Modena is an ancient town in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy (map), smack in between its more famous sisters Bologna and Parma (both less than an hour away). The town lies in the heart of what is known as Italy’s Motor Valley, the home of famous automotive brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati. Modena is also famous for its balsamic vinegar and as the hometown of Luciano Pavarotti. Despite its small size, there are many things to do in Modena, from visiting the museums and factories of auto brands like Ferrari to indulging in culinary treats and wines.
On a recent flight to Bologna (just south of Modena), I had a panoramic view of Modena from the plane window. As the plane entered its final approach into Bologna, it flew right past the historic town centre of Modena. In the photo below, you’ll be able to see the Ghirlandina bell-tower (in the centre of the photo) adjacent to the Modena Duomo (Cathedral) and the Piazza Grande, all of which are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Things to do in Modena
Most tourists visit Modena (map) on a day trip but there’s enough to see and do in and around the town to warrant a longer stay. Here’s my suggested itinerary for a two-day visit:
Day 1 – full day Ferrari tour
After arriving in Modena, spend the rest of the day visiting the Enzo Ferrari Museum and the Ferrari Museum in Maranello. The Enzo Ferrari Museum, my favourite of the two, showcases the life and work of Enzo Ferrari and under its striking yellow roof, houses some of the most beautiful cars I’ve ever seen.
The Ferrari Museum in Maranello is situated about 20km away. A shuttle bus runs between the two museums every 90 minutes. This museum highlights the history of Ferrari through its cars. There are various interactive exhibits like sitting in the simulator of a Formula One racecar cockpit, and visitors can also go on a bus tour of the Ferrari factory.
You can purchase a single ticket for both museums as well as a ticket for the shuttle bus here. If you don’t have more time to spend in Modena, you can opt for a day trip (bookable via GetYourGuide):
- full-day food and wine tour + Ferrari Museum Maranello from Bologna
- if you’re only interested in cars, join this tour of the Motor Valley from Bologna. The tour includes visits to the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, the Lamborghini Museum and the Pagani Museum. You can also join this tour from Florence.
- for the ultimate Ferrari experience, book this full-day tour from Bologna, which includes visits to both Ferarri museums, a test drive and a F1 simulator session.
- full-day food and Ferrari tour from Florence.
Day 1 – evening
Return to Modena for an overnight stay. In the evening, join locals for a bite and a drink at one of the cafés in Via del Taglio such as Bottega 39, Juta or Stile Libero. For a great meal, I recommend Franceschetta58 (also great for lunch), the little sister of Osteria Francescana (3 Michelin stars), one of the best restaurants in the world. Another Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant I can recommend is Ristorante l’Erba del Re.
If you’re looking for a less glamorous but superb meal, book a table at Hosteria Giusti, or drop by at Osteria Ermes Modena or Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro for some fabulous home-cooked food.
Day 2 – morning
Start the morning discovering the culinary treasures of Modena! Visit a nearby cheese factory where Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese) is produced and be awed by the ‘cheese library’! Continue with a tour of a farmhouse where balsamic vinegar is produced. This ‘aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena’ is worlds apart from the stuff found on supermarket shelves, and a single drop of this liquid black gold is sufficient to make you swoon! End the morning with a visit to a Lambrusco winery where you’ll learn more about this (totally underrated and misconceived) sparkling wine.
This foodie tour (via GetYourGuide) combines all the visits and tastings described above.
Alternatively, you could join a tour that includes shopping at a market, a cooking course with a local as well as a four-course meal.
Day 2 – afternoon
After a morning of foodie discoveries, treat yourself to lunch in the historic centre of Modena. I suggest Bar Schiavoni for delicious focaccia sandwiches or Trattoria Aldina for a terrific home-cooked meal.
After lunch, go on a stroll around the charming streets. Don’t miss a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Piazza Grande with its Ghirlandina bell-tower and the 12th century Romanesque Cathedral. It’s possible to climb the tower for a panoramic view of Modena. Another great thing to do in Modena is visit Mercato Albinelli, a fantastic food market!
Should you wish to delve into the rich history of Modena, visit the Baroque-style Ducal Palace, the former residence of the Este Dukes of Modena, or the Galleria Estense that houses the art collection of the d’Este family who ruled the region between the 13th and 18th centuries. There’s also a museum dedicated to one of the city’s most famous sons, Luciano Pavarotti: Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti.
If you’re visiting areas in northern Italy like Milan, Venice or Tuscany, I highly recommend including the region of Emilia-Romagna in your itinerary. With its historic towns like Bologna, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma and Ravenna, its automotive attractions and culinary treats, this region is simply amazing!
How to get to Modena
Modena is easily accessible by train from Bologna, Milan and Parma, amongst others. Visit TrenItalia for schedules. From Bologna or Parma, Modena is less than an hour’s drive. If you plan to explore the region of Emilia-Romagna, I suggest hiring a car.