Get on board for a ride through culture and discover the best things to do in Modena!
The heart of Emilia Romagna has the throb of a roaring engine and when it comes to black gold, four-wheel enthusiasts think of fuel while Modena’s gourmets smell the scent of balsamic vinegar. After all, the name of Modena is known to the world precisely because it is associated with traditional Balsamic Vinegar, even though there are many traditional foods linked to its territory, first and foremost the beloved Parmigiano Reggiano.
And yet, Modena knows how to give the thrill of racing, starting with the historic Fiorano Circuit where Enzo Ferrari made the history of the Prancing Horse. In the same sector, Maserati has established itself in the field of luxury cars, reinforcing the prestige of the city and of Italy together with Pagani and the new Energica Motor Company.
The city is rich in art inside and outside the walls of its delightful historic centre, which includes the Duomo, the Civic Tower and Piazza Grande, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. If we had to choose a soundtrack to describe it, it would play “Nessun Dorma” with the mighty voice of tenor Luciano Pavarotti, although he would not be the only one in the music scene to have left his mark on Italian music, thanks to Francesco Guccini, Caterina Caselli or the very young Benji e Fede.
You will find that there are so many things to see in Modena in one day, in fact, one day would not be enough to see them all. To fully savour the essence of Modena, you can treat yourself to a short weekend or take a longer holiday, exploring nearby cities such as Bologna and Parma or the smaller towns.
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What to see in Modena in a day
Following the city’s motto Avia Pervia, or “Let’s make difficult things easy”, in Modena you can move around the perimeter of the ancient city walls very easily on foot and visit the most interesting sights as long as you don’t stop too long if you are just passing through.
In case you have more time to dedicate to this city, the advice is to enjoy it to the full without hurrying, although, you could say that speed is at home here! We will start from the central hub and then continue on to other unmissable Modena attractions…
Let’s go! 👇
PIAZZA GRANDE AND PALAZZO COMUNALE
It starts in Piazza Grande, overlooked by some of the city’s most important monuments such as the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall), the Duomo and its Ghirlandina Tower. The Palazzo Comunale underwent changes over time, but in the Sala delle Bifore you can see an entirely medieval part. This palace also houses the original copy of the poem “La Secchia Rapita” by Alessandro Tassoni, stolen from Bologna during the Battle of Zappolino in 1325.
In the attic of the Palazzo Comunale, the first experience of the day awaits you inside the Municipal Balsamic Vinegar Factory. The museum, desired by the Consorteria dell’Aceto Balsamico tradizionale di Modena and created in 2003, will give you the chance to investigate the flavours of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (both “affinato” and “extraveccghio”), through storytelling and tasting, showing you the “tragni”, the terracotta vases used to preserve the vinegar, or the 100 and 200 litre barriques. It is possible to buy books and souvenirs inside and the visit lasts about 45 minutes.
THE CATHEDRAL OF MODENA & THE GHIRLANDINA
Inebriated by the scent of vinegar, you can go to the nearby Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo and San Geminiano. Its crypt houses the relics of the patron saint who, according to legend, saved Modena from Attila’s fury by enveloping it in a blanket of fog. Externally, it is decorated in the Romanesque style interpreted by architect Lanfranco, with a large rose window dominating the entrance to the church. Interestingly, on the right side of the cathedral, a large whale bone is visible, bearing witness to the prehistoric era, while flanking the cathedral, the Torre Campanaria, known as the Ghirlandina, towers over Piazza della Torre. It is accessible even with children and worth a visit for a magnificent view over the city from above.
THE DUCAL PALACE OF MODENA
Proceeding along Via Luigi Carlo Farini you will come to Piazza Roma, where the Ciro Menotti Monument, hero of the Risorgimento, opens its view of the Ducal Palace. On the site of a former Este fort, Francesco I d’Este wanted to build the present Palace in 1634. Today it houses the Modena Military Academy, where many military ceremonies take place in the Cortile d’Onore. In the 18th century, Francesco III wanted to increase its magnificence by having the roof of his workroom covered with gold panels, earning it the epithet “Golden Parlour”. On certain occasions, it is possible to visit the rooms of the State Apartment as well as the Historical Museum of the Military Academy.
THE MUSEO DELLA FIGURINA
A stone’s throw from the Doge’s Palace, the Museo della Figurina (Collectible Card Museum) is an important stop for collectors and lovers of this world. It goes beyond the small sticker rectangle, including stamps, calendars, cigarette cards and other small prints. This museum was born out of the passion of Giuseppe Panini and tells a part of contemporary history through this type of figurative art that can be very attractive even to children.
THE ALBINELLI MARKET
By this time the sun will be high in the sky and, as you pass by Piazza Grande, your stomach will suggest a visit to Modena’s historic market, also known as the Covered Market of Via Albinelli, where you can refresh yourself at one of the five restaurants inside, satiating the pangs caused by strolling among the stalls of fruit, seasonal vegetables, fresh fish, meat and everything else in the larder. Here you will also get your first taste of the talent of Giuseppe Graziosi, a sculptor from Modena, creator of the fountain where the Maiden with a Basket of Fruit reigns supreme. The artist also designed the Fountain of the Two Rivers on Via Emila and the Fountain of St Francis in the square of the same name, but you can find out more about this character in the next stop.
PALAZZO DEI MUSEI AND THE GALLERIA ESTENSE
In the afternoon, walking along the Via Emilia, the ancient road that connected Rimini with Piacenza, you will reach a museum complex of considerable interest and that will take you at least a couple of hours. This is the Palazzo dei Musei, whose name evokes the large number of different exhibits housed inside, built on the former Augustinian Convent. In the lower part, the Lapidario Romano houses sarcophagi dating back to ancient Mutina, or Modena. On the first floor, you can admire the works of Giuseppe Graziosi in the large gallery dedicated to him, while the upper floors house the Biblioteca Estense Library and the Municipal Historical Archive. Finally, the Estense Gallery recounts their history and their commitment to the city of Modena through works of art of various kinds belonging to the Dukes of Este family, all displayed in four halls and no less than sixteen exhibition rooms.
NOVI ARK ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK
In the construction of the NoviPark underground car park, they came across the remains of Roman civilisation through the discovery of a road, a necropolis with adjoining tombs and other artefacts from the period that formed the NoviArk Archaeological Park. In this large park today, you can play sports, relax and admire the structure of the immense Boarium Forum Palace, taking advantage of the green space to take a break during a city tour.
PALACE OF THE BOARIUM FORUM
This is a building that follows the line of the Archaeological Park for a length of 250 metres, built in the 19th century, with the initial purpose of becoming an agricultural and cattle market but later transformed into barracks. Today it is home to the Faculty of Economics and Commerce of the University of Modena and occasionally hosts exhibitions of artistic and cultural interest.
A special mention goes to the Municipal Theatre dedicated to tenor Luciano Pavarotti, inaugurated in 1841 thanks to the contribution of the podestà of Modena, Marquis Ippolito Livizzani and Francesco IV of Modena. The ideal way to visit it would be to attend an opera concert or take advantage of the events organised there during the Festival of Philosophy.
ENZO FERRARI AND STANGUELLINI MUSEUM
Obviously, it is difficult to visit Modena in one day, but the Enzo Ferrari and Stanguellini Museums are an important part of the city’s history, so it is up to you to decide how best to manage your time. In fact, the Museo Enzo Ferrari (MEF) is a 15-minute walk from the centre and is a huge pavilion whose roof is shaped like a bonnet, where you can immerse yourself in the world of cars and the life of Enzo Ferrari. Further away and reachable by bike in 10 minutes is the Stanguellini Museum (it can be visited by appointment). There you can admire unique cars, the Fiat 750 and 1100 sports cars or the Stanguellini that won at Monte Carlo in 1959. Even the very modern Formula 3 is part of this prestigious collection!
CASTLE OF ROSSENA
An ancient castle in the Canossa area, dating back to the second half of the 10th century, completes the picture of the main attractions in the Modena area. In the castle, there is not only beautiful scenery and mediaeval history but also educational workshops for children and rooms to stay in to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Romagna Apennines. It is located 55 km from Modena and can be reached by car!
Top Things to do in Modena
What is certain is that you will never be bored in Modena and starting from this assumption, you can guess how the city is able to satisfy all types of travellers. Those with a sweet tooth will choose Modena for its food and wine, taking advantage of the tastings of typical foods known and loved all over the world.
Vinegar factory tours will allow you to learn more about balsamic vinegar, investigating the differences between Aceto Balsamico di Modena PGI and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena PDO – spoiler: Aceto balsamico di Modena PGI has a minimum ageing period of 60 days, while Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena PDO has a minimum sugar and acetic fermentation and ageing period of 12 years!
Not only vinegar, but also very traditional recipes such as “il Gnocco fritto” (not a mistake, the Modenese use the article ‘the’), which takes on different declinations in the various dialects, but whose recipe is included among the Traditional Agro-Food Products. You can start the day with the right energy by enjoying it for breakfast, at snack time, with jams, hazelnut cream or accompanied by cold cuts such as Prosciutto di Modena PDO and flakes of Parmigiano Reggiano.
In this regard, a visit to one of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factories among the huge ripened wheels is an experience not to be missed! In short, there is so much to enjoy in Modena and perhaps one way to taste zampone, cotechino, fresh pasta, tigelle and drink Lambrusco di Modena DOP is to be invited to lunch at the home of a Modenese! Indeed, no one can teach you better than those who have certain recipes in their blood, so you could take part in a cooking class where you learn how to roll out pasta and work it into tortellini, ravioli, tagliatelle or lasagne. Alternatively, there is no shortage of starred dishes such as those of chef Massimo Bottura, who is very attached to the territory and its flavours.
Stepping away from food, into the streets of the centre, you can try your hand at leather craftsmanship. And just outside the centre, you can visit the Enzo Ferrari Museum or the Museo della Figurina or take a tour of the Fiorano Circuit and experience the thrill of driving a supercar. A tour of the Pagani Museum Factory is also a must-book experience that will take you on a discovery of Horacio Pagani’s construction genius and his passion for cars.
If you love nature, the nearby Modenese Apennines have high-altitude locations between Fanano and Sestola, such as Lake Scaffaiolo or Mount Cimone with its 2,165 metres of altitude. With children, it is worth stepping into the shoes of Indiana Jones in the Esploraria Adventure Park near Lame, just over an hour’s drive from Modena.
Events not to be missed
Such a lively city offers a more than varied range of events. From the January fairs in honour of Saint Anthony and San Geminiano to the publishing festival called BUK. April and May are the months dedicated to vintage cars on display in the squares of the city centre in the open-air showroom of “Modena Terra di Motori” in addition to the Motor Valley Fest, where everything about the sector can be discovered in conferences, exhibitions and displays.
Flavours and tradition have an annual appointment at the World’s Largest Zampone Festival near Castelnuovo Rangone, as well as many other new and updated events such as the Champagne Experience!
Getting to and around Modena
Reaching Modena is really easy because it is well connected with the major cities of the north and centre. By car it can be reached via the A1 and A22 motorways, while the nearest airport is Bologna’s Gugliemo Marconi with a bus service that takes 50 minutes directly to Modena city centre, while regional trains connect it to many nearby cities. Line 7 and Line 11 take you from the railway station to the Duomo and, if you have your suitcase with you but don’t know who to leave it with, there are two luggage lockers at the station.
You can also reach Modena by bicycle via the numerous cycle paths and, if you would like to rent one, the municipal service “C’entro in bici” provides one for up to three days.
The car is not a problem thanks to the free car parks in Piazzale Tien An Men or the underground centre car park (for a fee). Be careful, the historical centre is limited by the Restricted Traffic Zone but, if you have booked your accommodation there, you will have no problem (ask the hotelier for authorisation) except for Via Emilia, Corso Duomo and Piazza Roma where access to all vehicles is forbidden.
Now that you know how to get around, what to do and what to see in Modena, you can enjoy your trip to discover Emilia Romagna. Enjoy your trip! 😉