Emilia Romagna is a region in the north of Italy, which is famous for its medieval castles, historical cities, rich gastronomy and beautiful seaside resorts.
During one of our road trips in Italy, we spent a week exploring beautiful towns and cities in Emilia Romagna.
Not many international tourists are familiar with Emilia Romagna as a destination but I am sure many people are in love with its food products such as Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) and balsamic vinegar. This region is also home to some of the most luxurious car brands such as Maserati, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. Here is where you can have an unforgettable Italian road trip while enjoying the landscapes, architecture and some of the best food in Italy.
Here are the top places to visit and the best things to do in Emilia Romagna in Italy. You can easily take a day trip from Bologna to any of these destinations.
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Bologna, the capital of Emilia Romagna, is probably the most famous city in this region. This city with its international airport and the well-connected train station is easily accessible from many Italian and European cities.
Bologna is also a convenient stop for those who are travelling by car between the north and the south of the country or the west and the east since there are different types of accommodations such as hotels and Airbnbs in the city. You can make it your base and take a day trip to other places in Emilia Romagna.
While in Bologna why not try Tagliatelle Al Ragù and Lasagna Bolognese since the famous Italian Bolognese sauce is typically from this city. Many people might consider Bologna as a foodie destination. I get why but Bologna has more to offer. It is home to the world’s oldest university and amazing medieval buildings.
Strolling around the city centre and climbing the Torre Asinelli (Asinelli Tower) are the best things to do in Bologna. The two towers of Garisenda and Degli Asinelli are known as the symbol of the city, but only Asinelli Tower is open to the public.
Ferrara is a charming small historical town, only a 40-minute drive from Bologna. Ferrara was the first stop of our road trip as we were driving from Slovenia to Emilia Romagna. We spent a night in this delightful town and if we had more time we would have stayed longer.
Ferrara with its Po River Delta has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since it has played an important role in the Italian culture and history. This city became an artistic and cultural hub during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Ferrara has what everyone wants from Italy: sun, culture and good food. It can be your base from where to explore the other parts of the region as it has good rail links to the other major cities in Emilia Romagna such as Bologna and Ravenna, on top of that it is only 5km from the east coast of Italy.
There are various types of accommodation not far from the centre. We stayed in Hotel Carlton, which also offers secure parking charged daily, and it is walking distance from the centre. If you want to be in the centre close to the Castle Estense you can book Hotel Annunziata, which offers parking with an extra charge as well. But if you travel with public transport and you don’t need parking, you can book Hotel Torre Della Vittoria 1928 in the centre.
About 80km from Bologna lies the city of Ravenna, an excellent destination for art and history lovers. This city is famous for its colourful mosaics and it is home to eight UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. This city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until September 476, when the Empire collapsed.
Visiting Ravenna wasn't originally in our plan, but since we were staying in Forlì, just a 30-minutes drive away, I decided to check it out. I am delighted with my decision, but I wish I had more time to enjoy the beauty of every corner of this charming city.
Ravenna offers what everyone expects from Italy: delicious food, sun, sea, culture and history. Marina di Ravenna, the oldest tourist seaside resort on the Ravenna coast, is only 15km away from Ravenna’s town centre.
To get to Ravenna you can fly to Forlì, or you can take a train from Bologna and Rimini. Driving to Ravenna can be an option, but keep in mind that you can’t drive to the town centre as it is part of the Limited Traffic Zone. You can park outside and take a local bus to the centre.
The medieval village of Brisighella is one of the most beautiful places in Italy which lies at the slopes of the Tosco-Romagna Apennines. If you have never heard of this village, don’t worry you are not alone. Brisighella is one of the hidden gems in Italy. This means you can enjoy strolling around without being surrounded by crowds of tourists.
I should admit that we didn’t know much about this charming village until it was suggested to us by locals. Driving to the village is also enjoyable as you will pass through beautiful vineyards.
While in the village, you can walk in the centre and take photos of colourful houses and visit the church of Saint Michael and John the Baptist. You can also walk to the three iconic hilltop structures of Rocca Manfrediana fortress, La Torre (the clock tower) and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Monticino.
The location of Brisighella, between Ravenna, Bologna and Florence, makes it a great place for a day trip, where you can relax and enjoy the good food and wine. If you decide to stay longer you might want to consider taking a walking or cycling tour around the area and go for wine and olive oil tasting.
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The beautiful medieval town of Imola lies about 40 kilometres south-west of Bologna. Travelling from Bologna, the train takes less than 25 minutes and the car for about 40 minutes.
The town centre is a delight to wander through with sandstone buildings, ochre house and long colonnades to stroll through and an abundance of coffee shops where you can and watch the world go by.
Everything is within walking distance of the town centre. Visit Palazzo Tozzoni for an insight as to how an 18th Century noble family lived. The 18th century Farmacia dell’ Ospedale (chemist) retains all the old panelling, painted frescos, around 450 majolica jars and the ornate cash register take you back to a bygone age. The City Art Gallery is housed in the 14th Century ex-convent of San Domnic and features artefacts, ceramics and painting from the area.
Standing near the middle of Imola is the impressive Rocca Sforzesca. Dating from the 13th Century, the fortress is now a museum and displays weapons, ceramics and art from the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The museum is only open at the weekends.
On Saturdays, the local market takes over Piazza G. Matteotti with stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, clothing and household items.
The main attraction in Imola for many people is the motor racing track - Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. Formula One, Superbikes and World Touring Cars are amongst the many races that take place here. It is also where the great Aryton Senna lost his life and there is a memorial to him in Parco Acque Minerali close to the track.
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Dozza is perhaps the most beautiful village in Emilia Romagna (and perhaps Italy if I dare say that). Now, that’s a tall claim considering how beautiful the villages in Emilia Romagna are. It is a very special place because it not only offers the quaint Italian rural feel with its windows narrow streets, but it comes with a big dose of art. Street art specifically.
Every two years the outer walls of the houses are prepared as blank canvases and artists from around the world come to cover them up with whatever they fancy. The entire village is an art gallery.
The entrance to the village is through a gate which leads through the streets to the castle on the other end of the town. There are some great restaurants and even hotels here where you can enjoy a tasty local meal with amazing wine with tiramisu to finish off.
To get here, take bus 101 from Bologna, driving here is also easy and straight forward. It is a beautiful spot and definitely worth a visit if you’re in Emilia Romagna. You can do it as a day trip or stay in one of the hotels available in the village.
Rimini with its ancient Roman and Renaissance monuments is mostly known for its 15km long stretch of sandy beach and nightclubs. For some, this might be a great holiday destination to relax and get a tan, or for partying, while others might consider it a place to avoid.
In fact, Rimini can get very busy during the summer especially in August as it is one of the most popular destinations amongst locals and international visitors.
During our trip to Emilia Romagna, we had a short stop in Rimini as it was on our way to other cities. We didn’t make a stop at the beach as we don’t enjoy jam-packed beaches, so we went to the city centre instead. We walked through Arco d’Augusto which was built as part of the Flaminia defences in 27BC and strolled around the historic town centre. You must visit Tiberio Bridge when you are in Rimini. This 2000-year-old bridge with its 5 arches is standing strong over the canal. Let’s not forget to mention that Rimini is also the birthplace of Federico Fellini, a famous Italian film director.
By driving only 20 minutes from Rimini towards the north, you will find yourself in the picturesque port town of Cesenatico. This old Italian fishing village is a great place for a day trip.
The harbour was originally built in 1302, and, in 1502, Leonardo da Vinci designed the Canal Harbour, where colourful boats are sailing around. A section of the canal is dedicated to the Maritime Museum (Museo Della Marineria). You can visit this open-air floating museum at any time of the year. There are eight ancient sailboats of different sizes, but only two of them are accessible.
Strolling around the town by itself is delightful as you will see houses in pastel colours, cute cafes, restaurants and small Italian fashion boutiques. When walking around watch out for cyclists. Locals and tourists love cycling in this town.
I recommend you to avoid visiting Cesenatico during the summer holidays, especially in August, as it gets very crowded. This town is also known for its 7km long stretch of beach.
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Piacenza is located near the River Po, on the North-West edge of Emilia-Romagna. From Milan, Piacenza is just a 53 minutes train ride away, as from Bologna is almost two hours. However, infrastructurally Piacenza is in a perfect location, it still remains hidden for the public. The town of Piacenza looks back to 1000 years of history, which makes it an amazing, but it is still unknown destination!
Once you travel through the region, stop by to discover the beautiful historic centre of Piacenza, with all its colourful streets and beautiful piazzas. You can add to your list the Piazza Cavalli, where you’ll find the most famous landmark of the town, the Palazzo Gotico.
Piacenza has some of the oldest, most important Romanesque churches in the region, such as the Duomo di Piacenza, the St Antoninus basilica, and the church of San Francesco. While in the town, don’t miss the Palazzo Farnese, an immense palace that’s home of a museum and many art collections.
Piacenza is a real highlight when it comes to amazing Emilian food. Make sure you’ll try the Salame Piacentini and Pancetta Piacentina! Don’t miss to visit a local osteria in the town to try some local dishes such as the Panzerotto al Forno!
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Modena is the home of fast cars, fine food and some of the most famous Italians - including Luciano Pavarotti and Enzo Ferrari. The charming city of Modena is an easy day trip from Bologna by train, but also well worth a few nights’ stay by itself too.
Supercar brands Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati all come from Modena, and they are all still designed and built there too. In fact, visiting a production line or a factory is one of the best things to do in Emilia Romagna, with Lamborghini’s factory being the most accessible. There are also several car museums and iconic car collections to visit in Modena, including the excellent Enzo Ferrari Museum which is highly recommended.
Away from cars, Modena is renowned for its food. In fact, it is home to Osteria Francescana, which is Michelin-starred chef Massima Bottura’s world-class restaurant, which regularly tops tables as the no.1 restaurant in the world. Modena is also the home of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, and you should visit one of the many family-run production cellars to learn how the sweet vinegar is made. In the heart of the city centre, you can pick up some Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, as well as other fine food produce at the awesome Mercato Albinelli food market. Make sure to also visit the rest of the picturesque heart of Modena, including the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Piazza Grande.
Modena is just 50km from Bologna and there is a quick 32-minute train costing approximately €4 in each direction.
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It might not come in your mind Parma while planning a trip to Emilia Romagna. This city is completely out of the map of travellers, often overshadowed by the closest Bologna. However, Parma has been named as Culture Capital of Italy in 2020, thanks to the incredible artistic heritage, history and architecture.
Parma is a typical Italian tiny town, with a stream passing in the middle, and amazing Ducal House all surrounded by vineyard and green hills.
Definitely, visiting Parma will take you back in time, the crazy awesome main shopping area is a maze of little shops and traditional food stores. If you are an avid traveller, looking for the traditional Italian towns to enjoy slow little pleasure moments, Parma is the right place for you.
It’s easy to fell in love with Parma, visiting the “La Pilotta” a Ducal Royal Complex, which includes the “Teatro Farnese”, the National Gallery of Parma, a library and also the Archeological National Museum.
The Teatro Farnese, is the Ducal Theatre, with incredible wood carvings and unique features. This welcomes 1500 guests for unique performances, most of that dedicated to Giuseppe Verdi.
It’s easy to reach the city from everywhere thanks to the local airport, but you can travel to Parma, also from Florence in just half an hour with the high-speed train, or from Milan in about an hour. If you are planning to visit Parma, our suggestion is to book accommodation near the city centre, but the hills around are amazing too. Check out a local agriturismo, which will give you a beautiful view over the vineyard and why not a Parmesan Production Tour.
Castello di Torrechiara
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In the western part of the region, you can immerse yourself in the tranquillity and colours of a hilly landscape dotted with olive groves, vineyards, and ancient fortresses. Although the description reminds us of Tuscany, this is "Emilia".
The Duchy of Parma and Piacenza stretched between the cities of Parma, Piacenza, and Pontremoli between the 16th and 19th centuries. The legacy of the ancient noble families is handed down through dozens of excellently preserved castles open to the public as museums.
One of these is the Castle of Torrechiara, 18 km away from Parma. The castle was the set of the famous romantic movie Ladyhawke, but it is said that it was also the kingdom of the love between owners Pier Maria Rossi and Bianca Pellegrini, who built it in the second half of the 15th Century.
It is possible to visit the interior of the castle and admire the frescoes covering most of the rooms. The highlight of the visit is the view from the terraces on the hills of the surrounding lush countryside.
This place invites you to relax, breathe more deeply, the dream life of slower rhythms. Outside the Castle of Torrechiara, there are a few stores selling handicraft and local products. The rest is green valleys stores and green valleys. To enjoy a proper meal and for accommodation, head to the nearby Parma, or to the small Sala Baganza, which is one of Italy's hidden gems. The entrance to the castle costs €5.
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The delightful town of Reggio Emilia located halfway between its larger and more famous neighbours of Parma and Modena should by no means be overlooked during your visit to the fabulous Emilia Romagna region.
Easily accessible via the E35 highway running through the heart of the region Reggio Emilia is a town where it is possible to celebrate all the good things in life. Of course the fabulous natural products and gastronomy of the region but also art, the theatre and general wellbeing hard to find elsewhere.
Reggio Emilia is perhaps most widely known as the home of Italy’s famous tricolour flag. Adopted here for the first time in 1797 Reggio is also referred to as ‘Tricolour town’. This is celebrated in the Tricolour Hall and museum close to the town’s stunning and grand Piazza Camillo Prampolini. This is also the ideal place to enjoy a glass of local wine and light bite, especially after an evening stroll through the surrounding narrow streets enjoying 17th-century architecture such as the Basilica Della Ghiara.
Avoid the hotter summer months and instead, visit in the colour rich seasons of Spring and Autumns for the best cuisine and an array of events to keep even the most restless fulfilled.
The Republic of San Marino is not part of Emilia Romagna nor part of Italy. It is a different country, which happened to be surrounded by this Italian region. While you are in Emilia Romagna why not take a day trip to the world’s fifth smallest country?
This country with a population of 33,785 (2018) within 61 square kilometres (23.6 square miles) hosts more than three million tourists every year. The economy is deeply reliant on tourism.
It is highly recommended to stay overnight to be able to explore the ancient parts of the country without the crowds, but if you can’t, go early in the morning before the daytrippers or stay a bit longer after most tourists leave.
Driving is the best way to get here, there are various parking lots available. Even though San Marino is not part of the EU nor Schengen area, there is no border control and Euros is the main currency in use. Italian is the commonly spoken language here.
Strolling around the old town of San Marino, the capital city, is by itself enjoyable, but try to visit the three historical towers and the parliament. Let’s not forget this is the oldest surviving republic in the world.