Bologna is located in northern Italy and is the largest city and the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Similar to other Italian cities in that it’s known largely for its food and architecture, Bologna sets itself apart by being relatively unexplored by the average tourist. This means there are plenty “off the beaten track” places to discover!
There are so many things to do in Bologna. Attractions in Bologna (other than the divine cuisine!) include dozens of museums, landmarks, parks and gardens. In addition, UNESCO crowned Bologna the “City of Music” in 2006. The European Union declared it the European Capital of Culture in 2000.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the city is also home to the oldest university in the world. Clearly, this Italian city is not quite like the rest!
Eat, drink and be merry
Italy is world famous for its homemade pastas, creamy sauces and cured meats. But Bologna is the place to visit in Italy if you’re a “foodie” traveler. The city has even earned the nickname “La Grassa”, which means Fat One, so you know the food here must be worth it!
Bologna is praised for its fresh pasta (made from scratch with egg and flour). It’s served plain, stuffed or dressed up with sauce. Whatever you’re choice, you’re in for a treat. Don’t know what to choose? Try the tortellini en brodo or the Tagliatelle al ragu (Bolognese) – both traditional and authentic dishes. We can highly recommend taking the “Taste Bologna” Food Tour as a great way to track down the best bites Bologna has to offer while getting a brief history and tour of the city’s main attractions all at the same time.
For the meat-lovers out there, you’ll be happy to hear Bologna is also renowned for its’ cold cuts, cured meats and cheeses. Order a plate for an appetizer or pair with bread for a meal.
Feeling inspired by all this exquisite cuisine? Go behind the scenes for your own Italian cooking or pasta making lesson. Classes can be found throughout the city.
Explore the Markets
Like most Italian cities, Bologna hosts many markets filled with fresh products. The Mercato di Mezzo is located directly off the main piazza, and is on of the most visited. Get to the market early to get the best of local produce, or order a takeaway picnic of the famous cured meats and and aged cheeses. In the evening, the produce stalls in the street disappear and are replaced with tables and chairs where the local tavernas offer plates of aperitivos and glasses of local wine. With it’s close proximity to the main tourist area, this market is not the cheapest in the city, but it’s a must for people watching.
Listen to Live Music
Bologna is the Italian capital of rock, electronic and alternative tunes. The city is host to almost one hundred live shows annually. There are dozens of local venues to choose from – depending on what you seek.
One of the most popular hot spots is a venue called Estragon, which hosts a different international rock band seven days a week.
If you prefer something more low key, check out the local pubs and bars which have blues, jazz and indie rock bands playing on the regular.
UNESCO didn’t honor Bologna the “City of Music” just for the contemporary club scene. Don’t miss the Opera known as Teatro Communale or the youth orchestra, aka Orchestra Mozart. No matter your musical preference, Bologna is the perfect place to get your groove on!
Study the University of Bologna
Founded in 1088, this university is a historical monument in its’ own right. It’s the oldest university on the planet! That’s quite an accomplishment.
Tours are available for those who are curious to see within the campus walls. Places and items of interest include the Anatomy Theater (where you can see the table upon which some of the first human and animal dissections took place!), an impressive library, and the coat of arms of past students that decorate the walls.
The university birthed many Italian scholars and continues to educate the youth of Bologna today. You will likely notice a lively student population throughout your stay.
Stroll the Porticos
Bologna is recognized for its 38 kilometers of wonderfully preserved covered walkways, known as porticos. The graceful style and ornate ceiling design will capture the attention of those who appreciate both history and architecture. It’s also a convenient way to make your way around the city – rain or shine!
The porticos were originally constructed from wood in the 12th century, and then reconstructed with stone in the 16th century. They stand about 2 ½ meters high. Fun fact: this specific height was chosen to allow men on horseback to pass through the covered archways comfortably.
Guided half-day tours are available, or take a walk at your own leisure and admire all the details for yourself.
The Basilica de San Luca
The Basilica de San Luca sits atop a hill at the end of the 666 portico (meaning 666 archways), which is the longest portico in the world. The rounded shape of the basilica is unique and the view from the top is pretty nice, too!
Tower of the Asinelli & Tower of the Garisenda
The symbolic Two Towers of Bologna were constructed in the 12th century and are the city’s most well-known landmark.
The Tower of Asinelli stands at almost 100 meters, while the Tower of Garisenda reaches just half that.
Named after the families who funded their construction, the towers were first built to project power and prestige. Over the years their uses have changed several times. Scientist used the towers to conduct experiments on gravity in the 17th century. During WWII, they were used as a look-out point. They continue to be an architectural inspiration today, in addition to providing an amazing panoramic view of the city. Climbing the narrow wooden stairways to the top also gives you a great workout.
Pay a visit to one of Bologna’s most popular squares. Inside the spacious grounds, you will find small cafes, the Basilica of San Petronio (with museum inside) and the Palazzo Comunale (City Hall), which houses an impressive collection of Renaissance paintings and sculptures.
How to get to Bologna…
Bologna is situated midway between to Italian tourist meccas of Venice and Florence, and it’s a short train ride from either city.
The city is accessible via Guglielmo Marconi International Airport (BLQ) which is conveniently located just a few minutes outside the city center. From the airport, you can take the Aerobus or taxi to the center for 15 euros or less. BLQ has many international connections and you can fly to multiple European cities directly.
Is Bologna Safe?
Yes. Bologna is quite a safe city and there is not too much to worry about. As with most cities, you do want to be aware of pickpockets. Don’t give them the opportunity to snatch or rifle through your bag; keep your purse or backpack zipped and close to your body. While walking through busy streets, keep your bag on the side or front of your body and away from passing motorbikes. Other than these petty crimes of opportunity, Bologna is a city that can safely be enjoyed without worry.
Day Trips from Bologna
The Emilia-Romagna region is filled with other worthwhile destinations that are an easy day trip from Bologna. Take a road trip to Parma. This nearby city was recently named a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO. Here you can visit the museum of ham, which extolls the virtues of not just the famous Parma ham, but all the cured meat products for which the region is possible. And of course, no visit to Parma is complete without a stop at a Parmigiano Reggiano factory to ogle at thousands of wheels of the expensive cheese stacked ceiling high.
In Modena, you can learn the process for making balsamic vinegar and visit local farms that have been producing this delicacy for hundreds of years.
And, because this is Italy, gelato is of prime importance. Visit the Carpigiani Gelato University, where future gelato chefs learn their trade.