Ferrara Travel Guide
Despite its storied history and a UNESCO World Heritage designation, Ferrara isn’t on the radar of most foreign tourists. Being in the shadow of Venice, Florence, and Rome means this city frequently gets overlooked.
But, if you choose to venture off the beaten track, this destination will reward you with an amazing old town, a grand castle, monasteries, and much more.
After arriving in Ferrara, visit Castello Estense first. In the 14th century, its constructors created this fortification in response to civil unrest. However, throughout its history, combatants did not test these walls, save for a bombing during WWII.
Today, the castle is one of the top tourist attractions in Ferrara. As you tour its interior, Castello Estense’s frescoes, art, and opulent rooms will impress. In particular, the Gothic Rooms stand out with their floral patterns and a smaller-scale model of the castle.
Next, make your way over to Museo di Casa Romei. Back in the 16th century, Giovanni Romei, a prominent merchant in Ferrara, constructed this lavish house. From Giovanni’s private quarters to the magnificent courtyard, you’ll find excellent examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture throughout.
Since the mid-1950s, local authorities have operated this estate as a museum. In addition to Romei family personal effects, you’ll also find art and artifacts from now-destroyed churches and convents. Be aware that there is no A/C here – so if you’re here in summer, visit early.
After that, check out Sant’Antonio in Polesine. This tourist attraction is a former monastery – according to its name, water used to surround it. While this is no longer the case, the convent offers much. For example, it has a fresco by master Domenico Panetti, as well as several grotesques.
Note that on arrival, the doors to the church may be locked. Do not let this discourage it – ring the bell, and often, a nun will let you in and show you their frescoes.
If you’re in the mood for another church, head to the Ferrara Cathedral next. Dating to the 12th century, this minor basilica boasts Romanesque and Baroque design features. In addition to its appearance, be sure to check out their small museum.
Dig deeper into the past of Ferrara by visiting Museo Archeologico Nazionale. More than 2,000 years ago, the Ferrara area was home to the Etruscan city of Spina. Although the city fell in the 3rd century BC, its artifacts continue to speak in the present day.
In this museum’s exhibits, you’ll find sculptures, jewellery, pottery, and many other remnants of those times. Despite being far from the city centre (and thus, less-visited by foreign tourists), displays are in Italian and English.
Embrace the mortal side of humanity by walking through the graveyard at Certosa di Ferrara. On this site, you’ll find a monastery that is well worth exploring. However, locals best know this attraction for its remarkable cemetery.
From its humble boxes (for cremated remains) to elaborate tombs, this place is hauntingly beautiful. Of this burial ground’s inhabitants, film director Michelangelo Antonioni is among the most notable.
To protect itself from invasion during medieval and Renaissance times, city officials built Le Mura di Ferrara. Known in English as the City Walls of Ferrara, about nine of the original thirteen kilometres still stands today. Their style of building was unique – so much so, that it played a key role in getting Ferrara its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
While you can walk up here, we recommend cycling. This way, you’ll be able to cover ground more effectively. With many excellent photographic vantage points, you’ll be glad you rented a bike.
End your time in this city by spending some time in Centro Storico Ferrara. As you walk or bike down its narrow streets, you’ll stumble across beautiful buildings and cute shops. Throughout, there are also numerous places to eat/drink, including a spot that’s operated continuously since the 15th century.
What To Eat
It’s a stereotype, but Italy is the birthplace of pasta. So, at lunch or dinner, try out some Cappellacci di Zucca Ferraresi. Resembling ravioli, chefs stuff this pasta with butternut squash and Parmesan cheese. Depending on the restaurant, you may also get it served in a butter sauce, or in a tomato/meat sauce.
Have a bigger appetite to satisfy? Then, find an eatery that serves Pasticcio di Maccheroni. It is truly one of the more bizarre pasta dishes in Italy, as it serves up macaroni & truffles soaked in a ragu and bechamel sauce and wrapped in a sweet pastry.
As unusual as it looks, you’ll likely be sold after a few bites. Just be sure you’re hungry, as this meal will fill you up in a hurry.
If you still have room for dessert, try some Zuppa Inglese. Despite the name, this dessert is English only in its inspiration. As the story goes, a diplomat, after returning from England, asked his chefs to re-create trifle for him. While they did not have all the ingredients on hand for a faithful re-creation, they created something close – and Zuppa Inglese was born.