If there was one city that we absolutely fell in love with during our time in Italy, it was undoubtedly Modena. A charming town full of grand piazzas, quaint streets and a culinary scene that will certainly leave you a few pounds heavier once you inevitably depart. Despite Modena being postcard-perfect, visitors were surprisingly few with those exploring being limited to tourists on a short Modena day trip, probably combined with other nearby destinations.
We ended up spending three days in Modena, gorging ourselves on the delicacies of Emilia-Romagna, taking long aimless strolls through the town and exploring the nearby attractions. And while we wholeheartedly recommend travellers do the same and spend a few days falling in love with this gorgeous town, it’s also possible to see the best of this city on a Modena day trip.
How to Get to Modena
Modena is easily reachable from other nearby towns in Emilia Romagna. Most travellers exploring the region tend to base themselves in Bologna – another fantastic city that deserves a few days being explored. From Bologna to Modena, trains take approximately thirty minutes and cost around €4 one way.
Make sure to take the regional trains rather than the Intercity trains as they are three times cheaper and usually only take about five to ten minutes longer. To get to Modena from other towns, you can check the schedule and book tickets on Omio.
Modena train station is about a ten to fifteen-minute walk from the centre of town.
Modena Day Trip Itinerary
1. Visit Mercato Albinelli – Modena’s Central Market
Modena is a foodie’s paradise and there’s absolutely no better way to start your Modena itinerary than by visiting Mercato Albinelli – Modena’s central food market and a place where many locals do their grocery shopping. At the market, you will find everything your stomach could possibly desire including fresh fruit and vegetables, hundreds of varieties of pasta, and deli meats and cheeses.
Spend some time exploring the market before choosing a few of your favourite stalls and buying some fresh bread, meat and cheese to enjoy for breakfast. For €6 we bought enough bread, meat and cheese for the two of us for breakfast as well having some leftovers for snacking throughout the day.
The market is open from 6:30 am every day except Sunday so is a perfect place for early risers! It closes at 2:30 pm except on Friday and Saturday when it has extended opening hours.
2. Get lost and explore Modena
The charm of Modena will become apparent as you spend your morning strolling through the gorgeous town. In Modena, all roads will inevitably lead to Piazza Grande – with the striking 12th-century cathedral capturing visitors with its impressive architecture.
You can enter the cathedral for free and also climb the adjacent Ghirlandina Tower for €3 if you want to build a bit of an appetite for lunch. For us, the real joy of this area was simply sitting on one of the benches in Piazza Grande and watching the world go by.
From Piazza Grande, take one of the numerous alleyways to Ducal Palace on the other side of Modena. This is one of the largest Baroque palaces in Italy and aside from its spectacular architecture, it has a lovely courtyard that is another popular hangout area for locals and tourists.
Apart from visiting these sites, take your time to walk down random alleyways or hop into a cafe for an espresso to truly start appreciating the beauty of this town.
3. Indulge in a gastronomic lunch
Modena could easily lay claim to being not only the culinary capital of Italy but also the world. It boasts what is considered by many to be one of the best restaurants in the world – Osteria Francescana – which requires bookings months in advance.
If you’re willing to plan in advance but can’t justify the €250 per person tasting menu of Osteria Francescana, then a fantastic option is to visit Hosteria Giusti.
Made famous by the Netflix series Master of None, Hosteria Giusti is set at the back of a local deli, has four tables and is only open for lunch five days per week, making it difficult to get a table but incredibly worth it.
Each dish served was incredible including gnocco fritto, tortellini en brodo and guinea fowl drizzled with local balsamic vinegar. Three courses and wine will set you back about €50 per person and you need to book a table about two to three months in advance.
If planning ahead isn’t your strong suit but you still want a delicious meal then I highly recommend visiting Ristorante da Danilo. They serve traditional home-cooked food and have incredibly friendly waiters that will explain every last menu item.
While bookings are advised here, they are very accommodating, particularly if you arrive early during the lunch period. The tortelloni in balsamico and lasagna verde are highly recommended!
If you still have room after lunch on your Modena day trip, make sure to stop Gioelia Cremeria for possibly the best gelato you will ever eat in your life.
4. Go on a Balsamic Vinegar Tour
If you happen to have a bottle of balsamic vinegar in your kitchen pantry, chances are it’ll be called ‘Balsamic Vinegar of Modena’.
Don’t be fooled though, the stuff you buy in the supermarket is a poor imitation of the traditional product that you can sample in Modena. In order to have that label only part of the production (e.g. the bottling) has to occur in Modena.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is aged for at least 12 years, can’t have any additives and must be approved by the Consortium of Balsamic Vinegar in Modena.
You can sample the traditional product all over Modena, including the central market, however, in order to get a true appreciation of the production process I highly recommend visiting a local acetaia where the glorious liquid is produced.
While paid tours are available from Modena, you can actually visit many of the acetaia for free on your Modena day trip. We visited Acetaia Del San Donnino which has seen famous visitors such as Mark Zuckerburg and Pierce Brosnan whose photos are proudly displayed on the wall.
During our one hour visit, we were given a full explanation of the production process, toured the storerooms and had five tastings (including one with ice cream!). There is no hard sell to buy their products but if you’re anything like most people, you will undoubtedly want to take a bottle or two home with you!
From Modena, take Bus 2A to San Donnino and get off at the last stop. It’s then about a ten-minute walk from the bus stop to the acetaia. Tickets on the bus cost €1.50 and make sure you have exact change.
5. Enjoy a relaxing aperitivo
It’ll surely come as no surprise to you that the last item on our things to do during your Modena day trip involves more food! Aperitivo is a pre-dinner tradition in Italy whereby you visit your favourite local bar and enjoy a drink accompanied by some delicious snacks. While bars will start offering aperitivo from around 5-6pm, you won’t see many locals until at least 7 pm.
One of our favourite places for aperitivo in Modena and fantastic value for money is Caffetteria Giusti. Located close to Ducal Palace, this traditional bar has ample outdoor seating and €6 will get you a spritz accompanied by an amazing selection of snacks such as olives, nuts, focaccia and crisps.
If you’re after something more hip and modern, then Stile Libero is a local pub popular with a younger crowd that has a fantastic range of craft beers and other drinks which are accompanied by a range of crisps.
Want to stay longer in Modena?
Whether it’s reading more about Modena or simply compiling a never-ending list of restaurants you want to eat at in Modena, there’s a chance that researching your Modena day trip will lead you to want to add more days to your Modena itinerary!
There are plenty more things to do in Modena that can easily fill up a couple of additional days including visiting the Enzo Ferrari Museum, taking a tour of one of the local Parmigiano Reggiano factories or even taking a day trip to a nearby town such as Parma.
Where to Stay in Modena
Room & Breakfast Canalino 21 – A good budget option for solo travellers or couples in Modena. They offer a range of private rooms including cheaper ones with shared bathroom. Breakfast is included daily. Click here to check their availability
Il Fonticolo Room & Breakfast – A boutique bed & breakfast that is a great option for couples or if travelling with children. Rooms are spacious, well decorated and breakfast is included in the price. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse available hotel rooms in Modena.
Our time in Modena was quite possibly the highlight of our trip to Northern Italy. While it’s certainly possible to enjoy the best of the town on a day trip, we highly recommend spending a few nights here if only to be able to sample some more fantastic local restaurants!
Are you planning a Modena day trip? Or have you recently visited the city? Let us know in the comments below!