City Guide: Exploring Ferrara, Italy

As we spent three days in Bologna on New Year's Eve, we went to Ferrara on one of the days to see a little more than only Bologna. The city of Ferrara is about 30 minutes train ride away and has been featured everywhere as a very worthwhile trip.


The town of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy has about 130.000 inhabitants and is known for its cultural importance. The university of Ferrara dates back to 1391 and therefore is one of the oldest universities in Europe. The small town was already mentioned around 750 AD and thus is one of the few Italian cities that do not have Roman origins. During the 12th century, two powerful families fought for their reign of Ferrara. However, in 1264, another family, the House of Este, was able to prevail and win the victory for themselves. They waged wars against Venice, contributed to the flourishing of the city of Ferrara and promoted art and science. The reign of the Este family lasted until 1598, when the last ruler did not have male descendants. Ferrara went into papal possession, so that the d'Este family had to leave to city. 


Ferrara Italy ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants City Guide Exploring Ferrara Pinterest

sightseeing in Ferrara


Unfortunately, we did not really like the city from the beginning. The city wall was supposed to be comparable to the one in Lucca in Tuscany. Both are about the same age, well-preserved and suitable for a walk around the city. But here in Ferrara, we only see a muddy trail on a lawn covered city wall - A lot uglier than the beautiful city wall in Lucca, we visited a few years ago. As we didn’t like to walk there, we headed right into the city center. The buildings leading to the center are quite ugly and reminded me of those German concrete buildings.


Our first stop was the Estense Castle, which once was the residence of the D'Este family and is now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The initial reason for establishment, however, was a tax revolt in 1385, which led to the death of a judge and the Minister of Finance. Built as a defensive fortification, it has been converted into a residence over the centuries. In 2012, the castle suffered severe damage from a earthquake in the region.






Ferrara Italy ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Estense castle
Ferrara Italy ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Estense castle


You can enter the courtyard of the Estense Castles free of charge. As we gained time due to the ugly city wall, we decided to visit the castle as well. One learns a lot about the history of the city, sees the dungeons of the fort and can admire frescoes and ceiling paintings. However, furnishings and art are missing, as the official family seat moved to Modena at the end of the 16th century and the castle thus lost its importance.


Along one of the four sides of the castle, we reached the town hall of the city of Ferrara from the 13th century. This building also served as the residence of the D'Este family in earlier times, as can be seen in the two sculptures at the entrance: two men of the powerful family are depicted. In the courtyard is a beautiful staircase to see.



Ferrara Italy ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Ferrara town hall


Opposite the town hall is probably the most beautiful building in the city: the Romanesque Gothic cathedral of Ferrara. I was very much looking forward to it, unfortunately, the front of the church was completely covered due to construction and I was denied the view of the breathtaking front you see in the second / right picture. Instead, we were able to look at the interior of the Catholic Church and admire the great paintings. Admission is free and a visit to the church as part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage therefore is mandatory.


Ferrara Italy ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Romanesque Gothic cathedral of Ferrara
Ferrara Italy ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Romanesque Gothic cathedral of Ferrara


We strolled a bit through the streets of the city and could not resist the comparison to the much nicer (but also much larger) Bologna. Although the streets are pretty, we did not like the shops very well.


Ferrara Italy ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Ferrara shops
Ferrara Italy ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Romanesque Ferrara shops shopping

lunch in Ferrara

For lunch we found a restaurant called Il Ciclone. The menu appealed to us, the guests were mainly Italians and so we decided to have lunch here. We had a good feeling here: It was a simple but very good restaurant. Our waitress was very nice and supported her English with pantomime. It became exciting when a French middle-aged couple was placed next to our table. They spoke neither Italian nor English. Chris and I had fun following their funny conversation. Luckily, French and Italian have many similarities. Whether they enjoyed their food as much as we did, I can not say, but our dishes were really delicious!





sightseeing we missed

Without visiting the Diamond Palace, we went back to the station and bought our tickets back to Bologna. We missed the museum, which is reminiscent of diamonds because of its extraordinary façade. Also commissioned by the D'Este family, here 12,600 marble blocks were assembled with a pyramid-shaped ground outside. Today, you can find both the National Picture Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art.


We were happy to go back to Bologna instead, where we spent New Year’s Eve. 


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You might want to head over to to read why you should visit Ferrara with a local. Well, I guess I should have done that - I wish I did see everything she photographed...!

What about you?

Have you visited the small town of Ferrara? And did you like it better than we did? Tell us about your thoughts - is there anything we missed? Might be the reason why we didn't like Ferrara...