Ferrara is a beautiful renaissance town in the heart of Emilia-Romagna. The city is a homage to the Este family who from the time they built their thick-walled castle in the 14th century, had a strangely open-minded attitude, supporting many artists with the city boundaries. The city flourished until the 18th century when the Estes failed to produce a male heir and were forced to hand the city over to the Papacy. The family fled to Modena, where their legacy continued in more modest surroundings. Ferrara then went into a period of decline which lasted until the development of a fruit producing industry in the countryside around the city. It had an important Jewish community which suffered greatly during World War 2, as a tribute to this, Ferrara has been designated as the location for the new Italian holocaust museum.
One of the first things that will strike you on arrival is the number of bicycles that zoom around the pedestrianized city center. You can rent a bike and cycle the city walls which are 9kms in total. There is a magnificent castle which was once the home of the ruling Este family, and you can visit inside. Across the piazza from the castle, there is St George’s Cathedral, which is a beautiful sandstone building, particularly attractive in the evening when the sun turns the façade an unusual pinky color.
For art, you should make your way down what was once the widest street in Europe, Corso Ercole d’Este. At the end of that street, you will find Palazzo Diamanti with permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Ferrara in the evening is a tranquil place, but there are cinemas, bars, and theatres aplenty.
All these changes during the last week of August when an international busking festival sees up to 800,000 people arriving in the city over the course of the festival. There is a great atmosphere in the town, and even if you only stay for a day, it’s a really memorable experience.
There are several international airports in the area, and nearest is Bologna, which serves many European cities with newly opened intercontinental services being added all the time. Within 90 minutes, you can also reach Venice, Treviso, and Forli airports. Also, Ferrara lies on the main train line on the Rome-Florence-Venice axis so you can get there even with train.
One of the best ways to start an evening on the local eating scene is to go to one of the central bars offering the after-work crowd-free snacks with their aperitive. If you are on a budget then for the price of a beer you can really fill up and avoid buying dinner. However, if you are in the mood for a more relaxed dining experience then you could start with a “Spritz”. This is a tasty mixture of Campari and white wine, and it is an Italian favorite pre-dinner drink.
There are a number of places to eat, with new places opening all the time. An excellent and cheap option is Balebuste restaurant in Via Vittoria 44 which has a decent trattoria menu with dishes for €7. They also serve tasty house wine by the glass for only €2.50.
If you aren’t particularly hungry then you could visit the world’s oldest wine bar. Located just to the side of the Cathedral, Al Brindisi enoteca has been serving happy customers for centuries, including Pope John Paul 2. This historic bar has a fabulous selection of wine and grappa. You can match their wine with simple pasta or cheese plates.
At the higher end of the market, there are a few excellent restaurants. Quel Fantastico Giovedi restaurant, which is located in Via Castelnuovo 9, is recommended. It is an intimate venue with only a few tables, so drop in to book if you can.
There is a relatively small selection of hotels, so the best two are:
4-star – Hotel Mercure Ferrara
4-star – Hotel Albergo Annunziata
Other good options are,
3-star Hotel Europa and Suite Duomo.
Ferrara makes a perfect stop on a trip between Florence and Venice so, try to stay the night if you can. There is a lovely relaxed atmosphere in the evening as well as a relatively lively night-life generated by the large student population.