Emilia-Romagna doesn’t attract nearly the same volume of tourists as its neighbouring provinces of Lombardy, the Veneto and Tuscany. However it offers just as fine a distillation of the region’s charms: glorious countryside, plenty of historic architecture and local cuisine renowned across the rest of Italy.
The best travel tips for visiting Emilia-Romagna
Emilia-Romagna is easy to get around, with most of its sights located along the Via Emilia, the road laid down by the Romans in 187 BC that splits the province in two along its east–west axis, dividing the Apennine mountains in the south from the flat fields of the Pianura Padana.
Dotted along this road are some proud, historic towns, filled with restored mediaeval and Renaissance palazzi, the legacy of a handful of feuding families – the Este in Ferrara and Modena, the Farnese in Parma, and lesser dynasties in Ravenna and Rimini – who used to control the area before the papacy took charge.
The largest urban centre, and the main tourist draw, is Bologna, the site of Europe’s first university – and today best known as the gastronomic capital of Italy. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Italy with a mazy network of porticoed, mediaeval streets housing a collection of restaurants that easily live up to the town’s reputation.
To the west are the wealthy, provincial towns of Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia, easily reached by train, and each with their own charming historic centres and gastronomic delights, while to the east lies Ravenna, once the capital of the Western Roman Empire and today home to the finest set of Byzantine mosaics in the world.
The Adriatic coast south is an overdeveloped ribbon of settlements, although Rimini, at its southern end, provides a spark of interest, with its wild seaside nightlife and surprisingly historic town centre.
What to do in Emilia-Romagna
From eating in Bologna, the gastronomic capital of Italy to taking in the hottest, loudest and wildest nightlife in the country in Rimini, there’s plenty to do in Emilia-Romagna. These are the highlights.
#1 Wander through Bologna's city centre
Nestled in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna stands as a captivating embodiment of Italy's culinary and cultural heritage. This vibrant city, with its rich history dating back to ancient times, offers a unique blend of medieval architecture, modern energy, and a gastronomic scene that is truly unparalleled.
Wander through its historic streets, where medieval towers punctuate the skyline, and discover hidden treasures around every corner. Bologna's world-renowned university lends an air of youthful vitality, while its historic covered walkways, known as "porticos," provide sheltered passages for exploration in any weather.
As the birthplace of beloved Italian dishes like ragù sauce and tortellini, Bologna tantalizes your taste buds with an array of traditional flavors, while its museums, galleries, and lively cultural events ensure that you're fully immersed in the region's artistic legacy.
#2 Visit the Duomo in Modena, one of Italy’s finest Romanesque buildings
One of the finest Romanesque buildings in Italy, with some magnificent decoration inside and out. Dominating Piazza Grande, the twelfth-century Duomo in Modena is one of the finest products of the Romanesque period in Italy and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Its most striking feature is the west facade whose portal is supported by two fierce-looking lions and fringed with marvellous reliefs – the work of one Wiligelmo, who also did the larger reliefs that run along the wall.
Inside, under the choir is the plain stone coffin of St Geminianus, the patron saint of Modena – on his feast day, January 31, crowds come to visit his coffin, and a big market is held out in the main square.
Separated from the Duomo by the narrow Via Lanfranco are the Musei del Duomo, which includes the usual ecclesiastical artefacts, and the Museo Lapidario, which has Roman-age marbles from the Duomo.
#3 Get stuck into gourmet Parma
Given its reputation for ham and cheese, it is hardly surprising that Parma ham (prosciutto di Parma) and parmigiano-reggiano features strongly on menus, but you will also find other local specialities such as guancia di manzo, the cheek of beef.
You can eat cheaply in the bars around Strada Farini, with snacks such as prosciutto stuffed into pastries and other baked delights. Food is an integral part of the countryside between the Apennines and the Po, too and the best way to get a feel of this is on a gourmet tour.
Local tourist offices in Parma can also advise you on farms and vineyards to visit – or you can head out on your own into the wooded foothills of the Apennines.
#4 Visit Rocca Viscontea, Northern Emilia-Romagna’s most majestic castle
Some 35 km west of Parma is the beautiful Castell'Arquato, a nicely restored mediaeval town set on a hillside overlooking the Arda Valley. At the top of the town, Piazza del Municipio is lined with some stunning buildings.
The thirteenth-century Palazzo del Podestà isn’t open to the public, but you can visit the Collegiata, a magnificently preserved Romanesque monument with an eighth-century baptismal font in the right-hand apse. The restored tower of the fourteenth-century Rocca Viscontea is occasionally open and offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
#5 See Ravenna’s mosaics, unrivalled both in beauty and preservation
Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna holds the finest of Ravenna’s mosaics, which are now gathered together into one big complex, including the mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the National Museum.
San Vitale, which was begun in 525 under Theodoric and finished in 548 under the Byzantine ruler Justinian, remains unique for an Italian building.
Created to an Eastern-inspired arrangement of void and solid and dark and light, the design was the basis for the great church of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, built fifteen years later.
The series of mosaics in the basilica starts with Old Testament scenes spread across the semicircular lunettes of the choir; the triumphal arch shows Christ, the Apostles and sons of St Vitalis.
Of the mosaics on the side walls of the apse, the two processional panels are the best-surviving portraits of the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora – he’s on the left and she’s on the right – and a rich example of Byzantine mosaic technique.
#6 Head to Brisighella for its truffle, polenta and olive festivals
South of Faenza, the mediaeval village of Brisighella, halfway up a hillside, is a food lover's delight. Famed both for its restaurants (visited by people from as far afield as Milan) and its festivals of gastronomy throughout the year, including the Sagra della Polenta (Oct), del Tartufo (truffle) and dell’Ulivo (both in Nov).
#7 Head to Rimini for the hottest, loudest and wildest nightlife in Italy
Rimini’s nightlife is mainly concentrated on the seafront and in the fashionable enclave of Misano Monte, 15 km south of Rimini and about 5 km inland.
Clubbing is a seasonal activity in Rimini, with full-on nightlife in summer, and few places open in winter. Even on a balmy July evening, things tend to start late with crowds cruising the bars from about 11pm onwards before heading off to the first club at around 1am.
#8 Seek out the spectacular ancient town of San Leo
Clamped to the summit of a dizzying precipice, the beautiful fortress of San Leo has only been part of Emilia-Romagna since 2006 when the town and five others voted in a referendum to leave Le Marche and join its northern neighbour.
Generations have admired the fortress – Machiavelli praised it, Dante modelled the terrain of his Purgatory on it, and Pietro Bembo considered it Italy’s “most beautiful implement of war”.
#9 Explore the glorious past of charming Ferrara
Thirty minutes’ train ride north of Bologna, Ferrara was the residence of the Este dukes, an eccentric dynasty that ranked as a major political force throughout Renaissance times. The Este kept the main artists of the day in commissions and built a town which, despite a relatively small population, was – and still is – one of the most elegant urban creations of the period.
Today Ferrara is a vibrant, provincial town that, with its grand squares, restored medieval palaces and portico-lined streets, looks a bit like a mini Bologna. Ferrara’s main sights are clustered together in an area that’s easily explored on foot.
The castle is the main focus, but several other palaces and museums offer reminders of the town’s more glorious past. Ferrara’s market days are Monday and Friday, with most activity taking place on Piazza Travaglio. On the first weekend of the month (except Aug) a large antique market takes place between the Castello and the Duomo.
#10 Stroll around San Marino
Around 25km southwest of Rimini, San Marino is said to have been founded around 300 AD by a monk fleeing the persecution of Diocletian. It claims to be the world’s oldest constitutional republic and has been bumbling along ever since, outside the fierce battles and intrigues of mainstream Italian politics.
Culturally, it is essentially Italian – there’s no San Marinese language – but in legal, constitutional terms, it remains independent, electing its government, passing its own laws and maintaining an army of around a thousand.
It’s a good place just to stroll around; the walk up through town to the rocce, the battlemented castles along the highest three ridges, is worth the effort for the all-round views. Below, in Borgomaggiore, Giovanni Michelucci’s “fearless and controversial” church, built in the 1960s, has a roof that seems to cascade down in waves.
The cuisine of Emilia-Romagna
Emilia-Romagna, a culinary haven, is renowned for its opulent Italian fare. The region's fame rests on beloved delicacies: Parmesan cheese, egg pasta, Parma ham (prosciutto di Parma), and balsamic vinegar.
Balsamic vinegar, once a humble cottage industry, matures in wooden barrels for over twelve years, evolving from distilled wine. Bologna, celebrated as Italy's gastronomic capital, crafts lasagne, ricotta-stuffed tortellini, and fresh pastas adorned with ragù, cream sauces, or butter and Parmesan.
Modena and Parma excel in bollito misto, a melange of boiled meats, and Modena boasts zampone, a stuffed pig's trotter. Emilia's waters yield a remarkable seafood harvest, rivaling even Sicily's. Wines reflect the landscapes and people – distinctive.
Lambrusco, synonymous with Emilia, reveals its vibrancy in DOC zones near Modena and Reggio Emilia. Trebbianino Val Trebbia and Monterosso Val D'Arda are whites worth savoring, while Malvasia complements local ham.
Romagna's wines, like Albana and Sangiovese, offer body over exuberance. Sweeter Albana conjures peachy and toasted almond notes. Robust Sangiovese hails from Imola and Rimini's hills, while Cagnina di Romagna's lighter profile bestows youthful pleasure.
Emilia-Romagna's culinary legacy, embedded in each dish and glass, beckons discerning palates to explore its diverse offerings.
Best places to stay in Emilia-Romagna
Note that depending on the type of accommodation, many cities in the region will charge a tourist tax of €1.50–5/person/night. Here are the best places to stay in Emilia-Romagna.
Bologna’s accommodation mostly caters for business travellers with only a few inexpensive hotels. During the trade-fair peak (March to early May & Sept–Dec) prices can more than double.
Modena makes a relaxing place to stay for a night or two. The few reasonably priced hotels in the centre fill up quickly, so you’ll need to book ahead.
Despite its 1300 hotels, finding accommodation can be a problem in Rimini, and in summer especially you may have to take the expensive option of full board. Out of season, those few hotels that remain open are mainly geared to business travellers or school groups.
Explore the variety of options to stay in Emilia-Romagna.
How to get around
It's easy to navigate through Emilia-Romagna. From well-connected train networks that link major cities to local buses that venture into the heart of charming villages, Emilia-Romagna ensures seamless travel. Car rentals offer the freedom to explore at your own pace, while bicycles provide an eco-friendly means to savor the surroundings.
Emilia-Romagna has an extensive train network operated by Trenitalia and the regional train service, Emilia-Romagna Railway (Ferrovie Emilia-Romagna - FER). Trains connect most major cities, including Bologna, Modena, Parma and Ravenna. The train system is efficient and affordable.
Local and regional buses are available in all towns and cities within Emilia-Romagna. They connect smaller towns and areas that might not be easily accessible by train. Buses can be a good option for exploring the countryside and more remote locations.
Renting a car is an excellent way to have the freedom to explore Emilia-Romagna at your own pace. However, you should avoid taking a car into some cities like Bologna, where possible. Many have traffic restrictions the historic city centres can be shut off to cars.
How many days do you need in Emilia-Romagna?
You will need 5 days to a week to explore Emilia-Romagna. Begin in Bologna, the region's cultural and culinary capital. Delight in leisurely strolls through its historic streets, marvel at the towers and stuff your face with traditional Italian cuisine.
Dedicate a day to wander through the ancient city of Ravenna, renowned for its mesmerizing Byzantine mosaics. Visit its UNESCO-listed monuments, including the Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
Allow time to indulge in the gastronomic delights of Parma and Modena. Savour the world-famous Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Parma ham, and balsamic vinegar in the picturesque countryside.
Uncover the charms of Ferrara, a city adorned with Renaissance architecture and enchanting gardens. Explore the majestic Estense Castle and the UNESCO-listed Ferrara Cathedral.
Allocate a couple of days to explore the picturesque countryside of Emilia-Romagna. Discover quaint villages like Brisighella and Comacchio, and embrace the scenic beauty of the Po Delta Regional Park. If you want a seaside break, extend your stay to include the coastal town of Rimini.
What is the best time to visit Emilia-Romagna?
Emilia-Romagna has a mild climate, but there are distinct seasons that offer different attractions and activities.
Spring (March to May) is a fantastic time to visit Emilia-Romagna. The weather starts to warm up, and the landscapes come alive with colourful blossoms and fresh greenery. It’s perfect for exploring the cities and countryside, visiting gardens, and enjoying outdoor activities without the intense summer heat. It's also an excellent time for foodies as local produce is abundant, and outdoor food markets and festivals are common.
Summer June to August) is peak tourist season in Emilia-Romagna. The weather is hot and sunny, but the most popular tourist spots are crowded. Try visiting in autumn (September to November) instead, especially as there are plenty of harvest festivals taking place for foodies.
Find out more about the best time to visit Italy.
How to get here
From international airports and convenient train services to scenic road routes that make for a journey as rewarding as the destination. There are multiple ways of getting to Emilia-Romagna. These are the best.
Two main airports that serve Emilia-Romagna: Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport, near Bologna, and Rimini Federico Fellini Airport, on the Adriatic Coast near Rimini.
Emilia-Romagna has a well-connected railway network that links all major cities and towns within the region and across Italy.
Bologna Centrale is the region’s main railway station and a significant transportation hub, offering connections to major Italian cities and international destinations.
Italy's high-speed Frecciarossa network offers fast connections to Bologna from major cities like Rome, Milan, Florence, and Venice.