Reasons to visit Ravenna, Italy + 9 things to do in Ravenna when you get there!
Portia Jones from Pip and the City recently took a trip to Ravenna, the beautiful Italian city in Emilia-Romagna. Ravenna isn’t always our first choice for an Italian city break so Portia is sharing 9 reasons why it should be on your travel radar. If authentic (and not too touristy!) Italian cities, great food, history, culture and art are what you look for in a weekend break then keep reading….
With mosaics, mausoleums and basilicas at every turn, the Italian town of Ravenna is positively ingrained with history and culture. From world heritage sites to feasting on fresh seafood, there are so many reasons to visit Ravenna.
Where is Ravenna?
Ravenna is located in the northern Italian province of Emilia Romagna, a diverse region of seaside towns, historic cities and incredible Italian gastronomy.
You can combine a trip to Ravenna with other Emilia Romagna destinations including the gorgeous towns Bologna and Cervia. It’s really worth exploring the full richness of the region.
The best thing about Ravenna is that you can set your own pace in this picturesque town. Spend your days wandering around late Roman and Byzantine architecture, take a trip to the seaside or take a day excursion to the surrounding areas.
There are plenty of things to do in Ravenna whether you are on a city break or a longer Italian holiday.
Here’s a list of 9 reasons to visit Ravenna, to inspire you to consider visiting this charming Italian town.
Ravenna’s beautiful basilicas
There is an astonishing amount of historical and religious sites in Ravenna. Many exquisite early Christian mosaics have also survived the ruins of history and can be found in buildings across the town.
Whilst religious architecture isn’t perhaps everyone’s idea of a fun day out, magnificent sites such as the Basilica of San Vitale should help persuade you otherwise.
This hauntingly beautiful Basilica is a marvellous example of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe. Whilst the outside may appear a little drab, the interior is rich with dazzling mosaics.
It’s also used as an atmospheric concert space during the Ravenna Festival. Honestly, it’s quite the experience to be sat in the stillness of the church listening to a ‘live electronics performance’.
The best way I can describe this is that it’s a slightly surreal soundscape that is designed in harmony with the Church’s architecture. It’s possibly the most middle-class thing I’ve done in a while!
There are numerous other churches and Basilicas of historic and cultural importance in Ravenna, including Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and Basilica di San Vitale.
Probably my favourite was the Basilica di San Francesco. It might look like a plain place of worship, but it has the most delightful hidden little quirk. There is a dark crypt under the altar that is illuminated when you deposit 1 Euro.
Upon illumination, you can see a historic tiled floor that is submerged by groundwater and populated by goldfish. When was the last time you saw a makeshift aquarium in a church? Well worth a euro I reckon.
Ravenna’s UNESCO-listed monuments can be visited using a combination ticket that is currently priced at €9.50 per adult.
This ticket can be purchased at the following sites:
- Basilica San Vitale
- Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
- Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo,
- Neonian Baptistery
- Archbishop’s Chapel
Take a dip in the Ravenna seaside
You are never too far from the ocean in Ravenna. There are nine seaside resorts on the coast of Ravenna for you to explore. An Italian seaside resort is a sight to behold. On many of the resorts, there are rows and rows of uniformly lined sunbeds and parasols. They appear to stretch out for miles across the sandy shores.
If you took a dip in the ocean how on earth would you ever relocate your sunbed? I honestly have no idea?
The beaches also come alive at night with many resorts having beach clubs and restaurants directly on the sand. You can actually have dinner on the beach at the seaside resort of Saretina, at the chic Saretina 152 Restaurant.
There’s nothing quite like feasting upon fresh fish dishes with your toes in the sand and the sound of the ocean all around you.
Other nearby seaside resorts include Marina di Ravenna, Lido di Dante and Lido di Classe.
Biking through Pine tree trails
In the nearby town of Cervia, you can book a bike tour that will take you through peaceful pine forests that have a heavenly scent. You can start along the Cervia Promenade and then head towards the shady pines forests.
The paths through the forest are well maintained and there are several scenic spots along the way including ponds, dunes, reeds and traditional fisherman’s huts.
It feels rather lovely to be whizzing around the Italian countryside on two wheels. Many locals shouted “Ciao”, as I leisurely peddled along. It was a really relaxing way to spend an afternoon and also cuts down on using vehicles to discover the area.
If biking is your transport of choice, you can also bike in Ravenna itself. There are many cycling routes lead from the centre of Ravenna to the sea and the countryside.
Delicious Ravenna Cuisine
It is imperative that you arrive in Ravenna hungry. There are so many delicious dishes to try you are in danger of becoming overwhelmed with foodie options.
The first thing you want to try is Piadina. It’s a simple yet tasty flatbread that is a local staple. It’s normally stuffed with local salami, cheese and Rocket. It’s is a great lunchtime snack on the go.
If you are feeling a tad braver in your gastro-adventures, you might want to sample some local eels. Now, I appreciate in the UK eating eel is something we imagine died out when we discovered things like Chicken Korma, but here, it’s a local delicacy.
You can buy tins of pickled eels, order off a restaurant menu or visit the manifattura dei Marinati, an eel pickling factory in nearby Comacchio
Here you can learn more about traditional eel fishing, how the eels were roasted over a huge wooden fire and then marinated in vinegar to preserve them. You can even sample some eels in the factory and pass your foodie verdict.
In the coastal towns near Ravenna, you’ll also find a lot of fish dishes including mussels, mackerels and fresh fish. Typical menu offerings include things like seafood risotto, octopus and spaghetti with clam sauce.
Many local Ravenna restaurants will serve crowd-pleasing pasta dishes to suit all tastes. Look out for tortellini, lasagne, gramigna and tagliatelle.
Visit Dante’s Tomb
Literature lovers need to make a beeline for the burial place of a heavyweight of the writing world. The iconic author of The Divine Comedy has his final resting place in Ravenna in a rather understated mausoleum. Dante completed ‘Paradise’ in Ravenna after he was exiled from his native Florence in 1318.
The real story here is that there was an ongoing battle with Florence for his bones. In 1519 Dante’s remains were removed from his tomb and hidden nearby after Pope Leo X requested that Dante’s remains to be transferred to Florence.
Dante was moved again in 1865 when his hidden bones were accidentally discovered during renovation work. He has now been finally laid to rest in the mausoleum, for now at least. Can we just let the poor man rest in eternal peace already?
The mausoleum can be a little tricky to find as it is located down a small and unceremonious side street near the Basilica di San Francesco.
Unwind with an Aperitif
The Italian equivalent to ‘happy hour’ is an Aperitif. This pre-dinner drink has evolved into an Italian cultural highlight that involves sipping on local cocktails and sampling a selection of delicious finger foods. It’s much classier than the British equivalent!
As aperitifs have become more elaborate, so prices have risen to match. Whilst you might baulk at the price of a late afternoon Aperol Spritz, at least it comes with a plate of snacks or access to a lavish spread.
Typical snacks include meatballs, bruschetta, raw fish and local cured meats and cheese.
Piazza del Popolo in Ravenna is a lovely little square to indulge in an Aperitif and a spot of people watching. Who doesn’t love languid drinks whilst casting one’s eye over a well-dressed Italian crowd?
Other recommended Aperitif joints include Casa Spadoni in Ravenna and any of the waterside bars at the canal port at Catalina in Cervia.
Visit a mini Venice
Take a trip to the nearby town of Comacchio, a dreamy town that is full of canals and historic buildings. You would be forgiven if you thought you had wandered into a small-scale Venice, there are striking similarities.
The town is found on the eastern coast of Emilia Romagna region and is just north of Ravenna.
This rather rustic looking town has developed across a number of islands in the Po Delta and is now joined by numerous bridges. It really is a photographer’s dream here with colourful, shabby-chic buildings, canals and cute cafes.
Make sure to wander along the Canale Maggiore and swing by the many important architectural monuments. Some of these include Cathedral of San Cassiano, the Loggia del Grano and the Ponte dei Trepponti.
The Ponte dei Trepponti, in particular, is a great spot for a selfie, or to simply bask in the impressive architecture around you.
You’ll also find lots of stores selling local produce and trinkets. Nothing says ‘I love you’ to someone back home like bringing them a can of pickled eel.
Go flamingo spotting
Flamingos. In Italy? What kind of wildlife madness is this? Whilst it sounds slightly unbelievable, there is actually a large population of wild flamingos that can be spotted at the nearby Comacchio wetlands.
Flamingos migrate to the wetland reserve salt flats to nest and can normally be spotted in Spring and late summer here.
You can take a leisurely boat trip around the Comacchio lagoon to catch a glimpse of these pink beauties, or ride a bike over the extremely bumpy trails. Whilst biking and bird spotting sound like a delightful hipster activity, it’s not without its difficulties.
The temperatures in summer are sweltering around the lagoon. Biking in this kind of heat is not for the faint-hearted, nor for the easily sunburnt.
The trails also have uneven terrain which opens up the possibility of you biking straight into the lagoon. Make sure to keep your eyes on the trail and not on your phone trying to take a Snapchat.
I think it’s the best way to see the flamingos, but you will end up a total sweaty mess. Packing roll-on deodorant for this jaunt is advised, nay, essential.
If that all sounds like dreadfully hard work, might I suggest a relaxing boat ride around the lagoon instead? You can spot a variety of seabirds, traditional fisherman huts and potentially a flamingo or two without any physical exertion.
Ravenna is full of pretty 5th and 6th-century mosaics, as well as new offerings by local artists. Several of the street signs are created by local artists using mosaics. It’s a lovely nod to the City’s heritage. There are also several large mosaic art pieces at the Mar City Art Museum.
Three of the essential mosaic stops on a Ravenna trip are the Basilica di San Vitale, Galla Placidia Mausoleum and Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. These are home to some of the best mosaics in Ravenna.
UNESCO has even weighed in and slapped on an official seal of approval for Ravenna’s mosaic art that is contained in its early Christian buildings.
You don’t necessarily have to be an art history enthusiast to appreciate the exquisite details and beauty of these pieces. They really are a precious relic of Ravenna’s golden age when it was a stronghold of the Western Roman Empire.
If more modern mosaics appeal to you, then you can visit the workshop of KOKO Mosaico. It’s a uber cool mosaic studio and mosaic school, where you can actually learn how to make mosaic pieces.
The studio offers a range of classes to suit a range of abilities and time commitments. If you are feeling flush there are also several pieces available for sale if you fancy some unusual wall art in the house.
Is Ravenna worth visiting?
Ravenna isn’t the most obvious of tourist destinations in Italy. This is precisely what makes it so special. Whilst the city attracts many hardcore art history lovers, it didn’t appear to be overrun with snap happy tourists or tacky souvenir shops.
There was a definite local vibe with cafes full of chattering Italians and residents riding around on bicycles calling out to each other.
Ravenna is also a lovely base from which to explore the nearby area. It’s close to the pretty towns of Comacchio and Cervia and various coastal resorts. Lively Bologna is only an hour’s drive away as well.
If you are looking for a cultural and relaxing break in Italy, then the city of Ravenna will not disappoint.
Disclaimer: Portia trip to Ravenna was part of a press trip.