If you’re looking for experiences related to food, art, and cars in one city; then Modena is the right fit for you. The hometown of Luciano Pavarotti and Enzo Ferrari lies not far from Bologna in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.
Its small alleys and beautiful old buildings make it a good destination for a day or weekend away. Don't know where to go? Don't worry! I put together a list of things to do in Modena just for you.
- Things to do in Modena
- 1. Visit the cathedral
- 2. Climb the Torre Ghirlandia
- 3. Shop at the Mercato Albinelli
- 4. Go on a tour at the Palazzo Ducale
- 5. Check out the Palazzo dei Musei
- 6. Head out to the Enzo Ferrari Museum
- 7. Learn about the production of balsamico
- 8. Visit the home of Luciano Pavarotti
- 9. Book a tour at a parmesan cheese factory
- 10. Get your art on at the Galleria Estense
- 11. People watch on the UNESCO World Heritage Piazza Grande
- 12. Visit the Palazzo Comunale
- 13. Go for a stroll in the Giardini Pubblici
- 14. Get spiritual at the church of St. Francis
- 15. Have more motor fun at the Umberto Panini Motor Museum
- How to get to Modena Italy
- Where to stay in Modena Italy
Things to do in Modena
1. Visit the cathedral
The cathedral is one of the most popular places to visit in Modena. It lies by the Piazza Grande and the Piazza della Torre. Walking through the front entrance; you’ll see the cathedral has three wooden doorways with circular stained glass with two lion statues standing at the main entrance.
The facade on some of the sculptures speaks about biblical prophets such as God creates Adam and the story of Noah. And the gold-laced interior of the building shows the Passion of Christ.
The premises don’t just hold the cathedral, it is home to a museum too. The Musei del Duomo showcases fragments of sculptures from the cathedral and other earlier buildings from Roman times. You’ll also see imaginary monstrous beings and two Flemish tapestries that tell stories from Genesis.
2. Climb the Torre Ghirlandia
If you're wondering what to do in Modena, the Torre Ghirlandia is a must. It's the bell tower of the cathedral and stands over 282 ft / 86 m tall, offering great views of the city. Its height also makes it the tallest building and climbing up to the viewing platform means tackling 201 steps.
The tower is only open between 01 April to 30 September and on 31st January to celebrate the Feast Day of the Patron Saint.
3. Shop at the Mercato Albinelli
The Albinelli Market has been around since the 1900s. All that time, it's been a place where people gather to enjoy food. Some of the market stalls are run by the same families since the market opened.
The market draws tourists and locals alike with its displays of vegetables, pasta, meat, and fruits in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s also known to contribute to the city’s nightlife with occasional events.
It's possible to book a tour of the market including a home-made lunch or dinner afterward.
4. Go on a tour at the Palazzo Ducale
The Palazzo Ducale is not to be missed on your Modena day trip. What used to be a palace is still one of the most noticeable buildings in the city. It's lined with hundreds of windows and the middle section has several marble columns with an arched doorway.
Today, the palazzo is home to the Italian Military Academy – Often hosting military ceremonies and performances. The museum displays the Salone d’Onore (Salon of Honor) with its frescoed ceiling. And you’ll see the Salottino d’Oro (Golden Study) with removable gold-laminated wooden walls.
5. Check out the Palazzo dei Musei
If you're into art and wondering what to see in Modena, the Palazzo dei Musei is the answer. It's a palace that’s subdivided into the Estense Gallery, the Estense University Library, the Giuseppe Graziosi Plaster Cast Gallery, the Modena Municipal Historic Archives, the Roman Lapidary of the Civic Museums, and the Luigi Poletti Civic Art Library.
The Estense Gallery
Situated on the top floor, you’ll discover drawings, paintings, bronzes, and medals that were owned by the Ducal family. Among these, you’ll find the bust of Francis I by Bernini, the triptych of El Greco, and paintings of Tintoretto, and Guido Reni – to name a few.
The Estense University Library
The collections in this section were initially bought by the Estense Dukes. The exhibition room (Campori room) has the Borso d’Este Bible, the Charta del Navigare, the Catalan Globe, and the treatise De Sphaera.
The Giuseppe Graziosi Plaster Cast Gallery
This two-roomed museum holds bronzes, paintings, and statues that were created by the distinguished Giuseppe Graziosi. You’ll also get to admire his graphic works, which include drawings, aquatints, lithographs, and etchings.
The Modena Municipal Historic Archives
These State Archives are the oldest in Italy. The library holds city administration documents and approximately 5000 sets (printed and handwritten manuscripts) are stored here for safekeeping.
The Roman Lapidary of the Civic Museums
Visiting the west wing of the palace allows you to see Roman inscribed stones and tablets. These hold the testimonies of Mutina that are related to the funeral altar of Clodius and display fragments of a ship’s bow.
The Estense Lapidary Museum
This section is located on the ground floor where you can see a summary of the history of Modena. It displays archaeological remnants from churches, the bell tower, and the cathedral.
The Luigi Poletti Civic Art Library
The famous Modenese architect, Luigi Poletti, donated all his engineering, architecture, and art to the city when he died. The library also has a large section dedicated to photographs, maps, prints, and books.
6. Head out to the Enzo Ferrari Museum
The Enzo Ferrari Museum is located right outside the city center. It's a must for sports car fans and even interesting for those who don't care too much about what's under the hood of a car (yours truly). Read all about it here.
7. Learn about the production of balsamico
Balsamic vinegar is made from grapes that are cooked until a syrupy texture. They’re stored in wooden barrels for about two decades and many times up to one hundred years.
Modena is home to numerous Balsamico producers. Taking a tour of one of these production facilities allows you to learn about the process from A to Z and get a taste of this “liquid gold”.
8. Visit the home of Luciano Pavarotti
Situated on a one-lane road, outside the city, you’ll find the house where Luciano Pavarotti used to live. Now converted into a museum; you’ll get all the background information about his life including how involved he was with the designing of it too.
Pavarotti was a talented painter and many of his paintings are displayed in the museum. Some of his Hawaiian shirts, Panama hats, and Hermes scarves are on show as well. His villa is filled with costumes from previous shows, awards he achieved, and photographs of his personal and professional life. You’ll also learn that he clutched his signature handkerchief to overcome nervousness.
You’ll hear him singing arias and songs playing through the house. You’ll also get to watch videos of him that are not shown anywhere else.
When you visit; look for letters he received from icons such as Princess Diana, Bono, and Frank Sinatra.
9. Book a tour at a parmesan cheese factory
Parmeans (Parmesan cheese producers) process milk into parmesan cheese. To see the process; you need to be there early so that you can get an idea of the entire production process.
The easiest way to do this is by booking a tour on which you'll learn how raw milk is turned into cheese and aged to become the delicious Parmigiano Reggiano. The best time to visit is in the mornings when the cheese-makers are at work.
10. Get your art on at the Galleria Estense
At the Galleria Estense, you'll get to admire art by the likes of El Greco, Correggio, Velázquez, and Bernini – just to name a few.
Aside from paintings, the collection holds Roman columns and inscriptions, sarcophagus, glass art, decorated weapons, paintings, and musical instruments. The impressive collection of porcelain dates back from the 15th to the 18th century with textiles, lace, embroidery, and fabrics on display as well
11. People watch on the UNESCO World Heritage Piazza Grande
In the heart of the old city lies the iconic Piazza Grande. With its cobblestones and arches, it’s a good place to grab a coffee and people watch.
It was previously known as Piazza del Duomo in the late 17th century and used to be the town’s only marketplace, where justice was served, and where religious processions took place. Carnivals, tournaments, and shows were all witnessed back then. When princes were born or an election of a cardinal occurred, the people celebrated by lighting bonfires.
Later, it became the host of exhibitions, contemporary art, and keynote lectures and debates until it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
12. Visit the Palazzo Comunale
Visiting Modena’s 17th-century town hall allows you to explore the several rooms of the Palazzo Comunale. Several buildings make up the complex, with the marble columns as the main architectural features. The frescoed ceilings and the wooden bucket in the Camerino dei Confirmati remind the citizens of their victory over the Bolognese in 1325.
To the right of the Camerino is the Sala del Fuoco (Fire Room) with its large 16th-century fireplace. Nicolò dell'Abate’s beautiful paintings, wooden coffered ceilings, and municipal coat of arms are on display here. It’s also worth visiting the Sala del Vecchio Consiglio (Room of the Old Council) with fascinating paintings and the Sala degli Arazzi (Tapestry Room) showing canvassed paintings that look like tapestries.
You also get to admire the Modena coat of arms and paintings by an important Modenese painter, Adeodato Malatesta, in the Sala dei matrimoni (Wedding Room).
If you visit on a Friday, you could also visit the Balsamic Vinegar making facility.
13. Go for a stroll in the Giardini Pubblici
The public garden is situated in the northeast part of the city. At the front of the palace are lawns and inside the grounds is a botanical garden. The Giardini Pubblici is filled with statues, lakes, and numerous springs. There are 10 19th-century statues and more modern ones near the Piazzo Cavour.
The Palazzo Dugnani was built in a grand country residence style. A flowerbed is set out around a pond and there’s a fountain at the front of the building. The Natural History Museum used to be in the palazzo, but today is located in the park along Corso Venezia and the Planetarium is situated next to the museum.
If you’re looking for refreshments; there’s a café on the grounds.
14. Get spiritual at the church of St. Francis
The Church of St Francis was reopened for worshiping after it was used for military purposes. It’s hard not to notice that the front of the building has pillars that divide it into three parts and a central part was built with cornices.
Walking through the church you’ll see the Deposition of Christ being lowered from the cross as well as 13 other statues.
The court opens to the northern side of the church where the Fountain of St Francis stands. The bronze statue of him preaching to the fish was made by the famous G. Graziosi.
15. Have more motor fun at the Umberto Panini Motor Museum
Because of Modena’s history with car manufacturing; a lot of the city’s attractions are related to motorcars and motorsport. The museum displays a vast range of historic vehicles from numerous eras.
This typical Italian styled farm building is situated to the southwest of Modena – about 6 miles / 10km from the Hombre farm. It has a collection of over twenty vintage Maserati sports cars on the first floor.
What looks like an old railway station is a “Liberty-style” room with hundreds of cars and motorcycles. Some date back to the twentieth century and are still convertible.
The second floor has the biggest Maserati collection and among them are the 1936 6CM and the Berlinetta Pinifarina. These were the models that won the Mille Miglia.
How to get to Modena Italy
It's very easy to travel to Modena by train. The old city center lies within walking distance from the Modena train station. Check Omio for an overview of all possible train connections.
I personally took the train from Bologna to Modena as I was staying in Bologna.
Where to stay in Modena Italy
Hotels in Modena
Boutique: B&B Il Corte dei Sogni
We spent the night at B&B Il Corte dei Sogni in Modena before visiting the Ferrari Museum and the Lamborghini Museum the next day.
Budget: Ostello San Filippo Neri
The main perks of this hostel are the free bike hire and great location in the center of town (just round the corner from the Enzo Ferrari Museum!). The rooms are basic but comfortable. There are several different dorm size options, with free WiFi available. There’s also a bar and communal living space, shared kitchen and outdoor patio.
Chain: Best Western Plus Hotel Modena Resort
This Best Western hotel in Modena is about five miles out of the city center but it is a clean and contemporary place to stay with a few luxurious selling points. It has two swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), gym, hot tub, and Turkish bath, as well as a bar. Parking and WiFi are free, as is the hotel’s own bike hire.
Luxury: Hotel Rua Frati 48 in San Francesco
Hotel Rua Frati 28 is a five-star hotel within walking distance of Modena’s best sites. Elegantly furnished rooms overlook a quiet town square and have air-conditioning, a TV, a desk, and plenty of space. The hotel also offers a luxury spa with a hot tub and sauna, as well as a bar and restaurant.
Apartments in Modena
Apartment: Stella21 Bed and Breakfast
An attic apartment but surprisingly spacious, with stunning timber ceiling beams and packed full of charm. This flat is in a perfect, central location. A huge well-stocked bookshelf and walls peppered with artwork really make it feel like home. An authentic Italian breakfast is served daily by the hospitable Francesca, who by all accounts is an exceptional host.
And that's it! I hope this post gave you some ideas for things to do in Modena and you'll have a great time visiting.
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