Last Updated on 5th December 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
Off the beaten path and often overlooked, Ravenna is a pretty town in the region of Emilia Romagna, Italy, which can be easily seen in a day or two traveling from the most important towns of Bologna and Florence. If you’ve decided to include it in your Italian adventure, then check out the best things to do in Ravenna to make the most of your visit!
Where is Ravenna and How to Get There
Located in northern Italy, halfway between the stunning university city of Bologna and the small European state of San Marino, Ravenna is one of the most important towns in the Emilia Romagna region, on the northern part of the Italian Peninsula.
Capital of the province of the same name, the city is connected to the most important cities in the region by an extensive and efficient train system. There are also buses reaching Ravenna from all the towns in Emilia Romagna and some important Tuscan cities as well.
If you’re arriving from another European country, then you will need to reach one of Italy’s main airports (such as Fiumicino in Rome or Malpensa in Milan, and then get to Ravenna by train).
Important Things to Know about Ravenna
Even though the city is not as famous as other Italian destinations, Ravenna’s incredible past saw it as the important capital of different empires, such as the Western Roman Empire and the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths.
Among the many reasons to explore Ravenna, it is impossible to forget the incredible number of historic sites, remarkable buildings, museums, and churches, as well as an important list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
However, Ravenna is not just about history. The city is not far from different seaside resorts on the Adriatic coast of Italy as well as other important tourist attractions in the country, including Pisa, Florence, San Gimignano, Siena, Lucca, and Bologna.
When to Visit Ravenna
Since the city is not as visited as Florence or Rome, it will be easier to find affordable accommodation as well as tickets to attractions even in the most popular summer season.
The city shares the same climatic characteristics as the whole Tuscany and Emilia Romagna regions, with long, warm summers, pleasant springs, cool autumns, and quite rainy and cold winters.
Where to Stay in Ravenna
When looking for accommodation in town, it is important to consider that, the best way to see the main areas and attractions in town is to walk from one place to another. For that reason, finding a place to stay in the city center or near the main train station can be the smartest and most convenient thing to do.
These are the places I recommend you check out when it is time to book a hotel in Ravenna.
Appartamento Corte Callegari: Only 700 meters from the center of town, this is a very affordable and top-rated bed and breakfast in Ravenna. The pet-friendly property features a kitchen, a seating area, and the possibility to choose between continental or buffet breakfast every morning. Check prices and availability here.
Palazzo Galletti Abbiosi: Another fabulous place to stay in town, set in a former noble residence from the eighteenth century located in the center of Ravenna and just 400 meters from the train station.
The beautiful place mixes a historic atmosphere with contemporary minimalist décor, offering spaces such as a fitness area and an old chapel. Some of the most refined rooms include high ceilings with original frescoed vaults. Check prices and availability here.
B&B Corso Diaz: Perfect if you want to make the most of your budget and are looking for a central position at a convenient nightly fee, this bed and breakfast is near Ravenna Station, and offers a gorgeous shared garden, perfect to unwind after a whole day walking and exploring Ravenna. Check prices and availability here.
Top Attractions and Best Things to Do in Ravenna
Piazza del Popolo
We are aware that most guides to Ravenna suggest starting exploring by visiting the several religious buildings, churches, and monasteries scattered in the region, we believe that the best place to visit to get a real feel of Ravenna should be Piazza del Popolo, the city’s main square.
The piazza is located in the heart of the historic district only steps from Ravenna’s most important churches. The place is perfect to sit in a café and see locals go about their daily routines. Over here, you can also spot the Municipal Palace (Comune di Ravenna) and other Government Buildings.
The Neonian Baptistery
An impressive religious building and characteristic site in Ravenna, the Neonian Baptistery or Neon Baptistery stands out as it is the oldest building in Ravenna and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building is located right next to Saint Andrew’s Chapel and, like most Italian baptisteries, it features a characteristic octagonal plant.
However, the most stunning feature of the Baptistery is its interior space adorned with colorful mosaics and intricate decorations with religious scenes of Saint John the Baptist and the Apostles.
The Baptistery stands on top of a former Roman Bath complex with enhances the historic significance of the place and the whole city as a remarkable settlement in historic times.
Galla Placidia Mausoleum
If you came to Ravenna looking for UNESCO sites, then this list won’t disappoint. The third place you must visit in Ravenna is certainly the Galla Placida, a mausoleum featuring some stunning decorations and masterpieces that have gained the building a unique architectural reputation.
The mausoleum was built to honor the daughter of Theodosius I, a former Roman emperor, and it carries her name.
Saint Vitale Basilica
Another gorgeous religious building, the basilica features a simple facade that easily tricks you into thinking that the interiors are equally plain. Nothing further from the truth, though!
The complexity and incredible, almost maniac, details of the decor in the interior spaces is simply unbelievable. The interior arches and columns of the church include lavish decorations and refined craftsmanship details.
Resembling the architecture of the Neonian Baptistery, the basilica includes a breathtaking large octagonal dome decorated with impressive mosaics, often included among the most delicate and incredible examples of Byzantine artwork all over Italy.
Saint Francis Basilica
Often visited together with the previous church, this is another important landmark you cannot miss in Ravenna. Locally known as the Basilica di San Francesco, this ninth-century church is somewhat simpler than Saint Vitale’s Basilica, however, it is equally loved and popular as it includes important artifacts and tombs closely related to the past and history of Ravenna
One of the most impressive traits of the basilica is the tenth-century bell tower. However, the most impressive place to explore is the church’s ancient crypt, (curiously often underwater) that contains the tomb of a bishop from the fifth century!
Probably the main reason why many tourists made their way to Ravenna, this is a relevant place closely related to the city’s past. In fact, the best-known king of the Ostrogoths, Theodoric, is a historic character who ruled during the sixth century and still holds a strong influence and importance in the history of the city.
Before his death, King Theodoric personally picked Ravenna as his final resting place, ordering the construction of this impressive domed mausoleum in Istrian stone that, still today stands in the green fields of Ravenna’s Theodoric Park.
Sant’Apollinare Nuovo Palace
Also related to the Ostrogoth past of Ravenna, this is one more building whose construction was ordered by King Theodoric also in the sixth century.
The ancient palace is dedicated to Christ the Redeemer and it was completed in the year 505 AD. It features a breathtaking series of stone arches and one of the most beautiful bell towers ever built on the Italian Peninsula.
Inside, rich mosaics and lavish decor adorn the walls of the historical building, a clear trait that most churches and palaces share in town, a clear example of the wealth the Ostrogoth Kingdom enjoyed during its years of splendor.
Dante Alighieri’s Tomb
If you’ve visited Florence during your trip, the name Dante Alighieri might sound familiar.
The most important poet in Italian literature, Dante Alighieri is better known for writing the most important literary work in the country, La Divina Commedia, a detailed description of the author’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
While in Florence it is possible to visit the house where the poet might have lived, it is in Ravenna where you can visit the tomb of the poet. If the Italian language is something that fascinates you, then you cannot miss a visit to the final resting place of Dante, a writer who brought unicity to the Italian over dialectal varieties.
Ravenna’s National Museum
Another religious building, a former Benedictine Monastery is now home to the National Museum of Ravenna housing a remarkable collection of the city’s past, including archaeological findings, art, and relics gathered in Ravenna and the surrounding areas.
Among the most fascinating exhibitions is an impressive collection of ancient weapons, many of them belonging to the Ostrogoth Kingdom.
The Arian Baptistery is another religious building in town that was also built thanks to the orders of King Theodoric. The building dates back to the sixth century and shares the same architectural details as many of the churches and baptisteries in town.
The most remarkable characteristic of this building is the ceiling mosaic featuring the baptism of Jesus Christ.
Head to the most important street in town for a completely different experience. This shopping street is close to Piazza del Popolo and it is a great place for shopping or simply walking and admiring the architectural wonders of the historic city center.
Along Via Cavour, there are several restaurants, trattorias, bars, and coffee shops where to taste the delicious cuisine of the Emilia Romagna region. These include cold cuts, cheese, wine, and incredible tortellini pasta or mouthwatering cappelletti al ragú sauce.
Best Tours to Discover Ravenna
As it is possible to see from this list, there is a lot to see in town. Hosting such an impressive number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but also ancient buildings, incredible churches, and a lot more, the best way to enjoy and learn about Ravenna is to explore by joining an organized tour.
There are several options available, from affordable half-day tours that offer a quick panorama of the city’s art and architecture, to more sophisticated experiences run by art specialists, that will certainly provide incredible details as well as curious stories about the city’s past. These are the ones I recommend:
Private Guided Tour with Monument Admissions: This is a three-hour private walking tour to explore the fascinating city of Ravenna, its well-preserved late Roman and Byzantine architecture, its stunning mosaics, and its incredible history. Check prices and availability here.
UNESCO Monuments and Mosaics Guided Tour: This is a more affordable experience that takes you to explore some of the mosaics guarded inside Ravenna’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and experience five incredible monuments on a guided tour with a local expert. Check prices and availability here.
Highlights Private Walking Tour with Entry Tickets: This tour takes you to visit the Mausoleum of Galla Placida, the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinaire Nuovo. You will also check out some of the city’s colorful mosaics with an expert guide. Check prices and availability here.
Private Full-Day History and Mosaics Tour: If you feel that none of the previous tours offers enough, then this full-day tour through the history of the city will leave you speechless! It includes visits to Roman and Byzantine treasures, some UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Basilica of San Vitale, and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
It also features a stop at the octagonal Baptistery of Neon, the Archiepiscopal Museum, and the sixth-century palace chapel of King Theodoric the Great. Check prices and availability here.
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Gabi Ancarola is a journalist and travel writer who has lived over 20 years in Italy, and has been living in Crete for the last five years. She hosts culinary tours, translates and writes for her Crete travel blog The Tiny Book. She’s written for Greek Reporter and published several travel guides about Greece.