Looking for the best things to do in Modena Italy? Here are the best Modena attractions and all the tips on what to see in and around the city for a perfect trip!
Modena is situated on the Via Emilia, a Roman road that connects Rimini to Piacenza. The city is located in Northern Italy in the heart of Emilia Romagna.
This city has got an ancient soul: its history is best expressed in the historic centre and in the delicacies offered by the stalls of the local market.
A city with four wheels and a powerful engine, home of Ferrari and Formula 1. Modena was also the birthplace of the most famous opera singer in the world, Luciano Pavarotti, to whom the Opera House is named today.
The craze for Panini Soccer collections has grown for about 60 years and the origins of this company can be found right here in Modena.
Vinegar factories in Modena prove its great passion for food and wine. Balsamic vinegar has made the city famous all over the world and it is among the first products certified with a geographical indication for export and invoicing.
Modena is also a modern city that hosts unforgettable festivals, events and concerts.
In this mini-guide, we will tell you the best things to do in Modena Italy, including historical buildings, museums and theatres. You will also learn what to do in Modena if you want to discover the local food and wine! 😋
What to visit in Modena
Before talking about Modena, as well as what to see and what to eat there, let’s see how to get to the city!
The train can be a good way to arrive both from the neighbouring cities and from the main Italian cities. The Italian Railways offer direct connections for Rome, Milan, Venice and Turin.
Coaches can be another excellent way to visit Modena in a day or more. The arrival points are Via Gottardi coach station and Modena Bus Station, both served by buses that connect them to the city centre in a few minutes.
Modena has no airport, but Bologna is only 30 km away. There Ryanair and Alitalia flights land from many Italian and European cities such as Athens, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Paris and Prague.
Obviously, car is always a good option but it is not essential either to arrive or to visit Modena.
Best things to do in Modena Italy
Follow the simple travel tips below and you will be able to discover the beauties of Modena in one day!
The Cathedral of Modena
The Cathedral of Modena is the first stop that I propose to you: together with the Ghirlandina Tower and Piazza Grande, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
The Cathedral is an exceptional expression of Romanesque culture and houses the sepulcher of San Geminiano, whose remains now lie inside the church.
The sarcophagus of the Bishop, patron saint of Modena, is kept in a glass case and is opened in honour of his feast on January 31.
On this occasion, the city wakes up with religious rituals and popular festivals: from early morning, stalls and religious parades in ancient costumes fill the streets of the historic centre of Modena.
The patron’s miracles are found depicted in paintings and sculptures, including the legend of the rescue of Modena from an invasion of the Huns thanks to a thick blanket of fog that hid the city. Or even the liberation from the devil of the daughter of Emperor Giovinian, thanks to the bishop.
San Geminiano was undoubtedly a promoter and protector of the Christian community of Modena during the 1300s.
The Church is dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and it was the work of Architect Lanfranco and Sculptor Wiligelmo. They first began the construction site, which had been opened for several years with the work of the Campionesi masters (architects, sculptors and artists from Campione d’Italia).
In reality the citizens had the impulse to build this cathedral and they did not even wait for ecclesiastical approval to start the work. For this reason, the Nobel Prize Winner Dario Fo nicknamed it “the temple of free men”.
The Ghirlandina Bell Tower
The bell tower of the Duomo was nicknamed “Torre Ghirlandina” by the Modenese in reference to the shape of the balustrades that frame the spire.
Adjacent to the Cathedral, this structure has always been used for purposes related to the civil society: the bell sound could mark the opening of the city doors or could warn of imminent danger.
Furthermore, many documents or disputed objects were kept inside the bell tower, such as the “kidnapped bucket” (a war trophy of the Modenese people on Bologna). Today its reproduction remains on permanent display.
To access the tower, you need to book a guided tour. There are time slots every 45 minutes and the ticket is about 3 euros.
The view going up the tower is magnificent, the best view over Modena!
Right here is the Duomo and the Ghirlandina bell tower, two Modena attractions not to be missed. Together with Piazza Grande, they have been included in the World Heritage List since 1997.
In the past it was the seat and heart of the religious, civil and political life of Modena.
From past to present: from executions in the square and fighting, to the birth of the free municipality where the current Town Hall was the seat and to today’s antique market which takes place on weekends at the end of the month.
A corner of the square is outlined by the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall): it is made up of a series of seventeenth-century buildings and a characteristic marble portico that forms, thanks to its columns, the arches overlooking the square. It is an iconic place in Modena.
Municipal Balsamic Vinegar Factory
You don’t need to travel far to visit the Municipal Balsamic Vinegar Factory of Modena, as it is located right in the attic of the Town Hall.
In reality, in the area around Modena, you will find many ancient vinegar farms to visit. This factory was created only in 2003, but it is an excellent example of the ancient traditions of balsamic vinegar in the city.
The “Consorteria” of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena takes care of this old tradition. There are three different “batteries” – a battery is made up of a set of wooden barrels of progressively smaller sizes: two with six barrels (named “Secchia” and “Panaro”) and one with ten barrels (dedicated to the Ghirlandina Bell Tower) as well as three large barrique barrels, the “barrels mother”, which serve to power the batteries.
The vinegar factory, in addition to having the purpose of producing Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (which must be aged for at least 12 years), also has an exhibition and educational purpose.
I recommend that you visit the municipal vinegar factory of Modena: traditional foods such as the balsamic vinegar could be a discovery!
The ticket price is only € 2,00 but, if you want to visit Modena in one day, the € 6,00 UNESCO ticket including the Municipal Balsamic Vinegar Factory, the historic rooms of Palazzo Comunale, the Ghirlandina Bell Tower and the Duomo Museums, is for you.
Enzo Ferrari Museum
What to see in Modena if you are a motor enthusiast?
Here in Modena the Cavallino Rampante (in English, “prancing horse”) has got its maximum expression in Enzo Ferrari Museum.
A Grand Tour among the engines and cars that have entered history, accompanied by video projections, will introduce you to the history of this great company that has brought the Italian brand to the highest levels.
The Galleria Estense
It is located in the Museum Palace and the exhibition includes four halls and sixteen rooms.
The gallery describes itself as “the place of enchantment” and focuses on a path centered on ceiling decorations, marble and terracotta sculptures, paintings and works of art that decorated the buildings of the Este family. But also the musical instruments and part of the ducal wardrobe that you will find on display will attract your attention for their surprising sumptuousness.
Great works of art can be admired in the Galleria Estense in Modena, including the Madonna and Child by Correggio, the Crucifix by Guido Reni, the bust of Francesco I d’Este by Bernini and the portrait of Francesco I d’Este by Velázquez.
The full ticket price is € 6,00 but it is reduced to € 2,00 for young people between 18 and 25 years old.
One more reason to include Modena and its Galleria Estense in your visit.
The Ducal Palace of Modena
Where a palace now stands, a castle once stood. Several Modenese canals flowed into the moat and joined them.
When in 1598 Modena became the capital of the Este duchy, the castle was no longer suitable for its function and Duke Francesco I d’Este, as we have often seen represented in many portraits kept in the city, commissioned the new palace.
The project was by Bartolomeo Avanzini but several artists contributed to the construction, including Girolamo Rinaldi, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini.
It is not for nothing that the Ducal Palace is among the most prestigious palaces in Europe.
Here too a guided tour with reservation (only on Saturdays and Sundays) is the only way to access the structure, because the Palace is now home to the Military Academy.
At the moment visits are suspended, but we hope they will resume soon!
The Palace of Foro Boario
It is currently the headquarters of “Marco Biagi” Department of Economics within the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. In 1833 Francesco IV d’Este, Duke of Modena, ordered the construction of a building to use for the livestock market and for the storage of agricultural products.
Later, it served different purposes such as military barracks or headquarters of the Fire Brigade or the Red Cross. Several areas were added to the original structure.
A simple university tour can turn into one of Modena’s most amazing sightseeing tours. I recommend that you walk through the large decorated central loggia, crossed by three peculiar arches, and that you stop to admire the clock on the ceiling by Ludovico Gavioli.
From here it is possible to admire Novi Ark Archaeological Park, where numerous finds from the Roman age have been unearthed, recreating an open-air museum perfect for long walks and to attend outdoor events such as “Pavarotti & Friends”.
Luciano Pavarotti Opera House
In 1838 the construction of the new Opera house in Modena was entrusted to Architect Francesco Vandelli, who was inspired by the greatest Italian theatres.
In the street, you will notice the grandeur of its facade compared to the other buildings. Almost narrow in its position, the theatre has got its original neoclassical facade with four Doric columns that frame the central structure. The interiors are richly decorated as it should be for an opera house of a certain importance.
Obviously, references to the Este family could not be missing: inside we can find the eagle that surmounts the ducal stage.
In 2007 it was named after Luciano Pavarotti.
Museo della Figurina
If it is Wednesday or the first Sunday of the month and you are wondering what to visit in Modena, the answer could be this museum, containing a unique collection of small colour picture cards created by the passionate collector Giuseppe Panini. In those days, the Museo della Figurina is in fact open with free access (the other days the full ticket costs 6 euros for an exhibition. It is free under 18 and reduced to 4 euros for children aged between 18 and 24 years old).
The museum is located in Palazzo Santa Margherita, which also houses the Delfini Library, the Civic Gallery and the Higher Institute of Musical Studies.
The museum showcases the sticker collection created by Giuseppe Panini and his brothers, which has been enriched with small objects such as matchboxes, menus, letter-closing stamps and albums for the collection of colour prints.
A total of 500,000 stickers and materials are part of the museum’s heritage which exhibits, in a space set up with six exhibitors divided into specific themes, a permanent exhibition, plus a 12-metre showcase that also hosts a temporary exhibition with themes always different.
An exhibition for adults and children. Visit Modena to rediscover ourselves as young people and make children discover a passion for collecting stickers and small prints.
The Albinelli Market
What to do in Modena if you feel hungry after a long walk?
My advice is to make a stop at one of the most beautiful covered markets in Italy: the Albinelli Market.
Piazza Grande had been the place chosen for the market for many years. The new covered market realised in Art Nouveau style was inaugurated in 1931. At the centre there is a fountain surmounted by the sculpture of a beautiful woman, the “fruit bearer” made by the Modenese sculptor Giuseppe Graziosi.
The market is the place where flavours, smells and traditions mix and give life to best of Modenese food & wine.
Not only fruit and vegetable stalls, fish, cured meats, meat and cheese but also sweets, grains and the bread gallery.
Places where you can stop and try traditional Modena foods, taste excellent street food and buy some food souvenirs for your friends (they are always the most popular ones!).
I recommend that you try the historic sandwiches from Bar Schiavoni at the corner of the market, taken over by two girls who continue the old bar tradition.
The Albinelli Covered Market has been recognised as a Monument of National Interest.
Rossena Castle stands on top of a hill in the surroundings of Modena, in the Province of Reggio Emilia.
It was built in 960 and is still a perfectly preserved building thanks to modern restoration interventions, so much so that today it is possible to stay there thanks to the creation of a hostel with 54 rooms.
The beauty of the hills and the building itself make it the ideal site for many events or relaxing weekends in Modena and surrounding areas.
A brief summary of the best things to do in Modena Italy:
- ENZO FERRARI MUSEUM
- THE GALLERIA ESTENSE
- THE DUCAL PALACE OF MODENA
- THE PALACE OF FORO BOARIO
- MUNICIPAL BALSAMIC VINEGAR FACTORY
- PAVAROTTI OPERA HOUSE
- MUSEO DELLA FIGURINA
- ALBINELLI MARKET
- ROSSENA CASTLE
What to do in Modena
You can take long walks along the Via Emilia, cutting through the centre of Modena, enjoy the view of historic buildings and go shopping in the artisan shops.
2. Street Food
Or you can discover traditional Modena foods with tasting in local markets or in the best restaurants. Among the best things to try in Modena, I recommend that you taste the Gnocco Fritto (or crescentina, in Bologna). It is a rhombus-shaped fried dough typically served to pair with meat and cheese or, for the more daring ones, to soak in cappuccino.
With the name “crescentina” in Modena we mean instead the “tigella”: a focaccia made with flour, lard, yeast and water.
3. Parmigiano Reggiano factory tour
If I were you, I would take advantage of being in Modena and surrounding areas to buy a slice of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in a local factory.
Italia Delight offers you an experience in the cheese dairy situated in Ospitaletto in the province of Modena, where Parmigiano Reggiano is made with both organic milk and milk from White Modenese Cow.
You will see with your own eyes how this delicious local food is made and have a tasting of seven different ages of organic Parmigiano Reggiano from White Modenese Cow (Slow Food Presidium).
It is such a rare product. In fact in the cheese factory, only one wheel of this kind is produced per day!
What to do in and around Modena
1. Modena balsamic vinegar tour
Among the most famous foods from Modena, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO cannot go unnoticed. It differs from the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI for its production methods and area.
The first vinegar must have an ageing of about 12 years and the mandatory procedure for this phase consists of decanting and topping up from one barrel to another. The vinegar will concentrate and enrich itself with aromas and fragrances. It can only be produced in the Province of Modena.
The IGP certification is sufficient for a 36-month maturation in a single barrel. The place of at least one of its production phases can be both situated in the province of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
The balsamic vinegar tour is a must in Modena and surrounding areas.
In Castelfranco Emilia, a vinegar factory where 750 barrels are used for the production of Traditional Vinegar of Modena PDO will welcome you for an amazing food experience. You will taste the vinegar, have lunch at the farm with traditional Modenese foods and join exciting Modena guided tours among vinegar factories, wineries and dairies to better discover local food & wine with Italia Delight.
2. Taste Lambrusco wine
Don’t leave Modena without trying tortellini paired with a glass of Lambrusco Grasparossa, you won’t regret it!
In Castelvetro di Modena, every third and fourth weekend of September, the Grape and Lambrusco di Grasparossa di Castelvetro festival is celebrated. An event with music, art, food & wine tastings and entertainment celebrates the meeting between farmers, associations and inhabitant of the area around Modena.
At least once in your life you should have dinner at the Osteria Francescana, Chef Massimo Bottura’s 3-star Michelin restaurant. First twice in the “World’s 50 Best Restaurant”. It is not easy to book, but perseverance pays off and it will certainly be worth the wait.
If you are still not satisfied, I will give you a couple of interesting travel tips on what to see in Modena and surrounding areas.
Did you like Enzo Ferrari Museum? Go to Maranello where you can join a Ferrari factory tour, admire the Fiorano track and try the F1 simulator.
Between May and June, do not miss the events that make Vignola famous thanks to its traditional tasty cherry: “Vignola… It is time for cherries” and the “Cherry Blossom Festival”. Vignola cherries are excellent in all forms: fresh, jam, ice cream toppings and liqueurs.
Modena is a city for all tastes!
Did you like the article on the best things to do in Modena Italy and surrounding areas by Nur Migahed, a graduate student in Gastronomic Sciences and Cultures at the Roma Tre University? Discover all the experiences and travel to this wonderful Italian city with Italia Delight! 😉