Mosaic Magic and Medieval Majesty: Unveiling Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna, nestled in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, might not be on every family’s travel radar. But for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure packed with history, art, and unique experiences, Ravenna is a must see spot. 

The beach at Ravenna.

On our recent trip to Italy , we stayed most of the time in a friend’s apartment in Bologna. I really wanted to see the canals of Venice. with my own eyes, and my partner really wanted to see the Adriatic Sea, so we also went to Ravenna. We took the train there from Venice — be warned that if you try to do the same, there is no direct train from Venice to Ravenna. Travelers must take the train from Venice back to Bologna, then transfer for the Ravenna train. 

Walkway to the beach in Ravenna.

While in Ravenna, we stayed at A Casa de Paolo and loved it! It was walking distance from the train station (about 10 minutes) and walking distance to a bustling neighborhood street with several cafes and restaurants. We loved our room, which was simple but comfortable. 

And the breakfast the next morning was positively loaded with pastries and sandwiches so you could really load up on food. The owner’s son and daughter-in-law put out the breakfast spread and made espressos to order for each of the guests. They were so friendly and asked us questions that made us feel like they really wanted to get to know us.

A Journey Through Time with Glittering Mosaics

Ravenna boasts the largest collection of Byzantine mosaics in Western Europe. These mosaics are breathtaking. They are so detailed and beautiful, they look like paintings. Imagine vast, shimmering artworks depicting religious scenes and historical figures, adorning the walls and ceilings of ancient churches and monuments. They will leave you speechless with their vibrant colors and intricate details. 

We only had one day in Ravenna along with an overnight, but we packed in as much as we could, which included the underwater mosaics of the Basilica de San Francesco, the Basilica of San Vitale, the Battistero Neoniano, and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Ravenna is also known as the location of the tomb of Dante Alleghieri.

The Basilica of San Vitale boasts the largest and best-preserved mosaics outside of Istanbul.

These amazing mosaics of the Battistero Neoniano are in the most ancient monument remaining in the city. It was partly erected on the site of a Roman bath at the end of the 4th or beginning of the 5th century.

I was blown away by the mosaics in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, although the empress Galla Placidia, who died in 450, was not actually buried in the building. It was built between 425 and 450.

A City Made for Families

While steeped in history, Ravenna caters beautifully to families. The city center is compact and pedestrian-friendly, perfect for exploring on foot with little legs. Piazza del Popolo, the main square, is a vibrant hub with cafes, flower shops, and plenty of space for kids to run around and ride their bikes. Many restaurants offer delicious Italian fare with kid-friendly options, and gelato shops are plentiful.

Ravenna’s Piazza del Popolo, the main square.

Family-Friendly Activities Beyond the City

Ravenna offers exciting day trips for the whole family. Head to the Adriatic Coast, just a short drive away, and spend a day building sandcastles and splashing in the waves. We took the bus, which took about 40 minutes, from the city center all the way to the water. 

Unlike the beaches I’ve seen in the US, there’s a single main road with different hotels, restaurants, and bars each with their own small parking lots and walkways from the road to the water. If you don’t like one establishment, just walk a little ways down to the next one. 

We went to two: The Kon Tiki and the Singita. Both served drinks and snacks and had views of the beach and water. It’s very common at the bars we went to to be served a bowl of nuts or chips along with our drinks. 

By high tourist season, every one of these umbrellas will be occupied, but in early May we had the place almost to ourselves. Not quite warm enough to swim though!

Planning Your Ravenna Adventure:

Ravenna is a city that’s easy to navigate, making it ideal for families. Several family-friendly hotels are located within walking distance of the main attractions. There are several attractions that are not far from each other. Some require a ticket and a timed entry while others do not. Buy your tickets from the Opera di Religione della Diocesi di Ravenna.

The full price of the ticket to see the Basilica of St.Vitale, the Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo, and the Archiepiscopal Museum (St. Andrew’s Chapel and Ivory Throne) is only € 10,50. It is an additional € 2.00 for the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and Neonian Baptistery, and you must pick entry times in advance. That’s the only tricky part! 

Ravenna offers a unique blend of history, art, and family-friendly activities. It’s a city that will leave you with lasting memories and a newfound appreciation for Byzantine mosaics and Italian culture. So, while Rome and Florence are surely amazing (I have yet to go but hopefully someday), ditch the crowds and embark on an enchanting adventure to Ravenna.

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