15 Fun Things to do in Ferrara

Have you ever considered visiting Ferrara, a city in the eastern part of Emilia-Romagna, not far from the Po River? After reading these 15 fun things to do in Ferrara, Italy, and learning about all the Renaissance art and architecture, you’ll add it to your list!

Would you like to explore with a local guide? Book one of these quick and easy Ferrara tours!

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We’ve been to Emilia-Romagna more times than we can count, and covered many of the main cities of the region extensively on this blog – from the mosaics of Ravenna to non-touristy things to do in Bologna, as well as more conventional city guides about Modena and Parma, we can confidently say we know the region pretty well.

There’s only one city in Emilia-Romagna we don’t know all that well, Ferrara. If you take out a map of the region, it’s easy to understand why. All the main cities are located along a diagonal line running from northwest to southeast – the Via Emilia, a Roman road connecting the Po River to the Adriatic Sea.

Nowadays, both the motorway and the railway follow the course of the ancient Via Emilia. There’s only one major city away from it – yes, Ferrara, which is further north, close to the Po River.

Last month we spent 3 days in Ferrara on a quick visit and we kept wondering why we didn’t visit sooner. That’s why we are here, to tell you all about the best things to do in Ferrara!

What is Ferrara Known For

Ferrara was one of the most influential cities during the Renaissance, thanks to the patronage of the noble Este family, who left the city with a really fantastic castle (with a moat!)

There are many examples of Renaissance art and architecture all over the city, as well as interesting exhibitions organized regularly at Palazzo dei Diamanti – check their website to know what’s on.

Ferrara is also interesting in terms of nature, being located close to the Po Delta and Comacchio, a really beautiful town with Venice-like canals. Another good reason to visit is food (this is Italy, after all) but we’ll tell you more later!

Street life in Ferrara – Photo Credits Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash

Is Ferrara Worth Visiting?

Well, the answer is yes! It’s a really interesting place if you are into art and history, or just want to escape the usual ‘tourist circuit’ (Bologna, Florence, Rome and the like) and head somewhere a little more offbeat.

Having said that, Ferrara is not an undiscovered hidden gem, it’s well-known by Italian tourists, so it might be busy during weekends and public holidays. However, the crowds will be nothing like those you’ll find in the main tourist cities around Italy.

Despite being off the Via Emilia, Ferrara is very easy to reach from Bologna with frequent trains, and it makes for the perfect intermediate stop between Venice and Bologna. Let’s carry on with the top 15 things to do in Ferrara now!

Top Things to Do in Ferrara

1) Castello Estense

The 16th-century Castello Estense, also known as Castello di San Michele (Saint Michael’s Castle), is the top attraction in Ferrara and a must-visit. Located in the historic center of Ferrara, the castle has a moat and three drawbridges taking you straight back to medieval times.

Inside, you can admire majestic rooms with frescoed ceilings. And to see them even better without hurting your neck looking up, you can look into the angled mirrors in some rooms. Make sure you also don’t miss out on the dungeons. This was where Marquis Niccolò III’s wife Parisina and her stepson Ugo were held prisoners until they paid the death sentence for being lovers.

Finally, take in the sweeping city views from the tower, admire the Ducal Chapel, and take in the beauty of the orange garden.

2) Rotonda Foschini

Ferrara’s very own rotonda Street life in Ferrara – Photo Credits Andrea Parisi/CC BY-SA 3.0

Rotonda Foschini is the central courtyard of Teatro Comunale of Ferrara. It is an architectural wonder and any photography enthusiast’s dream with its elliptical shape and open ceiling. Don’t forget to take a photo from the middle of the square pointing up in the sky for a fabulous shot of the buildings surrounding the oval piece of sky you will see from there.

Teatro Comunale of Ferrara and its courtyard were built at the end of the 1700s after years of disagreement between the architects involved, Antonio Foschini and Cosimo Morelli.

3) Cathedral of San Giorgio

The stunning Duomo of Ferrara, the Cathedral of San Giorgio, is well worth a visit. It was built in the 12th century and has an impressive Romanesque facade and a bell tower that still isn’t completed.

Inside, you will be met by massive columns holding up arches leading up to the main altarpiece. The walls and ceiling are covered with beautiful paintings and ornate decorations. It also houses a beautiful organ restored at the beginning of the 1900s.

The unique cathedral façade

4) Piazza Trento e Trieste

Piazza Trento e Trieste is Ferrara’s main square with plenty of restaurants and bars in historical buildings inviting for a drink or a bite to eat. The square is flanked by the Loggia dei Merciai, which has housed different merchants and shops for centuries, and the unfinished clock tower of the Duomo.

The other buildings around the square are the Cathedral Museum, Torre dell’Orologio, and an old cinema, Teatro Nuovo. You also find Palazzo di San Crispino on the square – according to local lore, the palazzo was originally built in the year 808 by Charlemagne, and dedicated to the art of cobblers. It has undergone centuries of renovations, and today, it houses a library. 

5) Torre dell’Orologio

Located on the bustling Piazza Trento e Trieste, Torre dell’Orologio stands out as a natural column between two arches leading in and out of the square.

There are disagreements about whether the clock tower was built in the 15th century or in the second half of the 16th century. Either way, it was upgraded with a unique clock with a luminous dial in the mid 1800s.

However, the most unique about the Torre dell’Orologio in Ferrara is the cute little chocolate shop which is located at the bottom of the tower.

6) Loggia dei Merciai

Loggia dei Merciai, meaning Loggia of the Cloth Merchants, lines the entire south side of Cattedrale di San Giorgio facing the main square, Piazza Trento e Trieste.

Since medieval times, the porticos have been used by cloth traders selling their goods. This heritage is not lost – nowadays, there are still several clothing shops under the roofed walkway, making it the perfect spot for shopping or to get a nice new dress as a souvenir.

7) Piazza Savonarola

In the heart of Ferrara’s historic center, you’ll quaint Piazza Savonarola. It is dominated by a statue to commemorate the local Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, by the Italian sculptor Stefano Galletti. The statue was placed on the square in the second half of the 1800s. The square is also surrounded by historic buildings, including the Town Hall.

On one of the columns of the Town Hall, you find a very interesting feature, the Padimetro. There you can see how high the Po River has reached during different floods throughout the centuries. Some of these perimeters are pretty high, so it is evident that flooding has caused severe damage to the city multiple times in the past.

8) Via delle Volte

Via delle Volte Street life in Ferrara – Photo Credits Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash

Going for a stroll through Via delle Volte is a must-do in Ferrara. It starts from Via Capo delle Volte and ends in Via Coperta. The medieval street is nothing short of impressive with its uneven cobblestones and rustic brick buildings taking you back centuries.

The street is particularly beautiful because of the many arches and suspended passages and a photographer’s dream. The arches date back to the 13th and 14th centuries but the street has been the most important road in Ferrara for much longer, since the Po di Volano Canal ran next to it (it was later diverged).

9) Palazzo dei Diamanti

These are the ‘diamonds’! Street life in Ferrara – Photo Credits Danilo Iuliano/Unsplash

Palazzo dei Diamanti, meaning Diamond Palace, is a Renaissance palace recognized for its facade with bugnato marble blocks, resembling small diamonds. According to legend, Duke Ercole hid a diamond in one of the blocks and had the tongue cut out of the mouth of the poor bricklayer who finished the wall so that he could never spill the secret.

Inside the palace, you can admire the beautifully decorated rooms including several impressive art pieces by local artists like Dosso Dossi. There are also temporary exhibitions on the ground floor that you can check out.

10) Piazza del Municipio

Piazza del Municipio is a natural place to stop by when visiting Ferrara as it is close to the cathedral. It is the central courtyard of the old Palazzo Ducale. The entrance is through an archway with two statues of Nicolò III and Borso d’Este, both part of the wealthy Este family who ruled Ferrara between 1240 and 1597.

Once inside, you are surrounded by beautiful medieval buildings with some restaurants and bars to grab a drink. Particularly noteworthy are the beautiful Renaissance marble staircase, Scalone d’Onore, and the sundial calendar on one of the walls.

11) Jewish Ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto of Ferrara, or Ghetto Ebraico in Italian, is centered around Via Mazzini. This is where the Jews in Ferrara were confined after the Pope took control of the city after defeating the Este Family in the 16th century.

Except for the restoration of some buildings, the Jewish Ghetto remains the same making it a walk back in time. Narrow cobbled streets are lined with brick houses and pastel-colored houses alike. In the heart of the Ghetto Ebraico you will find the Synagogue and to learn more about the Jewish history of Ferrara, visit the Jewish Museum inside.

12) City Walls

Ferrara is surrounded by 9 kilometers of defensive walls which have protected the city for centuries. To go for a stroll on the walls, you can access them by Corso Ercole I d’Este. You will encounter different gates, towers, and passages which take you straight back to medieval times. 

At the foot of the defensive walls, there is a large park crisscrossed with paths perfect for walking and cycling. You will find locals and tourists alike hanging out for a break from the bustling city, whether they are out for a walk or enjoying a relaxing picnic in the sun.

13) Museo della Cattedrale

The Museo della Cattedrale (Cathedral Museum) is set in the former Church of San Romano on the other side of the square from the Cathedral of San Giorgio. There, you can see several masterpieces like Flemish tapestries from the 16th century and impressive tilework from the 13th century. 

You also find monumental organ panels with Saint George and the dragon portrayed and a series of anthem books from the late 1400s and onwards. There are also paintings and sculptures in the museum, like the Madonna of the Pomegranate sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia.

Besides, the building itself is utterly beautiful with a central courtyard surrounded by porticoes. All the artwork in the museum was once inside the Duomo.

14) Museo Schifanoia

Museo Schifanoia is located in the palazzo of the same name and showcases a large collection of art like paintings, sculptures, Este ceramics, and small artifacts dedicated to the Renaissance period in Ferrara.

The most interesting room is Salone dei Mesi where you can see a series of frescoes dedicated to each month of the year, and their assigned mythological creatures painted by the local 15th-century artist Cosimo Tura.

Also, Sala delle Virtù is home to incredible paintings on the ceiling. In the palace’s garden, you can grab a coffee and a sweet treat before moving on.

15) Monastero Sant’Antonio in Polesine

On the outskirts of Ferrara, Monastero Sant’Antonio in Polesine is a convent dedicated to Anthony the Great for nuns of the Order of Saint Benedict. As it is still in use and the nuns don’t leave the property, most of it is not open for visitors.

However, you can visit the convent’s church where you can admire paintings of Madonna and Child on the ceilings and large paintings on the walls. You can also ring the bell of the cloister and a nun will come and show you the incredible, colorful frescoes in the nun’s chapel.

Day Trips from Ferrara

All these amazing things to do in Ferrara are enough to fill a couple of days, but the beauty and chilled vibe of the city definitely invite staying for longer.

If you do decide to spend some extra time in Ferrara, we have a couple of ideas for day trips. You could head to the canal town of Comacchio, a kind of ‘little Venice’ with a really interesting history and unique gastronomy, or explore the Po Delta, a great place for wildlife-watching.

Alternatively, there are also direct trains to Ravenna, a spectacular town well-known for its UNESCO-listed Byzantine mosaics.

Where to Eat in Ferrara

As pretty much every town in Emilia-Romagna, Ferrara is home to really delicious food! You’ll find the usual tortellini in brodo and tagliatelle alla bolognese, but also some local specialties you may not have heard of.

There are three dishes we recommend tryingcappellacci alla zucca, large ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and usually served with butter and sage, pasticcio alla ferrarese, a shortcrust pie filled with pasta (YES), and finally salama da sugo, a huge spiced salami that’s cooked and served with pureed potatoes.

Two places where food is always good are Hostaria Savonarola and Cusina e Butega. For aperitivo, don’t miss Al Brindisi, the oldest wine bar in Italy, continuously open since 1453!

How to Get from Bologna to Ferrara

Getting to Ferrara from Bologna is super easy – there are regular trains (2/3 times every hour) taking between 25 and 50 minutes, depending on intermediate stops.

Ferrara is located along the Venice-Bologna train line, so it’s also a good intermediate stop for people travelling along the route, or it can be visited as a day trip from Venice. Travel time between Ferrara and Venice is about an hour by train.

You can also drive to Ferrara if you’re on a road trip – it takes about one hour from Bologna, 1 and a half from Venice. Don’t forget to park your car outside the centre, as parking is really scarce and expensive.