Last Updated on December 4, 2023 by Laura Teso
What to see in Ferrara in 2 days? Ferrara is a beautiful city of art on a human scale … and bicycles scale, the most used means by the people of Ferrara. In the past it was an important hub of the Renaissance thanks to the Este court, a reference point for intellectuals and artists. The Este family, governing it for three centuries, transformed it into the first modern capital of Europe. The historic center of Ferrara, a perfect fusion of medieval and Renaissance styles, has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was invited by Visit Ferrara, a network created by a group of local tourism workers (hotels, b&bs, restaurants, travel agencies, bathing establishments, tourist guides and many others) to promote their city and its surroundings, creating offers (even tailor-made) for tourists, Italians and foreigners.
What to see in Ferrara in 2 days
It is the symbol and one of the most evocative points of the city, with its four towers and the moat all around. It dates back to the second half of the fourteenth century, when it was built as a defensive structure. Subsequently, the Dukes of Ferrara, the Estensi, chose it as their residence. The castle can be visited and houses: ducal apartments, ancient prisons, orange garden and ducal kitchens. Another gem: you can climb to the top of the Torre dei Leoni, the largest of the four towers, to admire a beautiful view of the city. PS did you know that the moat is fed indirectly by the waters of the Po river (longest river in Italy)? I admit that I did not know, I discovered it on this occasion.
The lost study of Alfonso
Unfortunately, the great pity in Ferrara is the dispersion suffered by the treasures of the Studiolo of Alfonso I d’Este, a subject I studied at the university. This studio was a heap of masterpieces. In particular, three paintings by Titian: Bacchus and Arianna (now at the National Gallery in London), the Festa degli Amorini and the Baccanale degli Andrii (both at the Prado in Madrid), but also the Festino degli Dei by Giovanni Bellini (National Gallery of Art of Washington).
How did this happen? At the end of the sixteenth century, Ferrara became the domain of the Papal State. The family took refuge in Modena and, in the meantime, the cardinal sent by the Pope illegally appropriated several paintings which were then ceded, sold or dispersed over the years. In any case, I invite you to admire the beauty of these paintings which, if they had remained in their place, would be a priceless jewel in the heart of the city.
Since I want to show you at least one, here is Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne. Apart from the beauty, here is the story: Theseus (that of the Minotaur) has just left the island of Naxos, abandoning poor crying Ariadne (we see the ship going away). But beware: Bacchus arrives with all his fanfare and… it is love at first sight! The two fall in love and Bacchus takes Ariadne with him to Olympus, to be his bride and gives her a golden crown, forged by Hephaestus. On Ariadne’s death, Bacchus will transform the crown into a constellation (which in fact is visible in the sky).
A few steps from the Castle, there is the municipal theater of the city, dedicated to maestro Claudio Abbado. It is worth entering to see the oval-shaped inner courtyard, renamed Foschini rotunda in honor of the designer of the theater.
The Cathedral, dedicated to St. George the Martyr, is a synthesis of different styles. In this sense, the façade certainly stands out, which has 2 registers: the lower one is Romanesque, the upper one Gothic. The thing I like most about this cathedral, apart from the facade, is the south side along piazza Trento e Trieste. Supported by agile columns, it presents the delightful Loggiato dei Merciai, under which several shops are located. The Palazzo della Ragione and the Town Hall also overlook the square. Of couse on the days of my vist there were scaffoldings on the facade.
Of fourteenth-century origin, it was commissioned by Alberto V d’Este, eager to have a retreat all to himself, where to relax and have fun, escaping from the monotony of everyday life. That’s why it’s called Schifanoia (in Italian it means avoiding boredom). I find it brilliant, I think Alberto V and I would have gotten along well. 😉 Nowadays it is a museum, famous above all for the magnificent Salone dei Mesi, a Renaissance masterpiece of the Ferrarese School. It represents astrological symbols, scenes of daily life and triumphs of pagan gods.
Walking through Ferrara, at one point you will notice a large oval square. Well, that’s it. At its center, a statue pays homage to Ludovico Ariosto. The square hosts the Palio of Ferrara in May.
Corso Ercole d’Este
Corso Ercole takes its name from Ercole d’Este. In the year of the discovery of America, 1492, he wanted to transform the medieval layout of the city, giving it a modern and wide course. The most beautiful point is the Quadrivio degli Angeli, the intersection where Palazzo dei Diamanti, Palazzo Prosperi Sacrati and Palazzo Turchi di Bagno are located.
Palazzo dei Diamanti
It is a stunning building that was always a must in school art books. It is in fact a true Renaissance masterpiece. Biagio Rossetti adorned it with 8,500 diamond-shaped stones. It now houses the National Picture Gallery and temporary exhibitions.
9 km long, they embrace the historic center. You can go there either on foot or by bike, among gates, bulwarks and towers, surrounded by greenery.
Via delle Volte
With a medieval layout, it is one of the most picturesque streets in the city. Its appearance derives from the fact that the vaults once connected the houses or artisan shops to their respective warehouses.
The garden of the Finzi Contini is one of my favorite books. Unfortunately the garden does not actually exist. The Jewish community in Ferrara started forming in the fifteenth century thanks to a protection policy by the dukes. In town there’s a Synagogue, a Jewish Museum and the Jewsih cemetery.
Palazzina Marfisa d’Este
Residence of Marfisa d’Este, daughter of Francesco d’Este. She was patron of Torquato Tasso. Her beautiful palace, with a beautiful back garden, now hosts temporary exhibitions, such as “Claudio Koporossy. Invisibilia ”(lasts until August 2021): delightful images of water games invite us to reflect on the beauty of what surrounds us. I invite you, if you go to visit it, to pay attention to the wonderful ceilings of the building.
Where to eat in Ferrara
Trattoria Da Noemi: it is an historic venue located in a beautiful palace dating back to 1400. Family run business for 3 generations, it offers local dishes. The owner Maria Cristina personally prepares fresh pasta, fillings and desserte. Warm welcome, good food.
Birraria Giori: a local institution, open since 1800. It is a metal and glass gazebo right at the foot of the Ferrara Castle. Here you can find sandwiches or piadine. You can fill them to your liking by choosing the ingredients from the menu: cold cuts, cheeses, veggies, dips, etc.
Ca d’ Frara: the restaurant is modern and elegant, perfect for a romantic dinner. The menu offers a combination of tradition and innovation, with both meat and fish choices. Nice welcome, top quality ingredients.
Principessa Pio: A farm inside the city walls, that you can reach on foot, by bike or car. It offers local dishes and it is also an educational farm.
What to eat in Ferrara
- Starters: pinzini (fried dough) with cold cuts and vegetable flan (usually pumpkin) with parmesan sauce.
- Handmade pasta, such as cappellacci, cappelletti and lasagna, topped or filled with meat or pumpkin-based sauces. The first Ferrara dish par excellence, however, is the macaroni pie.
- The salama da sugo is a typical second course. It is a sausage flavored with red wine and spices. Then there are other meats, such as duck and guinea fowl.
- You may also notice a strange loaf on the tables and in bakeries. It is a type of bread and its cute name is the couple from Ferrara. Its shape is particular: two pieces of pasta joined by a soft heart. It would even originate from a dinner at the Duke’s court during the Carnival of 1536.
- Among the desserts, you must taste the chocolate tenerina, a crunchy shell that hides a moist and lustful filling.
Where to sleep
We stayed at the Hotel de Prati, a stone’s throw from the Castle. There is the possibility of having a coupon to show on the car in order to park nearby (5 minutes away), as we did, for €3 per day. Rooms are a little dated but nothing is missing. Good breakfast, nice and discreet staff.