Every time I visit a new city I always start from its centre. If you have limits of time, you have to choose from where to begin and I think that starting from the “heart” of the urban realities is always a good idea. It’s the best way to keep in touch with their spirit.
Therefore, if you decide to come to Modena for a day, I suggest you to focus on the historical centre: savoring its atmosphere and enjoying the authenticity of the everyday life.
People who don’t know my city probably will ask themselves: “what to see in Modena in a day?”
This article collects some good ideas to organize your perfect tour around the centre of Modena. In this post, then, you will find links to deepen the different subjects. My goal is to update regularly this mini-guide with all the possible suggestions that come to my mind in order to make your visit become special.
What to visit in Modena: a walk around the city centre
Walking along the streets of the centre is one of my favorite pastimes in all the seasons of the year. During the summer is obviously more pleasant but I like doing that also in winter. Perhaps not everybody knowns that Modena has many porticos, beautiful pastel colored, that protect you from the sun in the warmer seasons and from the rain during the colder ones. Start your morning, then, with a walk, but first… we need a good breakfast!
A rich and energetic breakfast is always a good advice to follow… better if it’s an authentic “Modenese” breakfast 😉 I anticipate you that this experience is not for everyone: if you like keep yourself light it will not definitely be your first choice! But for the lovers of “strong” experiences, starting the day with a piece of “gnocco fritto” dipped in your cappuccino will be the best 😉 It’s Modena style!
The best place to try this is “Caffè del Collegio”, in via San Carlo 30 (you can find all the address that I suggest you in this article in the Modena’s map at the end of the post).
If you don’t know what Gnocco Fritto is, you have to read this article where I explain you how to prepare it.
The Modenese breakfast is not an obligation is just a curiosity 😉
Then, there are other nice places where to have your breakfast! Here I suggest you 3 that I like: “Latteria 21″, in via Sant’Eufemia 78 (pastries are great and the atmosphere is nice), “Pasticceria Remondini”, in Largo San Giorgio, a great classic (the view of Piazza Roma from the outside tables is fantastic) and “MenoMoka” in C.so Canalchiaro, famous for its coffee blends and its characteristic walls full of designs of famous faces with some inspirational quotes.
Satisfied your basic needs, it’s time to go and explore the city!
Modena Cathedral, Ghirlandina and Piazza Grande: the heart of the city
Begin your tour from here, from the Cathedral, Ghirlandina tower and Piazza Grande, the main square.
Declared by UNESCO in 1997 World Heritage Site, after nearly 900 years from its foundation (which took place on 9th of June 1099), Modena Cathedral is a complex and truly unique architecture.
Modena Cathedral, a splendid example of Romanesque art, was projected by the architect Lanfranco, who designed the structure, together with the famous sculptor Wiligelmo and other sculptures, that are the authors of the marble decorations that still surprise with their extraordinary beauty.
Observe the beautiful details, both inside and outside the building: fantastic creatures, exotic animals and natural forms populate the capitals of columns, the doors and the perimeter of the entire church. If you want to know more about this incredible building I recommend you not only to visit it but also to read my post dedicated to Modena Cathedral here in the blog.
Every time I walk in front of this beauty I continue to surprise myself despite it is just part of my DNA 🙂
In order to better understand the context in which Modena Cathedral was built, but also to deepen its story, I recommend you a visit also to the Cathedral Museums, whose entrance is on the right next to the cathedral, in via Lanfranco.
Next to the the Cathedral stands the Ghirlandina tower, the city's symbol. This tower represents for Modenese people a sort of "lighthouse", a reference point that accompanies us throughout our lives. Founded as the bell tower of the Cathedral, whose bells marked the rhythms of the city life, during the centuries it had various functions: civil, religious and defensive.
Like all the people of Modena, I am deeply in love with it. When I get the chance, I go on its the top: I love to see Modena from here!
Beautifully framed by Ghirlandina, the Town Hall (Palazzo Ducale) and the Cathedral, there is Piazza Grande (the main square), the real heart of the city since the times of the times when it was used as a market and when it was the meeting place for all the citizens.
If you look on the side of the Town Hall, you can see the "Pietra Ringadora", a great stone used for different purposes: such as stage for popular speakers but also for death sentences.
If you want to stop to enjoy the square, sit on the steps of "Porta Regia", one of the doors of the Cathedral, in the company of its two lions: it will be a very special moment 🙂
Then, continue your visit going inside Palazzo Comunale to discover its beautiful historical rooms.
If, by chance, it happened to you to be in the city in the fourth weekend of the month, you can see the square invaded by the colorful stalls of the beautiful Modena's vintage market that crowd Piazza Grande during those days: an unmissable event for all vintage lovers, like me 🙂
Piazza XX Settembre and Albinelli Market: two obligatory stops of our tour
Once you have visited these places, go to Piazza XX Settembre and to the Historical Albinelli Market.
Piazza XX Settembre, opened in the early '900, impresses for the colorful facades of the houses that surround it. It is dominated in its longest side from Tagliazucchi's Palace, a brick building dating back to the sixteenth century, which now is the site of a bank. Animated by lovely bars and café that during the summer season are full of life, it is a characteristic place where to stop for few minutes of relax.
At number 29 it is located one of the entrances of the market, the "bread gallery". The main entrance is, however, on via Albinelli.
The Albinelli Market is absolutely one of the visits that you have to do if you come in town. It is one of my favorite places in Modena that I usually visit on Saturday morning both to do some shopping and to enjoy the magic atmosphere that you can breathe here. This market is "the place" of the cultural and culinary tradition of Modena. Here I tell you more about the Albinelli Market.
Where to eat in Modena
It is time for lunch! What do you like to eat?
At the market you can have some gourmet shopping and sit to eat something.
Out of here, there are other different possibilities for your lunch.
If you are planning your visit in the city during the spring or summer season, I suggest you to stop in Piazza XX Settembre for a lunch in the open air sitting at one of the tables of the different cafes and pubs of the square.
In the same area, I recommend you to try the delicious sandwiches of the small but famous Bar Schiavoni, in via Albinelli 13, or decide to go for a traditional Modenese lunch at Trattoria Aldina, also in via Albinelli. These are two of the Historical Shops of Modena.
Again, you can also have a brunch at Café Concerto, the beautiful and prestigious restaurant that overlooks Piazza Grande. Having you lunch sitting at one of its tables viewing Ghirlandina tower it will be great!
If you are street food lovers, then, you can go to "Or-Ma", in via Gallucci 25, for eating a good crescentina or "tigella" [I told about that here: Modena Street food: the crescentina (tigella) by or-Ma] or you can go to have your cup of tortellini at Tortellino Boutique [I discussed here: Modena Steer Food: the Tortellino Boutique].
Alternatively, you can continue to walk along the streets of the center just snooping here and there, until you will find a place that inspires you: there are so many places to recommend to try, it's impossible to list all of them!
Meanwhile, enjoy the many colors and glimpses that my beautiful city offers, listen to the voices of the people and if you are lucky you might even hear some people that speak in Modenese dialect. When I travel, I like to observe, but above all to imagine... the daily life of the people I meet.
After lunch, the tour continues...
Ready to start? Yes?! No? Do you need a cup of coffee to recharge your batteries? 😉
Here we are! In this post you can find 5 places where to drink a good coffee 🙂
Now, you are ready to restart!
What to visit in Modena: we start together the afternoon tour
Walking through Via Emilia
Via Emilia center goes from S.Augustine Square to Largo Garibaldi and is not only a must for shopping but it is certainly also one of the points of interest of the city. It is a beautiful walk that will take you to admire the squares that open on its sides as Piazza Matteotti, Piazza Mazzini and the small Piazza Torre where stands the statue dedicated to Tassoni.
Once again, I recommend you to explore what you like, following your instinct.
If you like to stop and admiring the beautiful architecture, do it! But if you are attracted by the shop windows and you can't resist to the shopping call, don't try to do it! 😉
Via Farini, Piazza Roma, Palazzo Ducale
Walk along via Farini, a lateral street of Via Emilia, which begins in front of the historic "Caffè Molinari".
Since from the beginning of the street you can see the splendid Ducal Palace, the historical residence of the House of Este for more than two centuries, now headquarters of the Military Academy. This beautiful building overlooks the magnificent Piazza Roma, the square that has been recently restored and returned to the city life. With its 9,400 square meters, its fountains, water features and its beautiful marble benches it has become one of the most charming places of the city.
If you want to go through an alternative route, I suggest you to start from here the tour of "Former Modena Waterways" through which you will make a fascinating dive into the past.
Modena's Museums and Galleries: the ones to visit in the center of the city
If you have enough time or you want to visit even some museums or exhibitions, you will find many of them here in the center. Both in summer and in winter, a cultural break helps to regenerate the mind 🙂
A great classic is the visit to the Museum Palace, a large museum complex including different attractions such as the Roman and Estense Lapidary Museum, the Historical Archives, the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Municipal Museum of Art and the beautiful Estense Gallery.
For the little ones (but not only 🙂 ) there is also the Cards and Stickers Museum, in C.so Canalgrande, a magical place that will take you back to your childhood 🙂
Other initiatives to keep monitored are those organized by Galleria Civica that realizes in its venues various temporary exhibitions dedicated to contemporary art and photography.
For photography lovers, it's recommended a visit to the expositions of Photography Foundation organized inside MATA, located in the former Tobacco Factory area. This is lovely urban area of the city that is constantly in evolution and which I also wrote an article about.
Then, as I told before, if you want to deepen your knowledge about Modena Cathedral, you can visit the Cathedral Museums, divided into two sections, the Lapidary Museum, which contains the finds belonging to both the Cathedral construction site and buildings of previous eras, and the Cathedral Museum, which exhibits decorations and sacred vessels, part of the true "treasure of the Cathedral".
All these museums and attractions are in the center of the city and they are easily reachable by foot.
Then, not too far from the center and always within a walking distance, there is the famous MEF - the Home Museum of Enzo Ferrari.
I should finally make an exception and recommend you other 3 museums that you have to see but that they are not in the center of the city: the Luciano Pavarotti's Home Museum, the Ferrari Museum in Maranello and the Museum of Traditional Balsamic Viniger in Spilamberto.
Where to have a true Italian "aperitivo" in Modena
It has now arrived the happy hour time. I love this moment! It puts me in a good mood 🙂
The Modenese vibrant nightlife starts right from the aperitif. There are two areas of the city where people meets to begin their evening: via del Taglio and Piazza della Pomposa, here I recommend you Juta Cafè, and via Gallucci, where I suggest you 2 places to try that you surely will notice because they are very popular and always full of people: the Irish Pub and "I Picari".
Indeed, the places where to have a drink are not all here.
There are 4 places, which I love, that I immediately think about when I go out for a drink: "Caffetteria Giusti", "Mon Cafè", "Archer" and "Lo Spaccio delle Carceri".
If you love Lambrusco wine, like me, then I suggest you a little aperitif all based on this red Emilian wine at "Lambruscheria" shop, in via Calle di Luca, where you can also buy some very "sparkling purchases" 😉
Where to have a dinner in Modena
And now... where do we go for dinner?
In the center of Modena you have really a great choice!
If you came to Modena to savor all its authenticity then I surely would recommend you a dinner in a traditional restaurant. It is not always easy to choose one, but in this article I've tried to address you.
Of course, if you opt for this type of dinner, you have to try a dish of tortellini (strictly with broth 😉 )
and the famous crescentine (or Tigelle), which here in Modena are "a state of mind", as Francesca well explains in this article: "The tigella is a state of mind". One of the best places to try them is the "Trattoria Il Fantino", right downtown.
Again, there are restaurants known for meat as "Maxela", "Osteria della Senape" and "Churrasco", or those known for fish as "Iodio Puro", "Quinto Quarto" and "Selmi 22".
Then, it's impossible that you don't know "Osteria Francescana" by Chef Massimo Bottura, recognized in 2016 the first of the 50 best restaurants in the world. With its three Michelin stars since 2011, this place can definitely be called the "temple of the Cuisine", a real proud throughout Italy. The eating experience that you can live here is sublime and modern, without leaving out the roots of the Modenese tradition.
The waiting list is very long, so if you desire to try this unforgettable experience you can not improvise.
Finally, I suggest you other 4 restaurants very famous where your taste experience will be on the top: "Erba del Re", "Cucina del Museo", "Zelmira" and"Hosteria Giusti".
After the dinner, it's time to drink something and to relax.
A really unique place, that no one expects to find in a city like Modena, is Cotton Club: a speakeasy thought for jazz and blues lovers. To enter you have to ring the doorbell of a large door in C.so Canalgrande and to be an ARCI members (buying the ARCI card).
Other 2 places good for cocktails are "Mon Café" and "Spaccio delle Carceri".
Finally, if you want to enjoy a good glass of wine, you can go to "Compagnia del Taglio", to the "Ristretto" or to "Archivio", next to the Cathedral.
And in a blink of an eye your 24 hours in Modena ends here.
I would like to continue my long list of recommendations, but perhaps your time may not be enough! 😉
I have prepared this map with all the places mentioned in the article, so that you can better find all the things I spoke about.
Last thing to say: if you in Modena come by car, I recommend you to leave it in Novi Park (you find it on the map). The center of Modena is obviously for the most part limited to the traffic cars.
As I told you at the beginning, my idea is to continue to keep updating this mini-guide adding links to articles dedicated to specific topics and new places to suggest you.
The things to recommend are so many that I have to choose, but "stay tuned" and you will find out more!
If you like my city and you want to stay here for more than one day here you can find where to sleep in Modena.
I leave you with the colors my city: yellow and blue, that I'm sure they will have entered in your heart 🙂
Keep following the blog to stay up to date about all my stories and, if you like, follow me on social networks and used the hashtag #mymodenadiary to share your best moments in Modena.
Have a nice tour! 🙂
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