Ferrara Travel Guide

Italy's Hidden Renaissance Jewel, Where Timeless Art Meets Modern Vibrancy, Just a Pedal Away from Venice and Bologna

One of Italy’s best-kept secrets, the small northern town of Ferrara, is off most travelers’ itineraries, making discovering it all the more rewarding for those in the know. Encircled by medieval walls stretching more than nine kilometers and home to an enchanting castle and darkly beautiful cathedral, this lesser-known Renaissance town is only a half-hour train ride from Venice and 50 kilometers from gourmet Bologna. However, its quiet streets are worlds away from the city’s hustle and bustle.

Ferrara is a fantastic place to explore by bike, and locals and visitors alike pedal their way around town. There are several places to rent bikes near the center. Ferrara is a favorite with architecture buffs, best known for the small yet intricately decorated Renaissance palaces that dot the center. It also has terrific art collections, like the National Picture Gallery, where masters of the Ferrara School give proof of the town’s long cultural heritage. Yet, not all of the town’s charms come from the past. The 12,000 students at Ferrara’s University (where Copernicus studied) infuse the streets with a vibrant, lively atmosphere. The relaxed café ambiance and inviting restaurants make this an ideal spot for a leisurely, enjoyable retreat over a few days.

A fortified city as far back as the Byzantine era, this small town in the Emilia-Romagna region followed the destiny of so many northern towns, becoming an independent commune (“independent” is a relative term; the powerful Este family controlled the city) in the 12th century. It thrived as a cultural and artistic hotspot for centuries before becoming part of the Papal States and eventually becoming part of a unified Italy in the 19th century. Many of its most notable plazas, palaces, and monuments date to the 14th century when the Este family held court and invested vast sums of money to bring the city up to their standards.


  • Cappellacci di Zucca
    Cappellacci di Zucca

    Gastronomy & Wine


  • Castello Estense de Ferrara

    The former stronghold of the ruling Este family, this medieval castle with a moat dominates Ferrara’s old town much as it did when this was the center of the area’s power and prestige.

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  • Duomo

    The Cathedral of San Giorgio, dating to 1135, effortlessly combines Romanesque and Gothic architecture to striking effect.

  • University

    Nicolaus Copernicus and Paracelsus both studied at Ferrara’s university, which was founded in 1391 and still has schools of law, architecture, pharmacy, medicine, and natural science.

  • Defense Walls

    More than 9km of defensive walls dating to the 15th and 16th centuries wrap themselves around old Ferrara.

  • Palaces

    Ferrara is considered one of the best places to see Italian Renaissance architecture, thanks to the considerable number of 15th and 16th palaces here. While these palaces aren’t the most opulent you will find, their small scale makes them even more appealing. The best-known palace is the Palazzo dei Diamante, now home to the National Picture Gallery, which showcases an impressive collection of works from the Ferrara School.

  • Jewish Quarter

    From the 17th- 19th centuries, Ferrara’s Jewish community was pushed into a ghetto near the Castello Estense. These days, you can visit the old synagogue and an interesting Jewish museum on the Via Mazzini.

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