For 48 hours of stunning mosaics, picturesque streets and piazzas, sea breezes, and great food, head to Ravenna. This lovely Northern Italian city is home to sparkling, intricate Byzantine mosaics from the 5th and 6th centuries, and is easy and safe to manage on foot. Not only that, Ravenna is great for kids!
While the ideal visit to Ravenna is at least two days so you can really soak in the feeling of the city and see things without rushing, in a pinch you can make it a day trip.
This guide is based on my visits to Ravenna, including my latest one (June 2023). I’ve included:
- what to see in Ravenna
- how to plan your trip to Ravenna
- what and where to eat
- how to get around so you can make the most out of your visit to Ravenna
Table of Contents
DON’T MISS: RAVENNA’S MOSAICS
Ravenna is brimming with layer upon layer of history and breathtaking mosaics, in fact it is home to a whopping 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites. How do you choose which ones to see, and in which order?
Ravenna has made it easy: you can buy a combined ticket to 5 of the sites which are right in the center of town and feature magnificent mosaics. I’ve grouped them below based on location: each group is about a 10 minute walk from each other in a triangle.
- 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
From the beginning of March to the end of October, all 5 sites are open every day from 9.00-19.00. 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. Check here for the most up-to-date hours.
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 an hour and a half between each reserved visit, so you can see everything without rushing.
A note about taking your time in Ravenna: one of my favorite things about the mosaics is that the longer you sit and gaze at them, the more figures, patterns and little details come out at you. Yes, this can give you a sore neck. Thankfully, the larger mosaic sites have benches so you don’t have to stare straight up, and you can get off your feet for a bit.
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.
In Ravenna I recommend visiting the Mausoleum of Galla Placida and Basilica of San Vitale right before closing. There are less crowds at the end of the day, and if you get lucky you can have the Mausoleum and Basilica almost to yourself, and visit calmly at your own pace: an unforgettable experience.
WHERE TO BUY TICKETS FOR THE MOSAICS
You can buy combined tickets for the mosaic sites above on the Ravenna Mosaics official website. If you prefer to buy tickets in person, look for a ticket office, or biglietteria, open every day 9.00-18.45 from the beginning of March to the end of October:
- 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)
DON’T MISS: DANTE’S TOMB AND THE BASILICA OF SAN FRANCESCO
The Basilica of San Francesco sits halfway between the Neonian Baptistry/Archiepiscopal Museum and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. The piazza in front feels like an inviting, calm oasis. In fact the garden to the left of the Basilica hosts the Tomb of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia), and considered the “father of the Italian language”.
At first glance, the inside of the Basilica may seem unadorned and plain. Keep walking up to the front of the church, where you will see stairs leading down to a small doorway. Pop in a 1 euro coin into the machine there and you’ll be treated to a sheer delight: the lights will come on in the crypt, revealing a floor of 6th century mosaics, covered with water and home to real fish!
DON’T MISS: RAVENNA’S FRIENDLY CITY CENTER
Ravenna’s center is host to a variety of shops, cafes, sandwich shops, restaurants and small piazzas. Much of the center is closed to cars, so wandering around the center on foot is a delight. One of my favorite things to do is take in the colorful building facades at a relaxed pace, and discover charming little passageways and hidden corners. It is very well kept, orderly and clean.
You’ll see people of all ages on bicycles. The terrain is very flat, and bikes are the transportation of choice for many locals.
IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME IN RAVENNA
MORE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN RAVENNA
Battistero degli Ariani, another UNESCO World Heritage site with incredible mosaics, is right in Ravenna’s city center, just a few minutes walk from Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Vicolo Degli Ariani, 1).
In a public park about 1 km northeast of the old city center is the impressive and imposing UNESCO site Mausoleo Teodorico (Via delle Industrie, 14).
The final UNESCO World Heritage site is on the way to the beach in Classe, a district of Ravenna, about 8 km outside the main part of town. Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe (Via Romea Sud, 224) boasts a majestic structure and its dome features magnificent 6th century mosaics.
HIT THE BEACH NEAR RAVENNA
Not only is Ravenna home to incredibly rich cultural treasures, it’s right on the coast! Ravenna’s city center is just 15 minutes from the beach by car! Lido di Classe, Lido di Dante, Lido Adriano, Punta Marina, Marina di Ravenna, Porto Corsini and Marina Romea are the main beach areas.
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. These clubs have a bathroom, coffee bar, and often a restaurant as well. 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. The water is shallow quite a ways out, which makes it family friendly. (Unfortunately the beaches face an oil rig far out at sea).
If you really like to let it all go, Ravenna has a nudist beach between Lido di Dante and Lido di Classe called the Spiaggia della Bassona. To get there, you can park in Lido di Dante and walk about 10 minutes south through the pine grove along the beach. Remember that there are no bathrooms or beach facilities. Nudism isn’t required: suits are optional.
EXTRA OPTIONS IN RAVENNA
Right on the piazza in front of the Basilica of San Francesco is the Ravenna tourist office (Piazza San Francesco, 7). The office has plenty of ideas for guided tours and day trips.
RAVENNA: GETTING AROUND
Walk! The center of Ravenna is a pleasure to stroll around. 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, a large area is pedestrian only, so you can walk without worrying a lot about cars. It is also flat, and the streets are well maintained.
Biking is also a great way to get around Ravenna, just like the locals do. Check with your hotel to see if they have bikes you can rent or use free of charge. Otherwise, there is bike rental at the Ve.Ra. Ravenna Bike Station . It’s just down the street from the train station at Piazza Farini, 19.
WHAT TO EAT IN RAVENNA
Ravenna is in Emilia-Romagna, a region renowned for its incredible food (in a country famous for its cuisine!). This is the land of ham, butter and fresh pasta. Some local specialties include:
A piadina is a delicious flatbread. Piadinerie (piadina sandwich shops) serve piadinas filled with cured meats, cheese and/or vegetables to be eaten as a sandwich (it looks like what Americans call a panini). Piadinas are 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.
Try cappelletti, fresh pasta filled with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, ricotta and meat. Local Passatelli, long thick cylindrical noodles with rough edges, are usually served in broth. And don’t forget lasagne, made with ragù (meat sauce) and bechamel.
Ravenna is on the sea, and there is delicious local seafood to be had, like local clams (vongole), anchovies (alici), shrimp (gamberi) and various fish (pesce) from the Adriatic sea.
WHERE TO EAT IN RAVENNA
Ravenna’s covered market (mercato coperto), in the center of town has recently been renovated and restyled into a beautiful food hall. There is a butcher stall, cheesemonger, fresh pasta stall, small supermarket, restaurants and more. It’s open all day, every day.
For high quality seafood in the city center, head to Il Portolano (Via Andrea Agnello, 10/a). This charming neighborhood restaurant has excellent, refined dishes featuring local seafood and fish. In the summer there is plenty of outdoor seating on a quiet side street. A highlight of our recent dinner at Il Portolano was a special of local red tuna tartare with asparagus and strawberries from the restaurant garden.
For local Ravenna specialties like squacquerone with caramelized figs, and cappelletti al ragù (stuffed pasta with meat sauce), I recommend Osteria dei Battibecchi (Via della Tesoreria Vecchia, 16). The food is delicious and the restaurant is cozy and charming. In the summertime there is covered outdoor seating on a delightful, peaceful piazza tucked away behind Piazza del Popolo.
If you’d like to experience an old time Italian coffee bar, stop at Caffè Pasticceria Palumbo. It’s located under the portico on the peaceful, picturesque Piazza di San Francesco, across from Dante’s tomb. Last time we had an Italian breakfast of cappuccino and a pastry on our way to see the Basilica of San Francesco next door, there were local regulars only, even though it’s right next to the tourist office. Don’t expect table service: instead, order and pay for your food at the bar.
HOW TO GET TO RAVENNA
Unless you’re coming in on a cruise ship, the best options for getting to Ravenna are by train or by car.
TAKING THE TRAIN TO RAVENNA
The train is extremely convenient because like in most northern Italian towns, the train station is a straight shot into the center on foot. If you come out of the train station and walk straight for 10 minutes, even without being glued to the map app on your phone, you’ll end up in the main part of town.
DRIVING TO RAVENNA
Driving to Ravenna is also a great option, as long as you ditch your car 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.