Emilia Romagna, Italy: 7-Days Itinerary
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Emilia Romagna is a region of unparalleled beauty, boasting a rich tapestry of history, art, and architecture. Its allure extends to its pristine beaches, vibrant local towns, picturesque landscapes, and the finest culinary delights Italy has to offer. This central Italian region is characterized by two distinct cultures, as it was born from the fusion of two different provinces, Emilia and Romagna.
Emilia-Romagna is a region that offers an astonishing variety of landscapes, from the majestic Appenine Mountains to lush forests, rolling hills, and the pristine beaches of the Adriatic Coast.
What makes this region even more captivating is its rich historical tapestry. Emilia-Romagna proudly bears the marks of its Etruscan and Ancient Roman origins, which laid the foundation for its cultural development. The Middle Ages and Renaissance periods further enriched its heritage, with many of its cities serving as pivotal political and cultural hubs in Italy’s history.
Emilia-Romagna is also home to Europe’s oldest university and boasts a robust manufacturing industry, including iconic luxury car brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini. However, the region’s true claim to fame lies in its culinary heritage, with world-renowned delicacies such as Tortellini, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and Balsamic Vinegar originating here.
With such a captivating blend of natural beauty, historical significance, and culinary excellence, the reasons to explore Emilia-Romagna are truly boundless.
Please note that our itineraries not only provide travel inspiration but also offer practical tips and guidance. You’ll find comprehensive information to assist you in planning your own Emilia Romagna adventure. To help you navigate the region, we’ve included a map highlighting all the places featured in this itinerary, often this will be combined with a specific walking tour of that town!
Emilia Romagna Itinerary
Day 1: Parma - Find classic Emilia Romagna gastronomy
Parma indeed boasts two internationally renowned food products that have become favourites all over the world.
The first is the unmistakable Parmigiano Reggiano, a high-quality Parmesan cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano is incredibly versatile and finds its way into a wide range of dishes. It’s particularly popular when grated over pasta, adding a rich and nutty flavor to the dish. It’s also a common topping for soups, salads, and various Italian dishes.
The second is Parma Ham, known as “Prosciutto di Parma.” This is a delicious cured ham that has gained immense popularity and is used in a multitude of dishes. One classic pairing is “Prosciutto e Melone,” where thin slices of Parma Ham are paired with sweet, ripe melon. When ordering prosciutto from a deli counter in Italy, you may be asked whether you’d prefer “crudo o cotto,” which translates to “raw or cooked.” Parma Ham is the “crudo” option, while the “cotto” variety is a pinker, cooked ham.
The best way to discover where the world-famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto are made, followed by a mouth-watering tasting accompanied by a glass of Malvasia wine is to go on this Parmigiano Production and Parma Ham Tour & Tasting.
I would spend the remainder of the day exploring the very best of Parma on foot. A good starting point is Piazzale San Giovanni. Here, you’ll encounter the Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, one of the city’s most impressive churches.
Continuing a few steps from the pharmacy will lead you to the city’s most famous landmark: Parma Cathedral. This beautiful 11th-century cathedral is accompanied by the 12th-century Parma Baptistery on Piazza del Duomo. Across the square, in the corner, you’ll find the Museo Diocesano.
A five-minute walk (450 meters) west from Piazza del Duomo will bring you to the Palazzo della Pilotta complex. Facing the gardens of Piazza della Pace, this vast palace houses various museums, including the National Archaeological Museum of Parma, the National Gallery of Parma, and the Biblioteca Palatina library.
Parma is divided by the River Parma, which flows through its centre. From the Palazzo della Pilotta, you can cross the bridge over the River Parma and reach another expansive area, Parco Ducale. The park’s gardens are open to the public for free, and you can also visit the Palazzo Ducale for a small fee to admire its Baroque interior and frescoes. Returning across the river, you can head toward the city centre. Along the way, you’ll pass the Teatro Regio, where you can enjoy opera performances. Just across the road from the theatre is another of Parma’s famous churches: the Basilica Santa Maria della Steccata.
From the piazza outside the basilica, you can access a walkway that leads to what many consider the heart of Parma: Piazza Garibaldi. Here, you can explore a network of narrow streets and start discovering Parma’s delectable gastronomic offerings in its bars and restaurants. This area is also a great place for shopping, with a wide range of stores and boutiques to satisfy your shopping needs!
You can explore all these places on my Walking Tour of Parma.Read in our Parma Travel Guide
Day 2: Modena - A city of great food, fast cars, and historic sites
Modena is an exceptional city that offers a harmonious blend of cultural heritage, culinary delights, and a captivating fusion of tradition and innovation. Its UNESCO World Heritage-listed architectural treasures are a testament to its rich history. Visitors to Modena are treated to an exquisite culinary experience, featuring traditional balsamic vinegar paired with local delicacies. They can also wander through the charming narrow streets of the city centre.
The city boasts the mystical beauty of its Cathedral, a remarkable masterpiece of European Romanesque architecture, designed by the renowned architect Lanfranco and master sculptor Wiligelmo. Piazza Grande, the heart of Modena, is home to iconic monuments, including the Palazzo Comunale, which has evolved over centuries and now serves as the Town Hall and the Torre della Ghirlandina a Unesco world heritage.
Strolling further, along the historic Via Emilia, visitors arrive at Piazza Sant’Agostino, where the Church of Sant’Agostino showcases the remarkable “Lament for Christ Crucified” by Begarelli, a renowned 16th-century Modenese sculptor. Nearby stands Palazzo dei Musei, housing various cultural institutions and art collections, including the Civic Museum of Art, the Archaeological Ethnological Museum, and the Estense Gallery, which reflects the Este family’s appreciation for diverse forms of art. The Estense Library, within the same complex, safeguards the precious Modena Codex from the 14th to 16th centuries, adorned with miniature illustrations.
Modena’s cityscape is further enhanced by the awe-inspiring MEF-Enzo Ferrari Museum, inaugurated in March 2012. This museum pays tribute to Enzo Ferrari in the very house of his birth, featuring exhibitions that chronicle the extraordinary life of this iconic figure through modern multimedia presentations. Additionally, the museum showcases an art gallery with temporary exhibitions that delve into Ferrari’s illustrious career, his legendary cars, and the prominent races and competitions associated with this renowned Modena-based racing car brand.Read in our Modena Travel Guide
Day 3: Bologna - Explore the Emilia Romagna capital
This beautiful regional capital boasts medieval porticoes, lively piazzas, and a gastronomic culture renowned worldwide. Bologna’s nicknames reflect its key attributes: La Grassa (the fat one) celebrates the city’s culinary abundance, La Dotta (the learned) acknowledges its status as home to the world’s oldest university, and La Rossa (the red) partly references the colour of its buildings and its socialist political heritage.
If you plan your holiday around gastronomy you are in for a treat! The city’s culinary treasures are among the most celebrated in the world, giving rise to famous dishes like Lasagne. Moreover, Bologna is renowned for its extensive production of Parmigiano (Parmesan cheese), Mortadella (a type of pork sausage), and Prosciutto Parmigiano (Parma Ham).
Surprisingly, “Spaghetti Bolognese” is not commonly found in the city. Instead of spaghetti, the preferred pasta to accompany the meat sauce Ragù is typically Tagliatelle. Another Bolognese favourite is Tortellini, which is often served in a broth.
Despite its medieval architecture and historical roots, Bologna exudes a youthful energy, partially owing to its University, established in 1088 and considered the longest continuously operating university in the world. This juxtaposition of old and new adds to the city’s unique charm.
Throughout the summer, Bologna hosts festivals in the city center, and all year round, rock bands perform at various venues in and around the city. Bologna has a historical association with left-wing politics, likely influenced in part by its status as home to the world’s oldest university.
One of Bologna’s most distinctive features is its network of porticoed streets. The first covered walkways were introduced in the 13th century, and some wooden examples still stand today. A century later, due to widespread acclaim, an edict mandated that all new streets in the city must have porticoes, constructed from brick or stone and tall enough to accommodate horseback riders.
In 2021, Bologna was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List under the category “The Porticoes of Bologna.” This recognition highlights the porticoes’ significance in the city’s trade and architecture. The seemingly endless archways of these walkways, adorned with autumnal-colored plasterwork in shades of red, amber, and orange, are a defining characteristic of Bologna and the broader Emilia Romagna region.
Find out more with my Walking Tour of Bologna.Read in our Bologna Travel Guide
Day 4: Ferrara - Discover the “City of the Renaissance”
Ferrara, a city enclosed within a 6-mile-long defensive wall, offers a delightful opportunity for cycling or strolling, with green parks just outside the walls. Not all parts of the city within the walls share the same historical significance. If you enter through Viale Cavour, you may initially wonder where the historic buildings are. However, taking a side street leads you into Ferrara’s network of medieval and Renaissance streets. It’s advisable to explore with a map from the tourist information office in the courtyard of Castello Estense, as these picturesque streets extend for quite a distance. While only a few lanes are pedestrianized, many locals navigate the city on old bicycles, even over the cobblestones.
Castello Estense, a red-brick fortress constructed in 1385, stands as the heart of Ferrara, surrounded by moats. Initially built as a robust fortress, it also served as a residence and a venue for entertainment for the Este family. Visitors can explore its state apartments, dungeons, and enjoy panoramic views from the Torre dei Leoni. Some of the castle rooms provide insights into Ferrara’s history and the Este dynasty. Don’t miss the atmospheric prison cells with their historic graffiti. Notable prisoners held here have inspired poetry and opera. Upstairs, visitors can admire frescoed ceilings with classical scenes and a charming marble ducal chapel. A cafeteria is available, as well as restrooms along the tour route.
Ferrara Cathedral, or Cattedrale di San Giorgio, is conveniently located near Castello Estense. The church, consecrated in the 12th century, features a facade blending Romanesque and Gothic elements. Inside, an imposing and dimly lit interior houses artistic treasures, including Bastianino’s depiction of the Last Judgment above the apse. While entry is free, note that the cathedral closes during lunch hours. Adjacent to the cathedral is the Museo della Cattedrale, an admission-charging museum housing art and exhibits related to the cathedral.
In addition to their central residences, the Este family constructed a network of villas, palaces, and retreats in and around Ferrara, collectively known as the ‘delights of the Estes.’ One such villa is Palazzo Schifanoia, a short walk from Castello Estense. Although its façade appears plain today, it once served as a splendid palace. The palace houses various museum rooms displaying porcelain, frescoes, and objects of historical interest. The highlight is the upstairs cycle of frescoes depicting the months of the year, created around 1469-1470. These frescoes, attributed to various artists, offer captivating glimpses into Renaissance courtly life. The museum ticket is often combined with entry to the Museo della Cattedrale, Palazzina Marfisa d’Este, and the nearby Civico Lapidario, which features a small collection of Roman marbles.
Included in the combined ticket is Palazzina Marfisa d’Este, a single-story building associated with Francesco d’Este and his daughter Marfisa, a patron of the arts. Frescoes adorn the rooms, complemented by antique furniture and portraits.
Ferrara boasts several other palaces and churches worth exploring, such as the Santa Maria in Vado, known for a twelfth-century miracle. The city’s archaeological museum, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, displays Etruscan and Greek artefacts from the Po Delta’s Spina site. The Palazzo dei Diamanti, named for its shaped stonework, houses the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Ferrara’s art gallery featuring works by local and renowned artists. Palazzo Massari hosts the Museo Boldini, showcasing more artworks. Casa di Ludovico Ariosto, where the poet lived and died, has been turned into a small museum. Visitors can view his tomb at Palazzo Paradiso, once a university building and now a library of rare manuscripts. Casa Romei, a Renaissance residence adorned with frescoes, is another architectural gem.
After exploring the city’s palaces and museums, take time to stroll through Ferrara’s central streets. Various Este family members oversaw the city’s expansion, with the most famous being the Addizione Erculea, a fifteenth-century town-planning project by Duke Ercole I d’Este.Read in our Ferrara Travel Guide
Day 5: Ravenna - Stand in awe of the Ravenna Mosaics
Ravenna is a charming, lesser-known town located in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. It’s surprising that many travelers, including us, had never heard of Ravenna before, considering its proximity to Italy’s most popular tourist destinations. However, Ravenna is indeed a hidden gem that offers a deep dive into centuries-old history, providing a fresh perspective on the country’s past. In the 5th century, Ravenna thrived as the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and today, it boasts a wealth of landmarks and monuments from that era, many of which are over 1500 years old.
Don’t be fooled by the unassuming exteriors of Ravenna’s ancient buildings; within, you’ll discover breath-taking treasures and astonishing mosaics that will leave you in awe. If you plan to spend a day in Ravenna, you’ll find below a list of the best things to do, which should cover all the must-see places. If you have more time and are visiting in the summer, be sure to explore the nearby beaches as well. Let’s explore Ravenna!
The primary attraction drawing visitors to Ravenna is its renowned mosaics, and two places you absolutely must not miss are the Basilica di San Vitale and the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia. The mosaics in these locations are truly breath-taking and are unlike anything you’ve likely seen before. Right next to the Basilica di San Vitale, you’ll discover the National Museum of Ravenna, which is also well worth a visit. Additionally, somewhat less famous but equally deserving of your attention is the nearby Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. These sites showcase some of the most exquisite mosaic artistry you’ll encounter. Piazza del Popolo, the central town square, is another essential stop on your visit to Ravenna. It’s an incredibly picturesque and vibrant area. Don’t forget to wander through the charming narrow streets that encircle it. Dante Alighieri, one of Italy’s most renowned poets, was exiled from Florence and passed away in Ravenna in 1321. Dante’s Tomb is often included in lists of places to visit in Ravenna.
Ravenna’s Old Town is compact but brimming with delightful spots waiting to be explored. Read my Self Guided Walking Tour of Ravenna’s Old Town, which includes a map and suggested route.Read in our Ravenna Travel Guide
Day 6: Rimini - Italy’s iconic beach city
Rimini, primarily known as a beach resort with a vibrant nightlife scene, also boasts a contrasting historic center. Founded in 268 BC by the Romans under the name Ariminum, the city still bears traces of that ancient period. One prominent symbol of Rimini’s Roman heritage is the Arco di Augusto, a 17-meter high triumphal arch constructed in 27 BC by Emperor Augustus, which remarkably stands almost entirely intact today.
The Arch of Augustus (Rimini) marks the southern entrance to the city’s old town, the centro storico. At the opposite end of this historic centre, we find another Roman relic, the Ponte di Tiberio. Built in 27 AD and named after Emperor Tiberius, this bridge marked the start of the ancient Via Emilia road connecting Rimini to Piacenza.
Rimini’s centro storico is characterized by wide boulevards and picturesque squares, with Piazza Tre Martiri and Piazza Cavour, Rimini being the most notable. Piazza Tre Martiri hosts the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) and the Chiesa dei Paolotti, as well as a variety of shops in porticoed arcades around its perimeter.
A brief 2-minute walk from Piazza Tre Martiri takes you to one of Rimini’s renowned landmarks: the Tempio Malatestiano. Originally constructed in the 13th century in the Gothic style, it was later transformed in 1450 by Sigismond Malatesta, the city’s ruler at the time. The conversion was commissioned as a shrine to his deceased mistress, Isotta degli Atti, leading to controversy and excommunication by Pope Pius II.
Returning towards Piazza Tre Martiri via Corso d’Augusto, a 5-minute walk leads to Piazza Cavour, which features Gothic buildings, the Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo dell’Arengo, and the Teatro Amintore. It’s also home to the Peschiera Antica, an 18th-century fish market that now specializes in antiques.
Continuing along Corso d’Augusto for a couple of hundred meters from the cinema, you’ll arrive at the Ponte di Tiberio, spanning the Ariminus River and leading to the main marina at the northern end of the beach, about two kilometers away. However, crossing the bridge at this point takes you to another captivating area of Rimini known as Borgo San Giuliano. This residential neighbourhood is known for its multicolored houses, some adorned with murals on their exteriors.
Leaving Borgo San Giuliano, it takes around 20 minutes to reach the beach, passing numerous boats of various sizes along the way. Walking to the end of the River Ariminus, you’ll eventually reach Rimini’s Ferris Wheel – La Ruota Panoramica, marking the northern end of the city’s main beach. From here, you have a plethora of private beaches to choose from, stretching all the way to Gabbicce Mare in the neighbouring Marche region, approximately 21 kilometers away.
The two main areas of Rimini, the centro storico and the beach, are approximately two kilometers apart, requiring about a 25-minute walk. Part of this distance can be shortened by taking bus number 11 to the train station, followed by an 8-minute walk covering 700 meters to Piazza Tre Martiri.
Find out more at my Walking Tour of Rimini.Read in our Rimini Travel Guide
Day 7: San Marino - The Oldest Republic in the World
San Marino offers a captivating experience for those enchanted by fairytale castle fortresses perched atop mountaintops. It also serves as a living testament to the success of unique societies and long-standing republics.
You enter San Marino through Porta San Francesco, the city’s former guarding post, you’ll be greeted a maze of streets winding up the hill. Stop by at the State Museum to learn the history of the country. You will pass the Piazza della libertà, with the historic seat of government the Palazzo Pubblico.
You wont be able to miss the encounter formidable defence towers that beckon you to climb and explore. Your journey begins at the Guaita Fortress, First Tower San Marino, a former military fortress, offering breath-taking views of the countryside below. Continue your ascent by climbing the steps to the Cesta, Second Tower & Museum of Ancient Arms once a garrison for crossbowmen. To reach Cesta, you’ll traverse the “Passo delle Streghe” (Passage of the Witches), a route that leads to one of the most coveted viewpoints. Finally you will arrive at the Montale Tower, Third Tower.
Have a look at our Self Guided Walking Tour of San Marino (With Maps!).Read in our San Marino Travel Guide
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