There is simply so much to see and do in Ravenna that it deserves more than just a day trip. I’m bringing this up because on a recent visit to Ravenna, thanks to the invitation by DiRavenna project, we were told that most visitors come for only the day. This took me by surprise as I struggled to see the sights in Ravenna in the three days I was there.
If you don’t already know, there are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna and while those are what draw visitors to this city, there is also the culinary experience you shouldn’t miss out on, it is home to Dante’s tomb (yeah that Dante), museums, the charming Piazza del Popolo and in general, you’ll have fun just walking around this charming city. And for those looking for more, there’s the beach that is only a short bus ride away.
That said, to fully explore and make the most of your visit to Ravenna, plan on staying a few days here. We were there for 3 days and though we were given time to leisurely visit the sights in the city, we still felt short on time. Here’s how the days unfolded.
3 Days in Ravenna
Day 1: Sant’Appolinare in Classe and Rocca Brancaleone
I took the morning train from Rome to Ravenna, getting off in Bologna to switch trains and got into Ravenna by lunch time – a simple and easy connection (here is more information on how to get to Ravenna with the different modes of transportation).
After lunch, we were given time in the afternoon to explore the city on our own. As our guided visit the following day didn’t include a visit to all the 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I decided to take the bus to visit the Basilica of Sant’Appolinare in Classe, a 15-minute bus ride away. Though the exterior is simple, the interior with its nave boasting 24 Greek columns is impressive. Definitely a must-visit when in Ravenna.
Once back in Ravenna, I had some time to spare before dinner and went for a walk in the lovely park nearby, Rocca Brancaleone, once a fortress that was built by the Venetians in the 15th century. I love places like these as it’s here you get a glimpse of local life.
- You can purchase your bus ticket from the shop inside the train station (€2 per ticket) and take the No. 4 bus from the bus stop across the station. On the way back to Ravenna, the bus stop is on the other side of the street heading in the direction towards Ravenna. If you are not sure, ask the bus driver before you get off in Classe.
- Ticket to Sant’Appolinare in Classe costs €5 but you can also purchased a combined ticket that gives you entry to Mausoleum of Theoderic and National Museum for €10. For the latest information on prices and opening times, visit the official Ravenna tourism website.
Day 2: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, other sites in Ravenna & hands on mosaic experience
We had a full day ahead of us, with a guided visit in the morning that included Basilica San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. While I was stunned by the visit to Basilica Sant’Appolinare in Classe, I never expected the experience at San Vitale to move me so deeply – the details were amazingly beautiful and it was overwhelming. Today, only sections are covered by the original mosaic and you can only imagine the grandeur of the place in its full glory.
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is also an extraordinary place, and as we lined up to enter, it exudes a mysterious vibe. Once inside, it felt like you were in a different realm with its exquisite decorations and dimly lit lights. Staring up the entire time admiring the details, it felt like you were looking up into the heavens with the intense indigo blue background.
While Basilica San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia were public places, our guide also wanted us to have a look at mosaics in a private residence dating back to the Roman Republic. We made our way to the 18th century Church of Santa Eufemia, where the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra was discovered in 1993. It was fascinating to see the details on the floor and one particular feature that stood out was the Dance of the Seasons with each character representing a season.
After a couple of hours of learning about mosaics, it was time to discover other sights around the city, including Piazza del Popolo, Dante’s tomb, and one of my favorites was Palazzo della Provincia, home to the Rasponi crypt and the gorgeous Giardini Pensili.We spent more time than expected in this lovely hidden gem which meant having to reschedule a visit to Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, another UNESCO World Heritage site for the following day.
After lunch, it was time to get our hands dirty at TAMO (Tutta l’Avventura del Mosaic), housed in the Church of San Nicolò, a vast space with state of the art multimedia technology showcasing the development of mosaics from late Antiquities to contemporary mosaic today.
Here, we were shown how to hand cut the marble mosaics we would use and how to imprint the design on to the surface of the damp cement mixture before getting to work. It was such a fun experience and gave us a much better idea of the painstaking effort it took in creating the dazzling details that adorned the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ravenna. Here’s a short video of the day in Ravenna:
- Purchase the ticket (€9.50) that gives you entry to Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery, Basilica of San Vitale, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, and Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel. Note: From March 1st to June 15th, an additional charge of €2 applies to the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. For latest on pricing and opening hours, please visit the official Ravenna tourism website.
Day 3: Culinary experience, Sant’Appolinare Nuovo and MAR (Museo d’Arte della citta di Ravenna)
The morning was all about the culinary experience in Ravenna and the afternoon spent visiting Sant’Appolinare Nuovo before making our way to MAR (Museo d’Arte della citta di Ravenna) which was hosting the exhibition “The Charm of the Frescoes”.
This was a fascinating exhibition where we learned the various techniques of removing frescoes from a wall. Who would ever have thought you could extract a fresco from the wall! The exhibition ends June 15th, 2014 but many exhibitions are held throughout the year at MAR.
That evening I wanted to make a dash to the seaside but that would be cutting it too close to dinner and instead, I got a ride to see Theodoric’s Mausoleum from the outside. The interior of the Theodoric’s Mausoleum and the beach would have to be left for my next visit.
As you can see, 3 days are barely sufficient to fully explore Ravenna as this city boasts a surprising number of hidden gems. When you are planning a trip to Ravenna, stay a few days and you’ll be glad you did! A glimpse of the 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna:
Looking for places to eat in Ravenna?
Here are some places where we had lunch and dinner. All of them were excellent!
La Gardela (Via Ponte Marino, 3) serves traditional Romagnola cuisine.
Ristorante Osteria del Tempo Perso (Via Gamba 12) offers wonderful seafood dishes with a modern twist.
Ristorante L’Acciuga (Vl. Baracca 74 ) is considered one of the best restaurants in town serving mainly seafood dishes.
Osteria dei Battibecchi (Via Della Tesoreria Vecchia, 16) tucked away in the corner, it offers hearty, down-to-earth dishes.
Ristorante Cà de Ven (Via Corrado Ricci 24), the restaurant is housed in a stunning complex. While the food is decent, it’s the atmosphere here that makes the difference.
Ristorante Osteria Passatelli Mariani Lifestyle (Via Ponte Marino 19) consists of a osteria, a restaurant, and a cafe so you choose to either enjoy a sit down or grab a quick bite.
Note: All prices and information mentioned were accurate at the time of writing. Please check the relevant websites for updated information.