Ferrara is an important town in the northeast of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, north-east of Bologna. During the medieval and renaissance periods Ferrara attracted many of the leading artists and intellectuals of the period - in particular because of the influential and powerful Este family
This period established the heart of the town much as we see it today. Ferrara is now is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its very well preserved centre, and important monuments and buildings.
But Ferrara is more than just a historical tourist stop, it is a thriving town with a popular university and a wide range of art galleries, museums, shops and cafes - so allow plenty of time to make the most of your visit.
The main town is still largely surrounded by several kilometres of defensive walls, dating from the 15th-16th centuries and built in brick.
Within the walls themselves you can still see many of the gateways, towers and defensive structures that helped protect the town - follow the path around the walls to see these at their best.
Inside the city walls, the heart of Ferrara is based around the impressive red-brick Castello Estense, dating largely from the 14th century. Surrounded by a moat the castle is without doubt the highlight of a visit to the town - and a good place to start your visit.
Over the centuries the need for a defensive castle with drawbridge and moats receded and the castle was gradually converted into an impressive residence, particularly during the the 16th century, renovations including the addition of the buildings on top of each tower.
The castle is beatifully proportioned with square towers in each corner joined by high walls that include the rooms of the castle, surrounded by the moat and drawbridges and set around a central courtyard.
Amble around the side of the cathedral to admire the attractive medieval arcades that run along one side.
The piazzas and streets around the castle are the hub of the town and the centre for your explorations after visiting the castle, and those who think a trip to an Italian town has to include shopping will also find much to distract them here...
Another particular highlight in the town centre is the 12th century Cathedral of Gaint George with an impressively decorated marble facade and entrance that includes very elaborate carvings relating biblical stories such as the last Judgement.
Looking at the facade of the cathedral you will notice that the lower part is in the simpler romanesque style (with round arches) while the higher levels are in the gothic style (with typical pointed arches). The lions guarding either side of the main entrance are more recent replicas - the originals are now inside the cathedral.
Inside the cathedral the style is more recent, having being renewed in the baroque style early in the 18th century.
From here head to nearby Piazza Municipio, which has a very pretty courtyard, and good views of the Palazzo Municipale.
Two more important palaces in Ferrara are the Palazzo Schifanoia (14th-15th century) and the Palazzo del Comune - each in their own way unmissable.
The Palazzo Schifanoia is especially noteworthy for its marble entrance (the rest of the facade is rather palain red brick) and magnificent murals, and the art museum it contains. The Palazzo del Comune is notable above all for the impressive bronzes with which it is adorned.
Of the other palaces in the heart of Ferrara, visit at least the Palazzo dei Diamanti (named for the diamond decoration on the facade) that is now home to a national art museum that has an extensive collection of works by local artists in the 16th century.
Time permitting we also recommend that you discover the Casa Romei, a renaissance style palace centred around an arcaded courtyard and containing some impressive frescoes and art works.
See also the more modest (but still vey luxurious by most peoples standards!) 16th century Palazzina Marfisa and the City Hall, in red brick and with extensive decorative crenellations.
The beautiful galleries of the Palazzo Costabili now house the National Archaeology Museum, with a wide selection of artefacts dating back as far as the etruscan period i.e. before the ancient Romans);
The Palazzo Massari, an impressive 15th century palace in its own roght, is also home to several art museums including the Ferrara Museum of Modern Art. temporary exhibitions are also held here in the Contemporary Art Pavilion.
The museum associated with the cathedral contains some fine 11th century carvings in marble, representing various activities through the months of the year.
There are also several other important churches to discover in Ferrara as you explore, many of them containing important art works.
Note in particular the baroque facade of the Church of Saint Carlo; the cloisters at the Church of Saint Giorgio; and the frescoes, paintings and cloisters at the Church of Saint Paolo.
The Church of Sant'Antonino in Polesine is also a very popular attraction because of the splendid frescoes from the early medieval period that it contains.
Apart from all this art, history and culture be sure to allow some time simply to explore the narrow cobbled streets, visit the shops and cafes of the medieval section of Ferrrara, to admire several other palaces that you will come across, to sit, relax and people watch in this attractive and interesting town, to take a long lunch in a shady square...