Interior of the Basilica San Vitale in Ravenna Italy

Ravenna Cruise Port Guide: Top Things To See & Do on Port Stop

Ah, Ravenna. The name might not roll off the tongue as easily as Florence or Rome, but believe me, this off-the-beaten-path gem in northern Italy deserves a spot on your travel itinerary. If, like me, you were initially unfamiliar with Ravenna’s charms, then you’re in for a delightful surprise!

In 2022, when Royal Caribbean first started using Ravenna as a port of embarkation for their Greek Isles and Croatia cruises (due to Venice’s ban on large cruise ships), I found myself faced with a pre-cruise decision. Fly into Bologna and explore the culinary capital of Emilia-Romagna, or spend some time in the embarkation port itself, Ravenna. Looking for a bustling city, I opted for Bologna, figuring Ravenna wouldn’t offer much. Let’s just say, I underestimated Ravenna in a big way.

Fast forward to today, and I’m here to tell you that Ravenna has lots to see and do, especially for those with a pre-cruise stopover. Steeped in history and adorned with breathtaking Byzantine mosaics, Ravenna offers a unique cultural experience that will enrich your Italian adventure. So, ditch the preconceived notions (like mine!), and get ready to be dazzled by Ravenna’s hidden treasures!

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Ravenna Cruise Port Map

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Ravenna’s Must See Treasures

With limited time, we’ll focus on Ravenna’s star attractions – the spectacular Byzantine mosaics that made the city world-famous. In fact, Ravenna holds an impressive eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all centred around these exquisite masterpieces.

1. Basilica of San Vitale: A Mosaic Masterpiece

A true icon of Byzantine art and architecture, the Basilica of San Vitale stands as a testament to Ravenna’s former glory. Its construction began in 526 AD under Bishop Ecclesius, during the height of the Ostrogothic Kingdom. However, the dazzling Byzantine style and influence came after Ravenna fell under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, with the basilica finally consecrated in 547 AD.

As you enter this octagonal wonder, your eyes will be drawn upwards to the dazzling array of mosaics. Golden hues mingle with vibrant greens and blues to depict biblical scenes, the imperial court of Justinian and Theodora, and intricate floral and geometric patterns. Take your time to absorb the visual feast; it’s a journey through both history and artistic brilliance.

Over the centuries, the Basilica of San Vitale has undergone some changes. Baroque frescoes were added to the dome in the 18th century, and restorations took place in various periods to preserve and maintain the original mosaics. However, the core structure and the breathtaking beauty of its mosaics remain a testament to those who created it, a shining example of Byzantine artistry.

Still unconvinced? Watch this YouTube video! Credit to ravennamosaici.it

  • How to get there: Walk from Ravenna train station, it’s 1 km (0.6 miles) or about 15 minutes walk. Download a handy map to your phone here.
  • Opening Hours: 9am to 7pm from March to November, shorter hours during winter – double-check opening hours on official website
  • Tickets: โ‚ฌ10.50; ticket also includes admission to Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo and Archiepiscopal Museum (St. Andrewโ€™s Chapel and Ivory Throne). There’s โ‚ฌ12.50 version that includes Neonian Baptistery & Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Tickets are valid for 7 days – purchase online via official website.

2. Mausoleum of Galla Placidia: Intimate & Sublime

Interior of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna
Image Credit: Ravenna Tourism

Don’t be fooled by the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia’s small size โ€“ its interior holds mosaics of unparalleled beauty. Built in the first half of the 5th century, this cruciform structure might seem unassuming from the outside. Yet, the moment you step within, you’ll be transported into an ethereal world.

The deep blue ceiling, reminiscent of a starry night sky, creates a sense of awe and wonder. Golden stars seem to twinkle in the dim light filtering through small alabaster windows. While the cross takes center stage as a symbol of Christian victory, look closely for more intricate details, like doves drinking from a fountain and Christ as the Good Shepherd, each crafted with exquisite detail.

Despite its name, Galla Placidia, a powerful Roman empress, was likely never buried here. However, the mosaics’ enduring beauty remains a testament to the era, capturing the artistic brilliance and spiritual devotion of Late Antiquity.

  • How to get there: It’s next to the Basilica of San Vitale. Download a handy map to your phone here.
  • Opening Hours: 9am to 7pm from March to November, shorter hours during winter – double-check opening hours on official website
  • Tickets: Buy the combined โ‚ฌ12.50 ticket to see the Mausoleum; ticket also includes admission to Basilica of San Vitale, Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo, Archiepiscopal Museum, and Neonian Baptistery & Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Note tickets for the Mausoleum are timed, due to its small size. Tickets are valid for 7 days – purchase online via official website.

3. Neonian Baptistery: Echoes of Ravenna’s Origins

Delve into Ravenna’s earliest days at the Neonian Baptistery, one of the oldest monuments in the city. Built in the early 5th century, its octagonal design reflects the symbolism of baptism and renewal.

YouTube Video credit to Ravenna Tourism – link to channel to see more of Ravenna

Look upwards to the remarkable ceiling mosaic, portraying the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, surrounded by a vibrant procession of the twelve apostles. The use of vivid blues, greens, and golds reflects the artistic traditions of the time, offering a glimpse back to Ravenna’s roots.

  • How to get there: 5 minutes walk from Basilica of San Vitale. Download a handy map to your phone here.
  • Opening Hours: 9am to 7pm from March to November, shorter hours during winter – double-check opening hours on official website
  • Tickets: Buy the combined โ‚ฌ12.50 ticket to see the Baptistery. Also includes attractions mentioned above. Note tickets for the Baptistery are timed, due to its small size. Tickets are valid for 7 days – purchase online via official website.

4. Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo: Saints, Martyrs, and Artistic Evolution

Walk alongside saints and martyrs in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. Originally built by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, this basilica showcases a fascinating mix of styles.

Look for the solemn mosaic processions along the long walls: on one side, a procession of female martyrs led by the Three Magi, and on the other, a procession of male saints. Notice how the figures become more stylized and less lifelike compared to the earlier mosaics of other monuments โ€“ this reflects the evolving artistic styles of Ravenna through its Gothic and Byzantine periods.

  • How to get there: Few minutes walk from Ravenna train station. Download a handy map to your phone here.
  • Opening Hours: 9am to 7pm from March to November, shorter hours during winter – double-check opening hours on official website
  • Tickets: Included in the cheaper โ‚ฌ10.50 integrated ticket. Buy the โ‚ฌ12.50 version if you want to see the Baptistery or Mausoleum. Tickets are valid for 7 days – purchase online via official website.

5. Dante’s Tomb: Paying Homage to a Literary Legend

A short walk from the mosaic wonders brings you to the simple yet moving tomb of Dante Alighieri. Born in Florence in 1265, Dante was deeply involved in the city’s tumultuous political scene. The factional struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines led to his exile in 1302, when he was around 37 years old. Accused of political corruption, he was never to see his beloved Florence again.

Dante found refuge in several Italian cities, but it was Ravenna, under the patronage of Guido Novello da Polenta, that became his final home. Here, he completed his monumental work, the Divine Comedy, a poetic journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante died in Ravenna in 1321, and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage for those who admire the father of the Italian language and one of the greatest poets the world has known.

Itinerary Option 1: Arriving in Ravenna the Afternoon Before Your Cruise

There aren’t many accommodation options in Ravenna, but if you’re interested in seeing as many of these UNESCO Heritage-listed monuments as possible, consider staying overnight in Ravenna instead of Venice or Bologna.

  • Late Afternoon Arrival: Take a train from Venice or Bologna and check into your hotel in Ravenna. Freshen up and prepare for an evening of exploration.
  • DIY Mosaic Tour: Immerse yourself in the city’s Byzantine heritage. Focus on the absolute must-sees: the Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
  • Evening: Enjoy a leisurely stroll around Piazza del Popolo, Ravenna’s main square. Find Dante’s Tomb for a moment of literary reflection, then indulge in a traditional aperitivo with local snacks (piadinas – flatbreads filled with cured meats, cheeses, or grilled veggies) and a glass of Sangiovese di Romagna, a medium-bodied local red.
  • Dinner: Discover Ravenna’s culinary scene with a delightful dinner. Eat these Emilia-Romagna regional classics: Cappelletti (filled pasta with cheese in a rich meat broth), Tagliatelle al Ragรน. Finish with Zuppa Inglese (custard, ladyfingers, alchermes liqueur) or Ravenna’s ciambella (a simple ring-shaped cake)
  • Next Morning: After a relaxed breakfast, finish any desired sightseeing or souvenir shopping before heading back to the train station for your port shuttle. Check my Ravenna embarkation guide on your transport options to the port.

Itinerary Option 2: Ravenna as a Morning Stopover on Cruise Day

This option is for those who want a glimpse of Ravenna on embarkation day, with overnight accommodations in Bologna the night before. (If you choose to overnight in Venice instead, I don’t think you’ll have enough time to do this!)

  • Morning Arrival in Ravenna: Depart early from Bologna and arrive in Ravenna by train. Utilize the luggage storage facility near the train station (it’s recommended by Ravenna Tourism!) to leave your bags securely.
  • DIY Mosaic Express: Prioritize the most iconic mosaics: the Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Allow roughly an hour and a half to marvel at these treasures.
  • Back to the Station: Walk back to the train station to retrieve your luggage.
  • Onward to the Cruise Port: Refer to my Ravenna embarkation guide on transportation options from the Ravenna train station to the cruise port.

Pre-book those mosaics! I’ll reiterate that booking tickets for the Basilica and Mausoleum in advance is vital, especially for the morning rush of Option 2. While this Ravenna stop-over is not yet popular among cruisers, Ravenna is a very popular summer holiday town for Italians due to its proximity to nice beaches.

Now, go forth and discover the hidden treasures of Ravenna! I hope this blog post has inspired you to add this enchanting city to your pre-cruise adventure. Have the most wonderful time planning your cruise and all the exciting excursions ahead. If you found this guide helpful, please share it with fellow cruise lovers who might also appreciate the beauty and history Ravenna holds. Buon viaggio! (Happy travels!)

Featured Image is the interior of the Basilica of San Vitale. Image credit to Ravenna Tourism

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