzo Dei Musei Modena
Public Domain / Icco80
Constructed during the mid-18th century, the Palazzo dei Musei originally served as a home for the military arsenal. Conceived by Duke Francesco III d’Este with the intention of providing a space for the General House of the Poor, the structure underwent remodeling under the guidance of Pietro Termanini in 1769. By 1788, its purpose shifted […]
Location: Palazzo dei Musei, Largo Porta Sant'Agostino, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Palazzo dei Musei

Palazzo Ducale, Modena

Palazzo Ducale, Modena
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Teo Pollastrini
The majestic Baroque palace, commissioned by Duke Francesco I d’Este in 1634, was conceptualized by Bartolomeo Avanzini, with insights from celebrated architects of that era. Notably grand, it ranks among Europe’s most esteemed palaces and served as the Este court’s home until its last duke, Francesco V of Asburgo-Este in 1859. Today, the illustrious Military […]
Location: Palazzo Ducale di Modena, Piazza Roma, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Hours: The visits take place on Saturday and Sunday and are organized and coordinated by Modenatur. | Price: €10.00 | Website | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Palazzo Ducale, Modena

Chiesa di San Francesco, Modena

Fontana Di San Francesco Modena
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Christine Guaetta
The Church of San Francesco in Modena stands as a testament to the profound influence of the Franciscan cult. Initiated around 1244, just two decades after the demise of the revered Saint of Assisi, this church ranks among the earliest establishments dedicated to him. The inception of the church is rooted in the Order of […]
Location: Chiesa di San Francesco d'Assisi, Piazza San Francesco D'Assisi, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Distance: 0.50km
Visiting Chiesa di San Francesco, Modena

Estense Ducal Garden

Palazzina Dei Giardini Pubblici
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Francesco Morelli
The Estense Ducal Garden, formerly known as the Public Gardens, finds its roots in 1598. It was in this year that Duke Cesare decided to fence off a vast, untamed land north of the Castle, transforming it into a garden. This transformation mirrored the popular Renaissance garden designs of the time. By 1634, the garden […]
Location: Palazzina dei Giardini, Corso Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Hours: Winter hours (from the end of October to mid-April) 7.00-20.30. Summer opening hours 6.30-23.30 | Distance: 0.70km
Visiting Estense Ducal Garden

Museo Enzo Ferrari

Museo Enzo Ferrari
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Angelo nacchio
The Museo Enzo Ferrari, composed of the birthplace of Enzo Ferrari and a modern adjacent exhibit hall, offers a comprehensive exploration of his life and accomplishments. Through multimedia displays, an art gallery, and an extensive collection of racing cars, the museum provides insights into Enzo Ferrari’s legacy. Visitors can immerse themselves in Enzo Ferrari’s world […]
Location: Museo Enzo Ferrari, Via Paolo Ferrari, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Website | Distance: 1.00km
Visiting Museo Enzo Ferrari

Villa San Donnino

Villa San Donnino
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Marie Therese Hébert & Jean Robert Thibault
San Donnino Villa, established in 1947, is a quaint vinegar production facility renowned for crafting Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and other condiments. Upholding a strong sense of tradition and with skills passed down through generations, they have expanded their offerings and transformed into a notable tourist attraction. The Acetaia offers a limited selection of […]
Location: Acetaia Villa San Donnino, Via Medicine, San Donnino, MO, Italy | Hours: From 9:00 to 12:30 a.m. and 2:00 to 5:30 p.m. advanced booking is recommended. | Website | Distance: 8.50km
Visiting Villa San Donnino

Best Time to Visit Modena

Modena, located in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, is renowned for its rich culinary tradition, historical landmarks, and automotive heritage. Here’s a guide to the best time to visit Modena:

  1. Spring (March to May): Spring is a delightful time to visit Modena as the city comes alive with blooming flowers and mild temperatures. This season is ideal for exploring the city’s historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and admiring its beautiful architecture, including the iconic Modena Cathedral and the Ghirlandina Tower. Spring also offers opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, such as hiking in the nearby Apennine Mountains or cycling along the scenic countryside.
  2. Summer (June to August): Summer is peak tourist season in Modena, with warm temperatures and long daylight hours. This is the best time to explore the city’s culinary scene, with its renowned restaurants, trattorias, and markets offering delicious local specialties such as traditional balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and balsamic-glazed meats. Summer also brings a variety of cultural events and festivals to Modena, including music concerts, food fairs, and outdoor performances.
  3. Fall (September to November): Fall is another excellent time to visit Modena, as the weather remains pleasant, and the summer crowds begin to dissipate. This season is ideal for exploring the city’s museums and galleries, such as the Enzo Ferrari Museum and the Museum of Military Academy, without the long lines. Fall also offers opportunities to participate in culinary experiences, such as truffle hunting in the nearby hills and attending food festivals celebrating the region’s gastronomic heritage.
  4. Winter (December to February): Winter in Modena is relatively quiet, with fewer tourists and cooler temperatures. This season offers a more intimate experience for visitors, with the opportunity to explore the city’s indoor attractions, such as its historic palaces, churches, and museums, without the crowds. Winter is also a great time to sample hearty local dishes like tortellini in brodo (stuffed pasta in broth) and cotechino con lenticchie (sausage with lentils) at cozy trattorias and osterias throughout the city.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Modena depends on your preferences for weather, crowds, and activities. Whether you’re interested in exploring historic landmarks, indulging in gourmet cuisine, or experiencing local festivals, Modena has something to offer for every traveler throughout the year.

Average Temperatures in Modena

  • January 10°C 6
  • February 13°C 10
  • March 18°C 8
  • April 21°C 9
  • May 26°C 14
  • June 32°C 8
  • July 35°C 6
  • August 34°C 7
  • September 29°C 9
  • October 24°C 8
  • November 14°C 11
  • December 9°C 7

How to get to Modena

Modena is situated in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna Region, along the historic Roman road, Via Emilia. It serves as an ideal starting point for exploring the art, cuisine, music, and automotive heritage of the Emilia-Romagna Region.

Flying to Modena

The nearest major airport is Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ / LIPE). This airport has international and domestic flights from Bologna, Italy and is 50 km from the center of Modena, Italy. Another major airport is Parma Airport (PMF / LIMP), which has international and domestic flights from Parma, Italy and is 63 km from Modena, Italy.

Getting to Modena by Car

Modena is easily accessible via two exits on the A1 Highway: the Modena Nord exit (located five kilometers from the city center) and the Modena Sud exit (located ten kilometers from the city center). Additionally, the A22 Brennero Highway terminates in Modena.

Getting to Modena by Train

The Modena train station is located in Piazza Dante Alighieri and serves the Milan-Bologna railway line. You can find information about train schedules and purchase tickets on the TrenItalia website: Modena is also linked to the Mediopadana AV Reggio-Emilia station via the Italobus service, which is included in high-speed Italo train tickets. A tourist information office can be found within the train station.

There is also a tourist information and ticket office for urban and suburban buses located in the square in front of the train station (phone: +39 059-211-529). Its operating hours are Monday to Saturday from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm, and Sunday from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm. During the summer season (from July 1 to August 31), the office is open seven days a week from 9:00 am to 1:30 pm, with the exception of August 15.

Getting to the Historical Center from the Train Station: The historical center is only a short walk from the train station. Alternatively, you can take the Number 7 bus (marked Policlinico/Gottardi), which will reach the Cathedral in nine minutes (get off at the Piazza Mazzini stop). The Number 11 bus (marked Zodiaco) will take you to the Cathedral in seven minutes (Piazza Mazzini stop). As you exit the station, you will find a taxi stand on the right side of Piazza Dante. There are also two luggage-storage offices in close proximity to the station.