Ferrara is a fantastic tourist destination located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. With great links to Bologna, Venice and Ravenna, plus sitting only 50km from the coast, Ferrara is a wonderful base from which to explore this part of Italy. As the capital of the Province of Ferrara, the city has a population of 133,000 and has a strong industrial sector that contributes a great deal to the regions economy.
Ferrara has played an important role in the history of the country and it has a strong association with the House of Este who had major influence in Italy during the 1400’s onwards. Records of a settlement in Ferrara date back to 753 AD, and in recent history, the city became part of the unified Kingdom of Italy.
As a tourist destination, Ferrara benefits from strong rail links to the other major cities in Emilia-Romagna region and also has a plethora of fantastic sites. Due to its importance and links to the Este family, Ferrara features a myriad of beautiful historical buildings such as the Palazzo dei Diamanti, and also a host of superb public spaces such as the Parco Massari. Additionally, the River Po opens up many possibilities and allows for the wider region to be explored.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Ferrara:
1. Castle Estense
Also known as the Castle of Saint Michael, this beautiful structure has stood since medieval times and is truly picture perfect.
Located in the centre of the historic old town, Castle Estense is surrounded entirely by a moat and sits on its own island.
The architecture of this complex is remarkable and the four guard towers sit perfectly in the water.
Built in the 14th century, this castle has stood as a symbold of power for Ferrara for hundreds of years.
Today you can admire the beautiful exterior and walk around the moat, but it is also possible to enter inside the castle.
Within the impressive walls of the castle you can find a series of richly decorated rooms such as the Chamber of Dawn, the Ducal Chapel and the Dungeons.
2. Cathedral of Saint George
More commonly known as Ferrara Cathedral, this stunning structure is renowned for its beautiful architecture and interior design.
You can find this admirable building in the heart of the UNESCO designated historic centre of Ferrara and the square that it resides in contains several interesting buildings.
The front facade of the Cathedral has a combination of Romanesque and Renaissance styles and features a series of ornate arches and decoration.
Inside the church, the decoration is simply magnificent and it rivals some of the more well-known religious buildings in Italy.
The ceiling, walls and domes are covered with opulent artwork, religious reliefs, and frescos by various Renaissance artists.
3. Museo della Cattedrale
Although connected to the Cathedral of Saint George, the Cathedral Museum is a fantastic attraction in its own right and should definitely be given a visit.
This insightful museum provides a fascinating look at the history of both the Cathedral and the other religious buildings in Ferrara, plus a look at how this city prospered during the Renaissance.
Here you can find a range of beautiful religious artwork, artefacts and relics including organ pieces, service books and altar crucifixes.
In the centre of the museum is a gorgeous courtyard that features a series of ornate arches and an old well.
4. Museo Archeologico Nazionale
Located within the confines of an old palace, the National Archaeological Museum is a wondrous building that features a beautiful landscaped garden at its rear.
You can find this interesting place in the southern part of the historic town centre on Via XX Settembre.
The first notable feature of this museum is its range of amazing frescos and the architecture contained within the building – it retains a great deal of its original fixtures and design and is a fantastic structure in its own right.
Aside from this, the museum also contains a myriad of archaeological finds, mainly from the close bye ancient site of Spina.
Items included vases, pottery, gold and silver ornaments and even two old sailing boats.
5. Palazzo dei Diamanti Art Gallery
You will not see an exterior of a building quite like this – hundreds and thousands of faceted marble blocks line the front facade of the Palazzo dei Diamanti creating a truly impressive site.
You can find this remarkable structure next to Parco Massari and it is advisable to combine a visit to these two place together.
Inside the building, there is a wonderful art gallery that contains works from between the 13th and 17th centuries mainly from notable artists local to the region.
6. Ferrara City Walls
Ferrara was once surrounded by impressive brick and stone walls the encircled the whole city – like many Renaissance defensive walls, this structure had a star configuration with several pointed intersections.
Today much of the ancient city walls still stand and this defensive network is considered to be one of the best preserved in Europe.
Notable sections of the city wall include the southern side of the city along Via Quartieri, and the western part of the city along Via Gramicia.
A well maintained footpath travels practically all the way around the city walls and if you wished, you could walk its whole length stretching for some 8-10km.
7. Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza
Throughout WW2 (and indeed throughout history) resitance movements have been created to oppose regimes and their governments.
During WW2 in Italy there was numerous resistance groups created to oppose the Fascist regime of Mussolini.
The Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza pays homage to the local resistance group in Ferrara and their exploits, plus the actions of the regime during this troubled period.
Within the museum you can find a range of exhibits and displays detailing the history of the resistance, plus many artefacts and finds from this era.
For anyone who is interested in WW2 and 1940’s Italy, this is a fascinating place to visit.
8. Parco Massari
Ferrara has a wonderful historic town centre, but it also has its share of beautiful public parks and natural landscapes to explore.
Parco Masari can be found in the northern part of the town in close proximity to the Chiesa di San Cristoforo alla Certosa.
This is the place that locals often come to relax or bring their children on a sunny day, but it is also a great place for tourists too.
Within the grounds of this park are a number of footpaths which are shaded by large and old trees, but also a water fountain and a children’s playground.
Furthermore, the Palazzo Massari sits at the bottom end of the park, and the Chiesa di San Christoforo is within walking distance.
9. Ferrara Botanical Gardens
Many universities operate and maintain a Botanical Garden for both research and study, and for tourism, and the Ferrara Botanical Garden is one such place.
Located oposite the Palazzo dei Diamanti and the Parco Massari, the gardens are beautifully maintained by the university employees and are a great place to explore.
Within the grounds of the gardens are housed over 1300 greenhouses species, and 700 outdoor species of various plants, trees and flora.
Split into different sections, you can explore areas dedicated to exotic plants, medicinal plants, and themed areas such as a Japanese Garden and a rock garden.
10. Take a day trip to Bologna
If you head 30 minutes to the south of Ferrara you will eventually find the impressive city of Bologna.
Regular trains travel between the two cities, and the A13 route offers quick and reliable transportation between these two major cities in the Emilia-Romagna region.
Bologna has a long and celebrated history and is known for its set of impressive Medieval towers and its long sweeping arched arcades.
Notable sites within this fascinating city include the Due Torri (two iconic towers that have stood for hundreds of years), the Piazza Santo Stefano and the fascinating Anatomical theatre.
If you have fully explored Ferrara then why not pay Bologna a visit?
11. Chiesa di San Cristoforo alla Certosa
As part of the monumental cemetary complex in the northern part of Ferrara the Chiesa di San Cristoforo alla Certosa and its grounds are an impressive area to visit.
At the front of the church as a large semi-circular colonnade with several well-manicured lawns lined with trees.
Once past the lawns, you will see the front facade of the church which stands to this day unfinished – its plain stone walls are crying out for decoration.
Whilst the exterior is plain and unfinished, the interior is lavish and highly decorated with a series of detailed reliefs and frescos created by local Ferrarese artists such as Carracci and Fillippi.
Aside from the church, the grounds of the cemetery are also interesting to walk through.
12. Take a boat trip on the River Po
The mighty River Po is the longest in Italy and eventually deposits into the Adriatic Sea south of Venice.
A man-made canal joins Ferrara to the River Po and it is possible to take a boat ride through the internal channels out onto the river.
At the southern edge of Ferrara there is a dock for boats and it is from here that the cruises leave – from this point you will head up the canal and underneath the railway bridge, then turn onto the main stretch of water that continues for some 5km before opening up into the River Po.
A boat cruise is a great way to see the city from a different angle, relax, enjoy a drink, and admire the fantastic countryside surrounding Ferrara.
13. Enjoy a fine and authentic meal at the L’antico Giardino restaurant
If you are looking for an out of the way charming dining venue, the L’antico Giardino restaurant is definitely the place to visit.
Situated in the small village of Ravalle that sits 10 minutes to the west of Ferrara, this delightful establishment offers a brilliant dining experience at reasonable prices.
The menu includes a selection of meat dishes such as Deer with red cranberry jam, or Rabbit fillet with mushroom cream, and also a fantastic range of starters and first courses such as carbonara and pumpkin flan.
Here you can enjoy a beautifully presented meal all in the elegant and decadant environment of the Ancient Garden.
14. Enjoy a pastry and a coffee at the Pasticceria Naturale cafe
Located near the Botanical Gardens and Parco Massari, the Pasticceria Naturale is the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and a delicious slice of cake or pastry.
This charming cafe offers a wide selection of freshly made pastries and deserts, plus a mouth-watering range of coffees and juices.
Friendly and helpful staff tend to your every need and make your experience a memorable one.
This is a great establishment to get away from the crowds and spend 20 minutes relaxing with a drink and a bite to eat.
15. Monastero di S. Antonio in Polesine
The charming streets surrounding the Monastery of Saint Antonio transport you to a different place and time and make you feel a world away.
Created with help from the mighty Este family in the 17th century, the monastery has stood for hundreds of years and is still maintained today by a dedicated group of nuns.
Inside the complex you can find a series of beautifully decorated chapels each with colourful and detailed frescos.
At certain times, the nuns will sing during services and if you get to see this beautiful feat, count yourself lucky.