10 things to do and see in Ravenna

A complete and detailed guide about 10 things to do and see in Ravenna in 1, 2 or 3 days

10 things to do and see in Ravenna
10 things to do and see in Ravenna

Ravenna is actually an unknown treasure for Italian people.  Even if it’s not as famous as  Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice, it’s an extraordinary little city which attracts tourists and art lovers from all over the world. Few people know that it has been capital for three times of three different empires: the Western Roman Empire,  the kingdom of Theodoric, king of the Goth, and of the Byzantine Empire in Europe.

This glorious past is also preserved in its basilicas and baptisteries where there is the richest patrimony of mosaics of the 5th and 6th centuries. Ravenna has eight monuments included on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List and in this city there are the remains of Dante Alighieri (and not in Florence as many people think…). Ravenna has a rich cuisine too and in the summertime, if you like the seaside, you’ll be few steps away from a 35 kilometres beach. To the ones who loves nature in a few kilometres there’s the Po delta, the Comacchio Valleys, the Classe and Saint Vitale’s pinewoods, and the Oasis of Punte Alberete.

If you’ve never been in Ravenna, after reading this you’ll have no more excuses. Discover with us 10 things to do and to see in Ravenna.

If you are looking for a hotel in Ravenna, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 30 hotels with prices, pictures  and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna

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Looking at its simple exterior you probably won’t even imagine that in a such little space you’re going to find wonderful mosaics, the most ancient of Ravenna.

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna

The atmosphere you breathe inside the Mausoleum is magic. The emperor Onorio (who transferred the capital of his empire from Milan to Ravenna) wanted this monument for his sister Galla Placidia. The theme represented with the technique of the mosaic is the victory of life over death according with the future use of the monument. The starry sky represented on the vaulted ceiling is the real protagonist and makes this place unforgettable. It seems that Cole Porter had the same sensation when he went to Ravenna, during his honeymoon,  in the 20’s. The story tells that was this starry sky that inspired the famous song “Night and day”.

Where: Via Giuliano Argentario
How to get here: By feet from the centre of Ravenna
When – Hours: Every day from 9 am to 7 pm
Never: 25th December
Tickets: 9,50 € The ticket allows you to visit: Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery, San Vitale and Mausoleum of Gallia Placidia, Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel.

Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna

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This temple has an octagonal shape  (eight symbolizes the resurrection because it’s the result of seven, the time, plus one, the number of God)  and it’s one of the most important monuments of the paleo- Christian age.

Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna
Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna

You can admire splendid mosaics and  the oriental art style: there are no nave and aisles in this basilica but just a central frescoed dome with octagonal base. If you will be able to stare not only  at the mosaic, in particular Teodora’s face, you’ll notice on the floor some concentric circles: it’s a labyrinth, that can be found in  many Christian churches. The labyrinth symbolizes the path of salvation from the sin to the purification. If you want to try to go out from that labyrinth we give you a clue: you have to start from the centre. The rest is up to you.

Where: Via San Vitale
How to get here: By feet from the centre of Ravenna
When – Hours: Every day from 9 am to 7 pm (the ticket office closes at 6.45 pm)
Never: 25th December
Tickets: 9,50 € The ticket allows you to visit: Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery, San Vitale and Mausoleum of Gallia Placidia, Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel.

Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna

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This church has the greatest cycle of mosaics in the world. The walls of the nave are divided into three distinct strips of mosaics:

Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna

the high one represents the life of Christ, the central one represents Saints and Prophets, and the lower one portrays the famous Palace of Theodoric.
The cancellation of the figure of the Emperor and other characters, covered with white drapes, happened when the basilica passed from Arian cult (for which it was built) to Catholic worship. On the opposite wall there is a portrait of port of Classe, one of the most important in the Mediterranean sea during the Roman Empire.

Where: Via Roma
How to get here: by feet in the city centre
When – Hours: Every day from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm. The ticket office closes at 7 pm
Never: 01.01 and 25.12
Tickets: 9,50 € The ticket allows you to visit: Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery, San Vitale and Mausoleum of Gallia Placidia, Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel.

The Mausoleum of Theodoric

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According to the legend, the red porphyry tub,  on the top floor of the Mausoleum, is the same where  the barbarian Emperor  died.

The Mausoleum of Theodoric
The Mausoleum of Theodoric

Since he was afraid of lightings , in a thunderstorm day he took shelter in his mausoleum, but  a lightning hit  him just as he was taking a bath. Then a black horse would have arrived and would have thrown him  in the  Etna Volcano!

There are many legends about the death of this barbarian king who ruled in Italy for 33 years bringing tolerance, peace and wealth and who built this mausoleum in Istrian stone. The two floor structure in decagonal shape and the massive roof ,made with a single block of stone, makes it a unique monument, completely different than the other buildings of Ravenna.

Where: Via delle Industrie
How to get there: Outside Rocca Brancaleone. Bus line n. 2-5
When – Hours: Every day 8.30 am – 7.30 pm Ticket office close at 6.30 pm
Tickets: € 4
National Museum of Ravenna and Mausoleum of Theodoric € 8 (reduced ticket € 4 ) National Museum of Ravenna and Mausoleum of Theodoric and The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

Basilica di Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna

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This church is one of the most impressive churches in Ravenna. The mosaics here are beautiful, the subject of the mosaics is Jesus Christ surrounded by the 4 evangelists and by sheeps, symbolizing the apostles.

Basilica di Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna

Jesus face is in the middle of a cross, in a circle decorated with 99 stars. This representation is included in a paradise landscape among the sky, green grass, stones, trees, flowers and coloured birds. Today the basilica is 8 kilometres far from the centre of the city and some kilometres far from the seaside, but when it was built it was situated on the sea shore. Near the basilica there are the excavations of the archaeological site of the ancient city of Classe, seat of the Roman fleet on the Adriatic sea.

Where: 8 km from the city centre
How to get here:  From the station of Ravenna by bus n° 4 or by train 5 minutes by feet.
When – Hours: Every day from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm. The ticket office closes at 7 pm
Tickets: 5 €, or the ticket that includes the National Museum and the Teodoric Mausoleum. 6 €, or 8 € the ticket that includes National Museum, the Teodoric Mausoleum and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

Dante’s Tomb - Mausoleum in Ravenna

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Dante’s tomb is here in Ravenna and not in Florence. Dante died in Ravenna during his exile and his body is still in Ravenna.

Dante’s Tomb - Mausoleum in Ravenna
Dante’s Tomb – Mausoleum in Ravenna

The Franciscans stole his mortal spoils and jealously kept them for several centuries, opposing to the will of kings and popes who tried to bring back the body in Florence. Thanks to the Franciscans the spoils of the writer has been saved from the bombardments of the second world war. There’s one thing which remembers Florence near this grave: a votive lamp of the XVIII century made up from the oil produced on the Apennines of Tuscany. This oil is donated every year, the second Sunday of September, from the city of Florence.

Where: Via Dante Alighieri
How to get here: By feet from the centre of Ravenna
When – Hours: Every day from 10 am to 6.30 pm
Never: 1st November, 25th December, 1st January
Tickets: Free entrance

Arian Baptistery in Ravenna

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The Arian baptistery was built during the kingdom of Theodoric, when Ravenna was the Capital of his reign and the Arianism was the official religion of his court.

Arian Baptistery in Ravenna
Arian Baptistery in Ravenna

Arianism was considered from the Catholic church as heresy because one of this religion convictions was that Jesus Christ was son of God but he was considered human until the moment of baptism. The mosaics on the vault represent and celebrate the baptism. Unlike the Orthodox Baptistery, the representation here shows a Christ not coming from the East (as “Light from Light, real God from real God…”) but going in direction of the East, becoming divine only during the baptism moment. Jesus Christ is considered as a man, so his nudity it’s not censored, while he’s immersed in the Jordan’s waters and John the Baptist is baptising him. From the sky the divine dove is coming down and brings with her the light, symbolizing the spirit, on the Jesus head.

Where: Piazzetta degli Ariani
How to get here: By feet from the centre of Ravenna
When – Hours: Every day from 9 am to 7.30 pm
Tickets: Free entrance

Neonian Baptistery in Ravenna

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The Neonian Baptistery was the Catholic answer ( of the bishop Neone) to the Arian heresy which has its splendour  under the reign of Theodoric.

Neonian Baptistery in Ravenna
Neonian Baptistery in Ravenna

This contrast is evident if you compare the mosaic of the vault of this baptistery with the one you can find in the Arian Bapstery. The Christ here comes from the East and he’s divine before the baptism. While in the Arian one is the contrary.
Karl Gustav Jung (the famous psychologist) during his stay in Ravenna, in the 30’s, visited this baptistery and he saw a mosaic which represented Jesus Christ holding his hand to Saint Peter who was drowning. He debated long time with his partner about this image and he concluded that it was a symbolic representation of the death and of the rebirth. Only after some time, when he was looking for a photo of that image, he understood that it didn’t exist and that it was just an invention of his mind. Jung took as example that episode to write beautiful pages about unconscious and conscious and about how the imagination can change our perception of reality.

Where: Via Gioacchino Rasponi
How to get here: By feet from the centre of Ravenna
When – Hours: Every day from 9 am to 7 pm
Tickets: 9,50 € The ticket allows you to visit: Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Neonian Baptistery, San Vitale and Mausoleum of Gallia Placidia, Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel.

Things to eat in Ravenna

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Once in Ravenna you won’t resist to the abundant and tasty Romagna gastronomy.

Things to eat in Ravenna
Things to eat in Ravenna

Menu  usually starts with mixed cold cuts and squacquerone (an Italian fresh cream cheese with a tangy taste), continues with cappelletti and tagliatelle with meat sauce, meat, fish and seafood or eels and frogs. It ends with a sweet mascarpone and good wines  such as Albana, Sangiovese, Trebbiano or Pagadebit. We suggest you two good places to taste the local cuisine : Cà de Ven and the Locanda del Melarancio in the city centre. To taste a good piadina you can go to Piadina of Melarancio always in the centre

ade wooden toys, which are in the shops of Malà Strana and the Golden Lane in the Castle. Among food products, there are the Spa Wafers, some good home – made beer (great Czech tradition). The gift par excellence, however, is a bottle of slivovitz or Becherovka, herbal liqueurs and plum with which you can finish any meal in Prague and throughout the Czech Republic.

Where to sleep in Ravenna

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During the spring Ravenna is full of students, scholars and tourists , but it has excellent tourist services organized in hotels, B&Bs, guest houses and apartments.

Where to sleep in Ravenna
Where to sleep in Ravenna

Hotels in the city centre are numerous and they don’t have high costs, even if  you have to book a little in advance, especially during spring and autumn. Many other chances come from the hotel just outside the centre and in the suburbs. Also, not far away there is the Adriatic coast with its unique hospitality. The average price of a 3 star hotel for a night starts from 50 €.