Modena: The Complete Guide
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.
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. Top help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!
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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.
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!
Location: Modena Cathedral, Corso Duomo, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Website | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Modena Cathedral
Piazza Grande & Palazzo Comunale
Location: Piazza Grande 41121 Modena MO Italy | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Piazza Grande & Palazzo Comunale
Torre della Ghirlandina
Location: Torre della Ghirlandina, Piazza della Torre, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Torre della Ghirlandina
Palazzo dei Musei
Location: Palazzo dei Musei, Largo Porta Sant'Agostino, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Palazzo dei Musei
Palazzo Ducale, Modena
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
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
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
Location: Museo Enzo Ferrari, Via Paolo Ferrari, Modena, Province of Modena, Italy | Website | Distance: 1.00km
Visiting Museo Enzo Ferrari
Villa San Donnino
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
The best time to visit Modena in Italy is from April through October. In this period you have a warm temperature and little precipitation. The highest average temperature in Modena is 31°C in August and the lowest is 6°C in January.
Average Temperatures in Modena
- January 10°C 50°F 6
- February 13°C 56°F 10
- March 18°C 65°F 8
- April 21°C 70°F 9
- May 26°C 79°F 14
- June 32°C 90°F 8
- July 35°C 96°F 6
- August 34°C 94°F 7
- September 29°C 85°F 9
- October 24°C 75°F 8
- November 14°C 58°F 11
- December 9°C 49°F 7
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: www.trenitalia.it. 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.