Modena, Italy is a beautiful city that is ideally suited for both the budget-backpacker and the luxury-seeking traveler. Located in the Emilia Romagna region in Northern Italy, Modena is well-known for its exquisite restaurants, posh Italian sportscars, balsamic vinegar, historic monuments, architecturally brilliant plazas, and rich religious and cultural history. It is a walkable city with plenty of free and inexpensive things to do.
Traditional Home Cooking Experience
If you ask anyone what their top three reasons are for wanting to visit Italy, one of those reasons is undoubtedly for the food. What better way to have a truly authentic and delicious experience while in Italy than to take a traditional home cooking class? For less than $60 you can enjoy a three-course meal and of course plenty of wine. A cooking class in Italy is a great cultural and culinary experience. This particular type of experience also takes place in the house of an Italian chef. You can opt to prepare either lunch or dinner, and both meals end with a homemade dessert and an Italian coffee.
Piazza della Pomposa
Located in the old town quarters of Modena, Italy, the Piazza della Pomposa is a popular backpacker attraction. You can admire the church of Santa Maria della Pomposa, a beautiful fountain, the Aedes Muratoriana museum, and a bell tower, as well as several quaint traditional houses when walking around the Piazza della Pomposa. This is a historically and culturally intriguing corner of the city to explore. You can walk around this charming area for free!
Villa San Donnino
Modena, Italy is world-famous for its balsamic vinegar, or as it is called there, aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena. The production of this condiment, dressing, and marinade is one of the oldest agricultural food industries in Modena. Its exact origins are unknown though. It is commonly believed in Modena that balsamic vinegar was the product of an accident.
Balsamic vinegar is derived from grapes and is the result of natural fermentation followed by a long aging process. You cannot come to Modena, Italy without enjoying some of the best balsamic vinegar straight from the source!
A guided tour at Villa San Donnino is an inexpensive and informative tour where you will have the chance to learn about the history and production process of this widely loved product. It is recommended that you book a tour in advance. Balsamic vinegar from Villa San Donnino is definitely something worth bringing home with you too. Tours are available from 9:00 to 12:30 PM and 2:00 to 5:30 PM.
The Mercato Albinelli or the Albinelli Marketplace is a historic marketplace in Modena that has been thriving since 1930. This is the oldest covered marketplace in Modena and is noted as one of the most beautiful in all of Italy. In the center of the market stands the fruit bearer, a gorgeous sculpture of a woman carved by Giuseppe Grazioso; recognized as the most appreciated sculptor of the 19th century. The market has been restored and maintained thanks to its cultural and national relevance.
You will find colorful stands of fruits and vegetables, stalls of cheeses and meats, fresh fish displayed on pink marble countertops, rows of bread, and pastries galore. You also can’t miss out on a sandwich from Bar Schiavoni. Walking around this market is like stepping back in time. However, the beauty of it all is that this marketplace is actually timeless. Vendors are friendly and inviting, and you are also welcome to try anything before you buy it.
This is a great marketplace if you are on a budget but want to taste an assortment of what Modena has to offer. It is a great stop to stock up on snacks and picnic supplies. Also, if you want to experience real daily life in Modena, this the place to do it. Mercato Albinelli is open Monday through Saturday from 6:30 AM to 2:30 PM.
Enjoying an afternoon aperitif or apertivo is a must while in Modena! Similar to happy hour, bars and restaurants often have an aperitif special. This traditional pre-dinner drink is shared amongst family and friends, new and old. One of the most traditional aperitifs in Italy is an Aperol Spritz. It is not uncommon to find an apretivo special that also includes a light snack of olives, cheeses, and cured meats along with your drink purchase.
After touring around the city all day, this is a wonderful way to sit down, relax, and just take it all in before indulging in a fabulous Italian meal.
Piazza Grande, which was initially called Piazza del Duomo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the famous Torre della Ghirlandina and Modena Cathedral; both of which can be admired from the Piazza Grande. It is a popular place for meeting friends and people-watching. This plaza is of great cultural, historical, architectural, and religious importance in Modena. Exploring these three monuments is a fulfilling, inexpensive, and interesting way to spend an afternoon in Modena.
Palazzo Comunale di Modena
Built in the seventeenth century, the Palazzo Comunale di Modena is composed of several buildings and rooms. Each of these rooms were used for all different purposes during medieval times. Today, many of the rooms are open to visitors and offer a glimpse into Modena’s rich history. The façade of the Palazzo itself is a marvel of medieval architecture. The most popular rooms to visit are the Sala del Fuoco (Fire Room), Sala del Vecchio Consiglio (Room of Old Council), Sala Degli Arazzi (Tapestry Room), and the Sala dei Matrimoni (Wedding Room).
The Palazzo Comunale di Modena is open to the public from Monday to Saturday from 9 AM to 7 PM and Sundays and public holidays from 9:30 to 12:30 PM. This is the perfect activity for a backpacker on a budget as admission is free during these times. On Sundays from 3:00 to 7:00 PM there is a two-euro charge. If you are planning on visiting the other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Modena, you can purchase an all-inclusive ticket for just six euros.
Enzo Ferrari Museum
Modena is often referred to as the “Capital of Engines,”. This is because it is the birthplace of the prestigious and famed Ferrari, Lamborgini, and Maserati. This is definitely the city in Italy for the car enthusiast! But, even if sleek Italian sportscars aren’t particularly your thing, visiting the Enzo Ferrari Museum is quite fascinating. This ritzy attraction will surely spark your desire to dream big! You can’t help but admire the impeccable craftsmanship of these beautiful cars. The museum takes you through the history of the man and the brand Ferrari.
If you have a little extra cash to spare, you can opt to do an F1 simulation or pay 2.50 euros a minute to drive a real car on a real track! The museum and various other add-on experiences are available from November through March from 9:30 AM to 6 PM, and April through October from 9:30 AM to 7 PM. If you are a student backpacker, there is a discounted admission rate of only 14 euros.
Nautilus Antique Science Instruments and Old Oddities
Author David Sedaris called the Nautilus Antiques and Old Oddities “the greatest shop in the world.” Accessible only by appointment, which can easily be made, this shop is a must-visit if you are into natural history, science, and bizarre treasures. The shop was established in 2005 and is a gem for both the collector and the spectator of strange things. You will find things like life-size wax models of the flesh on the human tongue, a Siamese twin skeleton, old medical photographs, a preserved two-headed calf, and antique vials that once held various types of poisons.
This is also an intriguing thing to do in the city of Modena that very few if any other backpackers know about! So, if off-the-far-beaten path attractions are what you are after, this is a peculiar sight worth seeing.
Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi
The Casentinesi Forest National Park is not technically in Modena. However, it’s close enough to make a day trip out of it. It is one of the most extensive forests in Europe and home to an extraordinarily abundant population of plants and animals. With over 650 kilometers of trails that can be accessed on foot, bike, or horseback, this is a great backpacking destination for those who need a little break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The forest is filled with roe and fallow deer, wild boars, and even wolves. You can hike, bike, or ride to waterfalls, lakes, mountain peaks, and even a monastery. Also, if you plan ahead of time, you can stop at the Mercato Albinelli in the morning. Here, you can buy supplies for a picnic, which you can later enjoy in the peaceful Casentinesi Forest.
After spending several days in the city and surrounded by human-made marvels, this is an amazing opportunity to recharge surrounded by the alluring flora and fauna of this incredible national park.