When I started planning our Bologna trip, I knew we had to take day trips to both Ravenna and Parma for the obvious reasons: the former is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, while the latter is the birthplace of prosciutto ham and parmiggiano reggiano cheese. As I researched, I decided we should also visit Modena. Soon I realised that there was still enough time for yet another day trip. Bologna boasts an excellent location, allowing easy day trips to cities like Verona and Venice. However, it felt wrong just to sneak peek at said destinations rather than plan a future trip just for them. So, I thought we should stick to the Emilia Romagna region and opt for a more laid-back destination, like Ferrara.
I had never even heard of Ferrara before. Lying midway between Bologna and Venice, visitors often overlook it. Yet Ferrara is one of the most beautiful, well-preserved and interesting medieval towns I have ever been to. It is heaven on earth for bicycle lovers. Also, the themed, well-marked routes in the historic centre offer unique walking opportunities. Check out Ferrara’s tourist map and see for yourself.
Our Ferrara Itinerary
As soon as we got off the train, we turned left and started walking along the city walls. Soon, we left the city noise behind us and found ourselves in an idyllic scenery. We were walking on a gravel path, surrounded by tall trees. If you’ve been to Lucca in Tuscany, keep in mind that its city walls are a lot more impressive; walking or cycling there is an unforgettable experience. However, Ferrara’s walls are longer, comprising a total of 9 km. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to walk the full length of the city walls. We exited the circular route near the Via Orlando Furioso and Via Azzo Novello intersection.
After a few minutes we were on Corso Ercole I d’ Este. It turns out it was one of the most beautiful roads I could ever dream of. Corso Ercole I d’ Este is the main road of the Renaissance part of the city. It starts as a cobblestone road with beautiful residential buildings on both sides. As you move on towards the city centre, though, magnificent palaces adorn it. Among those the Palazzo dei Diamanti is the most striking.
At the end of this spectacular road, the imposing Castello Estense comes into sight, almost disproportionately big but undoubtedly majestic. Home to the Este family, who rivalled the almighty Florence’s Medici in terms of power, Castello Estense now houses administration offices. These include Ferrara’s Tourist Information Office. This is the best place to catch your breath and find all sorts of brochures about local events and activities. Wandering around the courtyards of Este Castle is free. You can also visit some indoor sections of the castle for a fee. We didn’t, as it was almost closing time and it was too sunny a day to spend indoors.
Ferrara is in the Emilia Romagna region which means that its food shouldn’t go unnoticed. For our late lunch we sat at an outside table at Osteria I Quattro Angeli. With an unobscured view to the Este Castle, we had one of the most memorable and stellar meals ever. Not to mention at a very reasonable price. Ferrara’s typical dish is cappellacci di zucca, hat-shaped handmade pasta filled with pumpkin, traditionally served with butter and sage. Don’t miss it unless you are not particularly fond of mixing sweet with savoury tastes. We also had mouthwatering contorni, side dishes of grilled vegetables and oven baked potatoes. Of course, a glass or three of their fantastic red house wine completed our meal ideally. Also, ferrarese bread is quite extraordinary with its unique twisted shape.
After our superb meal, it was time for some more walking. We headed to Piazza Cattedrale to marvel at the enormous pink and white Duomo. Then we mingled with the locals just on time for la passeggiata, their evening lazy stroll around the town’s square; an Italian habit I have come to love and look forward to in my Italy trips. There was also a street market there when we visited which added to the overall lively atmosphere of the piazza.
Then it was time for us to finally ditch the map. Nothing beats getting lost in the romantic narrow alleys of the old medieval town and the ancient Jewish Ghetto. This area is marked with a blue line in the city’s tourist map. By the way, the latter is displayed in many points throughout Ferrara. Finding your way around could not be easier. There is no specific route to follow. Just lose yourself in the cobblestone streets and soak in the beauty of this well-kept medieval secret. Towards the end of our lovely day trip, we took Via Arturo Cassoli all the way back to the train station.
Once on board the train back to Bologna, I made a vow to come back to Ferrara. Only this time it would be for more than just a day trip. Overall, Ferrara left us nothing but good impressions. It’s a typical Italian city, compact and beautiful throughout, with superb food and numerous opportunities for cycling or walking. Most importantly, without the tourist crowds. What more to ask for?
- Ferrara’s main train station is conveniently located within walking distance of the town’s historic centre. It is an easy day trip from Bologna. Trains run very frequently throughout the day and the journey lasts 30′ to 1h depending on the train type. If you need a break from Venice’s crowds, Ferrara is also an easy day trip from there. Trains are also frequent and the journey takes 1-2 hours. For more information on train times, ticket prices and connections to other Italian cities, visit the Trenitalia website.
- There is a shuttle service from/to Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport to/from Ferrara. The trip takes about 60 minutes. For more information, check their website.
- While planning your visit to Ferrara, the city’s official website may prove to be immensely useful.