A twenty-five minute train ride separates Bologna Station from a beautiful, dreamy little town called Modena. Its claim to fame – traditional Balsamic Vinegar (nothing you’ve ever bought from Trader Joes, trust me), and fast cars (Ferrari). I spent one day in Modena during my last minute solo trip to Italy, and wish I’d spent more! If you also only have one day to spare for Modena, however, keep reading! All my tips are below.
I had fallen in love with Modena even before I saw it in full color. It was while sitting on my couch in San Diego, watching the mesmerizing black and white episode of Master of None Season II. I forgot about it for a couple years however, until I planned my last minute Emilia-Romagna trip. A stroke of luck that gave me a chance to fall in love with Modena in dreamy pastels!
Helpful Note about the Italian Train System
There are a few different types of trains in Italy.
- Trenitalia, owned by the Italian Government, is a rail company that runs regional trains, AV / FR / FA / FB or fast trains and IC or inter city trains.
– You book an actual seat on the inter city or fast trains for a particular date and time. Hence, no validation required. It is usually more expensive than a regional ticket.
– The regional ticket MUST be validated since it is usually an open ticket. I prefer to buy a regional ticket at the station since it is quick and cheap.
– You can buy tickets online for all types of Trenitalia lines here.
– Note : Regional tickets that you buy online do not need to be validated at the station.
– For non regional trains, book early because ticket prices go up closer to the date!
- Italo, the private high speed train line runs only between select cities.
– You will get a reservation with an assigned seat, valid for a particular date and time.
– You can buy Italo tickets online here
– Book early because ticket prices go up closer to the date!
I hope the information above is useful because the Italian train system is quite confusing even to a seasoned traveler. I bought myself a cheap ticket from Reggio-Emilia (home of the famed Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese) to Modena, a train ride of less than 20 mins. Since I am no novice, I validated my ticket and hopped on the next train displaying Modena as a stop. First mistake! It turned out to be an FR train, which is the more expensive high speed train. I prepared my little tourist sob story as I waited for the conductor to approach my seat. It was my lucky day however, because the train pulled into Modena just when he was one seat in front of me. Out I jumped, my heart in my mouth. My one day in Modena hadn’t even begun, and I already had an adrenaline rush!
Pretty Pastel Streets
Modena is one of the lucky Italian towns to have a pretty little path from the train station. A recipe for love at first sight. Pastel houses with pretty little doors and windows line the street. While you are in Modena, make sure to duck into random courtyards, because you might just find fragrant walls covered with jasmine.
Piazza Grande & the Torre Civica Ghirlandia
Continue onward to Piazza Grande, which, as described, is a large square at the center of Modena. On one side of it is the white Duomo of Modena, a pretty and soothing sight to look at.
The Torre Civica Ghirlandia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the Duomo is worth the €3 to climb up (make sure you have cash). It offers swoon worthy 360 degree views of Modena. The only caveat is that I wasn’t allowed to open the windows when I was up there, so pictures weren’t great. However, they said they were renovating the latches, so you might have better luck than me!
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
Traditional balsamic vinegar can only be made from certain grapes that grow in the region in and around Modena in the Emilia Romangna province of Italy. The balsamic vinegar, which is basically just aged grape juice in its purest form is aged at least 12 years or at least 25 years for the gold standard. The production involves a series of barrels, where some of the most aged balsamic vinegar is added to the younger barrels. In the end, you could end up with some balsamic vinegar drops that are over 200 years old! This purest form of balsamic vinegar should only be savored in drops – drops on strawberries, on authentic Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese etc.
If you cannot manage to get to either the Acetaia Comunale or a balsamic vinegar production facility near by, don’t despair. You can taste the traditional aged balsamic vinegar at La Consorteria 1966 for €5. I got to taste at least 6-7 different vinegars and it was totally worth it! If you buy a bottle in the end, they refund the tasting fee.
La Vacchetta Grassa is a short walk from the Piazza Grande. It is a cool little leather workshop, where you can actually watch the artisans designing and making amazing leather goods. I loved learning about the history of leather work in Modena, which rose from it once having canals like Venice. The ceiling at La Vacchetta Grassa is a 500 year old painted ceiling, so it is worth a visit just for this alone!
Delicious Food (including the best restaurant in the world)
Modena is home to the famous Osteria Francescana, chef Massimo Botura’s three Michelin star restaurant. The Worlds 50 Best named it the best restaurant in the world in 2018, so make your reservations months in advance! My favorite story about Massimo Botura is that he revolutionized the Parmeggiano Reggiano industry after Italy’s devastating earthquake in 2012. The earthquake damaged nearly 1000 wheels of parmeggiano reggiano cheese rendering them imperfect. Massimo Botura incorporated the cheese into a best selling recipe, and viola! He saved the industry from ruin. That alone makes me want to eat at Osteria Francescana! Unfortunately, I planned my trip too late.
If you aren’t one of the lucky few who score a reservation, don’t despair. You can head to Franceschetta 58, his more casual restaurant right outside the city center of Modena.
Another restaurant made famous by the show Master of None is Hosteria Giusti. It is only open for lunch, four tables set behind the grocery shop of the same name. Again, make reservations!
If you don’t manage to make it to any of the above, other good restaurants in Modena include Trattoria Aldina, Ristorante da Enzo and Ristorante da Danilo. Let me know in the comments if you try and love any others!
In addition, you must visit Mercato Albinelli, Modena’s historical marketplace. One of the most beautiful markets in Italy, it is perfect for a casual lunch stroll!
One day in Modena will never be enough – it will only intensify a desire to return. Like me, you will probably plan to head back as soon as possible – this time to base yourself there for at least a week. If you read this blog before you book your trip – maybe learn from my mistakes?
Pin this post for your future travels! It’s much easier to search for it later. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Learn how to use Pinterest for travel planning here.