Discover what to see and do in Reggio Emilia, the art city of the Po Valley in Italy. We take you on a tour of cloisters, squares, palaces and contemporary works… without forgetting the renowned local specialities.
Reggio Emilia is located in the Po Valley, about 50 km from Bologna, on the Via Emilia. The city is one of the most famous and best-loved in Emilia Romagna, and can be explored on foot among cloisters, squares, palaces, artisan workshops and restaurants serving typical cuisine.
Close to other famous places such as Bologna, Modena, Parma and Mantua, to name but a few, it is also an excellent starting point for “going beyond its walls”. And indeed, we dedicate an entire paragraph to what to see near Reggio Emilia.
This city also boasts some historical records, which have made Italy famous all over the world. Reggio Emilia and its surroundings (in Scandiano) are the birthplace of two Renaissance men of letters, Ludovico Ariosto and Matteo Maria Boiardo, to whom the Ariosto and Boiardo Cultural Park is dedicated.
The famous photographer Luigi Ghirri is also from Reggio Emilia, inspiring the Festival of European Photography, born from the collaboration between Palazzo Magnani Foundation and the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. The event is known worldwide for attracting many enthusiasts.
Known as the “City of the Tricolour”, Reggio Emilia is also remembered as the birthplace of the national flag, in 1797. And also the fashion house Max Mara has founded here, representing one of the symbols of Italian excellence in the world.
Finally, Reggio Emilia is a wonderful town to visit for its artistic and cultural attractions. And we are ready to let you discover it in all its corners, starting from the historic centre, among art, culture, excursions and food and wine specialities.
Follow the itineraries outside the city, if you want to dedicate more time to discovering the area.
What to see in Reggio Emilia, Italy
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Our guides are practical, full of useful details and easy to follow. In this guide on what to see in Reggio Emilia, we focus on the main attractions of the historic centre, a not too large perimeter that can be toured on foot in a day or a little bit more.
Go to the end of the article to find out how to get to Reggio Emilia and/or where to park for free or for a fee.
The squares are the meeting and aggregation points, the stages of city life where tourists and visitors meet and pass by. They are also often the places where the most important civil and/or religious buildings are located, the large fountains with statues or water features, the cafés and bars where one can stop for a break and taste some local specialities.
Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio
A symbolic square in Reggio Emilia, Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio remains memorable for the events that occurred in 1960, when five Reggio Emilia workers lost their lives during a trade union demonstration.
The square is overlooked by the Romolo Valli Municipal Theatre, the monument to the Fallen of All Wars, the Bank of Italy, the Isolato San Rocco and the Church of San Francesco.
Piazza della Vittoria
Adjacent to Piazza dei Martiri is Piazza della Vittoria, where some important monuments and museums can be seen:
- Palazzo dei Musei
- Parmeggiani Gallery
- the Monument to the Resistance and the one dedicated to the Fallen of World War I
- the Parco del Popolo, a historic park in the heart of the city centre that encloses the public gardens of Reggio Emilia (also known as the Parco del Popolo), in the area where the ancient Gonzaga Citadel once stood (1338), in the ancient San Nazario district. In the park you can discover sculptures, stems, monuments and fountains from different eras and an enormous cedar of Lebanon also known as the “elephant cedar”.
One of the most characteristic squares in the old town, also known as “la parisienne”, is Piazza Fontanesi. It is tree-lined and has ancient arcades that form a backdrop to historic buildings, cafés, delicatessens, craft and antique shops. This is where the stalls of the zero-kilometre farmers’ market give appointment to citizens and tourists every Saturday morning and every evening.
“Piazza del Monte”, now Piazza Cesare Battisti
Piazza Cesare Battisti is a small square with several buildings:
- Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (1280)
- Palazzo del Monte di Pietà, until the early decades of the 15th century the seat of the city’s ancient municipality, with its tall tower, built by a certain Giampaolo Raineri
- Palazzo Bussetti (1657), residence of the ancient Bussetti family, silk merchants.
The route starts from Piazza Cesare Battisti and enters Via Emilia and continues along the porticoes, passing along Via Roma. At this point we find ourselves in the “gromae locus”, the point where it all began, the construction of the city, between 187 and 185 BC. The groma was the wooden pole that the Romans drove into the ground to draw the lines of new settlements belonging to the Empire.
This is the city’s main square, also known as Piazza Grande, dedicated to the Reggio Emilia politician and socialist deputy, Camillo Prampolini.
This is also overlooked by important buildings:
- the Baptistery
- the Bishop’s Palace
- the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a Roman construction built around 857
- the Palazzo dei Canonici
- the Palazzo del Comune, municipal seat since 1434, which houses the Sala del Tricolore to be visited during opening hours (free admission). Adjacent to the Hall is the Tricolour Flag Museum, where the history of the Italian flag can be discovered.
- Torre del Bordello (1500), the highest point in the historical centre at 51 metres high
- the Baptistery, the Church of St. John the Baptist (12th century)
- the Palazzo delle Notarie
- the Palazzo del Podestà (12th century), with the Clock Tower (1216) 47 metres high and three bells: the Campanoun (or Forcarola), the Bariloun and the Céca. The two smaller bells bear the Estense coat of arms. The larger bell is called “Forcarola” because it rang to warn those condemned to the gallows.
- Crostolo Fountain: the statue towers over one side of the square and personifies the town’s stream (the Crostolo), once housed in the Ducal Palace of Rivalta.
Piazza San Prospero, known as Piazza Piccola (Piasa Céca or “Little Square”)
In Reggio Emilia, Piazza Prampolini, connected to Piazza San Prospero by Vicolo Broletto (1488), is worth seeing. Vicolo Broletto is a portico with a passageway known as “sotto Broletto”. It was originally the cathedral cemetery, then became the canons’ garden. Today, along this path are shops and craft shops, the former canons’ loggia and the southern entrance to the Cathedral.
At the end of the Broletto is the Basilica di San Prospero, an ancient church consecrated in 997 and dedicated to Bishop Prospero who later became the city’s patron saint, whose remains are housed under the high altar. Inside, a cycle of frescoes on the Last Judgement, the wooden choir with valuable inlays and carvings. In the fifth chapel on the right is Boulanger’s copy of Correggio’s famous masterpiece “La Notte”, now on display in Dresden.
Among the top things to see in Reggio Emilia are its most important museums: a chance to see the city from an artistic and cultural perspective. Let’s go!
Palace of Museums
The Palazzo dei Musei is the main museum in Reggio Emilia. It houses the scientific collections of Lazzaro Spallanzani, the zoology collections of Baron Raimondo Franchetti, the anatomy and ethnography collections, and the portico of Roman marbles, with a special section dedicated to Regium Lepidi (the Roman city of Reggio Emilia founded by the Roman consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus at the beginning of the second century BC).
Tricolour Flag Museum
For those curious about the history of the national flag, the Museo del Tricolore (Museum of the Tricolour) is worth a visit. It is located inside the Palazzo del Comune, in the rooms opposite the Sala del Tricolore. Here you can enjoy the tale of the flag’s history, from the uprisings of 1820-21 to the final conquest of independence and unity. Free admission.
The Diocesan Museum
The Diocesan Museum of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla is located inside the Palazzo Vescovile Estense. Three rooms can be visited and are organised according to a precise exhibition itinerary that narrates the history of the Church through the ecclesiastical structures of the territory. The interior is worth visiting for its frescoes, Roman flooring and works of art ranging from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Baroque.
The Parmeggiani Gallery hosts Luigi Parmeggiani’s art collection on the ground floor of the Bishop’s Palace, a Gothic-Renaissance building (1925-1928) designed by Reggio Emilia engineer Ascanio Ferrari. The museum itinerary is divided into five exhibition sections on two levels, presenting works and liturgical furnishings from the 4th to the 21st century.
Museum of the History of Psychiatry
At the Museum of the History of Psychiatry you can see instruments, documents and materials that have made the history of psychiatry in Italy. The Museum’s collection was established by director Carlo Livi in 1875.
Palazzo Becchi-Magnani – Palazzo Magnani Foundation
The palace has been famous since 1608. The neoclassical residential building was built in the second half of the 16th century by the Becchi counts as the family’s representative seat. Over the years it passed from ownership to ownership, until it became an exhibition venue.
Luigi Magnani sold the palazzo – his “city residence” – to the Province of Reggio Emilia to transform it into an exhibition venue. In 2010 it became the Palazzo Magnani Foundation.
Palazzo da Mosto
Another building worth visiting is the 15th century Palazzo da Mosto, built by Francesco da Mosto, who transformed it from a residence into a “palatium”. In 1857 Pietro Manodori, mayor of Reggio at the time, took over the palace to open a free kindergarten open to all. The interior houses the ancient painted wooden coffers and the original pictorial decorations.
It is the brainchild of Anna Maria Ternelli who dedicated the cultural space in the former Cairoli Hotel to her artist husband Marco Gerra. The space was later donated to the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. The building has three exhibition levels where exhibitions of contemporary art, photography, design and architecture are held.
The Cloisters of San Pietro, monumental complex
Worth visiting in Reggio Emilia are the cloisters of San Pietro near the Church of the same name: they are now a place dedicated to culture and art, where exhibitions and events are organised.
The cloisters are part of a 16th century monastic complex, a former monastery that once belonged to the Benedictine monks who officiated in the adjacent church. Construction of the monastery began in the 16th century. The monastic complex, with its vegetable gardens and courtyards, occupied a vast area stretching from the Via Emilia to the walls.
The convent was built around two cloisters: a small one and a larger one. The small cloister dates back to the first half of the 16th century, while the large cloister was built towards the end of the century: essential and simple the first, imposing and decorated the second. Some paintings are visible in the Small Cloister. The large cloister has an imposing structure with its façades decorated with statues and windows.
The cloisters became the property of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. Nowadays they host exhibitions and events. Admission is free.
Former Convent of San Domenico, also known as “degli Stalloni” (of the Stallions)
This ancient convent complex built in the first half of the 13th century comprises the Church of St. Dominic and cloisters, a larger and a smaller one, as well as a courtyard and a small park.
During the 15th century, the church and convent were enlarged and, in the 16th century, became the seat of the Inquisition Tribunal and a prison section. At the end of the 20th century, the cloister complex was restored and transformed into a cultural centre housing the Achille Peri Music Institute, the Archive Centre, and the Historical Institute of the Resistance. Since 2005, the Chiostro Piccolo houses Robert Morris’ opera “Less Than”.
The Panizzi Library is the city’s main public library, established in 1798 as the National Library, while since 1864 it has been housed in Palazzo San Giorgio, in the city centre, named after Antonio Panizzi, an Italian librarian and patriot born in Brescello di Reggio Emilia and director of the British Museum library from 1856 to 1866.
In the library, you can see the work “Whirls and Twirls 1”, by the American artist Sol LeWitt. The work is a colourful wall drawing that stretches across the entire vault of the Reading Room.
Wall drawing is a type of artwork created on the walls of a room, usually using specific colours and/or materials.
This type of art was developed in the 1960s by artists such as Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra, who wanted to innovate traditional art forms.
Theatres of Reggio Emilia
In the Citadel is the Valli Municipal Theatre, the most important theatre in Reggio Emilia built between 1852 and 1857. Born as an Opera Theatre, it currently hosts events of opera and classical music, ballet and dance, and prose. Inside, there is a library and a discotheque open to the public.
The other, the Ariosto Theatre (1740-1741) in Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio, is dedicated to Ludovico Ariosto, the poet born in Reggio Emilia in 1474, and is used for prose performances. It was once called the “Theatre of the Citadel”, because it was located in the ancient defensive bulwark built by the Gonzaga (at the end of 1339) during their rule in Reggio Emilia.
Those who have the opportunity to enter the theatre can observe the late Art Nouveau frescoes depicting episodes from Orlando Furioso, and the large curtain depicting the Poet Ludovico Ariosto declaiming surrounded by humanists and writers.
An exhibition space commissioned by Achille Maramotti obtained from an old industrial building where Max Mara haute couture garments were produced from the 1950s to 2003.
The Collezione Maramotti is a private art collection that houses over two hundred works including paintings, sculptures and installations by Italian and international artists from 1945 to the present day, from Francis Bacon to Basquiat, passing through Burri, Fontana, Kounellis and many others. The permanent collection can only be visited by appointment.
Access to the temporary exhibitions is free.
Calatrava’s Medio Padana Station and the Three Bridges
Santiago da Calatrava, a Spanish architect, engineer and sculptor naturalised Swiss, is the creator of the contemporary architectural work, the Stazione Mediopadana, the only stop along the High Speed line between Bologna and Milan, designed to serve the central part of the Po Valley (Mediopadana). The stop is located about 4 km from the city centre.
The three white steel flyovers are also work of art by the same artist, and are part of the same redevelopment project of the urban area hosting the AV Mediopadana Station.
Basilica of the Blessed Virgin of the Ghiara and Cloister of the Ghiara
A must-see in Reggio Emilia is the Basilica della Madonna della Ghiara, one of the most important Marian shrines in Italy, born out of faith and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the benefits received by the citizens of Reggio Emilia.
The Basilica is an example of Emilian Baroque architecture. Inside you can find important works of art, statues, bas-reliefs, frescoes depicting female figures from the Old Testament, altarpieces by the most famous artists of 17th century Emilia: Ludovico Carracci, Gianfrancesco Barbieri (il Guercino), Lionello Spada, Alessandro Tiarini, Carlo Bonomi and Luca Ferrari.
Next to the Basilica is the Chiostro dei Servi della Basilica della Beata Vergine della Ghiara (Cloister of the Servants of the Blessed Virgin of the Ghiara), open during exhibitions and events related to the Giareda, the festival of the Madonna della Ghiara held in September.
What to see around Reggio Emilia?
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A must-see in the surroundings of Reggio Emilia, in the municipality of Castelnovo ne’ Monti, is the Pietra di Bismantova. Formed about 15 million years ago, the rocky massif is 1041 metres high and is considered the sacred mountain, one of the most famous places in the Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino Tosco Emiliano, praised even by Dante. Nowadays, the Pietra is a popular destination for climbers and hikers, as well as for visitors on pilgrimages.
All united by a single destiny: to admire the splendid panorama that can be enjoyed from the summit.
About 15 km from Reggio Emilia, almost 25 minutes away, you can reach Scandiano, the town that Carducci called “land of the wise and poets”. Here, among others, Matteo Maria Boiardo and Lazzaro Spallanzani, a naturalist scientist, were born. Things to see in Scandiano include the Rocca dei Boiardo, the Civic or Clock Tower, and Piazza Fiume.
About 38 km away from Reggio Emilia, in the municipality of Canossa, you can reach Vedriano, the small medieval village nestled in the high hills of Reggio Emilia. Vedriano is an open-air museum for its wonderful works of street art, murals and paintings.
Part of the municipality of Canossa in the province of Reggio Emilia, from Vedriano you can set off on a tour of the surroundings of Canossa, in the famous Matildic lands where, among other things, you can visit the famous castle.
Twenty-four minutes from Reggio Emilia there is Campegine, another small town on the border with Parma, where you can admire some murals that have remained in the history of urban art.
In the hamlet of Rivalta, not to be missed the remains of the Royal Palace and the Rivalta Garden, an extraordinary place. The historical palace dates back to the 17th century and was built for Francesco III d’Este and Carlotta d’Orléans.
About 26 km from Reggio Emilia you can reach Borgo Gualtieri, defined as the “small Renaissance capital” for its artistic and cultural heritage, and also listed among the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. Places to visit here include the Bentivoglio palaces, squares and museums, including the one with the works of the great painter Antonio Ligabue, and then the medieval and baroque churches that populate the small village.
From Reggio Emilia, you can set off on day trips to famous cities worth visiting. At 36 minutes, you can reach Modena, at 42 minutes, Parma, and about an hour away, Bologna and Mantua, the latter a famous city in Lombardy.
What to do in Reggio Emilia, Italy
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If you have time, you can also dedicate your holiday to activities including sports, nature, shopping, food and wine tasting. Also considering fun for the children.
Shopping in the streets of the centre
Along the streets of the historic centre, you will find a number of artisan shops selling typical local products, art studios and restoration workshops that are part of the Mestieri d’Arte Association.
There are many paths through the Reggiana province that can also be explored by bicycle, including
- the Spallanzani Path (125 km) retraces the places visited and described by the 18th century scientist from Scandiano
- the Sentiero dei Ducati (160 km) crosses the ancient ducal borders and winds through Passo del Lagastrello
- the Via Matildica del Volto Santo (about 285 km) retraces the places of the Great Countess Matilda of Canossa from Mantua to Lucca, passing through Reggio Emilia.
Reggio Emilia is also the most cycle-friendly city in Italy, with a network of over 190 km of cycle paths.
What to do in Reggio Emilia with children?
A number of parks can be visited with children, including the Cerwood Adventure Park, the largest in Italy, Parco delle Caprette and the WWF Oasis in Marmirolo.
It is also worth noting that scattered throughout the territory there are the Big Benches, the three giant benches of the Big Bench circuit in the Reggio Emilia Apennines. One of these is located in Baiso, on top of the hillock called “La Balota”.
Not to be forgotten is the system of medieval castles and fortifications in the Reggio Apennines and in the historical context of Countess Matilda of Canossa, who had built the political and military centre of her feud here. Starting from Reggio Emilia, you can follow hilly itineraries leading to the castles.
Typical food & drink in Reggio Emilia
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It is impossible to leave Reggio Emilia without tasting some of its specialities. We recommend doing this with an evening aperitif, perhaps in the historic centre after visiting the city’s attractions, or with lunch or dinner in a typical restaurant.
The typical specialities of the area are cured meats, Parmigiano Reggiano, Reggio Emilia Traditional Balsamic Vinegar , extra virgin olive oil and wine. The province of Reggio Emilia is the land of Lambrusco, the main grape variety in this area. The hills of Scandiano and Canossa are famous for the high quality of the wines produced there.
Among the typical dishes of the Reggio Emilia:
- panèda, bread soup
- cappelletti reggiani or caplèt
- fried gnocco
- casagai or cazagai
- buricco, raviolo stuffed with minced meat
- hannin (egg noodles)
- coniglio alla Reggiana, rabbit stew
- chicken and turkey meatloaf
- valigiani reggiani, rolls of meat and cheese
- erbazzone, savoury pie stuffed with spinach, Swiss chard, ricotta cheese, onions and Parmesan cheese
- cheese chizze
- rice cake
Food tasting itineraries
To enjoy local food and wine specialities, there is nothing better than immersing oneself in the local culinary culture. Reggio Emilia offers many opportunities for tasting in wine cellars and vinegar cellars, or even cookery courses to learn the secrets of some typical ingredients used in the most famous recipes.
How to get to Reggio Emilia
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You can reach Reggio Emilia by train, plane and car.
Reggio Emilia has a station on the Milan-Bologna line and can be reached by direct trains from Rome, Naples, Caserta, Salerno, Bari, Reggio Calabria, Turin, Florence, and other cities.
Reggio Emilia does not have an airport, the best solution is to land in Bologna and take a train to Reggio Emilia.
Reggio Emilia is on the A1 motorway, which runs from Milan to Naples via Bologna, Florence and Rome. Coming from the south, take the A3 motorway first and then the A1.
Where to park to visit Reggio Emilia
Once you arrive in Reggio Emilia by car, you have to look for parking because the centre of Reggio Emilia is a Limited Traffic Zone (ZTL).
The solutions are on-street parking in the blue stripes for a fee, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., with ordinary rates ranging from a minimum of €0.5 every two hours to a maximum of €1.00 per hour in the areas closest to the ZTL.
Alternatively, there are parking areas, including:
- Parking Piazzale Europa
- Parking Ex-Caserma Zucchi
- Parking Reggio Emilia Piazzale San Girolamo
- Parking Reggio Emilia Piazzale Fiume
Now that you know what to see in Reggio Emilia, all we can do is wish you a pleasant trip to Emilia Romagna! 😉
Cover photo: pixabay, aronoeleinilotta
Featured photo: pixabay, aronoeleinilotta