How I spent my holiday in Ravenna – and loved it!
This summer, while still having some budget to travel, we were more careful with our funds. We spent our main holiday in Ravenna – and I really loved it. The reasons for a more budget-conscious holiday were that I had just completed a course at the University of Nagasaki, with tuitions fees and six weeks of unpaid leave, with another unpaid six-week period coming up.
And my husband is a homebody now. He grew up in Malaysia, Zambia and Singapore and says he’s done with travelling a lot, and his favourite holidays are anywhere in the EU but with sun -once the main gardening season is over and our lawn and apple trees are no longer at risk of withering when it doesn’t rain.
So… our favourite holiday period is usually the shoulder season between September and October each year. Perfect for a holiday in Ravenna.
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Booking reasonably priced flights
We did not set out to spend our holiday in Ravenna. We wanted a budget holiday in style and finding flights was more difficult than expected. All spring and summer, flight prices were sky-high. A flight to Sardinia with hand luggage only? That’ll be 500 Euro. We shortly entertained the idea of taking the train, but a couple of trains strikes and total train chaos this spring and summer later, and seeing the prohibitive pricing for long distance train travel outside Germany, we gave that a amiss. A shame! I would love to take the train more, especially since you can be inthe South of France in 13 Hours and in Italy in about 10. And Germany, Italy and France have a decent network of high-speed rail. Austria and Switzerland don’t, but they are quite mountainous and small and it doesn’t take that long to cross them since their rail network is also good.
So I kept looking. Some airports are budget airline hubs, and flights there tend to be cheaper – for us, that’ll be usually Bergamo, Budapest, Venice. Some Balkan cities like Skopje or Podgorica are usually cheap, too. After a bit of looking, I found flights on Ryanair for just over 100 Euros. 95% of the times, the price on the airlines website is the same or cheaper than using an agent, so I book my flights directly and rarely use an agent.
Taking Luggage would have cost an additional 70 Euros or so, so we packed a light backpack and off we went!
Getting to Ravenna
We flew on Ryanair from Berlin to Bologna.
Flight to Bologna
Bologna, being a much smaller airport than Berlin, isn’t much better, especially when it comes to getting to and from the city centre. Forget about the much hyped super overpriced monorail “Marconi Express”. We took Bus 944 to Ospedale Maggiore. At some point halfway you need to change onto another bus – but there’s a good cafe next to the bus stop, and for 4 Euro you can get coffee and cake for two in. For the 6am return flight we took a taxi – 30 Euros from the other end of Bologna, cheaper than the “Marconi Express”
We booked through Taxi o NCC Bologna (via WhatsApp +39 335 564 9045 until 21.00 the day before) – driver was at our flat well early, delivered us safely to the airport, I would definitely use them again.
Local Train to Ravenna
From Bologna, we took a regular train to Ravenna. There is one at least every hour. The national train company, Trenitalia, has a decent website and app for connections. You can buy tickets just in the stations, there are tons of ticket vending machines – just remember to validate the picket by punching it in the tiny red ” convalidazione” punch clocks nearby. Fares for local trains go by distance, and there are no Italo or Frecce high-speed trains to Ravenna – not that you’d need them, it only take an hour and fifteen minutes.
Once in Ravenna, you can literally walk anywhere, or, do as the locals do and go by bicycle. THey can be rented as you leave the station – many guesthouses also hire them. Ravenna is made for cycling!
What to do in Ravenna
Most people will associate Ravenna with the Roman/Byzantine ecclesiastical mosaics preserved in some chapels and basilicas in town. Basically, it is deeply steeped in Roman, Byzantine and Medieval history, but there’s a lot more to Ravenna.
The Emilia Romagna region is prosperous due to its modern industries, from food processing to automotive industry, but is agricultural in large swathes – around Ravenna, that’s mostly fruit orchards (peaches, apricots, grapes), and also vegetables and grain. A lot is pasture – after all, Italy’s most famous hard cheeses and parma ham are products pf Emilia Romagna.
So, expect a good infrastructure and excellent local food, as well! Overall, Ravenna is an extremely pleasant relaxed small city with great public transport, relatively unbothered by tourist except for the most famous mosaic sites, and a great place to spend a week or two.
The UNESCO World Heritage sites
Unmissable. It takes a bit of planning, as some of the sites can get very busy, but I really recommend you visit at least a couple of the sites. I have written a separate post about the Mosaics of Ravenna, so please read if you need more details!
The best way to see these magnificent mosaics is to turn up early (9.00) or late (17.00) in the day, or pick lunchtime. Out of season would also work. A lot of Mediterrranean cruises stop at the cruise port 15km out of town so you may have to share the churches with busloads of day trippers. The sites of San Vitale /Galla Placidia and Battisterio Neoniano/Sant’ Andrea are the best places to start, although all have ticket offices and five of the sites are bundled in a 12 Euro combination ticket, which can be used over several days and provides great value.
The Mausoleo of Galla Placidia and the Battisterio Neoniano are tiny, so they get very crowded quickly and your visiting time is limited to five minutes – and it’s quite structly observed to keep the crowds moving. So this might not be the most contemplative or enlightening experience, especially as they do pack ’em in.
And if you think Ravenna is resting on its laurels, you are wrong! The art of laying mosaics is well and truly alive in Ravenna. There are at least ten mosaic ateliers who produce mosaics on commission and also as souvenirs. There is even a School of Mosaic restauration.
A few of the ateliers offer courses, ranging from an afternoon hobby classes to multi-week courses on mosaic techniques. I dropped into one, where a course was in full swing – it’s way better to pre-book if you have a particular course in mind!
Here are some suggestions:
- Mosaic Art School, the oldest school running, huge range of classes from 3 to 10 days but run only 2-3 times a year
- Pixel Mosaici, more geared towards tourists and school classes, has lots of short classes, starting at 140 Euro per half day
- Koko Mosaico, a light modern atelier with longer classes and quite pricey half day group classes
- Anna Fietta, a renowned artist’s studio with a shop at San Vitale – no courses advertised online
If you are just after a short introductory class, check out Ravenna Experience. They offer bookings for at least ten courses per day, with direct easy booking and prices starting from 80 Euro. They are usually run by Pixel Mosaici.
Apologies for lumping this together a bit. Another UNESCO site is the Mausoleum of Theodoric. Relatively small and unpossessing from the outside, the empty chamber is rather underwhelming. It is recognized for its “distinctive Gothic Style and decoration”. But well – the park surrounding it is really nice, and it makes for a nice evening walk or bicycle ride.
Also I cannot write about Ravenna and not mention Dante Alighieri, the great medieval Florentine writer and philosopher. He spent the last years of his life in Ravenna and died there and his Mausoleum is a scene of nightly readings from the Divine Comedy. Next to it, a small museum in his former residence, a pleasant cloistered building, is well worth a visit – well executed exhibition about his life and the fierce protection of his mortal remains.
Emilia Romagna is well known for its quality produce and this is reflected in the food and drink you are served. Given its proximity to the Adriatic Sea, there is plenty of fresh fish and seafood to be had, too. Central Ravenna has lots of restaurants and cafes, from the people watching spots of the central Piazza del Popolo with its simple piadina (flatbread) menus to neighbourhood pizzerias and more formal dining.
Although the city can feel very busy during the day, with groups of tourists trailing between the “mosaic sites”, the restaurants are definitely serving the locals, and you can be ensured of great quality and decent prices. I have not had a single bad meal, although the cafes in the pedestrian area near San Vitale do charge rather a lot for what they are. Here are my favourites:
For a classic solid pizzeria, Pizza Futura in the centre is a great choice. One side of the menu had the classics at very low prices, the other artisan pizzas. Highly recommended.
Another great pizzeria is Frankpizz – takeaway only, ridiculously low prices, and always busy. It was round the corner from our B&B so we had a couple of very nice meals in our garden, drinking our supermarket wine etc…
For slightly more choice on the menu, Ristorante Marchesini right next to the Tourist Information is great. The classics with some very good and fresh seafood are all available here, and the outside dining area is bustling. And yes, there are many others, honestly, we didn’t have a bad meal in Ravenna.
While I Am not recommending to visit Ravenna for Street Art alone, it would make an interesting trip if you are visiting Bologna, a city famous for street art. A bit certainly rubbed off on Ravenna, and the ancient mosaics in the centre paired with Street Art in the Darsena area will make for an art trip spanning nearly two millennia.
For the highest concentration of Street Art, head to the train station and walk through it into the semi-industrial zone of the Darsena basin. It’s quite pleasant to walk as there are many cool cafes and bars as well!
For me, anything with cats is almost impossible to miss. I was delighted to to pass this cat by chance, part of the “I Gatti di Rovio” project.
For more information on Ravenna’s Street Art, visit the Ravenna Tourism Site.
Time at the Beach
Now, the Adriatic certainly isn’t the Caribbean, but Ravenna’s beaches are just a 10-minute drive or a 20-minute bus ride away. They;re good for swimming and sunbathing, and the long stretch between Marina di Ravenna in the north, near the cruise port, and Lido di Dante in the South, has numerous beach clubs and a couple free beaches.
If you take public transport, the Bus No 70 from the train station runs really frequently to Marina di Ravenna, stopping at multiple beach sites. Beach clubs are very common in Italy – for an entry fee, you get access to restrooms and showers, a sunbed, umbrella, and on-site restaurants and bars. The beaches are sandy, entry into the water is shallow, and with very few hazards around, they are quite safe.
Ravenna holds another great site for lovers of wreck diving. An abandoned 1960’s oil platform about 6nm offshore from Marina di Ravenna is an artificial reef and comparably easy to explore – as far as wreck dives go. Closest Dive base would be the Sub Delphinus Dive Club in Marina di Ravenna( Website only in Italian and not secure), but larger dive shops in Rimini appear to offer excursions as well. For a visual exploration, you can visit the Adri Reef Project.
Easy day trips to the Veneto and Tuscany
Should all the art and food not keep you busy enough, Ravenna is well placed for day trips by car and on public transport. Expect to pay a lot less for hotel rooms than in Bologna, Florence or Venice, so Ravenna is a great base to stay and rest!
You can easily reach Florence, Bologna, Padova and Ferrara within two hours. Most trains to Bologna and Ferrara are fairly fast local trains, meaning the fare is minimal. Rimini, should you fancy a real party day at the beach, is also less than an hour away.
All of the above are easily accessible as the roads are quite good, but consider parking in the big cities like Florence, Padova and Bologna can be troublesome. Where a car really comes into its own is for trips along the coast into the Po Delta National Park. We did this on one day to look at the unique landscape at the Po Delta, even made it as far as Chioggia, which is like a miniature Venice with hardly a tourist in sight.
On the way back, we stopped at Comacchio, another pleasant town which boasts lots of little canals and typical Veneto architecture.
Going south, you can see the famous salines of Cervia and even make a long day trip tp Urbino and San Marino. Since parking is a bit restricted in the historic centre of Ravenna, it is better to stay outside the city walls if you have a car with you.
We hired a car for a day from Ravenna to go to the Po Delta and Chioggia, but really didn’t miss a car otherwise. We hired our car through Booking.com, getting all the insurance we could get, and paid about 70 Euro per day. The car hire company was Noleggiare. Despite some online reviews, we found them friendly and reliable, our car, a souped-up Fiat Cinquecento, was new and clean. They are based along with some other car hire offices in Via Adria in the Darsena area, an easy 10-minute walk from the train station.
Where to stay on a holiday in Ravenna
Ravenna is relatively small and walkable. You can stay fairly central to the sights or in one of the Adria beach suburbs. Since we came for the mosaics, we stayed just outside the ancient city walls, a 15-minute walk but a mere 3-minute bicycle ride from the city centre where most of the “mosaic churches” are located.
Yes, we cycle, and that was another argument for Ravenna. It is one of the most cycling -friendly towns I have come across: bicycle shops with great repair service at every corner, city centre closed to motorized traffic, cycle paths that don’t stop abruptly… and easy cycle hire. So… if you love to cycle, then consider staying where we stayed, at the B and B Al Borgo.
B&B Al Borgo
We spent four nights at this family guesthouse, located around a courtyard just outside the city centre. The owning family lives on site and looks after the property superbly – lovely little rooms in a coach house, a wonderful green courtyard garden, cats, a dog, tortoises! A little perfect world paradise. Rooms were somewhat on the small side but perfectly appointed, nicely decorated, and you’d want to spend time lounging in the garden anyway. A lovely breakfast every morning and free bicycles for hire make this reasonably priced guesthouse (around 65 Euro for a double) the best value for money. Being outside the city centre, you’ll still have some nice cafe bars, an excellent pizzeria, and a lovely fruit and cheese shop just down the road.
My second favourite, this charming Bed and Breakfast in an aristocratic-style setting has rooms for around 80-90 Euros per night including breakfast. Sat on the edge of the city centre, you can walk comfortably everywhere including the train station. The large rooms are decorated with antique furniture but have all mod cons including air condition and tea and coffee making equipment (a rarity in Italy).
La Maison du Theatre
If you are looking for somewhere super central, look no further than La Maison du Theatre. This is a small tastefully decorated apartment in a historical building, a stone’s throw from the theatre, cafes, restaurants, and a 5-minute walk to the train station. You will have access to a full kitchen also,a nd there is a generous shared salon and the option to store luggage at the property. Expect to pay 90-110 Euro per night.
The Small Print
I visited Ravenna in September 2023 at my own expense. As a matter of fact, this was our annual summer holiday, where we visited Ravenna, Ferrara, Bologna, Comacchio and Chioggia during a week’s holiday on a very modest (if you exclude the meals) budget. Atll information is correct at the time of publication in December 2023.
This post contains some accommodation links to Booking.com, meaning that if you make a booking using the link, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I used Booking.com to book all our hotels on this trip and stayed at B&B Al Borgo in Ravenna.