Ravenna’s world famous mosaics, charming piazzas, pedestrian only streets, and child friendly food make it a great place for kids. Here are my tips for visiting Ravenna with children, so that both you and the kids enjoy the city’s incredible mosaics, history, and culture.
I recommend at least two days in Ravenna so you have plenty of time to bask in the charming ambience of this lovely city, but a day trip is still absolutely worth it.
This guide is based on my visits to Ravenna, most recently in June 2023. I’ve included information about:
- logistical details about visiting Ravenna’s mosaics with kids
- strategies for making the mosaics fun
- a magical crypt in the Basilica of San Francesco
- Dante’s Tomb
- TAMO, the mosaic museum
- where to let of steam and recharge with kids
- exploring the Ravenna’s city center
- what and where to eat
- getting away to the beach near Ravenna
Table of Contents
RAVENNA’S MOSAICS WITH KIDS
Ravenna boasts an incredible 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and most have jaw dropping 5th and 6th century Byzantine mosaics. 6 of them are right in the old city center, 1 is within walking distance from the center (though a bit of a schlep), and 1 is about 8 km away.
How many, and which of these 8 sites should you try to see with your children? You are the best judge of how much culture your kids can stand. Luckily, Ravenna has streamlined things so that you can buy a combined ticket to 5 of the UNESCO World heritage mosaic sites. Here they are below, grouped by location:
- Mausoleo di Galla Placida (Mausoleum of Galla Placida): a very small mausoleum. Requires a reservation time.
- Basilica di San Vitale (Basilica of San Vitale): a large church
- Battistero Neoniano (Neonian Baptistry): a small baptistry. Requires a reservation time.
- Museo Arcivescovile e Cappella di Sant’Andrea (Archiepiscopal Museum and the Chapel of St. Andrew): a fairly large multi-level museum with a mosaic-adorned chapel tucked inside
- Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo): large church
Each of these 5 sites are open every day from 9.00-19.00 (in high season from the beginning of March to the end of October). See the official Ravenna Mosaics website for the most up-to-date hours. Last admission is at 18.30 for the Basilica of San Vitale, Archiepiscopal Museum, and Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo; and at 18:45 for the Mausoleum of Galla Placida and the Neonian Baptistry.
Keep in mind that during the day there are a lot of people and big groups from schools and cruise ships. In fact, Ravenna’’s smaller sites like the Mausoleum of Galla Placida and the Neonian Baptistry, as well as certain rooms in the Archiepiscopal Museum like the ivory throne, have a 5 minute visit time limit so they won’t get too crowded.
The calmest time to visit is right before closing time, so you can have the mosaics (almost) all to yourself.
Important: Two sites require a reservation time: the Mausoleum of Galla Placida and the Neonian Baptistry. Since each one is located right next to a bigger mosaic site, I would plan at least 2 hours between each reserved visit, so you can see everything without rushing.
You know your family best. Even though two of the sites are quite small, if going to all 5 sites is too much, space out the timing: for example do group B in the morning, have lunch, do site C, have a gelato, and then do group A.
If you have to pick just one location to visit, I absolutely recommend going to the Mausoleum of Galla Placida and the Basilica of San Vitale (Group A), which are right next to each other. The mausoleum is tiny and the Basilica is large enough to move around in, but by no means huge or overwhelming.
If you are low on time and energy and need to eliminate something, I would forgo the Archiepiscopal Museum and the Chapel of St. Andrew. The museum has many levels, stairs and narrow passageways, which can make it feel crowded and claustrophobic fast. I would prioritize the Neonian Baptistry next door instead, since it’s small, easy to get right in and out of, and manageable with kids.
BUY MOSAIC TICKETS IN ADVANCE
If you want to avoid standing in line for tickets with your kids in tow, buy your combined tickets to the 5 UNESCO mosaic sites in advance on the official Ravenna Mosaics website. Tickets for children under 10 years old are free of charge.
If you prefer to buy tickets in person, there are ticket offices conveniently located near each group of sites:
- near the Basilica of San Vitale (Via Giuliano Argentario, 22)
- by the Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo (Via di Roma, 53)
- at the Archiepiscopal Museum (Piazza Arcivescovado, 1)
These ticket offices, or biglietterie, are open every day from the beginning of March to the end of October from 9.00-18.45.
MAKE MOSAICS FUN – TIPS FOR ENJOYING RAVENNA’S MOSAICS WITH KIDS
While older children may enjoy the mosaics for their beauty and incredible craftswork, younger kids will be wowed by the sparkle and vivid colors. The longer you look at the mosaics, the more designs, figures, people and animals you’ll notice. So how to keep your kids craning their necks up to look at the ceiling?
Have your kids hunt for specific animals or objects in the mosaics to keep them interested! Here are some of my suggestions of what to look for together:
Mausoleo di Galla Placida: birds, lambs and stars
Basilica di San Vitale: peacocks, pears, lion
Battistero Neoniano: shells, crowns, books
Cappella di Sant’Andrea: women!, snakes, winged beasts
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo: boat, men in leopard print tights
Luckily both the Basilicas have benches where you can rest your feet (and neck).
TOSS A COIN
Most children (and this adult) like throwing coins into wishing wells and fountains. Both the Basilica of San Vitale and the Neonian Baptistry have places where visitors drop in coins for good luck.
The Basilica of San Francesco has the most special wishing well of all. Keep reading for more about the Basilica’s hidden secret!
DON’T FORGET TO LOOK DOWN
With all the sparkle and pizzazz happening up top, don’t forget to look down! Even though they’re not as flamboyant and colorful as the mosaics up top, the floors of many of the UNESCO sites are rich with mosaics too.
Since the floor is closer to a child’s height, it’s just as accessible. You and your children can admire the ornate floor designs together. Don’t overlook the art that’s happening right under your feet.
DOWN TIME BETWEEN MOSAICS
All three groups of mosaic sites have an adjacent green or open space where kids can let off some steam before heading into another building to look at mosaics.
Mausoleum of Galla Placida and the Basilica of San Vitale (Group A) are connected by a beautiful gated green space shaded by pines.
Outside the gates of the Neonian Baptistry next to the Archiepiscopal Museum (Group B) there is a green piazza with some shade.
There is a small piazza in front of the Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo (Site C), though keep an eye out since it leads onto a street with cars. Not too far away are the Giardini Pubblici di Ravenna, or Ravenna public gardens, where there are large green spaces for running around.
THE BASILICA OF SAN FRANCESCO AND DANTE’S TOMB
Halfway between Group B (Neonian Baptistry and Archiepiscopal Museum) and site C (Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo) you’ll find the lovely Basilica of San Francesco. Dedicated to the patron saint of animals, the Basilica of San Francesco contains a befitting hidden gem.
As you first walk in, the Basilica may seem plain compared to the flashy mosaics you’ve been seeing in Ravenna. Keep walking up to the back of the church. There you’ll see stairs leading down to a small doorway, and a small machine where you can insert a coin.
Pop in a 1 euro coin and you’ll be treated to a sheer delight for young and old: the lights will come on in the crypt, revealing a floor of 6th century mosaics, covered with water and home to real fish!
In front of the Basilica is a lovely piazza that has the calm air of an oasis. In the garden to the left of the Basilica you’ll find the Tomb of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia). Dante is considered the “father of the Italian language”.
TAMO MOSAIC MUSEUM
If you and your kids would like to learn about the method behind the magic, head to the TAMO mosaic museum. It is housed in the beautiful San Nicolò church, right in the city center just a 4 minute walk from the Neonian Baptistry. Learn all about how mosaics are made, how they’re restored, and about tools and materials.
Double check opening hours and buy tickets online to the TAMO museum here.
RAVENNA’S WALKABLE CITY CENTER
Most of Ravenna’s city center is for pedestrians only (and bicycles), which means walking around relatively hassle-free with kids. It is also flat and well maintained, so it’s good for strollers.
It is a pleasure to walk around the charming streets, admiring the shops, cafès, restaurants, even if you don’t feel up to venturing inside with your little monkeys. Ravenna has quite a few bookstores as well.
A fun game to play with kids in the city center to keep them walking is to hunt for mosaics. There are mosaics on the street signs, and even on some houses.
Ravenna’s piazzas are perfect for taking a rest and having a snack or a drink. Enjoy a spritz or a piadina while your children play in the piazza. You can keep your eye on them and recharge.
EATING WITH KIDS IN RAVENNA
In a country famous for its fantastic cuisine, Ravenna has particularly great food for kids.
The city is full of piadinerias, where you can get delicious sandwiches on piadina, the local flatbread (they are like what Americans call a panini). Piadinas are filled with cured meats, cheese and/or vegetables, and are a great casual meal. You can eat them on the go, instead of facing a sit down restaurant meal with kids.
Piadina bread is also served as the accompaniment for local cured meats and cheeses. Try it along with squacquerone, a local soft cheese, and fichi caramellati, caramelized figs.
Ravenna is located in Emilia Romagna, a region renowned for its cured meats (prosciutto), cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano), and stuffed fresh pasta. Don’t forget ragù (meat sauce) and lasagne, tried and true kid favorites.
For a sit down meal, Ravenna has plenty of caffès and restaurants right on the main piazzas where you can enjoy your food, people watch, and keep an eye on your kids while they play in the square. When we were there on our most recent visit, there was a group of small children playing tag in Piazza del Popolo and having the time of their lives while their parents sipped on spritzes.
My favorite restaurant is on a quiet square right off the main Piazza del Popolo: Osteria dei Battibecchi (Via della Tesoreria Vecchia, 16). They serve delicious local specialties, which are well executed but unpretentious. The inside is cozy and charming, while in the summer there is covered outdoor seating on the lovely calm Piazza Unità d’Italia, where kids can play on the built in sunken steps.
GETTING AROUND RAVENNA
I’ve already waxed poetic about what a pleasure Ravenna is to stroll around, but I can keep on going! Seven of the city’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites are within walking distance of each other right in the city center. Not only that, most of the city center is car free, and it is very flat.
If you come to Ravenna by car, ditch it during your stay. Don’t try driving into the old center, as there are many ZTL areas where you are not allowed to drive and will get a ticket. Use one of the many free parking lots at the edges of town. You can also pay at parking meters to park in blue-lined parking spaces.
If you have time and need a break from mosaics, head to the beach with your family!
Not only is Ravenna packed with cultural treasures, it’s right on the coast! Just a 15 minute drive from the center are Ravenna’s main beach areas like Lido di Classe, Lido di Dante, Lido Adriano, Punta Marina, Marina di Ravenna, Porto Corsini and Marina Romea.
This stretch of the Adriatic coast is famous for family friendly beaches. The shallow water stretches far out, and there aren’t large waves or strong tides.
Like most of the Italian coast, there are beach clubs where you pay a fee to rent a beach umbrella and sun lounger by the day. Many Italian families flock to them because they are so convenient. These clubs have a bathroom, coffee bar, and often a restaurant as well. Many also have toys and games for kids.
If you don’t wish to pay and don’t need a beach with facilities, go to a spiaggia libera, or free beach. There are sporadic free beaches scattered among the built up areas.