Bologna has to be one of the most surprising cities in Italy. Or perhaps I should use the word underrated? I had no idea this fascinating place would sky-rocket to the top of my favourite places in Italy. There are so many fantastic things to do in Bologna Italy, and just wait until you taste the incredible food too! 

It’s easy to see how this city earns its nickname “La Grassa” (the fat one). The cuisine is exceptional, and it’s difficult to stop grazing on all the incredible food this city has to offer.

Things to Do in Bologna Italy City Views

Bologna has personality. You discover it as soon as you stroll into the beautiful historic centre. The changing facades of medieval architecture, incredible churches, porticos, cool street art, and grittiness add character. This city has vibes. 

We loved Bologna so much, that it made it to our list of 15 Best Places to Visit in Italy.

Tourists to Italy generally overlook Bologna. Instead, many make a beeline straight for the famous cities on the well-trodden route. You know them, Rome, Florence, and Venice. Don’t get me wrong, these are fantastic cities, but Bologna is an undiscovered gem.

If you’re searching for an Italian escape where hotels are still affordable, the food is top-rated (and reasonably priced), and you can soak in the local vibes, then plan a visit to Bologna. 

Our comprehensive travel (and food) guide has the top things to do in Bologna Italy. It also includes places to stay in Bologna and the best day trips from Bologna too. 

Where is Bologna, Italy?

where is bologna italy map

Bologna is the capital of the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy. It is considered one of the wealthiest regions of Italy due to its quality of gastronomic and excellent wine-making practices.

It’s between Florence (to the south) and Venice (to the north) and is effortlessly accessible by train.

What is Bologna Famous for?

Bologna is famous for its food! Right here is the culinary heart of Italy. 

The Emilia-Romagna region is where many of the country’s leading products come from. Products like Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, aged balsamic vinegar, Parma ham, delicious salami and mortadella.

The region is known for its egg and filled pasta made with soft wheat flour. The most traditional dishes from Bologna are tagliatelle al ragù, and lasagne alla bolognese. It’s also known for its arched porticoes and medieval and renaissance designs.

Is Bologna Worth Visiting?

Absolutely! If you read this article until the end, you’ll find all the reasons why Bologna is worth visiting, 100%. If not for its historic buildings and porticoes, electric atmosphere, and local feel, we can guarantee that the gastronomic rewards will make you smile.

You may never want to leave this food heaven, the ultimate Italian hot spot for culinary excellence.

In Italian tradition, Bologna is called “the wise” for containing the oldest university in Europe, “the rich” for its gastronomic offerings, and “the red” for the terracotta red coloured roofs of its houses.

Ok, let’s get to it! 12 AMAZING Things To Do in Bologna Italy

1) Climb Asinelli Tower

Things to Do in Bologna Italy Climb Asinelli Tower

Things to Do in Bologna Italy – Climb Asinelli Tower

Bypass the leaning tower of Pisa; Bologna’s leaning Asinelli Tower is fantastic! (and you won’t have to deal with hordes of tourists here).

You’ll find this old leaning tower in the city centre, and the entrance fee is just 3 euros.

You can feel the tower’s age as you follow the narrow wooden stairs to discover excellent views. It’s quite the adventure! 

One of the best things to do in Bologna is climbing to Asinelli Tower’s top and get a fascinating view of the city’s ancient rooftops below. 

Right next to Asinelli Tower is Garisenda Tower, both are named after important Italian families. The story goes that the two most powerful families in Bologna had them built to try and prove which was the most powerful. It seems that the Asinelli family won, as their tower stands taller than the Garisenda tower. 

2) Stroll the Pretty Porticoes

Things to Do in Bologna Italy porticoes

My first impression of the city of Bologna was admiring the countless porticos (covered walkways). Porticoes formed the entrances to ancient Greek temples in days gone by, and Bologna has many of them.

Why are the porticoes here? As Bologna was booming due to its thriving university (founded in 1088 and is the oldest university in the world in continuous operation), the students needed additional housing. 

As the university’s location was downtown, rather than building more housing outside the city, Bologna constructed facades on the front of existing buildings into the streets. They built them high enough and wide enough to allow traffic (horses and carts) to pass by, and it’s the reason why you see the massive archways (porticoes) throughout the city.

It’s hard to fathom that today there is 45km of porticoes that allow you to stroll around the city and admire the impressive and equally beautiful structures. The best thing is that you’re covered from the elements no matter the weather, whether it’s harsh sun or rain.

My favourite porticoes were in these locations:

  • The porticoes of Piazza Santo Stefano
  • Piazza Maggiore and the Old University
  • The wooden porticoes on Via Marsala

3) Enjoy the Atmosphere in Piazza Maggiore

Things to Do in Bologna Italy Basilica di San Petronio

One of the best things to do in Bologna Italy is to soak up the vibes in Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore is the city’s primary square or meeting place, and a visit is one of the best things to do in Bologna. Begin your walk towards Piazza Maggiore by strolling down Via Indipendenza. Filled with many great restaurants, gelaterias, and independent stores selling quality goods, you could say that Via Indipendenza is a trendy and super popular street in Bologna.

Once you arrive at Piazza Maggiore, you will see that the Basilica di San Petronio dominates the square. This impressive structure is the largest and most important church in Bologna.  

The initial construction of the church began in 1390. The first thing you will notice about the church is that the facade remains unfinished, only partially clad in marble by Giacomo Ranuzzi starting from 1538. There are a few different stories as to why. 

One story is that the Pope halted construction as he didn’t like the idea of the plans for a cathedral bigger than Rome’s St Peter’s OR that the church ran out of money. 

Either way, it’s worth a visit, and I’d recommend going inside the church, too; Remember to have your knees and shoulders covered to enter.

4) Buy Quality Italian Ingredients in Quadrilatero

This experience is a must-do on our list of things to do in Bologna. Walk through the streets of the Quadrilatero, the ancient market of Bologna. 

This neighbourhood has hosted many merchants and talented artisans since the Middle Ages. 

This ancient market evolves in the area that runs from Piazza Maggiore to the Asinelli Tower. 

The Quadrilatero, a bunch of small streets sectioned off the main square (Piazza Maggiore) is full of food stalls, delicatessen, and vendors selling legs of Parma ham, beautiful home-grown vegetables, massive wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, a range of tomatoes for every dish and endless olives, preserves and jarred sauces.

This place is a food photographer’s paradise, the colours, and textures so vibrant. 

Wander down the charming Via Pescherie Vecchie, and choose from one of the many adorable restaurants to enjoy lunch or dinner. 

5) Enjoy an Aperitivo and Soak Up the Vibes

Things to Do in Bologna Aperitivo

Apertivo in Bologna with our friend, Sal

My favourite time of day in Italy! Aperitivo Time! 

An aperitivo is a pre-meal drink, usually served with one or a few light appetisers in the early hours of the evening. The appetisers are generally snacks such as olives, crisps, or small pieces of bread topped with meat & cheese. Of course, it all depends on the bar or establishment you’re enjoying your Aperitivo.

For centuries, aperitivo has been part of the culture in Italy. 

There are so many aperitivo bars in Bologna, but my favourites are Tamburini and Mercato dele Erbe (Herbs Market).

6) Eat Gelato

Things to Do in Bologna Best gelato

You can’t visit the food capital of Italy without eating Gelato. I tried a few gelato places in Bologna, and they were all delicious.

But, if I had to return to one place again, I’d return to Sorbetteria Castiglione. The pistachio and chocolate were magnificent.

7) Join a Food Tour of Bologna

The best way to enjoy Bologna’s incredible range of food is to sign up for a Food Tour. Follow a local food-lover around this delicious city and taste the best food, tasty bites and high quality produce the Emilia Romagna region has to offer. 

It’s hard to go wrong when choosing a food experience in this city, but I highly recommend this traditional food tour of Bologna for food lovers.

We use Get Your Guide to book food tours and experiences worldwide. Many tours have free cancellation within 24 hours of the activity and you can book a tour last minute too. I recommend these food experiences in Bologna listed below:

  • Guided Traditional Food Tour – Take part in a full, multi-course, traditional Bolognese lunch. You’ll visit 5 different restaurants that are hand-selected by local food experts. Your guide will tell stories and share recipes, as well as explain the history of Bologna and its famous dishes.
  • 2 Hour Food Tour Tasting Local Specialties – Take in the historical centre of Bologna with your local food guide as they take you to explore the food stalls in the Quadrilatero Market. Try three local dishes and a glass of wine and learn about the culinary traditions of Bologna.
  • Red Bus City Tour and Local Food Tasting – Explore Bologna from a modern open-top bus. Admire local historical monuments and the stunning architecture of this city. Afterward, taste some traditional food in a popular market.

8) Visit Neptune’s Fountain

Things to Do in Bologna Italy Neptunes Fountain

Recognized as one of the symbols of Bologna, you can find Neptune’s Fountain in the famed square, Piazza del Nettuno, or just next to Piazza Maggiore. Built in the mid 16th century by sculptor, Giambologna, Neptune is so captivating that many European cities replicated it. 

Things to Do in Bologna Check out this statue on Neptune's Fountain

At nighttime, the Fountain of Neptune statue casts a stunning shadow onto the walls.

You can find similar works in Brussels, Belgium, Batumi in Georgia, and another in California, between San Diego and Long Beach.

9) Search for the Hidden Canals

Things to Do in Bologna Find Hidden Canals

In the past, Bologna had a network of extensive canals. However, most waterways were covered in the 50s and 60s to modernise Bologna with buildings and car parks. But, there is a place where you can still see the old canal system.  

Keep an eye out for the Finestrella di Via Piella where you can find a wooden window frame to admire the canals.

10) Via Drapperie to shop at the markets

Things to Do in Bologna Italy Via Drapperie

If wandering through fresh food markets brings you joy (as it does for me), don’t miss this pedestrian street packed with cheese, fruit, vegetables and meat markets.

It’s an ideal place to pick up delicious Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, local cured meats such as Parma Ham, balsamic vinegar, and excellent fresh produce. 

What I loved most about these markets was the fair prices and the high quality of the goods.

11) Take a Cooking Class in Bologna

things to do in bologna italy cooking class

Seeing that you’ve come all this way to the gastronomic heart of Italy, why not join a cooking class? 

This Hands-on Home Cooking Class in Bologna teaches you the skills required to make the perfect pasta or traditional Bolognese dish. 

You will be hosted in a typical apartment in Bologna and learn how to prepare your own lunch or dinner from a friendly local chef. It doesn’t get more local that that! 

12) Walk the Longest Portico to Monte Della Guardia

Things to Do in Bologna Italy Madonna di San Luca

Things to see in Bologna Italy – The Madonna di San Luca

Take a walk from downtown Bologna to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca (church).

It is a 3.8km walk (approx 1 hour) that will take you through the longest portico (covered archways) in the world to reach the highest point of Monte Della Guardia, a 300m high forested hill. 

The views of Bologna are spectacular from here, and you can visit the beautiful church too.

Places to Stay in Bologna

best places to stay in bologna italy

The best places to stay in Bologna is in the historic city centre. You can walk to all the highlights of the city from here, including Piazza Maggiore, the Fountain of Neptune, Basilica of San Petronio and the medieval towers.

And for all the food-lovers out there, this is where all the action is – and I recommend being right in the centre of it all.

Here are my recommendations for the best places to stay in Bologna historical centre that will suit every budget.

Luxury Hotel – PHI HOTEL BOLOGNA “Al Cappello Rosso”Dating back to 1375, this is one of Bologna’s oldest boutique hotels. It’s located in the historic city centre, right next to Piazza Maggiore. Over 600 years old, this unique hotel offers modern facilities to ensure a fantastic stay in the heart of Bologna.

Mid-Range Hotel – Casa Della ZiaOnly 10 minutes walk away from Piazza Maggiore, this hotel is a great choice to be near many traditional restaurants and wonderful markets close by. Bologna Central Station is a 10-minute drive if taking a taxi.

Budget Hotel – Bibliò Rooms Guesthouse – Great location, comfortable beds, great amenities, and wonderful hosts. This is a great hotel to use as a base to do all the amazing things to do in Bologna.

Best Restaurants in Bologna

Things to Do in Bologna Italy tagliatelle al ragù

Oltre 

This restaurant knows good food! The fantastic menu focuses on fresh pasta, homemade sauces and creativity. I loved the fresh rigatoni, salted butter & sausage of cinta senese dish.

They also offer a 6-dish degustation menu for a min of 2 people for 53 euros per person (excluding drinks). Excellent value for the quality of food served here if you ask me. Highly recommended.

Trattoria da Serghei

A local trattoria serving homemade traditional dishes, fresh pasta with great service. Try it, you will not be disappointed.

La Mela 

Usually I’d steer you away from eating anywhere near the main plaza of any Italian city, as this is where you’re generally charged high tourist rates to eat, and the food is generally pretty average.

But Bologna is different, this isn’t a huge touristy city (yet), and this restaurant located in Piazza Maggiore is a great choice to eat traditional food of Bologna, without the silly price tag.

I’d recommend you order either the tortellini con panna e prosciutto (cream and ham) or tagliatelle al ragù (pasta with ragu sauce)

How to Get to Bologna

You can fly directly to Bologna Airport from International and European destinations. Aviasales usually offers the most competitive fares.

Bologna is easily accessible by train. We travelled to Bologna by train from Milan and took several day trips from Bologna by train. The easiest way to reserve your tickets is on Trainline.

If you’re flying to Italy from outside Europe, you may find better international flight deals directly to Venice, Florence, or Milan. Then, from here, you can take a train to Bologna and begin your culinary adventure!

How to Reach your Hotel from Bologna Airport 

The easiest way to make your way from Bologna airport to your hotel in the city is to book a private transfer for around 40 euros.

Alternatively, a taxi for the 15-minute ride to the city is approximately 20 – 30 euros. There is also a train that runs frequently from the airport to Bologna Central station. The price is around 10 euros per person.

What to do in Bologna for a day?

Things to Do in Bologna Italy

If you’re wondering what to do in Bologna for a day, follow our suggestions above, which will cover the major attractions. Furthermore, the historic centre of Bologna is the most interesting, and the city is an excellent size to explore on foot. 

Bologna is becoming a favoured weekend destination for visitors from the UK and neighbouring European countries. There are some great airfares to be snapped up if you book in advance. Check Aviasales for any deals to Bologna from your selected origin.

If you have the time to spend 3 or 4 days in Bologna, you could immerse yourself in the city’s local charm, visit all the historical interests and have time for a cooking class or food tour too. 

My favourite time of day in this city is in the evening when the town comes alive as it’s not so hot. Small bars and restaurants open for business, live music is played, and the atmosphere is terrific. 

Oh, and the most significant decision of the day is where to eat the best food in Bologna. The answer to that isn’t so difficult, as great food surrounds you!

Best Day Trips from Bologna

There are some awesome Day Trips from Bologna. Whether it’s wine, food, history, or just enjoying the stunning Italian countryside is your thing, these are the two most popular day trips from Bologna:

  • Parma: Gastronomic Tour with Lunch – I’ll admit that this day trip may be a little too pricey for some, but it’s pretty awesome! You get to visit the food valley of Parma and discover the production of Parmigiano Reggiano AND the famous Parma Ham. Enjoy a delicious lunch at a local restaurant and admire the scenery of this stunning region.

  • Emilia Excellence Food Tour – You may only get to visit this region once, and this Food Tour is something to remember for years to come. Go behind the scenes of famous Emilian cuisine on this 7-hour tasting and learning tour. Tour a dairy factory, a vinegar-production site, and a wine cellar. Taste delicious Parmigiano Reggiano, Modena vinegar, and Lambrusco wine too. 

Recommended Tours in Bologna

And that’s our summary of the best things to see in Bologna! We hope you’ll enjoy this city as much as we did. 

More Travel Tips and Inspiration for Travelling in Italy

We absolutely love this country, and we wrote a bunch of detailed posts to help you travel around Italy. If you plan to travel more in Italy, then check out our comprehensive travel guides. Our 3 days in Rome Perfect Itinerary has everything you need for the best stay. Take your choice of the Top Rated Vatican Tours.

We’ve even got a dedicated food post about the 10 Amazing Dishes in Rome You Need to Try.

Our Complete Guide to Florence in 2 Days Itinerary has covered all bases and we’ll let you in on our secret of where to eat the best pizza in Florence.

Are you heading to Venice? Here are the Top 10 Best Things to do in Venice.

And if you’re wondering about how to visit the most beautiful part of Italy, read our post about the amazing Lake Como, Bellagio in Italy.

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