A Hidden Gem With History in Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna
On the same train-line as Bologna, Padova and Venice, it would be easy to overlook the stunning city of Ferrara. It would also be a shame. With buildings and palaces dating back to the 14th century, Ferrara is a spectacular city with breathtaking architecture casting its shadows over wide, open piazzas.
Recently recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage site, it has, so far, managed to avoid the abundance of tourists which tends to come hand-in-hand with such an honour. It is only a matter of time.
Close to the banks of River Po, beyond the nine kilometers of 15th and 16th century city walls that surround Ferrara, visitors will find magnificent examples of Renaissance and medieval architecture which define this great city. Dramatic yet elegant, Ferrara successfully combines its history with a sense of style. It is a clean, attractive and romantic city; it has ambiance without the abundance of tourists and retains its character without appearing uncared for.
Here, tourists either lucky or smart enough to visit Ferrara, will find the dramatic Castello Estense and its moat. Originally built in the 14th century, it was used by Ferrara’s former rulers, the Este family, for entertaining. Entrance to the castle and it’s prison cells is possible for a small fee and, for an additional €1, visitors can enjoy views across the town center from the top of the Torre dei Leoni. Nearby, the Cattedrale is open to the public for free with the Museo della Cattedrale close-by containing exhibits from the cathedral itself.
Despite its size, Ferrara also boasts a relatively impressive number of palaces. The Palazza dei Diamanti, where visitors will find the National Picture Gallery, is just one of these. Palazzo Schifanoia, built for the Marquis of Ferrara, is another. Beyond it’s worn and slightly misleading exterior are beautiful, well-kept frescoes from the 15th century.
Other sights include the Santa Maria in Vado church, the Archaeological Museum, the Pinacoteca Nazionale Art Gallery and the prominent City Hall building. Ferrara is also home to a university and the University of Ferrara Botanic Gardens.
Festivals and Concerts
The Palio in Ferrara is similar to the horse contest in Siena, albeit on a much smaller scale, and is held every last Sunday of May. At the end of August, some of the best street buskers in the world also congregate here for The Buskers Festival and, for ten days of the year, Ferrara hosts one of Europe’s largest balloon festivals.
On a more regular basis, an antiques market can be found here on the first weekend of every month and craft stalls on the third weekend.
Getting Around Ferrara
Most traffic is prohibited from the center but it is possible to reach Ferrara from the train station by foot or by bus. Otherwise, parking can be found near the city walls on Via Darsena or Piazza Travaglio. On arriving, the best way of exploring Ferrara is by walking or, like the locals, on a bike.
Food in Ferrara
Boasting a number of restaurants, bars and cafes, Ferrara is also home to the oldest osteria in the world. Since opening in 1435, Al Brindisi on Via Guglielmo degli Adelardi has been serving snacks and drinks to Titian, Benvenuto Cellini and tourists alike. For local specialties, such as the cappellacci di zucca and salama da sugo, visit Antica Trattoria Volano or Trattoria il Mandolino.