Modena is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, an ideal destination for a weekend getaway at any time of the year. It is located in the heart of Emilia Romagna and can be easily reached by car and train.
And to be honest, there are three words needed to describe best the city of Modena: art, food, and engines! I can attest that there are many things to see in Modena. And in this article, I will talk about the 12 best things to do in Modena, giving you all the information to be able to see the most important places in the city of Modena. Read on!
Things To Do In Modena
1. Tour The Cathedral Of Modena
When architect Lanfranco was called to design the Cathedral of Modena in 1099, perhaps he was not aware that he would change the history of architecture forever. His design, in fact, would become the reference for every Romanesque church built from that moment on.
The basilica is divided into three naves marked by alternating columns and pillars, with a raised presbytery over the crypt. But let’s go in order.
The external facade, entrusted to the great art of Wiligelmo, is full of sacred and profane, celestial and monstrous sculptures that summarize the entire spiritual world of medieval man.
The portals are spectacular, namely the Portale Maggiore, the Porta dei Principi, the Porta della Pescheria and the Porta Regia. And even more beautiful is the large central rose window.
If the exterior strikes with sculptures, statues, and rich decorations, the interior will leave you surprised with its size and valuable works. Starting with the pulpit carved with statues, the imposing work “Altar of the statuettes” by Michele da Firenze, the inlaid choir, the Table of San Sebastiano by Dosso Dossi, and of course, the presbytery with the richly decorated apse that rises on the crypt.
Therefore, any visit to the important places to see in Modena should start with its Cathedral, which is considered one of Italy’s most important Romanesque buildings.
2. Climb The Ghirlandina Tower
The Ghirlandina Tower stands next to the Cathedral of Modena and is one of the symbols of the city. A must-see Modena attraction.
Built around 1160 and finished in 1319, its main purpose was to be the bell tower of the Cathedral, but in reality, it also had other functions. Bells rang to communicate important events to citizens, such as impending dangers. You can climb to the top of the tower after walking 200 steps and thus admire all the sights of Modena from above.
3. Tour the Enzo Ferrari Museum
Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati, Ducati, Dallara: just a few names are enough to understand how Modena has always been a land of engines. It’s here where some of the most famous brands, luxury cars, and motorcycles were born.
Ferrari is certainly the best known of these, and its history can be discovered in the beautiful Enzo Ferrari Museum, which is located in the heart of Modena. More than a museum, it is a journey through the history of Enzo Ferrari, from when he was a racing driver to when he decided to build cars.
The museum has 2,500 square meters, in which a multitude of Ferrari cars are exhibited, and you can enjoy a small simulator of just seven minutes where you put yourself in the shoes of a Formula 1 driver. You will also see Enzo Ferrari objects and discover the history of the brand. All this makes a trip to this museum one of the most exciting things to do in Modena, Italy.
4. Go Shopping At The Albinelli Market
The Albinelli Market is an iron construction from 1931 and is located two minutes from the Duomo. Inside there is a multitude of food stalls. And in the middle of this market, there is a stone fountain and, on top of it, a metallic statue of a woman.
In this market, you can buy fresh products such as fresh pasta, vegetables, fruit, meat, etc. But you can also buy typical products of Modena and the area, such as Balsamic Vinegar. This is vinegar made from three types of grapes that are aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 12 years. You can also find a variety of Modena wines.
The Albinelli market is open from Monday to Saturday from 6:30 am to 2:30 pm.
5. Go On A Tour At The Palazzo Ducale
Palazzo Ducale is one of the most beautiful palaces in Modena, and for many, the first Baroque palace in the world. For centuries it was the home of the Este family. However, today the Military Academy of Modena is based here.
The visit begins with the courtyard of honor, which, by the way, cannot be stepped on. This is because that “honor” only belongs to the officers of the academy. After here, the tour continues in what were the private chambers of the Dukes.
The most spectacular rooms are the hall of honor and the “Golden Sitting Room,” which was the study of Duke Francisco III and which he had covered with sheets of gold. The sheets were removed to be preserved due to Napoleonic and subsequent looting. Of course, nothing remains of the original furniture, except a large table that could not be removed from the palace.
I also recommended visiting the Giardino Ducale Estense. These gardens were once private, also owned by the Este family, and are now part of a public park.
Note: It is only possible to visit it on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and you have to book the guided tour.
6. People-Watch At Piazza Grande
Piazza Grande is the hub of the city of Modena and is framed by the Cathedral, the portico of the Town Hall, and the Ghirlandina Tower. In 1997 Piazza Grande, together with the Cathedral of Modena and the Ghirlandina, were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
This is where the life of Modena and its inhabitants took place, from political, religious, and judicial power. The city market also took place in the square, people met for parties, and executions.
As in the past, so too today, Piazza Grande represents the main meeting place of Modena. You will see people chatting in the square, reading the newspaper sitting in the cafes, shopping in boutiques, or strolling around on their bicycles.
In fact, the city of Modena, due to its conformation, is perfect to be explored both on foot and by bicycle. I advise you to stop and admire every corner of this square. And if you look at the Ghirlandina Tower from Piazza Grande, you will immediately notice its structural peculiarity that is difficult to perceive inside.
In addition, several events and exhibitions take place in the square. So if there’s something going on at the square, don’t miss to attend as it is one of the best things to do in Modena.
7. Visit The Palazzo Comunale
The Palazzo Comunale of Modena, located in the Plaza Grande in front of the Cathedral, is another of the most important buildings to see in the city. Its facade, with its long portico and central clock tower, is one of the most recognizable sights of Modena.
At the corner of the Palazzo Comunale is a statue, the Bonissima, one of the symbols of Modena. It represents a woman with a long braid dressed in medieval clothes.
Along the portico of the Palazzo Comunale stands the Clock Tower, whose dome was built in 1508. Next to the entrance staircase of the Palazzo Comunale, there is also the Prera Ringadora or the “stone that addresses.” It is a rectangular boulder that served as a platform for those who spoke to the citizens during the Middle Ages. Later it also assumed the role of “stone of dishonor.” Debtors were forced to sit naked on the stone after having toured the square on market days.
It is also worth noting that it is possible to visit the historical rooms of the Communal Palace, which are only five or six and can be visited in a few minutes.
Among the most interesting rooms, the Sala del Fuoco stands out, decorated with paintings from the 16th century. The Sala del Vecchio Consiglio, with a splendid and palatial ceiling, and the Sala dei Arazzi, decorated with paintings on canvas, like tapestries.
As you can see, there is a lot to see and do in Palazzo Comunale. And being one of the famous attractions in Modena, plan at least an hour of a tour around this palace.
8. Visit The Pavarotti Museum
Less than 15 minutes from Modena is the house museum of Luciano Pavarotti, a great Italian tenor who was born in 1935 and passed away in 2017. After his death, his residence became a museum, thus giving people an opportunity to see how he spent the last years of his life.
The building that houses this museum is a typical country house in the Italian countryside. Inside, you can see both utensils that Luciano used in his day-to-day life, as well as material from his long career as an opera singer. Awards, distinctions, or costumes are just some of the objects that you can see.
Visiting hours are 10 am to 6:00 pm every day.
9. Get Your Art On Gallerie Estensi
Nest on my list of things to do in Modena is a visit to Gallerie Esntensi. The term Gallerie Estensi of Modena refers to an autonomous museum complex made up of various collections scattered in three different cities, Modena, Ferrara, and Sassuolo.
In Modena, the works are divided into three collections which are all located inside the Palazzo dei Musei. They include the Estense Gallery, the Estense University Library, and the Estense Lapidary Museum.
The Estense Gallery is divided into several rooms, which house a precious collection of works of art that belonged to the Dukes of Este created by artists such as Correggio, Velazquez, Cima da Conegliano, or Raphael himself.
The Estense Library is a state public library made up of thousands of volumes accumulated over the centuries by the d’Este family. And lastly, the Lapidary Museum collects the archaeological remains of Modena from the Roman era, such as steles and sarcophagi found over the centuries during various excavations.
10. Get Amazed At The Museum Of Figurines And FMAV
Raise your hand if you have never had a sticker collection! And when it comes to stickers, the first name that comes to mind is Panini, a company from Modena. In 1997 the Panini brothers decided to donate their extraordinary collection of stickers to the Municipality of Modena.
The museum displays 2,500 figurines that are part of the large collection kept in the archive. There are around 500,000 stickers that are periodically exhibited to the public based on the chosen theme.
In the halls of the FMAV (Modena Visual Arts Foundation), which houses the Figurine Museum, there are also collections of photography and drawing, and graphics. In the latter section, there are around 5,000 works of drawing by artists such as Morandi, Lucio Fontana, Sironi, Carra, and others. So be sure to include it on your list of places to visit in Modena for the best art scenes.
11. Get A Taste Of Modena Balsamic Vinegar
Impossible to visit Modena and not stop in a vinegar cellar to taste the balsamic vinegar of Modena, the flagship product of this Emilian city. Modena has a very ancient tradition regarding this product which remains one of the most characteristics of this area.
It is possible to learn about the history of the balsamic vinegar of Modena by visiting the Municipal Acetaia located in Piazza Grande. Otherwise, I suggest you make an appointment in one of the vinegar cellars that populate the Modena area for a guided tour with a final tasting.
I chose Aceto Balsamico del Duca di Adriano Grosoli Srl where balsamic vinegar has been produced for five generations, exactly since 1891. Through a guided tour, you will be able to discover the history of the company and learn about the important difference between DOP and IGP balsamic vinegar.
In the halls of the vinegar cellar, you can admire the barrels in which the vinegar is kept. The visit obviously ends with a taste where it will then be possible to buy a few bottles of balsamic vinegar to take home.
12. Enjoy A Scenic Bike Ride
Emilia-Romagna is one of the most bike-friendly Italian regions. And Modena is not left behind. In fact, it is one of the cities with the most kilometers of bike lanes in Italy.
In the historic center, you will see dozens of locals riding or leaving their bikes in front of the shops or cafes. So if you want to feel like a local, you can rent a bike and get to enjoy the sights of Modena while still exercising. And if you don’t like bikes, no problem. The center is small, and it is also very easy to get around on foot.
All in all, enjoying a bike ride is one of the best and most fun things to do in Modena if you want to feel the vibe of the city while enjoying its scenery.