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13 Best Things to do in Ferrara, Italy (2024)

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Planning a visit to Ferrara? Here is our guide to the best things to do in Ferrara, Italy.

Ferrara is a small city of just under 350,000 people in the Emilia-Romagna province of Northern Italy. This hidden gem sits strategically between Bologna and Venice, and since you can see the highlights in just one day, it is a great day trip from either city. 

We have been to Ferrara several times, and it’s a fantastic spot to get away from the busy tourist attractions for a day. Here we are sharing all the top attractions of Ferrara and tips for planning your visit to the city. 

Best Things to do in Ferrara

1. Castello Estense

Este Castle sits in the city center of Ferrara and dates back to the 14th century. It was built by the ruling family of the period in response to a revolt in the city. 

The castle is a UNESCO listed world heritage site and was built in the medieval style by the Este family. After the risk of revolt and riots died down, the impressive estate, which you can now visit and wander through, became a private residence for the family. The castle is full of amazing rooms, balconies, terraces, towers, and more. 

There are also prisons on the grounds of the castle, but those are currently closed to visitors. The parts you can visit include the main castle quarters — which is presented now as a museum, as well as the Lions Tower. 

Entrance to the castle is closed on Tuesdays, and the last entry is always 45 minutes before close — which is at 6:00 PM. If you are going to also visit the tower you will need to arrive an hour before closing. However, consider arriving a bit earlier and giving yourself a minimum of two hours to see the entire castle estate. 

Also note that you will have to climb up stairs to reach the top of the tower. 

Tour Option: Book this guided tour of the Castello Estense for an in-depth experience.

2. Cathedral of Ferrara 

In fact, even older than the castle, the cathedral of Ferrara dates back to the 12th century. This is a Roman Catholic cathedral with a beautiful facade built with a combination of the Romanesque, Baroque, and Gothic styles. 

It is free to enter the cathedral and it is open to the public seven days a week. However, it’s important to note that it is closed from noon to 3PM every day for a lunch break. 

The outside is generally more impressive than the outside, but there are several chapels inside which you can wander through. Make sure to take your time admiring the facade. The details are numerous and very intricate. For example, look out for the section which depicts St George slaying a dragon. 

Inside the cathedral there is also a museum. Here you can see religious artifacts such as manuscripts, tapestries, and paintings. One of the most notable pieces of art in the museum is Madonna of the Pomegranate by Jacopo della Quercia.

3. Piazza della Cattedrale

This is the central piazza in Ferrara and it is just in front of the cathedral. It is a large, open space. You can sit in one of the restaurants around the edge of the square or nip into one of the shops. This is the perfect place to enjoy an Aperol spritz as you watch life go by — locals catching up or kids playing. From here you can also continue to admire the beautiful facade of the cathedral. 

And if you are in town on a Friday or Saturday, make sure to check out the small market that is set up in the square with local vendors.

4. Museum of Casa Romei

The Museum of Casa Romei is housed in what was once the private residence of a citizen banker and merchant. The property dates back to the mid fifteenth century and is remarkably well preserved and intact. 

Now, it is open as a museum and houses artifacts from Ferrara’s history as well as historical pieces from farther afield in Italy. You can see paintings, sculptures, friezes, and frescoes. The property is also the final resting place of the Dukes of Este and you can visit the tombs 

There are guided tours available at the museum and they are recommended as you can learn quite a lot more about what you are seeing and the history of Ferrara with a guide. 

If you plan to incorporate the Museum of Casa Romei into your Ferrara trip, it’s important to note the slightly peculiar hours. The museum is open from Sunday to Wednesday in the mornings only — from 8.30 – 14.00, and from Thursday to Saturday in the afternoons only — from 14.00 – 19.30.

5. Palazzo Schifanoia

The Palazzo Schifanoia is rumored to be named after the Italian phrase ‘schifar la noia’ which translates in English as ‘to escape boredom’. The property was built in the 14th century by the Este family as a place to do just that — escape and relax. 

The palace encompasses 21 rooms and today it shows off about 250 works of art. There are stunning frescoes all throughout the property. You could easily spend several hours exploring the property which may well be one of the best attractions in the region. 

One of the highlights of the palace, which you definitely can’t miss, is the Hall of the Months. Here you can see the remaining parts of frescoes which depict the cycle of 12 months. The frescoes were painted in the 15th century, and while much of the depictions have worn away with the years, what remains is no doubt impressive. 

The entire palace has recently undergone extensive renovations, so you are in luck that it is now reopened and in excellent condition.

The palace is open six days per week, it is closed on Mondays. It opens at 10:00 and closes at 19:00 daily. There is also a garden cafe on the premises where you can enjoy a cold drink. 

6. Walk the city walls

The city walls of Ferrara are both beautiful and historically impressive. They are one of the most complete examples of defensive walls still standing in Italy. It took more than a century for the walls to be built — with construction starting in the late 15th century and not finishing until the early 17th century.

While certain parts have been partially destroyed, the walls still to this day encircle the whole of the city center of Ferrara. 

Now, of course, they are not there for any defensive purposes but rather they have been transformed into gorgeous urban parkland with great walking and cycling paths.

The entire loop is about nine kilometers (about five and a half miles). It is almost fully paved, but even the dirt paths are compact and therefore easy to navigate on foot or by bike. There is also very little, if any, incline.

If you choose to cycle, there are bike hire options in the city.

Throughout the course of the loop you will pass through gates and past towers, as well as many other defensive elements. The gates offer great city views. But look out too for the Jewish cemetery along with views across Bassani Park, what was once a hunting reserve for the Este family.

7. Palazzo dei Diamanti

The Palazzo dei Diamanti is an amazing example of unique and thoughtful Renaissance architecture built in the 15th century. On the facades of the building are a total of 8,500 square pink and white marble blocks.

These are all set at an angle and are divided up by the corner balcony. The architect intended for the building to be looked at from an angle — with the balcony being the centerpiece. 

Originally commissioned and utilized as a private home for a member of the Este family, the property is now owned by the city. 

The downstairs space is used for temporary art exhibits. While upstairs you can visit the Pinacoteca Nazionale — the national art gallery. There you will get to admire an extensive collection of 13th to 18th century paintings. There are alternate versions of The Last Supper, a huge amount of Italian Renaissance art, and so much more. 

The building and museum are open from Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 – 18:00. 

8. See The Rotonda Foschini

The rotonda Foschini is a part of the communal theater complex. It is the courtyard in front of the theater and was once used to receive guests as they arrived at the theater or to shelter them as they waited for their carriages to depart. 

The most amazing part of this courtyard is the oval opening at the top. It is a gorgeous element of the building and is a great place to take spectacular photos both night and day.

The space was built in the 18th century.

9. Palazzo Costabili (Museo Archeologico Nazionale)

Inside this 16th century palace you’ll find what some consider to be some of the most important Greek and Etruscan archaeological finds. This is the collection of items from 4,000 tombs in the ancient city of Spina which once sat at the mouth of the Po River. 

The exhibits include utensils, pottery, vases, and ornaments. There is also an amazing collection of jewelry made of gold, silver, bronze, amber, and glass. There are even items as part of this collection which visitors are allowed to touch.

In addition to the stunning archaeological exhibits, the building itself boasts original ceiling frescoes from the 16th century as well as beautiful gardens.

The museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 – 17:00. 

10. Check out the Botanical Gardens

The botanical gardens at the University of Ferrara are a small oasis set away from the bustle of the city. They cover just about 4,500 sq. meters which is only a touch over an acre, and include about 2,000 species of plants — over 1,300 of which are housed in greenhouses.

As you enjoy this escape, you can wander the ground and see turtles basking in the sunshine. 

Admission to the gardens is always free but it is only open on the weekday mornings from 9:00 – 13:00. 

11. Wander the Streets

The entirety of Ferrara is listed as a UNESCO world heritage town. It is full of wide streets lined with colorful medieval buildings. Much of the city was built in the 14th and 15th century and has been preserved since that time.

As you wander around you’ll find yourself enveloped in deep orange and red hues, with perfect photo-ops everywhere you look. One of the most interesting and picturesque streets in the city is Volte Street where there are a series of archways. 

Ferrara is calm, the pace of life is slow, so take your time exploring all of its back alleyways. Stop in for an aperitivo. Don’t rush. 

If you have time, check out the Jewish quarter — which is one of the largest remaining still in Italy. 

The Ferrara Card

The Ferrara card is a city offer which covers a lot of the things to do in Ferrara, Italy. You can buy the card to cover two, three, or six days in the city. The rates for these lengths are €20, €22, and €25 respectively. No matter the length of time you purchase you will get the same perks. 

The card includes entrance to 13 different monuments and attractions throughout the city. It also allows you to skip paying the tourist tax at your hotel and it includes a selection of other special offers.

Is the Ferrara Card worth it? 

Yes, purchasing the card is worth it If you visit at least the Palazzo Schifanoia and the Castello Estense. 

The Palazzo entrance fee is €12 and the castle entrance fee is €12 (plus an additional €2 if you choose to visit the tower). So if you purchase the two day card for €20 you have already saved €4, not taking into account any additional attractions you might want to visit. 

You can see the complete list of attractions included in the card here

Walking Tours 

Map of Things to do in Ferrara

This map includes the best things to do in Ferrara, including the main attractions and restaurant recommendations.

To save the map to Google Maps on your phone or computer, click on the star next to the title. Once you do this, you’ll be able to find the map in your “saved maps” list on your phone.

To see a list of all the items on the map, click the box with arrow on the left. To enlarge the map, click the box on the right.

How to Get to Ferrara, Italy?

Sitting between Bologna and Venice, Ferrara is well connected in the region and fairly easy to access by road or public transport. 

Getting to Ferrara by train:

There are direct trains to Ferrara from major nearby cities like Bologna and Venice. The trip from Venice takes about an hour and trains depart continuously throughout the day, sometimes multiple times an hour. From Bologna the trip takes about 30 minutes and departs every hour or two throughout the day. 

While farther away, there is also a direct train from Florence which does make one stop in Bologna. This trip takes about one hour. 

The train station in Ferrara is located to the west of the city center. The walk into the city center is about 15 – 20 minutes, or you could take a taxi which will take around five minutes and cost about €5 – 7. 

Bologna to Ferrara:

Bologna to Ferrara is a distance of about 48 kilometers or around 30 miles. Driving time between the two is about 45 – 50 minutes in a straight shot. 

If you want to take public transport, the train is your best bet. The fast train takes around 30 minutes, but do be careful to select the right time as some departures are slower and can take about an hour.

There is also a bus that connects the two cities but this is slower than the train, taking around one hour. 

Venice to Ferrara:

The distance from Venice to Ferrara is about 110 kilometers, about 69 miles. If you want to make the trip by car the drive time will be around an hour and 15 minutes. 

There is also a direct train connecting the two cities which takes about an hour and leaves regularly throughout the day. 

There are not any direct bus connections between Venice and Ferrara.

Getting to Ferrara by car

While there are good train connections between Ferrara and other destinations in the region, if you are planning on visiting Ferrara during a road trip throughout northern Italy, you may want to head to the city by car.

If you do choose to drive, you will want to arrange to park your car outside of the city center as there are restricted driving areas throughout the downtown of Ferrara. 

The biggest advantage of driving is that it gives you the opportunity to explore the nearby villages spread out through the countryside near Ferrara.

The driving time from nearby cities to Ferrara is pretty short, with a drive of about an hour and 15 minutes from Venice, and about 45 minutes from Bologna.

Best time to Visit Ferrara

Since Ferrara is not a super touristy city, it’s really quite nice to visit all year round. There is never a time when the crowds are so big that it will affect your experience or cause prices to skyrocket above normal.

That being said, spring and fall have the nicest weather and the prettiest foliage. Spring temperatures usually sit in the 60s and 70sF (around 15 – 21C). Fall has similar temperatures, though come November it can drop as low as the mid 40sF (about 7C) at night. Generally there is never a huge amount of rain in Ferrara, but April is the rainiest month of the year.

Come summer you should expect much warmer temperatures with July being the hottest month, usually peaking in the mid 80sF (about 31C). And with winter comes nightimes that can go as low as about 32F (that’s freezing). But, in winter you can enjoy the city’s Christmas market. And in summer there is a summer music festival amongst other events and happenings. 

How much time do you need In Ferrara?

While there are quite a few exciting Ferrara attractions to spend your time exploring, the city is small and you can easily see all the highlights in one full day. To make sure you’re not rushed, and to have time to linger with an aperitivo, plan to stay the night in Ferrara. 

Where to eat in Ferrara

Looking to try some local dishes in Ferrara? From stuffed pasta to pizza, here are a few recommend restaurants to try:

  • Osteria delle Volte
  • Balebuste
  • Orsucci da Armando dal 1936
  • Trattoria da Noemi

What food is Ferrara known for?

One of the most famous foods from Ferrara is Salama da Sugo. This is a pork sausage with a very strong flavor which is ripened over the course of months and then served with mashed potatoes.

If the thought of ripened pork sausage doesn’t appeal to you, this next dish just might — the torta tenerina. Quite simply a chocolate cake, this tart is made without flour and has a sort of meringue-like crust to it.

A final dish, popular around the whole of the region, is cappellacci. This is a tortellini like pasta made stuffed with pumpkin, Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. It is believed that this dish dates back at least to the time when the Este family ruled in Ferrara.

Cooking Class: Book this 4-course cooking class in Ferrara where you’ll learn how to make fresh pasta and a main course.

Where to stay in Ferrara

Piazza Nova Guest House – A charming guest house with comfortable rooms and free breakfast every morning.

Hotel De Prati – A lovely family-run hotel located in the heart of Ferrara.

Hotel Torre della Vittoria 1928 – Located in the main square, this beautiful property has a panoramic terrace overlooking the cathedral and stylish rooms.

Princess Art Hotel – A 4-star hotel hidden away in central Ferrara with classic rooms and easy access to the main attractions.

Ferrara Travel Frequently Asked Questions

Is Ferrara worth visiting? 

Yes, Ferrara is definitely worth visiting. It is not a super popular tourist destination so it can be a really great opportunity to get off the beaten track of the more well known destinations in northern Italy. Plus, it is worth visiting the city solely to see the Palazzo Schifanoia. 

What is Ferrara famous for?

Ferrara is known as a UNESCO world heritage town. It was given this title due to the importance it had during the Italian Renaissance period, in the 15th and 16th centuries. During that period it was a center of culture and at the forefront of art, architecture, music, and literature. Echoes of this time can still be found around the city in its buildings and museums. 

More Information for Your Trip to Italy

ITALY TRAVEL PLANNING GUIDE

Italy Travel Insurance – We always get travel insurance before all of our trips for peace of mind. Check out Travel Insurance Master to find the best plan for you.

Italy Rental Cars – We’ve rented a car in Italy many times, and it’s definitely the most convenient way to get around the countryside. We rented our car through Discover Cars (our go-to rental agency), which helps you find the best rates no matter where you are traveling.

Italy Phone Plans – If your phone plan does not offer free coverage in Italy, then we suggest getting an eSIM. We used Airalo during our trip to Italy, and we had fantastic coverage the entire time. It’s easy to download and you can even top up via the app if needed.

Italy Hotels – Wondering where to book your accommodations for Italy? We’ve been reserving all of our hotels through Booking for years. Their messaging tool makes it easy to communicate with the hotels, and there are endless options to choose from.

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