Modena, Italy offers visitors lots to see and do and here you get the chance to see a vibrant, untouched city, far outside of what the typical guidebooks offer. The city is also home to some of the world’s most prestigious luxury supercars (Ferrari & Maserati), and the likes of Balsamic Vinegar, Parmesan Cheese, and other magnificent food get produced here.
Modena is located in Northern Italy, south of the Po River, and very close to the Apennine mountains. Like many other cities in Emilia, it finds itself on the old Roman road, Via Emilia.
The city was the capital of the Duchy of Modena until 1858 and was ruled by the Estensi family. Thankfully, the city still has many monuments and memories of its glorious past.
Read on and discover why you should check out Modena on your next trip to Italy, summer or winter (even Christmas!) and be sure to take notes!
What to See in Downtown Modena Italy
Ancient city walls surrounded the downtown area of Modena. Unfortunately, these walls no longer exist. However, the old perimeter is still known as the boundaries of downtown (Centro Storico in Italian). The city center is pleasant to walk through. Click here for a map you can download. You can visit the Tourist Board of the city for information about events to see and do in Modena.
Some of The Best Museums to See In Modena
Luciano Pavarotti purchased this estate in the mid-1980s. Also, he called this his home until his death.
The Pavarotti Foundation transformed the villa (Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti) into a museum open to all. Its walking tour offers a look into Luciano Pavarotti’s most extraordinary life. The villa reflects Pavarotti’s joyous personality inside and out.
Visitors can see the personal items he cherished inside his villa. You will find examples of photos, letters (I.e., from Princess Diana and Celine Dion), and other memorabilia. These are all on display for all to enjoy. Visitors will get to appreciate the stage outfits that Pavarotti held so dear. Lastly, visitors can see and recognize many of his numerous awards up close.
The villa is open for viewing daily between 10:00 am and 6 pm. Tickets are €10.00.
Enzo Ferrari Museum
The Enzo Ferrari Museum features an unusual structure that, to me, resembles a UFO. The structure surrounds the villa that Enzo Ferrari grew up in as a child. The museum features an array of some of the most elegant cars in Ferrari’s history. These cars have influenced other supercar inventors worldwide.
There, you can visit Enzo’s father’s beautiful, restored workshop that displays five types of historical Ferraris. You will find five sections inside featuring: small engines, the traditional 12-cylinder engines, eight cylinders, turbos, and lastly, Formula 1 engines.
I must insist that you visit the place if you’re in Modena, especially if you are a Ferrari Enthusiast!
You can also experience an incredible semi-professional F1 simulator where you can drive on some of the world’s most challenging F1 tracks. You can make a reservation here.
The museum’s hours of operation are:
- November to March: 9:30 am to 6:00 pm
- April to October: 9:30 am to 7:00 pm
Admission costs € 16.00 for students and € 14.00 for seniors.
Ferrari Musem In Maranello
The Ferrari Museum in Maranello welcomes visitors to its exhibit entitled “The World of Ferrari: Past, Present, and Future,” with one of the world’s most iconic supercars on display.
Ferrari is one most iconic names in motorsports. The “Scuderia Ferrari” is the most dominant Formula 1 racing team in history, and it turns 94 in 2023.
The Hypercars Exhibit, dedicated to the landmark Ferraris, is also on display at The Maranello Museum.
The Museum’s hours of operation:
- November to March from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm
- April to October 9:30 am to 7:00 pm
Admission is € 17.00 for students and € 15.00 for seniors.
There are a few businesses that let you drive a Ferrari, for a fee, right outside the museum. Even better, you can drive the Ferrari on the official Modena race track!
Maserati Factory in Downtown Modena
Maserati is another world-famous brand from Modena. The old factory is located just outside downtown. Like the Ferrari museum, it’s possible to book a tour on the company website.
Historical Rooms at the Communal Palace
The Modena City Hall is located in the main square, overlooking the Duomo. It’s open to the public, and the entrance is free. The city hall is a perfect place to start your visit to Modena.
The historic rooms are located within the city hall and are open to visitors.
The “Camerino dei Confirmati” is home to one of the city’s iconic symbols: the Secchia Rapita (Stolen Bucket). While it looks like a standard wooden bucket, it reminds the people of Modena of their glorious victory against the Bolognese in 1325 in the battle of Zappolino.
A door on the right side of the Camerino leads into the Sala del Fuoco (Fire Room), so-called because of its exquisite, large fireplace. It was here where embers used to heat the merchants lay, who used to sell their wares in the square in winter (and still do to this day!)
Here, you will find exquisite paintings, frescos, and beautiful woodwork throughout. The central square displays the municipal coat-of-arms, while Roman-inspired motifs run around the walls, just beneath the ceiling.
Modena City Hall has a balsamic vinegar production in the building’s attic. It’s possible to visit by appointment.
The historic rooms are open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm and on Sunday from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm.
Pavarotti Municipal Theatre
Initially opened in 1841, the city of Modena renamed it to the Luciano Pavarotti Municipal Theatre in recognition of the late, world-famous tenor born in Modena. Pavarotti performed at this theatre numerous times throughout his lengthy career.
Inside, the Pavarotti Theatre is gorgeous and retains an old-world charm. For example, the theatre features 116 boxes on four levels. The largest is the Ducal Box found in the center. Furthermore, the 5th level is the “loggione.” Interestingly, some say the “loggione” has the best acoustics. Unfortunately, the theatre is not open to visits. However, you can go and see one of the many fine performances there.
Duke’s Palace in Modena (City Center)
The Duke’s palace was one of the most prominent palaces of the 1600s. Construction on the palace started in 1634 on the location of the old Este castle.
Today, the palace is the current home to the Military Academy, the Academy’s Historical Museum, and a precious library (available for viewing on request to the Military Academy).
Unfortunately, after 1858 when the Duke left the city and the Italian Government converted the palace into the Military Academy, many of the rooms were severely remodelled, taking away their original look. Fortunately, the most prestigious studio, the Duke’s Office, featuring gold-plated wooden panels, was preserved.
Duke’s Summer Palace in Sassuolo
You will find this palace about 16 km south of Modena. It’s the best-preserved Estensi Palaces to see in Modena.
The building got constructed in 1458 and initially known as Rocca Castle. Then, in 1609, it was passed to the Este family, who eventually converted it into a palace for a summer residence. Also, the architect in charge of the building, Bartolomeo Avanzini, worked with the famous Roman architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The palace features several restored rooms with great works of art. Sadly, few people ever get to visit this palace. Perhaps its because it resides in a small town outside of Modena (city center). Regardless, the palace remains a relevant segment of the “Estense Galleries of Modena.” Inside, you can admire the room frescos painted by Jean Boulanger.
You can check here for hours and admission fees.
Palazzo dei Musei
This massive palace was built by Duke Francis the Third as a shelter for the poor. After Italy’s unification, the palace was converted into a museum, as it is today. The Duke’s massive library and Painting gallery moved here from the Duke’s palace and opened to the general public.
The Estensi Gallery Paintings
Located on the top floor, the Palazzo dei Musei is home to the Estensi Gallery since 1884.
Unfortunately, only a part of the works is on exhibit, as there’s not enough space for the entire collection. Here, you will find paintings, drawings, objects, bronzes, and medals. Among other things stand out is the bust of Francis I by Bernini, the portrait of the DukeDuke of Velasquez, the triptych of El Greco, and the paintings of Correggio, Tintoretto, Veronese, Guido Reni, Guercino, Salvator Rosa.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm and on Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is €5.00.
Initially created by the lords of Ferrara at the end of the 14th century, the library remained linked to the Este family until 1860. In 1882, the contents moved from the palace to its current location in the “Palazzo dei Musei.” Since 2016, it is now part of the new Gallerie Estensi Institute.
The Estensi library collection consists of many books of historical and artistic interest since the time of the Marquis Niccolò III.
Bible of Borso
Some of the most precious books you (might) see in the downtown Modena, Italy library are:
- Monumenta Della Miniatura Estense
- Bible of Borso
- Genealogy of the Princes of Este
- Missal of Borso, the Breviary of Hercules
- Obizzi collection of Catajo, and the correspondences of Muratori and Tiraboschi
The Biblioteca Estense Universitaria has a single exhibition hall: the “Sala Campori,” which houses temporary exhibitions. Visiting hours tend to change. You are welcome to check here for the current operating hours.
The Civic Museum of Modena
Here you can see several artifacts from the Bronze Age, Celts, Roman, and medieval times, all find in Modena. The collections are quite extensive and easy to visit. Among these objects, one of the most famous is the child mummy, found near Modena. This is a mummy of a Roman 3-year-old child that has got restored. Today, it is on display at the museum.
Free Things to See and Do in Modena
Visit The Modena Cathedral
The Modena Cathedral, also called The Duomo, sits on the original site of two churches that date back to the 5th century. Upon the discovery that Saint Geminianus (Modena’s patron saint) was buried on this site, the two churches got destroyed to build a grander cathedral. While Construction started in 1099 by the architect Lanfranco, the remains of Saint Geminianus remain on display in the cathedral’s crypt. It is one of the world’s best-preserved Romanic Style cathedrals in the world.
In the crypt, you’ll see San Geminiano di Modena‘s sarcophagus. He is the Saint Patron and the protector of Modena. According to the legend, in 490 AD, Attila the Hun was about to invade the city. The people of the city prayed to the Saint that made a miracle and stopped the barbarian from invading the city. On January 31st, the Bishop opens the sarcophagus. Then, locals come to pray beside the Saint’s skeleton, still dressed in his bishop’s robe. Inside the Duomo
Inside the cathedral, you will find it sectioned into three naves. Connecting the central nave and the crypt is a marble parapet by Anselmo da Campione portraying the Passion of Christ, including the Last Supper. The pulpit gets decorated with little terracotta figures. And notably, the wooden crucifix dates from the 1300s.
Locals will The iconic Ghirlandina bell tower can be seen for kilometers, is attached to the church.
UNESCO declared the DUOMO a world heritage site in 1997.
Luciano Pavarotti, a native of Modena, had his funeral held in this cathedral.
The Church of Sant’Agostino
The Augustinian Hermits founded the church of Sant’Agostino in the 14th century. Then, refurbishment was completed in 1663 with the help of architect Gian Giacomo Monti and it became the venue for the Este family funerals. Francesco, I of Este, became the first duke to be commemorated in the church. When the Duke passed, elegant yet temporary decorations transformed the church during the funeral.
In the case of Alfonso IV, these decorations became permanent, a unique event in the history of European funerary art. The incredible artwork displays a remarkable series of monarchs, empresses, kings and queens, saints and holy men, bishops, and popes.
What Happened After the Earthquake
In 2018, the church reopened following repairs due to the 2012 earthquake. Inside, it houses masterpieces, including the 16th-century terracotta Lamentation by Antonio Begarelli and a fragment of a 14th-century fresco of a Madonna and Child attributed to Tomaso da Modena.
You may view the Church of Sant’Agostino Monday-Friday between 10 am-6 pm and on Saturday & Sunday between 9 am and 7:30 pm.
The Old Hospital
Across the street from the Palazzo dei Musei, you can see the old Modena Hospital built by Duke Francis the Third for the city and used as a hospital until 2005. Today the building is used to host art exhibits.
The Anatomical Theatre in Modena
Antonio Scarpa built the Anatomical Theatre between December 1773 and January 1775. Then, Scarpa inaugurated it on January 25th, 1775. The “Universita Degli Studi” paid for the building, and the “Opera Pia Generale de Poveri” provided the infrastructure.
Furthermore, Lorenzo Tosci handled the design and oversaw its development. Interestingly, the Anatomy Theatre in Padua was a very similar building. For example, it featured a full elliptical amphitheater, although lower and broader than the one in Padua.
You may see the Anatomical Theatre in Modena on Fridays between 3 pm-7:30 pm and on Saturdays & Sundays from 10 am – 7:30 pm. The entrance is free.
The Historic Pharmacy
The historic pharmacy was initially known as a “Spezeria.” It was created in the second half of the 18th century after Duke Francesco III d’Este built the “Great Hospital for the Sick.”
In 1764, the Duke invited the Opera Pia Generale Dei Poveri to build the pharmacy as part of a wider urban rebuilding and improvement program.
The main room features fabulous ceiling frescos painted in 1851. The eclectic style of the 19th century is visible within the frescos. For example, they feature ovals, hemispheres, vases of flowers, and profiles of scientists. They are both modern and classical.
Its most recent restoration was in 2010. Here, the fresco’s original colors, such as the blue and gold leaf, are once again boldly visible. Furthermore, the restored & historic maple shelving housed numerous pharmaceutical volumes. Also, they held more than a hundred majolica containers and bronze and marble mortars. Unfortunately, the massive paintings, however, have been removed.
You may view the Historic Pharmacy on Fridays between 3 pm-7:30 pm and Saturdays & Sundays between 10 am and 7:30 pm. The entrance is free.
Typical Foods of Modena, Italy
Modena has an incredibly rich and vibrant food tradition. Some people say that the entire Emilia Romagna region is probably the best area in terms of food in Italy, and that’s something we suggest you come and see for yourself. Modena is world-famous for Balsamic Vinegar, but other specialties are worth having. The city is full of traditional restaurants and more modern and contemporary ones. If you ever come and see Modena, here are some culinary stops:
You can see the Albinelli historic market in downtown Modena, Italy. The Albinelli market is the center of Modena’s world-famous culinary tradition. The market is open Monday to Friday from 6:30 am to 2:30 pm. Saturday from 6:30 am to 2:30 and from 2:30 pm to 7:00 pm. Here you can buy Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar, Amaretti di Modena (soft, chewy almond cookies), and many other Modena specialties. At lunchtime, many vendors have tables dedicated to serving lunch. On Fridays and Saturdays, the market is also open for dinner.
Historic Giusti Store
The historic Giusti Store is the oldest deli in Europe and perhaps the world. Interestingly, you wouldn’t ever see it unless you knew it was there, along an old road in downtown Modena Italy. The Giusti Store Opened in 1605 and is still in operation. It sells some of the best typical products of Modena. The Giusti store is a great place to try some local specialties and, of course, take some home with you.
Gnocco Fritto is a specialty of Modena. This light, fluffy, and pillowy deep-fried dough used to be the traditional Modena breakfast. Nowadays, people eat Gnocco Fritto for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is best eaten fresh from the frier accompanied by salumi (cured meats) such as prosciutto, mortadella, and salami. Many coffee shops serve Gnocco Fritto daily from early morning until lunchtime. At dinner time, you can have it in one of the many restaurants in the area.
Tortellini in Panna
You can see that tortellini are super small and are the typical stuffed pasta of Modena. Typically served with broth, today is also served in a thick and rich creamy sauce (Panna). A must-try when visiting the area.
Lambrusco Types to Try in Modena, Italy
Modena’s typical wine is Lambrusco. This sparkling red wine is ideal for pairing with the rich food of the area. There are two main kinds of Lambrusco:
- Lambrusco di Sorbara: produced north of the city, and this kind is lighter in color, almost a rosé, tangy and dry.
- Lambrusco Grasparossa or Castelvetro: this variety is produced south of the city towards the mountains. It is much darker in color and with a very subtle sweet note.
Parmesan – The King of Cheese You Got to See and Try in Modena, Italy
The province of Modena is one of the areas where they make the authentic Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese. You can visit a typical cheese factory and see and learn all about this incredible cheese. Then, at markets such as Albinelli, several cheese vendors will be happy to make you try the different varieties of Parmesan.
Traditional Nocino of Modena
Nocino gets made from walnuts picked in Modena, in late June. The walnuts are cut and then let to macerate in alcohol and spices. Historically, Nocino got used as a medicinal remedy for indigestion and stomach problems. Today, Nocino gets served after a meal as a digestive. Admittedly, many local restaurants each offer their homemade Nocino production for their customers’ enjoyment.
Nocino makes for a great souvenir to bring back home!
Balsamic vinegar is considered the king of condiments. This traditional vinegar is world-famous. The most coveted versions of the “Black Gold” are aged 12 and 25 years. Of course, depending on your budget, you can find both younger and older versions. Also, there are many producers around Modena to see. Balsamic Vinegar is so famous and influential that it deserves its post.
Castles to See in Modena
A few kilometers south of the city, by the foothill of the Apennines mountains, you can find the land of castles. Modena, just like most cities in Italy, has a few of these to see and explore.
Castle of Vignola
You can see this massive castle in the town of Vignola, about 16km southeast of Modena. The fortress is perfectly preserved, open to the public. You can visit it from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 3:30 pm to 6:00 pm. The best part is that admission is free! You will need to make an appointment on line.
Historically, documents from as far back as 936 AD mention the presence of the castle. The castle of Vignola that you can visit today remains untouched from the time it got built in the thirteenth century. Interestingly, some of the towers got used as jails. Furthermore, today, you can still admire some of the graffiti left by the prisoners held captive.
Castle of Levizzano Rangone
The Castle of Levizzano Rangone in Modena, is located in the small town of Levizzano, just a few kilometers from Vignola. This is an example of another critical yet ancient fortress that dates back to 1038 AD. Unfortunately, the castle is currently closed to the general public.
You will see Castelvetro surrounded by vines in the hills south of Modena. Those who walk through the lovely cobblestone streets of Castelvetro are brought back in time.
The Historic Castle in Formigine
The little town of Formigine has another remarkable castle in its central square. Interestingly, the original castle dates back to the thirteenth century. Unfortunately, some of its unique structures got damaged as a result of a bombing in 1945. Then, right after WWII, the town council bought the castle and proceeded to restore it to its former glory. Today, tourists to Modena, can explore the castle of Formigine. Nowadays, the City Hall of Formigine also uses part of the castle as its home. Click here for hours and admission info.
Frequently Asked Questions about Modena, Italy (FAQ)
If you like food, wine and fast cars, then yes, Modena is certainly worth seeing!
There are a lot of things to see and do in Modena. We hope this article helped you discover a beautiful and vibrant city in Italy.
If you’d like to see another article like this, click here and discover Mantova!
Feel free to leave a comment below.
Rick and Andrea