Ravenna is not an obvious destination on Italy trip itineraries. Not if you compare it to larger neighbors like Florence or Venice, but as a charming city located on the eastern coast of Emilia Romagna, known for its UNESCO World Heritage mosaics, there is much for art lovers to see and very little crowds to compete with!
From jaw-dropping Byzantine and Baroque mosaics hidden in basilicas, baptisteries and mausoleums, even the streets hold artistic surprises and the faint whisper seducing poets and romantic dreamers. Within a short time, traveling Ravenna has captured my heart and I’m sure it will capture yours too. So i’m going to share my Ravenna travel guide.
This post contains some affiliate links to services I use. My Italy trip and some of its visits were sponsored by the #inEmiliaRomagna Tourism Board and iambassador, in attendance of the #STSRavenna Social Travel Summit conference which discusses the travel blogger industry and responsible tourism. As always, all opinions in this article are my own.
Ravenna: The mosaic heart of Emilia Romagna
Ravenna is located just two hours south of Venice, near the coastal heart of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. Upon arrival, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Ravenna is one of the lesser known cities in Italy, so I didn’t know if there was more to it than just mosaics art. There is,… so keep reading.
It is said that region used to be a swamp and in some parts, similar to Venice, and Ravenna is partially built upon that land. Thus, there are places where the earth is uneven and you might notice visibly tilting towers. Don’t worry– it’s been like that for centuries.
Ravenna is an art lover’s city
Even with intense jet lag on the day of arrival, it was not hard not to fall in love with Ravenna.
Simply put, Ravenna is a charming and romantic city. My first impression was that it reminded me of a little Paris with outdoor tables spilling out from local trattorias and dog-walking locals. In the heart of Ravenna, the small cobblestone streets harbor brick buildings, some with faint charms of a medieval or Byzantine Italy. Residential buildings graduate to a warm stucco’d up persona.
UNESCO World Heritage Mosaics
As a small town in the Emilia Romagna region, Ravenna is known for its UNESCO world heritage Byzantine mosaics, hidden in basilicas, baptisteries and mausoleums. There are at least four UNESCO mosaics that I know which are easy to visit as a tourist attraction. But it is more than a town about UNESCO attractions.
An artist and poet’s town
As a town with history connecting famous poets like Dante Alighieri, Ravenna has inspired many creative muses.
Walking through the streets, like Mentana Street’s Umbrella Alley, you can’t help but appreciate the occasional dalliances Ravenna has with street art and murals. Artists such as Invader reminds you Space Invaders hallmark progressive times for mosaics; meanwhile, a humorous muralist who seems to call himself “Blub” shares iconic pop or medieval figures communicating in a watery underworld.
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Things to Do in Ravenna
UNESCO World Heritage Mosaics in Ravenna
In Ravenna, one must always look up! Ravenna is known for for its medieval and Roman Byzantine mosaics in basilicas, baptisteries and mausoleum.
Note: On the outside, some of these buildings look highly unexciting. Okay, to someone superficial like me, who is unaccustomed to seeing medieval history, the architecture look downright cold and drab from the outside. The style is rudimentary, with chunky red brick,… those must’ve been hard winters. But one must remember the mosaic and artwork gold is on the inside. And OMG, it is like an ugly duckling coming into an elegant and stunning beauty.
Ravenna Tourism makes it easy and inexpensive for you to visit these UNESCO sites. There are eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ravenna. I’m only listing the ones I visited on this Italy trip: the Battesteria Neonia, Basilica di San Vitale, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia and Basilica di Sant’Apollinaire.
Travel Tip! Buy the combination ticket to visit all four UNESCO World Heritage sites. Or better yet, take a 3 hour guided walking and tasting tour! Visit some of the mosaics and sample local snacks. If you’re here to visit mostly for the mosaics, opt for a 5 hour private guided walking tour for deeper cultural learning.
Battesteria Neonian (aka Neonian baptistry)
Battesteria Neonian is one of my favorite mosaics and my first welcome to Ravenna mosaics! On the ceiling of the Battesteria Neonian, the mosaic was created to adorn a place where baptisms are performed. The mosaic is of Christ being baptized as the Apostles look on. Also included in this entry ticket is the Archiepiscopal Museum and Ravenna Church (whose admission is free). Of the latter two, I highly recommend the Cathedral.
If you’re visiting Battesteria Neonia, then be sure to stop by Ravenna Cathedral next door. The cathedral is not a UNESCO site but is the most magnificent and breathtaking cathedral in Ravenna. Reconstructed between 1734 and 1735, standing with a dome of 50 meters high, there are many early Christian works which are sure to elevate your prayers. Walking through, it like an art museum. My favorite is the ceiling fresco of the Virgin Mary (not pictured).
Hours: Monday to Friday 7:00 am – 12:00 pm, 2:30pm – 6:30pm (hours change after October so check hours). Admission is free.
Not a UNESCO site but still noteworthy as it is next to the Battesteria Neonian, is the Archiepiscopal Museum. Your admission ticket into the battesteria allows you entry into the museum as well. You’ll find a small collection of religious relics dating back to a Christian Ravenna period. There are paintings and lovely ceiling mosaic recovered from the first cathedral church.
Basilica of San Vitale
Built in 547, the Basilica of San Vitale houses mosaics from the Christian Byzantine mosaics. The church is small in comparison to Ravenna Cathedral but ceiling architecture has several vaults which give it a multi-faceted depth. The most important is mosaic with Emperor Justinian and his empress wife Theodora. Location: Via San Vitale
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
Looking for a calming and deep blue night sky mosaic to accompany your slumber when you’re dead? One of the most stunningly gorgeous mosaics I’ve seen was behind the grand Basilica di San Vitale, rests the Mausoleum of Galla Placida. Built in the 5th century, this small building was supposed to be a burial site (mausoleum). The Roman Byzantine ceiling mosaic is reminiscent of a night full of stars. This mosaic was my favorite over the San Vitale Basilica. Location: Via San Vitale
Basilica di Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo
Built by Theodoric, the Basilica di Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo holds the 9th century relics of the Saint Apollinairus which was moved from the Basilica di Sant’Apollinaire in Classe. The More information here.
Piazza San Popolo
All roads in Ravenna seem to converge at Piazza San Popolo, the heart of the town and its laid-back social scene. The towering watch tower looks across at the two town monuments; they are the guardians watching over this square. From locals enjoying their expresso at the outdoor cafe to pet owners walking their beloved dogs, everyone seems to cross here. This is the heart of Ravenna’s old city.
Invader Art in Ravenna
For contemporary art fans, the French artist known as Invader made Ravenna one of his installation stops and it couldn’t be a better match. Invader’s art is inspired by the 1980’s Space Invaders games and forces viewers to think about digital invasion. His tiled artwork aligns with the theme of Ravenna’s unique character as the house of UNESCO mosaics. In its own way, the artwork appears to protect Ravenna’s streets of antiquity. I mostly found space invader mosaic figures above street signs. Currently, there are 25 pieces of Invader Art in Ravenna.
Theatro Alighieri is an opera house and theater which holds six operas from April to November and is one of opera and performing arts venues of the annual Ravenna Festival in summer. The architecture of the building is a delight of pastel yellow with presiding statues from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
Location: Via Angelo Mariani, 2
San Francesco Basilica
Built in 450 by Neo, San Francesco Basilica is also known as the Church of the Apostles.In 1321 Dante Alighieri’s funeral was in this church and his tomb is beside it. Location: Via Guido da Polenta
Tip: A basilica is different from a church or cathedral in that it is given special privileges by the Pope.
San Francesco Basilica’s Underground Crypt
The underground crypt of San Francesco Basilica is a flooded underground crypt with a few gold fish. If you look closely, you can see the mosaic underneath.
Located below the basilica’s altar stage, it is quite dark. You can view the crypt by placing a Euro in the coin machine beside it which will turn on a timed light. Location: San Francesco Basilica, Via Guido da Polenta
Dante Alighieri was originally a native of Florence until his works proved controversial and he was excommunicated and fled to Ravenna. He lived in Ravenna until his death. Of course, when his fame grew, Florence wanted to claim Dante as their own and tried to steal his bones. Ultimately, Ravenna did not release Dante’s bones to Florence.
Mentana Street Umbrella Alley
Can’t let a little rain get me down. On Mentana Street, umbrellas hover over an alley street of shops. Stroll down the street, take a photo and if it rains, you know where you might run for cover. Incidentally, you’ll find an Invader art above one of the signs on an adjacent street. Location: Mentana Street
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#hosted In Ravenna, one must always look up! Can’t let a little rain get me down. Housing a mausoleum with the poet Dante Alighieri’s bones, Ravenna has inspired the heart of poets. From exploring street art to UNESCO world heritage mosaics hidden in basilicas, baptisteries and mausoleums there. cc: @ravennatourism #MyRavenna #inEmiliaRomagna #UNESCO #stsravenna @inemiliaromagna
Located just 15 minutes from Ravenna by bus is the township of Classe. Getting to Classe, take the 176 bus which costs 1 – 3 Euro. You can catch it at the bus stop on Viale Farini (there may be other bus stop locations in the city; ask your hotel)
Classis Ravenna Museum
Built in an two story ex-sugar factory, Classis Ravenna Museum archives the archeological story of the city of Ravenna over the ages.You’ll find a lot of 3D architectural graphs and films. The museum is largely the first floor . I had the honor of visiting this museum because my Social Travel Summit conference was held here. The most impressive and stunning art piece is the lengthy wall mosaic welcoming you into the museum.
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe
Located 20 minutes by bus in the town of Classe is Basilica di Sant Apollinaire, a 6th century church named after the Saint Apollinaire Bishop and founder of church Ravenna. The Bell tower behind it is from 10th century. It is just a six minute walk away is the Museum of Classe.
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#hosted 𝗪𝐢𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧 𝐚 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞, #𝐑𝐚𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐧𝐚 𝐡𝐚𝐬 𝐜𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞𝐝 𝐦𝐲 𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐭. #hosted Ravenna is not an obvious choice against larger neighboring cities like Florence or Venice, but as a small city @inemiliaromagna , it has a wonderfully poetic and romantic charm. From jaw-dropping Byzantine and Baroque mosaics hidden in basilicas, baptisteries and mausoleums, even the streets hold artistic surprises. 📷@kailayu cc: @ravennatourism , #MyRavenna #inEmiliaRomagna #UNESCO #mosaic #mosaicart #arthistory #ravenna #classis #travelblogger #femaletravelbloggers #stsravenna
Hello budget travelers- eating on your Italy trip does not have to be expensive. At the cross section of Via and Via IV Novembre is an Italian pizza chain and local favorite, Alice Pizza. Made fresh, its signature pizza crust is light, crisp and delicious! There is a variety of pizzas with combination toppings, which I’ve not seen before. One slice (or four rectangular cuts) is around 4 Euro and up!
Where to Stay in Ravenna
Casa Masoli Ravenna
Casa Masoli Ravenna is a three story bed and breakfast hotel, operating from a 17th century restored mansion house of the once-wealthy Rasponi-Bonanzi family. Great location in the historical center, unique historical accommodation, I loved my stay here and highly recommend it. 5 minute walk to Piazza del Popolo, walking distance to Basilica San Vitale. Taxis can enter this street. Rated a 9.8 on booking.com I stayed here during my Italy trip to Ravenna. As far as I’m concerned- this was the best stay! Read my review.
Other bloggers I knew stayed at:
La Reunion is a stylishly modern hotel offers 11 suites with a fully operational kitchenette along with a breakfast buffet. Location is 5 minutes from a bus stop and is in the heart of historical Ravenna across of Dante’s tomb. This is as close as it gets!
Getting Around in Ravenna
Ravenna is a town that is surprisingly easy to get around on foot and attractions are closer than they appear on a Google Map. A lot of pedestrian streets closed off to cars. Ravenna Train station is about 15 minutes from the town center (ie. Piazza del Poppolo)
Ravenna Tourism Office
Conveniently located in San Francesco Basilica square is Ravenna Tourism‘s Information Office for those who need directions, information on events and free city maps.
Getting your Italy Prepaid SIM card
SIM cards are not always sold at the airports in Italy. When I arrived in Italy, I found a local telecomm shop that sold SIM cards. I brought my passport and I was up and running in 10 minutes. (See my Ravenna video). I recommend the TIM card for Italy. My network was solid and you can also use TIM in Europe, so it’s not only for Italy. If you’re type of person who does not want to waste time or stress looking for a Prepaid SIM for Italy, you can buy Italy Prepaid SIM cards in advance and Europe eSim.
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Ravenna
- There is reduced attraction for pickpockets. See my tips for outsmarting thieves. Pickpocket gypsies were my biggest fear on my Italy trip. They can hang out at train stations looking to help travelers book their tickets or in crowded tourist areas.
- Italy is predominantly an urban culture. Always use travel street smarts
- Research travel scams to the city you visit.
- Recommended: Use anti-theft bags and crossbody bags to make theft and pickpocketing more complex for thieves. On trains going to other cities I would still be watchful of my belongings.
- Buy travel insurance for added peace of mind for your Italy trip.
I flew into Ravenna for a conference but I booked most of my Italy trains through OMIO transportation booking app (it’s so convenient, you can book on the bus to the train station or at the train station waiting for your train!). I booked my day trips from Venice such as Treviso and Verona! Check out their routes and timetables.
Tip: Also, if you’re there for a day trip while in-transit to another city, check out Radical Storage. It’s cheaper than storing your bags at the train holding service. It allows you to keep your bags at local places near the train station, like restaurants (that’s where I stored my bags) .
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