Bologna, a city that totally surprised us and might have just stolen our hearts. This wonderful city is made for wandering around its countless little alleyways with its magnificent porticos and enjoying its delicious cuisine. As the food capital of Italy, eating is just one of the best things to do in Bologna. This medieval city in the Emilia-Romagna region is filled with a deep intriguing history and fascinating sights, however, remains one of Italy’s most underrated cities. Not only foodies but also history buffs, cinephiles, and art lovers will find many things to do here. The University town has an irresistible vivid and young flair, yet with many traditional aspects that allow you to experience an authentic Italy. Far less touristic than its overshadowing famous neighbors Florence & Venice, Bologna is an excellent destination for a city trip.
* Disclosure: This travel guide to the best things to do in Bologna contains affiliate links. We will receive a small commission if you book through our links. This is at no extra cost to you. This way you’re helping us write awesome travel guides and keep providing you with free content. We only recommend products we like and trust ourselves.
21 Amazing Things to Do in Bologna | Italy Travel Guide
Bologna’s nickname “La Dotta, la Grassa e la Rossa” perfectly describes what the city is all about. Curious about what this saying means? Then keep on reading to find out! This place has so much to offer and we gladly list all the things you need to see and do on your first time visiting. From exploring the many markets, and hilltop basilicas to climbing towers. We literally ate our way through the city and share here our personal recommendations for your daily coffee and gelato fix, the best Bolognesi restaurants, and hotspots to experience the infamous Italian Aperitivo. Our travel tips will prepare you for everything you need to know before visiting. Based on our travel guide you can plan the perfect trip and know what to expect. After checking out this guide, Bologna will skyrocket to the top of your Italy Bucket list!
Bologna at a glance
WHERE | Emilia-Romagna region, North of Italy
WHEN TO VISIT | Best from May till October
BEST THINGS TO DO | Climb the Asinelli Tower, Hike to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, Enjoy the views from Torre Dell’ Orologio, Delight in Italian Aperitivo, Stroll the endless Porticos, Explore the local markets & the local specialties, Visit the world’s oldest university
WHERE TO EAT | La Prosciutteria Bologna, Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla, Osteria dell’Orsa & Trattoria Del Ghiottone
Interesting facts about Bologna
The city of Bologna goes by three nicknames that reflect perfectly what it is known for.
La Dotta – or The Scholar / The Learned, referring to Bologna as a University city. The University of Bologna is the oldest one in the Western World, founded in 1088. Students from all over the world come to study here and add to the vibrant flair that you can find in the city.
La Grassa – or The Fat One, refers to its substantial and renowned cuisine. Bologna is known as the gastronomic capital of Italy and many people come to the city to experience its culinary culture. You can find here some of the most impressive food markets with high-quality products from the Emilia-Romagna region. Many of Italy’s top products that we know come from here such as parmesan cheese, Parma ham, mortadella, balsamic vinegar, and countless other delicacies.
La Rossa – or The Red, referring to its many stunning terracotta tiled rooftops all over the city. When you climb to the top of the Asinelli Tower you can get the best views of this. Some say it also refers to its leftist politics, especially during and after World War II as part of the resistance against Nazism.
Things to know before visiting Bologna
Travel Basics Bologna
Language? The official language of Bologna and Italy, in general, is Italian. Most people that we encountered speak English, but it’s always useful to learn a few phrases.
Currency? Italy uses the euro €. To check the exchange rate, check out xe.com website.
How to pay? To our surprise card is widely accepted even in markets or small coffee bars. Always make sure to have some cash on you, but there are also sufficient ATMs around.
Plugs? In Italy, you can find three associated plug types, types C, F, and L, with a standard 230V voltage and a standard frequency of 50 Hz. So if you come from outside of Europe, make sure to check for a travel adaptor.
Safety? Bologna is a very safe city, we never felt unsafe during our trip. We do always emphasize being aware of our surroundings and using common sense. Pickpocketing can always occur in tourist areas of bigger cities, just like all over Europe.
Cost of Travel in Bologna, Italy
Surprisingly we came to the finding that Bologna is not crazily expensive. You can definitely eat and drink well for affordable prices. Also given the high quality of used products. For a two-course meal you are looking at €15-€20 a person, most desserts like tiramisu are on average €5, and gelato around €2-3 (always depending on how many bowls you take of course). Alcohol is quite cheap, definitely, if I compare this to the prices that we pay in Belgium and Germany. You can enjoy a daily Aperitivo such as an Aperol Spritz for around €5, local wines go for €4, and beer for around €3,5. For all the coffee lovers, the good news is you can get your daily fix for €1-2.
Based on all that you can count on an average estimated budget for Bologna of €50 a day (excluding accommodation). So overall we would say a bit cheaper compared to most other European cities and definitely compared to the popular Italian cities like Venice, Florence or Rome.
Having said that, accommodation seemed to be a bit more on the expensive side. We actually had a hard time finding something to our liking and within our foreseen budget. The majority of the hotel rooms (within the city center) go for a minimum of €100 a night. We also have a feeling that currently (Anno 2022) everything is booked out quickly for the coming months (hello Summer of Revenge of Travel). So if you’re looking for a certain accommodation you might want to book a while upfront.
What is Coperto?
Unlike many other countries, it is not common to leave a tip at a restaurant or café in Italy. You will notice that in most restaurants you are paying for something called ‘coperto’. This is a little extra fee, a cover charge per person that is part of the bill. Usually, this is around €2 per person and is seen kind of seen as an automatic “tip” and mostly covers the given bread basket and the table. So it’s up to you if you want to give extra tips in the end, but it’s not needed. Others might add a servizio, or service charge, calculated as a percent of the final bill (We have never seen that). Usually, the amount of the servizio or coperto is mentioned on the menu. So don’t be surprised to see this popping up on your receipt.
Book restaurants in advance
When you are planning on visiting Bologna we really suggest making reservations for restaurants a few days in advance, especially if there are specific popular restaurants you would like to try out. This was advised to us and thank god we did! We usually prefer to spontaneously pick out a place to eat while walking around and that catches our eye. Also given that we don’t really like to plan out our day fully. I mean, I have no idea when I might be hungry! So this was rather difficult for us to decide upfront. However, we indeed noticed that many of the popular places were fully booked and had to turn away many walk-ins. So turns out that Bologna restaurants really work on reservations, something that really came as a surprise to us.
When is the best time to travel to Bologna?
Just like most European destinations, Bologna comes most alive during the warmer months of the year, which run from May until October. You will have less chance of rain and temperatures are high, perfect to enjoy the Aperitivo culture of Bologna.
The summer months of July and August can get rather hot though with 30+°C, which can be unpleasant to explore the city. The City is filled with crowds of tourists during the summer months. Both international and domestic ones since Italians have summer holidays in August. We actually took the risk and visited the last week of August. We can confirm that it was quite hot at 32 degrees, however, thanks to the many arcades all over the city, we were able to do most sightseeing in the shade. Tourist-wise in our opinion it was actually bearable and indeed most people were locals, which we absolutely loved. So maybe we just got lucky!
In general, it’s being said that the best times to visit Bologna are during the months of June and September. You will enjoy warm weather and the days are still long which makes sightseeing more comfortable. However nice weather also means that these months know their fair share of tourists. Accommodations easily get fully booked for these months and prices tend to be higher than normal. Nonetheless, Bologna is way less touristy compared to popular places like Milan or Rome. It’s also worth contemplating visiting Bologna during the months of April, May, and October since the weather is still pleasant and you might have fewer tourists. Autumn in Bologna must be amazing with its changing colors. Do keep in mind that there are a few festivals around October for celebrating the harvest, which could make accommodation scarce and expensive.
How many days should I plan for Bologna?
Most of the major attractions of Bologna are located close to each other within walking distance. If you would only have one day in Bologna, you can visit the main sights in the historic center. However, this way you would only be able to get a glimpse of what Bologna has to offer. This city does reward a longer stay and you could easily spend a long weekend here. Two to three nights give you the possibility to see all the historic sights, including a walk to San Luca, enjoy an extensive lunch and some Aperitivo, do some shopping, and maybe even join a food tour. If you would like to fully immerse yourself and would like to join some excursions, you could easily spend a week in Bologna! This way you can also enjoy the surrounding area and even make a day trip to some other destinations.
How to get to Bologna?
Bologna is located in the northern part of Italy, more specifically in the Emilie-Romagna region. It’s fairly easily accessible by car from nearby countries such as Germany and Austria. Another option is to fly in, many budget airlines fly from all over Europe directly to Bologna. Further, Bologna is also well connected by train to other Italian and even European cities.
If you are flying into Bologna, the most nearby airport is Bologna’s Guglielmo Marconi International Airport, which is located 6km north of the city center. Many budget airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair serve direct flights from several big cities all over Europe. So it will be fairly easy to find some good deals to fly into Bologna to have a fun city trip.
Once arrived, the easiest and cheapest way to get to the city is by taking the brand-new Marconi monorail. This is a shuttle service that runs every 7 minutes, for which return tickets cost €17. You can buy tickets online in advance on this website. Afterward, you will be sent a QR code that you can use to board on your smartphone.
Another option, which takes a bit longer, is to travel to Bologna by train. Italy has a high-speed train network that also passes through Bologna. So it’s easy to book return tickets for Bologna, even from other European destinations. There are numerous direct connections to cities in Germany and Austria! We advise though to book tickets in advance, especially during peak seasons. To book tickets, and check availability or departure times, check the Rail Europe website.
If you are planning to visit several places in northern Italy, then traveling by train is definitely the best way. You can book and check timetables for Bologna on the Trenitalia website. The Freccia trains are high-speed trains, the fastest way connecting Bologna to other big cities. To give you an idea, Florence is only 35 minutes away and Milan is only an hour with these trains. Prices for the Freccia fast trains are more favorable if you book online a few months upfront.
Once arrived at Bologna central railway station, it’s only a 20-minute walk to the historic city center.
Since we were planning on visiting multiple destinations on our Italy trip (we passed Bologna on our way to Cinque Terre and afterward visited Verona), we decided to travel by car. When you come from Austria or Germany, traveling by car is definitely an option. Bologna is about 7.5 hours from Vienna and a good 6 hours from Munich.
A few things you need to keep in mind when traveling by car though:
- You should definitely look into a parking space in advance. You will want to avoid the ZTL (limited traffic Zone), this is an area you don’t want to drive in order to avoid a fine. The area covers most of the city within the old walls and is forbidden to non-residents from 7 am to 8 pm. So the best is to find a parking spot outside the center. This is why we were so keen on finding accommodation that offers a parking spot (see below). For more information on the ZTL zone and the best car park locations check the following website.
- Also, keep in mind that you will need to pay tolls in Italy. Unfortunately, they don’t work with vignette, you have to pay per usage of the highway (calculated in distance and region) and it’s not really cheap. To give you an estimation, for using the highway from Bologna to Austria we paid around €26 (not including the fee for the Brenner). You will pass a toll booth when going on the highway where you get a ticket, once you leave the highway at your destination you pass a toll booth again at the exit where you will have to pay (with a card or cash if possible).
How to get around Bologna?
By Foot – Once you are in Bologna, the main historic sights are all within walking distance from each other, so everything can easily be done by foot. Because of the compact layout of the city and the practical beautiful porticoes that offer shade, we practically walked everywhere. Moving at a slower pace through the labyrinth of picturesque alleyways makes it possible to appreciate the small details and local atmosphere more.
By Bus – If you would need public transport, there are numerous bus lines available. Maps and tickets for the bus are available in the Bologna Welcome tourist office located on Piazza Maggiore, as well as in most tabaccherias (newsletter places). A ticket allows you to make multiple journeys within a 75-minute timeframe and costs €1,5. There are ticket machines on board the bus where you can buy tickets with coins, but will then cost €2. Buses run daily from 6.30 am to 11 pm, check routes and timetables here. The easiest is to download the app Moovit, where you simply insert your destination and it will give you the closest bus line on a map with timings. Super easy!
Should you buy the Bologna Welcome Card?
The Bologna Welcome Card helps you discover all the best things to do in Bologna while saving you money. You can get your Bologna Welcome Card online or at the tourist info points in Bologna. There are two options to choose from EASY €25 and PLUS €40.
If you are considering getting the Bologna Welcome Card you should make the calculation if it’s worth it. Check first which attractions you would like to visit and do the math. We were planning on getting one, but in the end, decided against it since it wouldn’t cover everything that we had planned.
Guided Tours of Bologna
Bologna is a city with a rich history and is filled with hidden gems. If you want to get a better sense of the local culture and have an authentic experience, we can highly recommend joining one of the guided tours. Since Bologna is a foodies pilgrimage destination, there are also several small group food tours available where a private guide helps you discover all the local specialties. Are you spending more than 3 days in Bologna and want to take a day trip out of the city? Join a wine tour or a food tour of the best regional producers:
- Bologna City Center Walking Tour
- Secret Food Tours Bologna
- Bologna’s 10 Tastings with the Locals: Private Tour
- Culinary Tour in Bologna from a Local Perspective
- Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tour from Bologna
- Private Emilia Romagna Food Tour from Bologna
Checklist & what to bring for a city trip to Bologna
The below is not imperative, but it can make your travels more worry-free:
- Bring already some converted Euros with you if you travel from outside Europe
- Check Visa Requirements
- Universal travel adaptors if need be
- Power Bank for your phone
- Offline Map (phone app)
- Comfortable shoes
- Directions to your accommodation
- Mosquito repellent (Highly recommend for the evening, when going in summer!)
- Sun protection: For the face, we can recommend Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Lotion, and for the body Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion, both are oil-free, water-resistant, and reef friendly.
Best Things to Do in Bologna
Bologna is the perfect destination for an Italian city trip with many things to do for at least two days. Or maybe you want to visit this wonderful city as part of a bigger Italy trip? We made a 3 night stop at Bologna on our way to Cinque Terre and absolutely fell in love! The best way to see this historic city during a first-time visit is by relying on a Bologna itinerary. This way you make sure to not miss any of the highlights and know where to go for the best pasta al ragu and Aperol Spritz in town.
Hang out at the Piazza Maggiore
In the bustling heart of every Italian city, you will find a piazza or main square. Saying that the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna was absolutely breathtaking, would be an understatement. It’s filled with architectural gems everywhere you look, beautiful porticos, a clock tower, a special church, and palaces that surround the square. Feast your eyes on the many sights and take your sweet time visiting all of them.
The most important sights are the Basilica of San Petronio and the Fountain of Neptune where we will head next. On the other side, the Palazzo del Podestà catches the eye, which is believed to be the oldest palace around dating back to the 13th century. Other medieval palaces are the neighboring Palazzo Re Enzo, Palazzo Dei Banchi, and the Palazzo d’Accursio with its stunning clock tower. Their impressive exterior facades add to the charm of the square.
As you can imagine the Piazza Maggiore can get quite busy so it’s almost impossible to get a clean shot of the Neptunus fountain. But all this crowdedness adds to the liveliness and atmosphere of the square. Many terraces surround the piazza where you can enjoy a drink and are the perfect hangout spot for some people-watching. The square has an archway entrance to Il Quadrilatero that we will visit later today.
Basilica of San Petronio
The south part of the Piazza Maggiore is enthroned by the grand Basilica of San Petronia, dedicated to Bologna’s patron Saint Petronius. It’s the most important church in the city and one of the biggest churches in all of Europe. As you can see, the facade of the church is quite an eye-catcher, the below part being set with white-pinkish carved marble stones and the upper part with rough plain bricks. It has this interesting look because the construction of the church was never finished in the 1500s. The money that was intended for funding the completion of the facade was transferred to building the Archiginnasio, which is part of Bologna’s university.
The interior of the Basilica of San Petronio
Make sure to pay a visit inside, which is for free. When you want to take photos they might charge you 2€. However, I noticed people taking pictures just with a phone and nobody really pays attention. The church has a few unique features. Besides two dozen small chapels flanking the church, each containing many artifacts and impressive art, there is also a massive sundial located on the left side of the church on the floor. A meridian line was inbuilt for astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini to calculate the timings of events such as solstice.
TIP | Be aware you need to follow a dress code when visiting the Basilica. Dress modestly just like you would do at any religious site. Shoulders must be covered, as well as the knees. There should also be scarves available to cover up in case you don’t have any and you show up in a top and shorts.
And the best part is still to come! Did you know that the Basilica di San Petronio also has a terrace with a panoramic view over Bologna? Head over to the rear exit near Piazza Galvani where you can find a lift that takes you up to a 54-meter-high platform “Terrazza”. Tickets cost 3 euros per person, but it’s free when you have the Bologna Welcome PLUS card.
For opening times & more information check out the official website of Basilica San Petronio.
Behold the Piazza del Nettuno
After admiring the Basilica head north of the Piazza Maggiore, where your focus is immediately drawn to the crown jewel of the square. Piazza Nettuno boasts a beautiful geometric patterned floor within the center of the magnificent Fountain of Neptune. Undoubtedly the most important one in Bologna. This statue of the Roman God Neptune is truly the icon of Bologna. The fountain was built by Flemish sculptor Giambologna and served as an inspiration for many other fountains across Europe. The largest crowds assemble around to admire the architectural beauty of the fountain. If you take a closer look, you will notice some of its cheeky elements ^^.
In addition to Neptune’s Fountain, the Biblioteca Salaborsa shouldn’t be missed. In the former stock exchange building, a modern library was built. The overall design is really interesting and the glass floor of the atrium makes it possible to admire the ancient Roman ruins.
Climb the Torre Dell’ Orologio
The Palazzo d’Accursio is one of the many palaces on the sprawling Piazza Maggiore. It’s home to the city’s municipality buildings and has a major art collection on display for the public. Access to the galleries is included in the entry ticket to the Torre Dell Orologio or Clock Tower. The ancient landmark has been standing tall and proud on the corner of the piazza since 1250. The tower house was originally built by Accursio di Bagnolo, a professor and jurist. Later on, it got sold to the municipality in 1444, since then the tower has been the official clock for the Bolognesi people.
The main highlight of the Torre dell Orologio is climbing to the top of the tower. It has a dual viewing platform that provides breathtaking views of the Piazza Maggiore and Bologna’s cityscape. Though Asinelli Tower is known as the highest vantage point in Bologna, the clock tower platform was probably our favorite. We visited towards the end of the day before golden hour started illuminating the terracotta rooftops. Absolutely breathtaking! I believe we spend almost an hour on the platforms admiring the surroundings.
Opening Hours | From Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm
Entrance Fee | € 8 per person
Visit Teatro Anatomico of the Archiginnasio
Bologna’s University is the oldest one in the world, founded back in 1088, and is one of Europe’s top academic institutions. The opulent Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio is only a few steps away from Piazza Maggiore and is one of the most beautiful sights in the city. As a visitor, you are only allowed to enter selected areas of the University, as some parts are actively used by students.
You will first enter through the inner courtyard which is richly decorated with colorfully painted coats of arms. One of the most important parts of this architectural masterpiece is the Teatro Anatomico or the anatomy hall of the former university. The amphitheater-shaped hall is made fully out of wood panels. In the middle stands a marble table that was used to dissect bodies for science in front of a full audience. The other room open for visitors is the Stabat-Mater room, from which you can peak into the library.
Our favorite part was the many painted coat of arms throughout the corridors and staircases. Almost every inch of the arched ceilings is covered with them. When a student graduated cum laude they would receive an honorary spot on the wall. Further, the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio houses one of the oldest libraries in the world. But be aware this one is only open during the week until 2 pm (opening times change often) and is only accessible for people to come study.
ENTRANCE FEE | 3€ (the courtyard and corridors are free of charge).
OPENING TIMES | From Monday till Saturday, from 10 am-6 pm
Stroll the endless Porticos of Bologna
If you didn’t already know, you will certainly notice the moment you set foot on Bolognesi grounds! Bologna is the city of arcades (or porticos). These famous covered walkways are omnipresent in the cityscape and stretch over a length of 38 kilometers. Perfect to explore the city while being protected from the sun or rain. So this architectural artistry is not only pretty to look at but also very practical! The porticos network of Bologna stems from medieval times and was officially added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021.
You will find them in all kinds of designs, some have wooden arcades others are beautifully painted. The longest and most famous arcade must be the one from San Luca. This one runs over a length of four kilometers, all the way from downtown Bologna up to the Sanctuary Della Madonna di San Luca. This little pilgrimage is walked or run by many tourists and locals on a daily basis, making up for a wonderful activity! More on that later in this list with the best things to do in Bologna.
Especially keep your eyes open for the following porticos
- The stunning painted arches of Affreschi portico banca d’Italia near Piazza Cavour
- The colorful coats of arms painted porticos of the old University
- Portico Della Morte or Portico of Death which has an outdoor bookstore
- The porticoes around Piazza Santo Stefano, can you find La Testa del Diavolo or the Devil’s head?
Wander down Via Rizzoli
Bologna is no stranger to beautiful colorful alleyways with gems scattered all over the city. However, there is one main avenue you can’t escape wandering down and that would be the Via Rizzoli. The avenue runs centrally through the historic city of Bologna, ending right at the infamous Asinelli Tower. During the weekends the street is car-free and makes up for a wonderful stroll with an amazing view. For all the shopaholics out there, along the avenue, you can find countless shops and cafés, covered by the iconic porticos.
Climb the Asinelli tower
For the next attraction on our best things to do in Bologna list, you might want to mentally prepare and pack some comfortable shoes. This one is a small workout! Not only Pisa is known for its leaning tower, Bologna even has two: Asinelli and Garisenda. The two leaning towers dominate the skyline of Bologna and are probably the most iconic postcard view of the city. There used to be over 100 towers rising above the streets of Bologna, today there are only a few left of which these two relics are the most known.
Back in the 13th century, rich families built these brick towers as observation points and to defend the city against the enemy. Today tourists climb the 97-meter-high Asinelli Tower for its spectacular vantage point. After conquering 498 wooden steps you will be rewarded with a magnificent 360° panoramic view over Bologna. Luckily there are a few platforms along the journey up where you can take a breather!
TIP | Climbing the Asinelli Tower requires an advanced online reservation, where you have to pick a timeslot. Only a limited amount of people are allowed per timeslot, which lasts 45 minutes (for ascent and descent).
ENTRY TICKET | 5 euros per person, or free for Bologna Welcome Card PLUS holders
OPENING TIMES | Open every day, with timeslots every 15 minutes. The first entrance is at 10 am, the last timeslot is at 6.15 pm.
Enjoy the best Gelato
You cannot visit Italy without sampling many, and I mean many, of their Gelato or Cremeria places. We had at least one every day, might have sometimes been two… but hey who is counting calories on vacation anyways? There is probably a Cremeria on every street to get your daily gelato fix. However, as now professional gelato tasters, we listed our favorites in a separate section below. Let us know which place stole your heart and what your favorite flavor is in the comments below!
Since we just climbed the Asinelli Tower, I figured we deserve a treat! Hop in Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla to pick up a delicious creamy cone in your favorite flavor (tip take pistachio!) on your way to the Piazza Santo Stefano.
Piazza Santo Stefano & Basilica of Santo Stefano
Before you pick up that long-awaited gelato, make sure to spend some time at Palazzo Della Mercanzia which you will pass along the way. This beautiful building is the epitome of medieval Bologna’s wealth.
A short walk away from the towers you can find the peaceful & picturesque Piazza Santo Stefano. The square has several cozy-looking spots to enjoy a coffee or Aperitivo, it looks really inviting! I absolutely wanted to spend some time at one of the cafés here, but a quick look on Google changed my mind. Many of the cafés here are tourist traps with overpriced drinks and subpar service. So we didn’t really feel like overpaying.
Besides the many surrounding palaces with beautiful facades, the attention on the square goes to the Basilica of Santo Stefano. It’s definitely worth taking a look inside the Basilica, a church complex that exists out of four interlocking churches. You enter through the Church of the Holy Crucifix which leads you to an interesting-looking altar. Further, you pass by a peaceful inner courtyard. Admission to the church is free.
Explore Quadrilatero & get acquainted with Italian aperitivo
The next stop is at the historic neighborhood of Quadrilatero, the beating heart of Bologna’s food culture. This bustling marketplace is located just off Piazza Maggiore and exists out of a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone alleys. It’s one of the oldest parts of Bologna, a district built during the Middle Ages for trading. Today Il Quadrilatero still serves the same purpose, as you will find yourself amongst many little shops selling local artisanal specialties and produce. As you stroll past the little shops you will be greeted by some mouthwatering smells. Shop here for everything from freshly made pasta to all kinds of cold cuts such as mortadella, Parmigiano cheeses, and Balsamico vinegar. If you want to bring home some edible souvenirs, this is the place to pick them up!
During the day both locals and tourists enjoy a coffee here and pick up groceries. Towards the evening people meet up at the street bars for the popular Aperitivo and wine scene. The tradition of Italian Aperitivo is omnipresent in Bologna, where you enjoy a pre-dinner drink accompanied by small bites. So stick around to find yourself the perfect table and order a refreshing Aperol Spritz. Little did we know, Italian Aperitivo is a lifestyle. You bet that it did my Belgian Burgundian heart beat faster. It’s the perfect way to end the first day! Moritz was never really into Aperol before, until Bologna. Now you can call him an Aperol Spritz cognoscente ;p.
Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca
We are heading for the Santuario Della Madonna di San Luca, a pilgrimage church enthroned on a 300-meter-high hill located southwest of the city center. You can see the Basilica all the way from the city center, but a visit to the sanctuary should be a must on your things-to-do list in Bologna. Known for its 666 arches of the Portico San Luca, that guide you to the sanctuary on top of the hill. The beautiful pinkish-colored basilica was completed in 1723, but supposedly a chapel existed on the site for over 1000 years.
The main highlights are the beautiful gardens of the sanctuary as well as the stunning building itself with gorgeous balconies that offer incomparable views of the cityscape below. You can even see the countryside from here with the typical Tuscan landscape! We were actually surprised by the low amount of tourists there were (much more Italians) and that this place hasn’t exploded as one of the most Insta-famous places yet (thank god).
Practical information on how to get there
Many people walk the arcades of San Luca, the world’s longest portico. These start off downtown Bologna near the old city gate Porta Saragozza and run for 4 kilometers all the way up to the church. We suggest starting your morning early, to beat the crowds but also the heat (if you are visiting in summer). Although you have the arcades offering you shade, it will get quite hot and the ascent on foot demands a small physical effort. The hike isn’t particularly difficult or exhausting, but it’s a sporty activity with the route going uphill and a steep climb for the last part. So make sure to bring some water and wear comfortable shoes. If you visit during the weekend you will see many locals going for their morning jog here. We had so much fun walking the arcades of San Luca, so we totally recommend doing this!
If you are short on time or want to make things easier, there are public buses from the city center that drive up to the top. Take the first bus no. 20 and then transfer to bus no. 58. Alternatively you can also opt to take bus no. 20 to Arco Del Meloncello and enter the arcade and walk from there. The third option for getting to San Luca is by hopping on the tourist train San Luca Express which takes off from Piazza Maggiore. A round trip with the little train costs 10 euros, and it’s free with the Bologna Welcome PLUS card. If you are going by car there are parking spaces available near the sanctuary.
ENTRANCE FEE | Free, if you want to visit the panorama terrace of the church the admission fee is 5 euros.
OPENING HOURS | Every day, the church is open from 7 am to 7 pm, and the Piazzale from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm.
Did you know there is a tiny slice of Venice in Bologna? In the northern part of the historic city, there are remnants of the once-extensive canal system that ran through the city. The most famous “Venice view” can be found on Via Piella. On the one side, you have an opening giving a picturesque view of the Canale di Reno with colorful little houses and those typical Italian shutters. On the other side of the street, you will see a “secret window” hiding the iconic view of “Finestrella“. Most of the time there is a line of people waiting to peak through the window opening, so not so secret after all. We think the sight was really cute, but don’t expect major Venice vibes, you might get disappointed.
Walk the grand staircase at Montagnola Park
From Finestrella proceed more north of the city to Montagnola Park. Since Bologna has such a dense historic center, you won’t find many open green spaces within the city walls. Montagnola Park was built on top of the Castello di Galliera by no one other than Napoleon in 1805. You can still see some parts of the ruins throughout the park, but the park is mostly known for its elegant double staircase called Scalinata Del Pincio. It’s a favorite mostly among tourists since it’s the perfect picture spot.
In between the stairways, there is a fountain with sculptures of a nymph and a seahorse. The top of the staircase offers some wonderful views over the cityscape. There is also a balcony west of the park lined with beautiful lampposts and a great view of Via dell’Indipendenza. If you arrived in the city via train, you might have already spotted Scalinata Del Pincio after exiting the train station.
Get into the coffee culture
As you might already know, we are huge coffee lovers. Spending some time in the city’s coffee shops brings us so much joy. And what better place to enjoy a delicious cappuccino than in Italy? A match made in heaven! Just to quickly quote Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi: ‘Il caffe’ e’ il balsamo del cuore e dello spirito!’ ; or “Coffee is the balm of the heart and spirit.” My thoughts exactly Giuseppe.
On our second day in Bologna, we ended up in a major rain pour, which continued for two hours or so. To pass the time we searched for a nice coffee bar and ended up at Caffè Terzi Bologna. This place is usually quite packed because they don’t have that many seatings inside. It’s common for Italians to drink their coffee or caffè while standing at the counter. Italians love to bond and socialize over coffee. Usually, an Italian coffee ritual only takes around 7 minutes.
So happy we found a place because they have amazing freshly ground coffees here as well as an assortment of sweets to go with it. You might already know, but if you order a coffee or caffè, you will be getting espresso in Italy!
Explore the local neighborhoods like ghetto Ebraico
After refueling with some coffee, head out to explore the hip neighboring area of Ghetto Ebraico. This former 16th-century Jewish quarter is the beating heart of the young students of Bologna. It’s near the university but there is also a cool shopping area and many hipster bars and restaurants. Stroll around a bit, and blend in with locals while looking for some street art & vintage shops. Around you will definitely find some quiet cafés for lunch or coffee as well. In the evening, the bar scene of Ghetto Ebracio comes to life.
Try out local delicacies at the many markets
Many visitors come to Bologna more for the food than for the sights. Italy is a country famed for its cuisine, and the city of Bologna is a culinary paradise as the gastronomic capital of Italy. Eating in Bologna is probably one of the best things to do on your trip. So many of the Italian specialties that we know originate from here and the surrounding areas. Bologna as you might have guessed by the name is the birthplace of bolognese or tagliatelle al ragù as how it’s called on the menu here. This was my absolute favorite, such a heartwarming dish, and the meat sauce here is just exquisite.
Bologna is located in the Emilia Romagna region, which gifted the world things like Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma ham, mortadella, balsamic vinegar, tortellini and so much more. The area is specialized in excellent cold meats and cheeses, and everything is made under strict DOP guidelines. There are loads of choices of markets in Bologna to try out all of these local specialties.
Mercato Delle Erbe – Stop by for some fresh food, parts of the market have been converted into a food court where you can try different things. Stop by Forno for some Piadina and pizza slices.
Mercato di Mezzo – A great indoor market with a variety of local foods to try out.
Quadrilatero – This one can’t be missed, just off Piazza Maggiore, you have the busy laneways of Quadrilatero for a real market vibe.
Take A Bologna Food Tour
So you can always head out to explore the markets and their specialties by yourself. But if you like to be guided with some background stories, joining a guided food tour with a local who knows the ins and outs of the city is a good idea! The 3-hour food tour takes you to the best-hidden food spots, and markets where you sample olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and learn more about the history of local products such as wine and cheeses. One of the highlights is stopping at a pasta shop where you can see fresh tortellini being made. A food tour is a really fun way to get to know the city and more about its culture and inhabitants.
- Classic Bologna Food tour
- Secret Food Tours Bologna
- Bologna’s 10 Tastings with the Locals: Private Tour
- Culinary Tour in Bologna from a Local Perspective
If you are spending more than three days in Bologna you can also opt to join a food tour to the rural hills of Emilia Romagna. Learn more about the history and production process of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, prosciutto di Modena or traditional balsamic di Modena during an in-depth factory tour and tasting.
Check out one of the many museums
The city of Bologna boasts so much history, it’s no wonder it houses some of the best world-class museums.
For exhibits on the ancient world from Egypt, Rome, and Greece, head over to Museo Civico Archeologico. Inside there are many ancient relics from past civilizations, including preserved mummies. Most displays are in Italian, but the rooms have mounted pockets holding English cards. The museum is located inside a gorgeous 15th-century palace near Piazza Maggiore. Plan to spend a minimum of 1,5 hours here if you want to see everything.
ENTRY TICKET | €6 per person, FREE with the Bologna Welcome Card
OPENING TIMES | Tuesdays Closed, Monday & Wednesday 9 am – 2 pm, Thursday 3 pm -7 pm Friday till Sunday & public holidays 10 am – 7 pm
Bologna’s Museo Civico Medievale takes you through the Middle Ages of Bologna, exhibiting all kinds of aspects of medieval life, from art to cookery to armory. Marvel at marble tombs, statues, frescoes, armor, and documents from that time. The medieval museum exhibits are ideal for those interested in Renaissance life and ancient battles. The museum is housed inside the 15th century Palazzo Ghisilardi, and you will need around 1,5 hours to fully appreciate the collection.
ENTRY TICKET | €6 per person, FREE with the Bologna Welcome Card
OPENING TIMES | Mondays Closed, Tuesdays & Thursdays 10 AM to 2 PM; Wednesdays & Fridays 2 pm to 7 pm; Saturdays & Sundays & holidays 10 AM to 7 PM
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art in Bologna, also known as MAMbo, showcases the evolution of Italian art starting from World War II until today. The permanent collection is displayed in different themes which are sometimes divided between Italian and International artists. The museum is located in a former bread bakery and features permanent and temporary collections spread over a 9,500 sqm surface.
ENTRY TICKET | Permanent collections tickets €6; Tickets for temporary exhibitions €6, the permanent collection is FREE with the Bologna Welcome Card
OPENING TIMES | Mondays Closed, Tuesday and Wednesday 2 pm – 7 pm; Thursday 2 pm – 8 pm; Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays 10 am – 7 pm
Best places to eat & drink in Bologna
I am not gonna lie, eating amazing Italian food was one of the main highlights of our 3-day trip to Bologna. As the culinary capital of Italy, Bologna’s restaurants didn’t disappoint! I was literally in food heaven and had some of the best pasta of my life, no lie! So you better believe we researched and tested out many places. You can find our recommendations below, and save them on your google maps. That being said, you can easily just wander around and go almost anywhere inside and have an amazing meal in Bologna.
As mentioned before, it’s recommended to make reservations for popular places a few days upfront, definitely in high season and on weekends. Also a side note, we went the last week of August, when many Italians have their own summer vacation. Meaning that some places can get crowded but also, unfortunately, some businesses and restaurants might be closed. So if you want to eat somewhere specific, check out Google, also for opening times since many restaurants only open after 7 pm for dinner.
Coffee spots in Bologna, Italy
Bar Aroma – The perfect place to start off your day with a cup of coffee.
Caffè Terzi – The best spot for a short afternoon coffee break between all the sightseeing. Refuel with one of their amazing freshly ground coffees and choose a delicious Italian sweet to go with it!
Bar Caffe Delle Drapperie – An old-school kind of coffee bar in the heart of the historic center where you can enjoy your cappuccino at the bar with some nice pastries. Also, a popular spot to savor some Aperitivo in the afternoon!
Lunch Places in Bologna, Italy
La Prosciutteria Bologna – Talking about picture-perfect! This cold-cut platter was absolutely delicious, the perfect way if you want to try out a little bit of everything from the local specialties. Very good quality for a reasonable price and the atmosphere of this place was amazing!
Sfoglia Rina – This popular pasta shop is close to the center, where they serve a wide variety of tortellini variations. Perfect for a quick lunch, however, there are often really long waiting lines. Also possible to buy fresh pasta to take away. This place is open all day until 8 pm (many restaurants close after lunchtime).
Zerocinquantino – Located in the heart of the Quadrilatero market, this busy little place offers outside seating with many types of quick bites. Enjoy a mixed platter with cheeses and meats to share.
Sfarina – You can find this place at Mercato dell Erbe, they have all kinds of Piadina & flatbread sandwiches, ideal for a quick bite in between, and absolutely delicious!
Gelato Places in Bologna, Italy
Cremeria Cavour – High quality & creamy gelato, with a wide range of flavors to choose from. The service was really polite and helpful, located in the heart of Bologna on Piazza Cavour, where you have a little park to enjoy your gelato!
Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla – You can find this place on Via Santo Stefano. They have probably the best pistachio ice cream we ever had. This is the flavor we try everywhere and believe me, we have tried many! A popular place with sometimes long waiting lines, but worth it!
La sorbetteria Castiglione – Also a contender for the best gelato, this place was advised to us by our host. On the menu, you can find some special flavors like caramelized figs which I haven’t seen before. Many toppings and flavors to choose from as well as dairy-free sorbets.
Cremeria Santo Stefano – Often mentioned as the best gelato in Bologna, this is a must-stop on your 2-day trip. They have the best classic flavors but also some unusual and seasonal ones on the menu.
Aperitivo Spots in Bologna, Italy
Via Pescherie Vecchie – The main street in the Quadrilatero area, this is probably the best place to experience the ultimate Aperitivo culture in Bologna. In these beautiful colorful streets, you can find cozy bars everywhere. Find a free spot and order your favorite wine or Aperol Spritz. Head over to Slumaria Simoni to enjoy some delicious prosecco with a well-filled platter of some of the best meats and cheeses.
Ghetto Ebracio – This area of the city is more hipster, a beloved area amongst students for its lively bars and cafés. Many places offer stuzzichini, which is a tapas buffet you can enjoy when your order some alcoholic Aperitivo.
Marsalino – Cozy small place where you can some delicious pizza toasts when ordering a drink during Aperitivo time!
Le Stanze – Want to experience an out-of-the-box location? What about having an Aperitivo set in a former church? Superb decor with delicious cocktails.
Mutenye – More a beer type? This cozy pub has a nice range of beers, many German ones!
Dinner Places centrally located in Bologna
Osteria dell’Orsa – We went here on our first evening on advice from an Italian friend and are we glad we did! The food was absolute heaven and maybe even our favorite in Bologna. We first shared a platter of Crostini Caldi Misto, here you get 4 different flavors chosen by the chef. Afterward, we had the lasagna and the Tagliatelle al Ragù, the perfect classics to start the trip! Very good prices for amazing food! They don’t take reservations and this place is super popular so we went at 6 pm to be sure to get a table, soon after everything was full. The only downside is, that the service goes fast and they clean the tables quickly for the next. So if you want to enjoy a long dinner, that’s not really happening here.
Trattoria da Me – We enjoyed our last evening here, a vibrant atmosphere in a beautiful setting. The staff is really attentive and the food is tasty! Traditional food with a modern touch. As an appetizer, we chose Bologna’s local favorite, and we received something that we didn’t expect. It was three types of fried meat on a stick, something that reminds me of Belgian Frituur haha. Afterward, we both had the Tagliatelle al Ragù, because we are addicted, I think we ordered it every evening.
Trattoria del Rosso – As one of the oldest restaurants in the city you will find here traditional Italian food, simple but oh so good! Has a really nice terrace, partially under the porticos.
Osteria Le Sette Chiese – Cozy restaurant with a wooden interior serving all Bologna’s signature dishes. Go for small bites like some crostinis, a platter of cold cuts or cheeses, or warm hearth dishes like the tortellini in broth or their delicious green lasagna.
Dinner Places outside the old city walls of Bologna
Borgo Mameli – This one is a hidden secret for tourists! It’s located west of the city right outside the old city walls, secluded in between houses. A favorite amongst young locals, it gets full fast definitely on the weekend so you need to make reservations! This gastronomic delight has a fabulous ambiance, a bit chaotic, but an amazing setting and a wide variety of pizzas & other Italian dishes. It’s a bit on the pricier side though, but you can also go for a cocktail evening!
Trattoria dell’ Autotreno – This one is located a bit out of the center, it was right around the corner from our apartment. We were so looking forward to trying this one out, but they were on holiday (end of August). We will keep this one in mind for the next time visiting because it’s supposed to be one of the best old-school Bolognesi restaurants. And that for really affordable prices!
Trattoria Del Ghiottone – We wanted to specially mention this one, although if you are not staying in this part of town you might not be able to get here. But the food was so good here! It was one of our favorite evenings, we enjoyed their traditional Bolognesi cuisine in a cozy local setting. They also have a large terrace area, perfect for summer evenings. We got served the biggest Aperol Spritz from our whole trip here, for only €5. For the main course, you could have guessed, we had the Tagliatelle al Ragù and lasagna again. As a dessert, we had the pannacotta, which was finger-licking good. Can only recommend it! (see picture above)
Best places to stay in Bologna
To make the most of your city trip to Bologna, it’s best to stay close to the historic city center. This means staying within the city walls and the outer highway loop that encircles the city. This way you will be within walking distance of the major sights to really soak up the lively atmosphere of an Italian city. Ideally, you want to look for something within a 15-minute walk of Piazza Maggiore. If you are planning some day trips or traveling by train it’s also worth checking the distance from the central train station, which is located North of the city.
Bologna is filled with accommodations for every kind of budget all within steps from the major highlights. However, we did notice that 80% of available accommodations are apartments. There are way fewer hotels in comparison and most of them turn out quite expensive. Especially when you compare this to the availability in other major cities. This is why we suggest finding an apartment that offers better value and is plentiful in Bologna.
You can find our personal recommendation for an apartment below as well as different budget options for hotels in Bologna:
The apartment stays in Bologna
Moon Bologna – For our stay in Bologna we were searching for an apartment since it was more affordable than hotels. Further, we like to have more space and our own kitchen to make our own healthy breakfasts before heading into town. Moon Bologna turned out to be the perfect stay and checked all our boxes. The Apartment was spacious enough, modern, clean, and comfortable for the two of us. It had all the kitchen facilities we needed as well as air conditioning which was a must since we were in Bologna at the end of August.
The major plus is that the stay comes with free gated parking! We were absolutely happy about this since parking is a bit more difficult in the city. The location of the stay is right outside the city walls, so like a 20-minute walk from Piazza Maggiore. Since we were traveling by car this was the ‘sacrifice’ we were willing to make. We also wanted to mention what a friendly and helpful host we had! He really made sure that we would have the best stay in Bologna and provided us with many of his personal recommendations.
Residence le Porte – If you aren’t in need of (free) parking and want to stay in the heart of Bologna, this apartment might be perfect for you. With a view directly of the two towers, the location of this residence can’t get any better. The aparthotel offers well-equipped and air-conditioned unites and is big enough for a family of four. The building even offers a terrace.
Best Budget places in Bologna
Dopa Hostel – If you want to enjoy the hostel scene, this hip hostel might be the best in town. It’s centrally located close to all the best things to do in Bologna. They offer both dorms and private rooms with a cool design.
B&B Chez Moi Lame 57 – A lovely bed and breakfast with stylish rooms. This romantic getaway offers clean and comfortable rooms, some even with balconies. Breakfast vouchers are available (if included in the rate) for a local cafe nearby.
Best Mid-Range accommodations in Bologna
Hotel Porta San Mamolo – Quiet location with a 10-minute walk to the Main Square. Modern & comfortable rooms, some with terraces with city views. Guests can enjoy an included breakfast in the hotel’s garden.
Aemilia Hotel Bologna – A modern city hotel with comfortable rooms and a great rooftop terrace with a view over the city. The hotel is 15 minutes away from the historical center, located in a quiet area. Convenient location for those who travel by car, there is an underground car park available under the hotel.
Hotel Touring – Centrally located in the historic center, very close to many bars and restaurants but on a quiet street. This family-owned hotel is loved for its homey ambiance with nice rooms and great breakfast, but most of all for its panoramic rooftop terrace.
Best Luxury hotels in Bologna
Hotel Corona d’Oro – If you feel like splurging and want to stay in a luxurious Italian hotel. The historic Corona d’Oro hotel is located near Piazza Maggiore and has its own in-house bar and restaurant. Elegant and luxurious rooms with high ceilings and marble bathrooms. They offer an extensive breakfast buffet for its guests and free bikes are available to explore the city.
We hope this guide with the best things to do in Bologna helped you out. You can show some ❤ and support for the blog and help us share more adventures! Our travels are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated. It allows us to keep writing helpful travel guides and gather information to make it easier for people to discover the world.
No time to read now? Pin it to Pinterest for later!