The city of Ravenna in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy is known for its early Christian and Byzantine mosaics. As most of the mosaics of Ravenna can be found inside historical buildings – of which 8 are UNESCO World Heritage sites- Ravenna is a great place to go when the weather is a little less nice.
But mosaics aren't all it has to offer. Here's a list of things to do in Ravenna on a day trip there.
Things to do in Ravenna
The Arian Baptistry
The Arian Baptistry, or Battistero degli Ariani as it’s known in Italian, might not seem that impressive from the outside, but wait until you get inside. Cast your eyes upwards and behold the splendor of the mosaic ceiling depicting the Apostles around the outside and Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the center.
The Baptistry was originally built between the 5th and 6th centuries AD and it is octagonal in shape. If you want to inject a bit of history into your trip to Ravenna (although it’s virtually impossible not to do this) then you should definitely pop in and take a look around.
It only costs 2 EUR to get into the Baptistry and it is honestly worth it just to crane your neck skyward and admire the gorgeous mosaics and hint of religious mysticism. It is also eerily quiet inside, making it a good place for a bit of chill time and self-reflection before you head back outside.
The Basilica of San Vitale
This gorgeous church is one of the shining gems of Ravenna – and that’s saying something given the sheer number of magnificent monuments found in this city. It is a sterling example of Byzantine architecture and was completed in the year 547 AD.
The imposing facade of the Basilica is the first thing you will notice on your approach. It looks pretty incredible already, right? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Head into the church and prepare to have your breath completely and utterly taken away as you ogle the intricate mosaics that adorn the walls and ceilings.
It’ll cost you 9.50 EUR to get into the Basilica of San Vitale, which might seem steep, but your ticket gives you access to a bunch of other monuments so it is worth it – I’ll talk about the rest of them later in the article.
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
One of the attractions you can enter with your tickets to the Basilica di San Vitale is the Mausoleum di Galla Placidia, which, conveniently, is just a 30-second walk from the Basilica. The Mausoleum may seem plain at first glance, but don’t let that detract from its inner beauty.
Go on inside and enjoy yet another world-class mosaic, smothering the inner domes. The peaceful shades of blue used for these artistic masterpieces create a calming ambience that perfectly fits with the Mausoleum’s grandiosity. Originally, this glorified tomb held the remains of Galla Placidia, the daughter of a Roman Emperor.
In case you hadn’t noticed yet, mosaics are a common feature throughout Ravenna’s monuments. Mosaics are extremely important to Ravenna and the city is still to this day one of the country’s top producers of mosaics. Not only are they beautiful to behold, but they are also of historical and cultural significance. You’ll learn all about them as you make your way through Ravenna’s attractions.
The church of Santa Eufemia
Still eager for more ancient history? Can’t get enough of religious monuments? Well, you’re in for a treat, because this is yet another stunning church for you to explore. The Church of Santa Eufemia was built between 1742 and 1747 and is one of the lesser-known churches in Ravenna. This means that it isn’t usually too busy so you won’t need to jostle people out of the way for a good view.
Piazza XX Settembre
This Piazza lies in the middle of the city center and has restaurants and landmarks all around it. While there isn’t much to do in the Piazza itself, it is supposed to be worth quickly strolling through on your way from one place to another. Unfortunately, there were works going on while I was there and the Piazza was mostly wrapped up. Literally.
If you’re looking for a more thriving piazza, the Piazza Popolo is the beating heart of Ravenna. Bordering its edges are important buildings, such as the Town Hall and the Church of Santa Maria del Suffragio, which add an air of class to the long, narrow piazza.
In addition to these historically and politically important edifices are a number of restaurants and cafes where you can dine al fresco and while away an afternoon people-watching in the sunshine. The piazza positively hums with life and is the place to be day or night if you’re looking for action.
There are even some monuments within the piazza that you can take a look at. Two pillars propping up St. Apollinaris and St. Vitalis cast strips of shadow across the square and can be easily admired while you tuck into a local delicacy at an outdoors table.
Piazza John F Kennedy
You might be wondering why this well-known American has popped up in the city of Ravenna, Italy. The truth is, he pops up all over Italy as there are several streets and plazas named after him. I guess the Italians really liked him!
This Piazza was renovated less than a decade ago, so it doesn’t have the same antiquity as some of the other squares in the city. Nevertheless, it is fringed by some spectacular buildings, including the Palazzo Rasponi delle Teste. If nothing else, it is a delightful place to wander around, especially if you happen to have a gelato in your hand (which you should have at all times).
The Neonian Baptistery
The Italians call this place Battistero Neoniano – and you should too while you’re there if you want to seem oh-so-cultured. As with a number of the Ravenna sights, it is mostly what’s on the inside that counts.
The sublime interior of this structure, which dates back to the 5th century – making it one of the oldest buildings in Ravenna, comprises yet more mosaics. In the centre of the ceiling dome is Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist (sound familiar?) surrounded by the 12 Apostles (oh yeah, it’s exactly like the Arian Baptistery).
The Neonian Baptistery is included in the ticket you bought to see the Basilica of San Vitale, so if you already have the ticket, you might as well go and see it. It’s technically free at that point.
The Archiepiscopal Chapel
Yet another attraction that is included in the ticket you bought for the Basilica of San Vitale. That ticket is getting pretty good mileage, isn’t it? The Chapel was built sometime between 495 and 519 AD with the same reddy brown bricks that many of the other religious buildings were constructed.
For the best view, look up. The ceiling and its domes are decorated with fabulous mosaics (just in case you hadn’t got your fill of mosaics in Ravenna). The theme of the artwork tends to be a celebration of the glory of Jesus and among the figures depicted in the mosaics, you’ll find Jesus, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Evangelists and some birds thrown in for good measure.
Dante's tomb and the Museo Dantesco
Most people have heard of the poet Dante Alighieri and his Divine Comedies and circles of hell. Not very many people know that he was actually buried right here in Ravenna! While Dante is associated with Florence, having lived there most of his life, he spent his final years in Ravenna. When he died in 1321, as you might expect, he was buried there.
Florence asked for Dante’s remains several times but each time Ravenna said no. He was moved from various different vessels after his death, but he never left the city. In 1810, his remains were so important to Ravenna that workers were instructed to hide them by interring them in a wall so they wouldn’t be stolen during the Napoleonic Wars.
It was only by chance that in 1865 a laborer uncovered the remains and after being moved around a bit more they finally ended up back in Dante’s Mausoleum in Ravenna. Quite the journey!
Anyway, if you’re interested in Dante or history in general, his lovely neoclassical mausoleum merits a visit. It's one of the things to see in Ravenna for Dante fans.
The Basilica di San Francesco
Another is the Basilica di San Francesco, right next to Dante’s Tomb. This is where Dante’s funeral was held. This church was originally built in 450 AD, but unfortunately none of that church still stands today as it was demolished and rebuilt in the 10th century. Nevertheless, the church is still impressively old (although it looks good for its age).
The church is great to look round and it is pretty photogenic, both inside and out. Perhaps the most unusual thing about this building is the fact that the crypt is now permanently underwater due to the land being much lower when the church was built. Despite its watery fate, you can still see mosaics in there!
The nice thing about visiting the Basilica di San Francesco is that it is completely free. So, even if you are on a tight budget, there is no reason why you can’t check this beauty queen out.
The Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo
Ravenna has a staggering eight UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites and the Basilica di Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo is one of them. I know I sound like a broken record here, but the mosaics here are absolutely incredible, although the exterior of the church is not that impressive. The mosaics show an intermingling of styles from eastern and western cultures, making them pretty fascinating from a historical perspective.
Distinguishing this basilica from the other churches I’ve already talked about in this article is the cylindrical tower that rises 38 meters above the ground. It was originally constructed in the early 500s, but the church and its tower have undergone reconstruction work over the years.
If you bought that ticket I mentioned previously, it includes entry to the Basilica di Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo. For 9.50 EUR, this ticket is a bargain and it is valid for seven days so you don’t need to race around and see everything in once go. Take your time and enjoy this mosaics-mad city.
The Parco di Teodorico with the Tomb of Theodoric
If you’re ready for a bit of green space, you’ll find it here. The tomb of Theodoric the Great, an Ostrogoth, sits pride of place in the center of this park. It was commissioned by the leader himself and built during his lifetime so that he could be buried in it when he finally died. The tomb comprises enormous chunks of Istrian stone and is quite the eye-catcher as far as tombs go.
Once you’ve taken a look at the tomb, which you can do quite quickly, spend a bit of time strolling through the park. There are walking trails you can follow as well as carefully cultivated gardens, and delightful meadows, ripe for frolicking. If the weather is nice, which it inevitably will be, you’ll easily be able to spend a good few hours just meandering through the park.
Museo Nazionale di Ravenna
While you’re going to see a lot of historical and cultural monuments during your time in Ravenna, none of it will mean a lot unless you also visit the National Museum of Ravenna. Of all the things to see and do in Ravenna, this is by far the most informative and what you learn here will shape how you explore the rest of the city. In fact, it might be worth going here first, so you can gaze upon Ravenna’s other attractions with informed eyes.
The Museum is situated in an old Benedictine monastery and contains important materials and architects from the early Christian and Byzantine periods. You will also find within the museum some breath-taking frescoes from the 14th century.
Entry to the museum is 6 EUR or 2 EUR if you are lucky enough to be under 25. Whether you enjoy museums or not, it is a good idea to check this one out as it could seriously improve your trip.
The Marina di Ravenna
Finally, it is time to step away from the ancient monuments and into the present day at the Ravenna Marina. This energetic part of town plays host to dozens of beach clubs and resorts, as well as a sprinkling of spas and boutiques.
During the summer, the Marina positively buzzes with life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chill out here. The beach here, while not Italy’s finest, is lovely to hang out on – especially when the sun is shining (and you have a gelato in your hand). When hunger strikes, there are loads of restaurants around that serve pizza, pasta, and fresh seafood.
There is plenty of accommodation around the Marina di Ravenna so you might want to consider shacking up there for a night or two so you get the full experience of it.
We all have an inner child – the difference between people is whether or not they let it surface every now and then. If you’re the kind of person who loves to embrace your childish side then do not miss out on a trip to Mirabilandia!
The park is the largest of its kind in Italy, stretching out over 850,000 square metres. Just like Disneyland, the park is divided into themed worlds. These are: Ducati World (yes, a whole world dedicated to motorbikes), Far West Valley (I think they mean Wild West here), Dinoland (dinosaurs, duh), Route 66 (all about America), Adventureland (think Indiana Jones), and Bimbopoli (for little kids).
The park also features a waterpark called Mirabeach. It technically counts as a separate attraction so you’ll need to buy a dual ticket if you want to visit both Mirabilandia and Mirabeach.
Take note that the main park doesn’t open until April and closes again in November each year. The waterpark usually follows the same schedule but in 2020 the waterpark won’t open until the beginning of June.
Have a piadina at La Piadina del Melarancio
Honestly, what would a trip to Italy be without sampling some of the local delicacies? Piadinas are a traditional dish from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy and Ravenna has some of the finest examples of them.
A piadina is a flatbread traditionally filled with prosciutto ham, cheese, and rocket. You’ll find this and a dozen other varieties on the menu at La Piadina del Melarancio – Ravenna’s finest piadina eatery. And, to really sweeten the deal, piadinas are pretty cheap so you can either eat on a budget or order several and really fill yourself up. The choice is yours!
How to get to Ravenna
It's super easy to visit Ravenna by train, especially from bigger cities in the region such as Bologna. While you can buy your train ticket at the train station, it's a bit safer to get it beforehand as the ticket machines don't always function and there might be a line at the ticket booth. I used Omio when I was in Italy as it shows you all possible options to get somewhere, including buses and trains by the different train companies.
And that's it! I hope this post has given you some ideas on what to do in Ravenna. Want more inspiration for your trip to Italy? check out these day trips from Bologna.
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