How many of you have heard about the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy or know where it is? I bet not many. This area is often overlooked, although there are many reasons to travel to Emilia Romagna.
Everyone traveling from Florence to Venice (or the other way round) goes through Emilia Romagna and its largest city, Bologna. This Italian region is often barely an area of transit, and only a few make a stop on their way to or from Tuscany.
Too bad, for there are many tourist attractions in Emilia Romagna. It’s a land full of beauty, charm, and traditions. And if you’re still wondering why you should visit Emilia Romagna, read further.
10 reasons you should travel Emilia Romagna and add it to your Italy bucket list.
1. A land of authenticity
I’m not going to deny that Tuscany is fantastic. However, the hordes of tourists have partially tarnished its authenticity, at least in the most famous cities and areas. Too many things, for my taste, are shaped to please tourists. For example, the only thought some nicknamed a region of Tuscany’ Chiantishire’ makes me shiver. And I get suspicious when I read many signs in English at the entrance of some local wineries, meaning that much of the focus is on Anglo-Saxon visitors.
Not so in Emilia-Romagna, where genuineness is deep-rooted, and the feeling of authentic Italy is much stronger. That’s particularly true if you travel to a few of the charming smaller towns in Emilia Romagna. Hopping from one city or town to the other, it doesn’t take long to see how unique each one is.
2. Warm hospitality
I don’t know the reason, but Emilia-Romagna has always distinguished itself for its warm hospitality, a characteristic which luckily hasn’t faded away.
Most people in the region are friendly, joyful, and easy-going, and feeling at home is often only a matter of minutes. I cherish this area of Italy because I always feel welcome.
3. Art cities, charming towns, endless beaches, rolling hills, and mountains
Mentioning the best places to visit in Emilia Romagna means making a long list. Indeed, the region is so diverse, and there’s so much to do that it’s easy to build your Emilia Romagna itinerary to include many different experiences.
Having a passion for art, I fell in love with Ravenna and its magnificent mosaics, Modena’s beautiful Romanesque architecture, the colorful streets of Parma, and Ferrara’s elegance.
I felt pure bliss looking at the smooth and verdant hills near Faenza and fell in love with the colorful little town of Brisighella, where I could easily spend months enjoying the peaceful surroundings. Not to speak about the many delightful villages dotting Emilia-Romagna!
Albeit not as scenic as the Alps, there are plenty of beautiful spots in the Apennines, where you can do many outdoor activities. A few years ago, I visited the area around Porretta Terme, a pretty town surrounded by hills and mountains at the edge between Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany. More recently, I hiked the St Francis Way from Rimini to La Verna Sanctuary. So if you’re looking for a fantastic long-distance hike, you’re in for a unique experience. And you can also walk a stretch of the path if you rather have a day outdoors from Rimini or Bologna.
As if this were not enough, there’s a lovely scenic train ride to Tuscany I recommend. Dante’s train connects Ravenna or Faenza to Florence through the Appennines and some lovely towns (including the above-mentioned Brisighella).
And then there’s the Adriatic coast, with its wide sandy beaches and a lot of entertainment for anyone: teenagers, couples, families, and the elderly.
I’m not much of a beach bum anymore, but Rimini and Riccione – the two most popular spots -, are linked to my childhood since my father used to bring my brother and me there on holiday. Rimini is a perfect destination if you want to combine beach life with lovely excursions. There are many things to do and see in Rimini and its surroundings that don’t involve the beach!
Anyway, from time to time, I like reliving sweet memories of spending a few days of long walks along the beach, eating delicious typical piadina (a local flatbread that I usually have filled with ham, soft cheese, and arugula), and shamelessly savoring hearty dishes of fresh fish.
4. Beautiful and less crowded places
Rome, Florence, and Venice are unique and extraordinary, but it’s tough to beat the crowds, no matter the season, and the flurry can be overwhelming.
Most places across Emilia-Romagna are quieter (unless you go to the Adriatic coast in July-August’s peak season, and sometimes Ravenna can be busy) and more enjoyable.
5. Spellbinding UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Impossible to introduce the best places to visit in Emilia Romagna without mentioning a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all simply breathtaking.
The most unique is Ravenna, where you’ll discover a complex of eight early Christian monuments. The magnificent mosaics are among the most beautiful works of art I’ve ever seen. Therefore, if you want to add an unforgettable art experience to your Emilia Romagna itinerary, don’t miss Ravenna.
In Modena, you can admire the magnificent early Romanesque architecture of Piazza Grande, the Cathedral, and the Ghirlandina Tower, the city’s symbol. And it’s lovely to stroll along the cobblestone streets of the historical center.
One of the best surprises was Ferrara. Although lesser known, the city is a jewel, and it’s not surprising that it was declared a UNESCO WHS for its unique Renaissance architecture and urban planning. I had a wonderful time exploring Ferrara by bike, and it’s without a doubt a city where I’d like to go back and spend a few days.
Bologna is a university town, and you’ll meet many young students giving the city a characteristic and lively vibe. I loved walking under the arcades (they cover 45 km, or 28 mi, in the city), getting lost in the tiny streets of the historical center, sitting with a book at one of the many cafés, and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere.
6. Home of the Food Valley and a foodies paradise
Few countries in the world can boast such a variety of food specialties and creativity in cuisine as Italy. Furthermore, every Italian region is a land of culinary discoveries.
Celebrated on Forbes as Italy’s Greatest Gastronomic Treasure, Emilia-Romagna is an authentic foodie paradise. The region is home to unique and delicious products, like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Modena’s Traditional balsamic vinegar, whose production is fascinating. I’m talking about the real thing, not the one sold in most supermarkets, because it takes years to produce traditional balsamic vinegar.
Then, there’s mouth-watering cured meat like Culatello di Zibello, Parma ham, Mortadella, and Coppa. And Lambrusco, the, slightly sparkling local red wine, is the perfect pairing with the regional food.
It’s not surprising that the entire area around Parma is called the “Food Valley,” and the many delicious local products and dishes are alone reason enough for a trip.
7. Bologna, ideally located to explore Northern Italy
Not many foreign visitors know that Bologna is one of the main railway hubs in Italy, strategically positioned on the railroad line connecting Milan to Florence-Rome and Venice to Florence-Rome, both passing through Bologna.
The introduction of high-speed trains has significantly reduced the time to travel from one city to another. Thus Bologna is only 1 hour away from Milan, 1 1/2 hours from Venice, and 35-40 minutes from Florence. These trains are fast but expensive. However, there are ways to save money on high-speed trains if you buy your tickets in advance.
Exploring Emilia-Romagna by train from Bologna is easy since many regional trains connect most of the best spots. Famous for its porticoes covering close to 40 km, the city is beautiful and lively. Furthermore, you can take many easy day trips from Bologna to the sea, the hills, or other enchanting art cities and towns.
8. Reasonable prices and value for money
Italy is an extraordinary country but let’s be honest: the most famous spots are pricey, when not outrageously expensive. On the other hand, Emilia-Romagna is generally cheaper, and it’s easy to have delicious food at really fair prices.
Moreover, you’ll rarely find the usual places for tourists, with lousy food too expensive for what it is.
9. The realm of homemade pasta
Sure, pasta is the Italian national dish, and there are so many different types of pasta and way of cooking it that you could eat it every day for one year and never have it prepared twice in the same fashion.
However, Emilia-Romagna is the realm of homemade pasta – or sfoglia, as they call it here. Tagliatelle, tortellini, and lasagne, to mention only a few, are ‘variations on the theme’ across the region.
Preparing homemade pasta is a tradition and pride. It holds memories of past times that are still alive, no matter how the world has changed. Food in Italy is traditionally a family matter, and the loving preparation of tortellini or lasagne was meant for special occasions, gathering family and friends around the table. There may be fewer occasions today, but the tradition is still strongly felt.
My favorites are tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth) and tagliatelle al ragù. Add to the list lasagna and tortelli di magro (homemade pasta filled with ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and just a bit of parsley), topped with melted butter and a generous spoon of grated Parmigiano. And I could go on…
10. The region of legendary cars
Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini legendary cars were all born in Emilia-Romagna, in an area called the ‘Motor Valley.’ The same goes for the motorbike Ducati, together with other motorbike brands. Here, the best talents gathered and developed unique designs and cutting-edge technology.
Museums are abundant (the Ferrari Museums in Maranello and Modena and the Lamborghini Museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese, only to mention a couple), and several impressive private collections, like the superb Museo Panini in Cittànova.
Not sure yet why you should visit Emilia-Romagna? Leave a comment or write to me. I’m ready to give you even more reasons!
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Practical information to travel to Emilia-Romagna
Emilia-Romagna: When to go
You can virtually travel to Emilia-Romagna all year round, but there are more advisable times of the year.
Spring and autumn are the best time to visit the cities and towns of Emilia-Romagna, which can get quite hot in July and August. Winters can be chilly but never so cold to prevent you from a pleasant stroll and enjoying one of the many museums and landmarks.
The seacoast is very busy from June to the end of August, and since it’s high season, the prices rise. On the other hand, May and September can be lovely, cooler, and less crowded. If you like the sea in winter, as I do, you’ll appreciate the vast, long beaches, where you can walk almost undisturbed. The only downside is that many hotels, restaurants, and cafès are seasonal, so you’ll have limited options.
Getting to Emilia-Romagna
Bologna Marconi Airport (BLG) has direct flights from/to several European cities (Vienna, Munich, Edinburgh, London, Paris, and many more). The airport is very close to the city. In addition, a regular shuttle bus connects Bologna airport to the city center in about 20-30 minutes.
Check flight timetables and airline deals -> HERE.
Bologna is the main railway hub in the north/south train lines. The high-speed train allows you to travel quickly from/to Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome. Check out the timetables and book your high-speed train tickets in advance to get discounted fares.
A regular train service connects the main cities and most towns of Emilia-Romagna. Check Trenitalia timetables -> HERE.
Undoubtedly, driving gives you more freedom to visit at your pace and stop along the way as often as you feel. However, driving in the cities is often complicated (narrow roads, pedestrian areas, confusing signs), and parking is a challenge. However, if public transport is not your thing, check the best rates for car hire -> Book Now your Rental car!
Where to stay in Emilia Romagna
There’s a wide choice of accommodations for every budget. From hostels to campings, from cozy guesthouses to luxury hotels.
Accommodations in Bologna
Hotel Metropolitan boasts modern and stylish furniture and a central location in the historic center. The plus: a rooftop terrace overlooking Bologna and the surrounding hills, where you can have breakfast, and aperitifs, and enjoy relaxing moments. Ideal for couples liking design.
Hotel Corona d’Oro: Classic and elegant, in the heart of the town. The plus: an ancient historical building, a stone’s throw from the famous towers of Bologna. Ideal for people enjoying tradition and elegance.
Find more highly rated options in Bologna -> HERE.
Accommodations in Parma
NH Parma: A brand new hotel with contemporary and stylish design and furniture. The plus: 42-inch TVs and a free fitness area. Ideal for modern style lovers.
Park Hotel Pacchiosi: A luxury hotel in an ancient building from the early 20th century. The plus: the 10,000 sqm park surrounding the hotel. Ideal for luxury lovers, and couples.
Find more highly rated options in Parma -> HERE.
Accommodations in Rimini
Grand Hotel Rimini e Residenza Parco Fellini: The most classic hotel in Rimini, with a longstanding tradition. The plus: Grand Hotel Rimini epitomizes the Dolce Vita, as told in Fellini’s movie. Ideal for couples, cinema buffs, and traditions lovers.
Houston Suites feature bright and minimal furniture and are near the beach. Most suites have a dining area and kitchenette. The plus: you’ll feel like having your small beach apartment. Ideal for families.
Find more highly rated options in Rimini -> HERE.
Accommodations in Ravenna
Casa Masoli: A boutique bed&breakfast in a beautiful historic residence dating back to the 19th century. The plus: the breakfast room is decorated with frescoes. Ideal for couples loving tradition and uniqueness.
Palazzo Bezzi: Tastefully decorated with modern furniture, nearby the mosaics, and all attractions: The plus: internal patio, Spa, and wellness center. Ideal for couples.
Find more highly rated options in Ravenna -> HERE.
Where to eat
You can hardly get wrong in Emilia-Romagna, but there are still a few places that I strongly recommend.
Trattoria Anna Maria – Countless pictures and many photos of Italian celebrities hang on the walls of this simple traditional restaurant. Not to miss Tagliatelle al ragù, Tortelloni burro e salvia (hand-made pasta filled with spinach and ricotta and seasoned with melted butter, sage, and a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano), and Vitello tonnato (super thin slices of veal covered with a tuna-based thick sauce).
Mercato di Mezzo – This indoor market is a must-see in Bologna to spot delicacies. It is also excellent for Aperitivo, pre-dinner drinks, and a hearty buffet. If you want to taste something different, order the Lambruspritz, the Bologna version of the famous “aperitivo,” with the typical Lambrusco red wine.
Welldone – If you look for a change from Italian food, here you can eat gourmet hamburgers and wash them down with good beer.
Alfione Ristorante & Bottega – A traditional shop of gourmet food enlarged to include a lovely restaurant. It’s an exceptional place serving great dishes cooked with excellent raw materials.
Trattoria Corrieri – A longstanding restaurant in the heart of the city. Enjoy gnocco fritto (sometimes also called torta fritta) with Culatello, Parma ham, and other cold cuts, and savor the delicious homemade filled pasta.
If you are a Formula 1 fan or love Ferrari luxury cars, chances are you’ll go and visit the Ferrari Museum in Maranello. Don’t miss having a bite at the iconic Ristorante Cavallino, where every piece tastes Ferrari: photos of famous drivers, F1 paraphernalia, and the ubiquitous prancing horse.
Guided Tours and Special Experiences in Emilia Romagna
- Parma Ham & Parmigiano Reggiano Tour – Discover the secrets of Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano and their fascinating production.
- Parmigiano Cheese, Parma Ham, and Balsamic Tour from Parma – A full-day trip to taste the three top food specialties of Emilia Romagna.
- Modena Food Tour – A small group tour and 5 pit stops to savor some of the best Emilia Romagna food.
- Balsamic Vinegar Tasting Tour in Modena – Traditional balsamic vinegar is the most fascinating of all the food delicacies produced in Emilia-Romagna. Find out about the years-long processing and have an extraordinary tasting session.
- From Bologna, Food Experience including Factory Visits with Gourmet Lunch and Wine Tasting.
- Home cooking class in Bologna at Grazia’s house.
- Bologna with a Local: Customized Private Meet-Up – There’s nothing like hanging around with locals to discover the best of a city.
- Ravenna: 3-Hour Tour to Discover Byzantine Mosaics – A guided visit to the stunning UNESCO WHS Byzantine mosaics.
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