Emilia Romagna is a region in Italy located between Florence and Milan. Emilia Romagna is a diverse region boasting beautiful sandy beaches on its Adriatic coast, historic cities like Bologna, Parma, Ravenna and Modena, agricultural plains and forest-covered mountains. Add to that a delectable array of food and wines, a state-of-the-art automotive industry (think Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati), picturesque villages and towns, stunning nature trails and festivals (some of which can trace its origins to medieval times) and you have a destination that’s perfect for any type of traveller. It’s one of my favourite regions in Europe (for the obvious reasons! Hehe 😉 ) and I’ve been there numerous times in the past few years. If you’re planning a holiday there, here are my suggestions of things you must do in Emilia Romagna:
Map of Emilia Romagna
Things you must do in Emilia Romagna
One note before I present my list of suggestions to you: you’ll very quickly discover the rich culinary heritage in Emilia Romagna so make sure you’re hungry upon arrival! The following list combines activities which will help you burn off those calories, as well as add a few more! Here we go:
1. Stroll under the porticoes of Bologna
Built from the late-Middle Ages onwards, these porticoes are synonymous with Bologna, offering shelter for pedestrians on the ground level and additional housing space on the upper levels. Wherever you go in Bologna, it’s a treat to walk under these elegant arches. Some of the best examples can be found along Via Marsala (especially the historic porticoes at Palazzo Grassi), Strada Maggiore (Isolani House) and Via Farini (the examples around Piazza Cavour feature striking frescoes on the ceilings).
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2. Visit the Parma Cathedral
The Cathedral of Parma is one of the finest Romanesque Cathedrals in Italy. Its nave, with its impressive columns and frescoes, is absolutely breathtaking, but it’s the Cathedral dome fresco that will leave you quite literally breathless as you look up! Painted by Correggio, the fresco depicts the assumption of the Virgin and is considered a fine example of Renaissance art. This awe-inspiring cathedral is a must-visit!
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3. Join a fun cooking course
Emilia Romagna is a culinary paradise (as you’ll soon discover)! So, it’s the perfect place to brush up on your Italian cooking skills. One cooking course I can recommend is Le Sfogline in Bologna (7B Via Belvedere; tel.: 051 22 05 58), opposite the Mercato delle Erbe (market), where Renata and her two daughters will teach you the finer points of making fresh pasta.
Search for cooking classes in Bologna.
4. Drool at gleaming cars and bikes
Emilia Romagna is home to the world-famous Motor Valley where automotive fans can visit the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati. Visit the Casa Enzo Ferrari Museum, with its stunning collection of cars, in Modena. If you can’t get enough, head for the Ferrari Museum in Maranello. Read more about my Ferrari Motor Valley tour. Book a full-day Ferrari tour in the Motor Valley. Read more about things to do in Modena.
Search for hotels in Modena (Booking.com).
Check out my Emilia Romagna road trip guide
5. Gawk at the mosaics in Ravenna
Ravenna, a historic town near the Adriatic coast, boasts no less than 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites! Don’t miss the awe-inspiring Basilica di San Vitale and the adjacent Mausoleo di Galla Placidia for its incredible mosaics! Read more about what to see in Ravenna.
6. Hit the beaches!
Emilia Romagna has a 90km coastline along the Adriatic Sea with sandy beaches and countless beach clubs (‘bagni’). The coastline, known as Riviera Romagnola, is dotted with numerous towns, the largest of which is Rimini. This popular seaside town has a long beach boulevard but it’s also worth visiting the historic Old Town with its atmospheric streets and terrific restaurants. You can also opt to spend a day at one of the many beach clubs and enjoy a delicious seafood meal for lunch or dinner.
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In August, you can join the fun at La Notte Rosa, the Pink Night festival, in Rimini! Everyone wears something pink, and food and cocktails are pink! At midnight, head for the beach and watch the spectacular fireworks show that lights up 110km of the sky above the coast!
Another popular beach town is Riccione, about 15 minutes south of Rimini. Head to the Viale Ceccarini, the pedestrianised main street, for some shopping or a drink.
Further up north, in Cesenatico, you’ll find long beaches as well as a port town that’s been around since Roman times! Its port-canal was designed by Leonardo da Vinci and the town houses an open-air museum with traditional boats of the Adriatic.
Also nearby, on the coastal part of Ravenna, you’ll find another glorious stretch of sand. Beach clubs to look out for include Singita Miracle Beach and Charlie Beach.
The trendiest beach town is arguably Milano Marittima. The young and beautiful come here for its beach clubs, discos and bars, the most famous of which is Papeete Beach, whose happy hour is pretty legendary.
7. Discover ancient Rimini
Most people go to Rimini for its beaches and beach clubs but look inland and you’ll find a fascinating old town with many historic treasures. Some of the best things to do in Rimini include visiting the Corso d’Augusto (the Arch of Augustus) which was built in 27 B.C., the Tempio Malatestiano (a 9th century temple), the Piazza Cavour (often a venue for open-air markets) and the Ponte di Tiberio or Tiberius Bridge (a 2000-year-old bridge across the canal).
One more tip: explore the colourful Borgo San Giuliano neighbourhood, just across the Ponte di Tiberio. This picturesque neighbourhood is packed with quaint alleys, colourful houses and beautiful street art (inspired by Fellini’s movies).
8. Discover liquid black gold
Modena is famous for its extraordinary balsamic vinegar. Traditional balsamico di Modena is very expensive (prices start at EUR 45 for a 100ml bottle) due, amongst others, to the time it takes to produce it – the minimum aging period is 12 years. In the past, families in the region would celebrate the birth of a baby by setting aside a barrel to age, which would then be used as a dowry. At today’s prices, a barrel of traditional balsamico di Modena would be more than sufficient to cover a child’s education right through university! Don’t miss a visit to a balsamico producer such as Acetaia Paltrinieri.
Check out this 7-day Emilia Romagna Gourmet tour
9. Be amazed by the King of Cheeses
Parmigiano Reggiano is often heralded as the ‘King of Cheeses’. Visit one of the Parmigiano Reggiano producers to see how this cheese is made and stored. One producer I visited was 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia near Modena, one of the most prominent producers of Parmigiano Reggiano in the region. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and you can follow each step of the production process – the highlight of which is the massive storage facility! I recommend visiting in the mornings when the cheese-makers are at work. The tour concludes with a fabulous cheese-tasting of course! Book a full-day Modena food and Ferrari tour from Bologna.
10. Admire the murals of Dozza
Dozza is a little hilltop town near Bologna. The village is best known for its annual Wine Festival and its Biennial Exhibition of the Painted Wall (Muro Dipinto) in September, when artists from Italy and around the world are invited to decorate the village’s walls with colourful murals, in effect transforming the village into an open-air museum. It truly is an enchanting experience to stroll around to admire the murals of Dozza, each in a different style and colour scheme.
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11. Watch a classic movie under the stars
If you’re a fan of classic American and Italian movies, check out the Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna. It takes place every summer in Piazza Maggiore, the city’s most famous square, and it’s free. Grab a seat and enjoy a classic movie with the locals!
12. Catch a performance in the theater where Pavarotti made his stage debut
It’s arguably one of the most stunning theaters I’ve ever seen: the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia. It’s a treat to watch a performance there or simply join a tour of the theater.
Search for hotels in Reggio Emilia (Booking.com).
13. Stroll along canals designed by Leonardo da Vinci!
The ancient port town of Cesenatico has canals which were designed by Leonardo da Vinci! The town is also home to a fascinating Maritime Museum as well as colourful sailboats in the harbour. The nearby beaches are a popular summer destination for locals.
Search for hotels in Cesenatico (Booking.com).
14. Stroll around ‘Little Venice’
Comacchio, a little town in the northeast is also known as the ‘Little Venice’ of Emilia-Romagna. Built on 13 islands on the edge of a lagoon, dissected by canals and connected by bridges, Comacchio lacks the grandeur of Venice but certainly makes up for it with its charm. This fishing village can trace its roots back 2,000 years and is filled with rows of brightly-coloured houses interspersed with stately buildings such as the Palazzo Bellini. One of the best things to do in Comacchio is to simply stroll around its historic centre and enjoy its colourful houses, their reflections in the serene waters of the canals and the beautiful bridges.
15. Climb to the clock tower of Brisighella
Brisighella is a beautiful village in the hills of eastern Emilia-Romagna, overlooked by an impressive 14th century castle and a hilltop clock tower. An unforgettable experience in Brisighella is to climb the hill to the clock tower for spectacular views of the village, the castle and the surrounding hills. Read more about things to do in Brisighella.
16. Visit San Marino
Technically, San Marino isn’t a part of Emilia Romagna – it’s a sovereign country, in fact the world’s oldest republic and one of the smallest countries in the world. Many people visit San Marino as a day trip from Rimini and to collect a unique passport stamp (don’t forget to bring your passport!) but this little country has lots to offer such as a fascinating history, fabulous food, spectacular panoramas and gorgeous nature walks. Read about my trip to San Marino.
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There you have it – things you must do in Emilia Romagna! Have fun and buon appetito! 😉 For more ideas, check out the (free) Unique Experiences in Emilia-Romagna eMagazine.
How to get to Emilia Romagna
Bologna has an international airport with frequent daily flights to major cities in Europe, Dubai and Istanbul. There are also seasonal flights from the USA. Bologna is also one of the most important rail hubs in Italy, with high-speed connections to Milan, Florence, Venice and Rome. The best way to get around Emilia Romagna is by train. Alternatively, I recommend hiring a car to explore this beautiful region at your own pace. You can cover the places and experiences mentioned above on this Emilia Romagna road trip itinerary.
Accommodation and tours in Emilia Romagna