Located right in between the famous cities of Florence and Venice, the Italian city of Bologna is a quiet and historic place that is not often visited by tourists. Many people do miss Bologna in their list when they draft a plan to take a tour around Italy, because they aren’t familiar with the history, culture, beauty and gastric richness of this place. If you ever want to visit this incredible city and wonder what to do in Bologna, here is a list mentioning the top places you need to visit.
Where to Stay in Bologna
How To Get To Bologna
But first here is a simple step by step guide on how to get to Bologna. If you land at Guglielmo Marcono airport, which is only 10km from the city centre, you can get a shuttle bus called Aerobus. The service runs from 5am to 11.30pm and the bus leaves every 10 minutes, you can buy the tickets online here or at the machines at the airport before the exit. You can also get a taxi to the centre more info here
If you are travelling by train you can get to Bologna Centrale from every big cities around Italy with the high speed trains (Freccia Rossa or Italo). Make sure to book your train tickets in advance as soon as you know when you’ll be travelling as the prices go up over time. Travel at the weekend if you can for great offers.
Take a Guided Portico Tour
Bologna is blessed with some of the most intrinsically designed porticos in the world. In the earlier days, every single building had a portico extending from it. The idea back then was to provide for additional living space for the people. However, today, the porticos protect the people from the rain & sun. Built entirely out of wood, the porticos are beautiful & stable at the same time.
The 4km-long portico that stretches from Bologna’s city walls to the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca Hills is considered to be the longest in the world. When you visit Bologna to experience the beauty of the porticos, ensure that you hire a local guide, so that you don’t miss any single piece of it. The porticos at the ancient Bologna University, Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Santo Stefano are some of the must-visit places when you come here.
Take Food Tour Around Bologna
If you are a person with authentic gastric interests, Bologna is a place that will offer you exciting options. The balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese and mortadella that people of all ages group love to bits, are products that originate in the Emilia-Romagna region. Bologna is the capital of this region. So, you can only imagine the quality of the food in this place.
The fresh pasta stores located across Bologna are must-visit places as you will not only get a chance to watch experts in action but also try your hand at pasta-rolling. It is not without reason that Bologna is nicknamed La Grassa (The Fat). You are sure to put on a few pounds as you try the local delicacies at the restaurants along Via Della Moline street. Try the tortelloni here without fail. Located quite close to the Piazza Maggiore, you will find the food market of Quadrilatero, where you can shop for the local foods & ingredients.
Try Climbing The Asinelli Tower
The twin towers built by the Asinelli and the Garisenda Families during the 11th century are one of the biggest tourist sites in Bologna. In the earlier days, these towers, along with others, provided enough security to the city from enemy attacks, fires and other dangers. Don’t miss the spectacular view of the red city of Bologna (nicknamed thus, because of the huge red, terracotta peaks), from the 97.2m tall Asinelli Tower.
You have to be careful while climbing the 498 narrow steps made entirely out of wood; however, once you reach the top, you will forget all your strain, because of the beauty that the peak offers you. As you look down the railing slightly, you will also see the Garisenda Tower below. Climb the tower during the evenings to get a scintillating view as the sun sets on the historical Bologna City.
Visit Piazza Maggiore
If you love visiting historic places that were once the hub of an active political and cultural lifestyle, you will be enchanted by the beauty of the Piazza Maggiore, the oldest square in Bologna and one of the oldest in Italy. This is located right in the center of Bologna and most of the tourists start their tour from here. You will also find the Tourist Information Center, from where you can get an idea of what do in the city and how to commute to various places.
The Piazza Maggiore has many historic and architecturally-splendid structures in its vicinity such as the Neptune Fountain, Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo dei Notai and more. It has many coffee shops which serve authentic espressos and tasty snacks while you let the beauty of the place to sink inside you, as you sit on the grand steps of San Petronio. The Basilica di San Petronio is a famous attraction here as the construction of this church was started in 1390 but was left incomplete midway due to various reasons. The remnants of the marble and brick structures of the church are still a delight to watch.
Piazza Santo Stefano
If you love walking through the historic porticos of some of the grand buildings in Bologna, the Piazzo Santo Stefano is a perfect place to visit. It is a huge property, which consisted of seven churches earlier. Today, only four of these churches are found in this place. Take a look at these churches, their majestic woodwork, beautiful fresco work on the ceilings and let the culture of the place sink in. The buildings are constructed in the form of a maze; therefore, you will have great fun getting in and out of the Piazza Santo Stefano. Today, the courtyards of this place are the venues for many famous cultural events and festivals in Italy.
Enjoy The History of Bologna University
Founded in the year 1088, Bologna University is the oldest in the western world. The Anatomic Theatre of this university, also known as Teatro Anatomico was established during 1636 and is a must-visit for history lovers. The room is constructed from wood entirely and has ornately decorated statues all over to add majesty to it. A highlight of this room is the marble slab placed right in the center of the room.
It is on this slab that cadavers are placed by professors when they explained the dissection process to the students. An interesting point about the architecture of this historic university is that this anatomic room had a hole in the wall. Spies were employed by the Church to listen to the lectures through this hole, so that they could stop professors when they taught too many progressive things to their students.
Top Day Trip Ideas from Bologna
- Modena: Famous for its balsamic vinegar, Modena is also home to the Enzo Ferrari Museum and the stunning Modena Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a short train ride from Bologna.
- Parma: Known for Parmesan cheese and Parma ham, this charming city offers a delightful culinary experience. Don’t miss the Parma Cathedral and its beautiful frescoes.
- Ferrara: A UNESCO World Heritage site, Ferrara is renowned for its Renaissance architecture and the imposing Castello Estense. It’s a city rich in art and history, with a serene, almost untouched medieval character.
- Ravenna: Famous for its exquisite Byzantine mosaics, Ravenna is a city of immense historical and artistic importance. Its eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites make it a must-visit for history and art enthusiasts.
- Florence: Although a bit farther, Florence can be reached by high-speed train for a day of exploring Renaissance art and architecture, including the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, and Ponte Vecchio.
- Venice: Also accessible by high-speed train, Venice offers a unique experience with its canals, gondolas, St. Mark’s Basilica, and Doge’s Palace. It’s a bit longer journey but well worth it for a day trip.
- Mantua (Mantova): Known for its Renaissance architecture, Mantua is surrounded on three sides by artificial lakes. The Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo Te are its main attractions.
- Verona: Famous as the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Verona charms visitors with its Roman amphitheater, medieval architecture, and vibrant piazzas.
- San Marino: One of the world’s smallest and oldest republics, San Marino offers medieval architecture, stunning views, and unique history. It’s a longer drive but offers a different experience from the typical Italian city.
- Cinque Terre: While it’s a longer journey, the Cinque Terre’s beautiful coastline, colorful houses, and quaint villages make it a worthwhile day trip for those willing to start early and return late.
Each of these destinations offers a unique glimpse into the diverse landscapes, rich history, and culinary traditions of Italy, all within reach of Bologna.