Bologna is what I wish all cities were like. It’s one of the most underrated cities in Italy, but I’m not mad about that at all. Despite its beautiful streets, rich food culture, energetic markets, and down-to-earth atmosphere, it’s often overlooked by tourists who end up in Northern Italy (usually visiting Venice, Florence and Rome). This is exactly what makes it a perfect destination city for your Italian holiday.
The historic city of Bologna is a total gem. The city’s veins carry a youthful, vibrant energy while the architecture and history dates back centuries. What does that exactly mean for you? You’ll get to experience a wide array of activities, from climbing medieval towers and visiting old basilicas to taking interactive food tours and visiting modern art museums.
There are truly so many cool things to do in Bologna. This Bologna travel guide will help you navigate through it all so you don’t miss a beat.
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WHERE IS BOLOGNA LOCATED?
Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy. The city is located between other notable cities like Florence to the south, Milan to the northwest, and Venice to the north. Bologna is easily accessible by train and plane.
Throughout history, Bologna has served as a major cultural and economical hub in Italy. Furthermore, due to its location, the city also serves as a major transport hub.
IS BOLOGNA WORTH VISITING?
Absolutely. To this day, Bologna remains one of my favorite Northern Italy cities and I’m itching to go back as soon as possible! As a major university town and with its important historical significance, Bologna has a wide array of sights and sounds all its own. It’s a vibrant, lighthearted city that’s jam-packed with food, history, culture, and academia.
Another reason why I love Bologna? A trip to Bologna can easily be combined with other big-city destinations like Florence or Venice. And because it’s a less-traveled destination, it’ll give you a nice break from the tourists and crowds (so you can eat and drink everything your heart desires.. in peace!).
If you’re looking for more reasons to visit Bologna, I’ve got you covered with a mini-history lesson! Bologna is known for three main things, la dotta (the learned), la grassa (the fat), and la rossa (the red).
Bologna University, you guessed it, is located right there in Bologna. Founded in 1088, it is the oldest university in the western world and draws students from all over the world. As such, Bologna carries a very youthful and vibrant vibe. During the aperitivo and nightlife hours, you’ll find the city bustling with students
Bologna is also a culinary hotspot, along with the rest of the Emilia-Romagna region. This region is where many of Italy’s world-renowned products come from. If you’ve ever tasted tagliatelle al ragu, aged balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, Proscuitto di Parma (Parma ham), piadina, tortellini, or mortadella, then you’ve had a taste of Emilia-Romagna. Italian here take pride in the food they produce, and you’ll find no better place to visit if you’re a foodie.
Bologna is also known for its beautifully uniform terracotta roofs. When you’re here, you have to pay the Asinelli Tower a visit so you can see the tiled roofs from above for yourself. They didn’t nickname it la rossa for nothing!
Architecture fans, Bologna’s got something else for you–porticos! Porticos, or arches, can be seen extending upwards from almost every building. There are nearly 25 miles (40 km) of porticos in Bologna. They were originally built in the late Middle Ages to create extra living space and now serve as convenient awnings that protect you from the rain and sun as you walk around the city.
In fact, Bologna is home to the longest portico system in the world at nearly 4km. It starts just outside the city walls and extends uphill to Santuario di Madonna di San Luca (a very heart-pumping, yet pleasant stroll you should consider doing).
As you can see, Bologna is a really unique city and a great place to soak in authentic Italian culture away from the crowds.
BEST TIME TO VISIT BOLOGNA
The best time to visit Bologna is during spring and autumn (Late April to May and September to October) when the weather is not too cold from the winter and not too hot from the stifling summer heat that’s all too common in Europe.
Spring: Spring is a great time to visit. Temperatures between March and May range between 12°C and 26°C, with the average highs climbing towards the end of May. Though there may be a few rainy days here and there, spring remains one of my favorite times to visit due to its very pleasant weather.
Summer: If you plan on visiting during the summertime, be prepared for hot and humid weather. The heat can be a little unbearable at times with temperatures in the city often peaking above 30ºC.
Autumn: The temperature highs start to drop off starting in late August, and by September the temperatures will range between 10ºC and 28ºC. Cooler temperatures mean more comfortable exploration. If you’re travelling on a budget, this is a great time to visit as it’s Bologna’s slowest season and there are often good deals on accommodations!
Pro Tip: Autumn is also the beginning of truffle season in Bologna! And if you’re traveling towards the end of Autumn (October), there are many food festivals that celebrate seasonal delicacies. Festivals include a mortadella festival, Lambrusco festival, truffle festival, tortellini festival, wine festivals, chestnut festivals, and many more.
Winter: In my opinion, winters are pretty rough in Italy (I’m from California, so extreme weather is my weakness). From December to February, Bologna gets cold and heavy snowfall is not uncommon at this time. Days are also shorter. If you like the cold, then this is a great time to visit.
HOW MANY DAYS TO SPEND IN BOLOGNA?
I would strongly recommend 3 full days in Bologna. Part of the fun of visiting Bologna is being able to eat the food there. If you only spend 1-2 days here, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice by not allowing yourself to try all the local flavors (and there are a lot to try here, trust me)!
Bologna’s vibrant, laidback atmosphere also makes it an ideal place to linger longer and catch your breath for a few moments. Here, you can travel slower and take in the sights and sounds at a more relaxing pace (compared to more bustling cities like Florence or Milan).
I’d recommend making Bologna your home base for about 3-4 days and doing a day trip or two half-day trips to neighboring towns.
TRANSPORTATION: HOW TO GET TO BOLOGNA
If you’re traveling internationally, the quickest way to get to Bologna is by flying directly into Bologna G. Marconi Airport (BLQ). Because this is a smaller airport, it tends to be a bit more expensive than flying into other airports like Milan (MXP or LIN) or Rome (FCO).
If you’re flying from within the EU, you are in luck, because there are a few budget airlines that fly into BLQ (such as Ryanair and Easyjet).
You could also fly into Florence or Parma, but these airports tend to also be more expensive than Milan or Rome.
My recommendation is to do a search for flights from multiple airports on Google Flights or Skyscanner, looking for the cheapest flights. A train from Milan to Bologna is only 1 hour long, so you certainly have options!
If you do fly into the Bologna G. Marconi Airport (BLQ), getting from the airport to the city center is easy and inexpensive by bus or shuttle bus. The trip will take about 20 minutes, with buses run every twenty minutes.
If you’re traveling from another part of Italy, the best way to travel around Italy is by train. You can check train times to Bologna on the Trenitalia website.
Trenitalia has high-speed trains that I think are the best bang for your buck if you book early enough. Prices for the Freccia fast trains are much lower if you book online a few months in advance. Take a look at some samples routes here from some of the most popular Italian cities:
- Florence to Bologna – 35 minutes
- Venice to Bologna – 1.5 hours
- Rome to Bologna – 2 hours
- Milan to Bologna – 1 hour
Pro Tip: When using Trenitalia, make sure to input the Italian name for the city you’re searching for (i.e. Milano instead of Milan, Firenze instead of Florence, Torino instead of Turin).
If you don’t want to be bothered with those details, you can use ItaliaRail. They do charge a small booking fee, but the site is much simpler to use for English speakers.
If you happen to take a train to Bologna, you will get off at Bologna Centrale, which is the city’s main train station, located at the northern edge of the city center (on Piazza Medaglie d’Oro). It’s about a 20-minute walk to the city center.
TRANSPORTATION: HOW TO GET AROUND BOLOGNA
I would recommend doing most of your exploration on foot. Most of Bologna’s churches, markets, and piazzas are downtown, fully navigable by foot.
In Bologna I was able to get around most places on foot without breaking much of a sweat. The city isn’t hilly, and there are porticos everywhere conveniently providing pedestrians with shade. Some destinations were a bit farther away from the city center (like the Madonna di San Luca), but because I love to walk, it wasn’t bothered by the distance.
If you do plan on visiting farther away destinations (or plan on taking day trips), I’d recommend training or busing to these locations.
As Bologna is a university city, you will see many people on bikes. Biking is a great way to see Bologna and the city is filled with easy-to-navigate bike paths. Renting a bike for a day will definitely make touring easier on your feet.
BIKEinBO has a “bicycle to your door” service, where you can have a bike delivered to your door, wherever you’re staying in Bologna.
If you’d rather not walk or bike, you could take the city bus. If you’re staying in neighborhoods outside the city center, then you’ll most likely need to take the bus depending on how far out you are.
Bologna has an efficient bus system, run by TPER. Tickets can be purchased at tobacco stands, newspaper kiosks, on the Roger app, or directly on board buses.
A single ticket fare costs €1.50 (€2 onboard) and transfers are free within a 75-minute window of your ticket validation, If you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling throughout the day, go for a 24-hour ticket (giornaliero) which costs €6. If you’re going to be traveling throughout Bologna for several days, a 10-trip City Pass is €14.
MAP OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN BOLOGNA, ITALY
20+ BEST THINGS TO DO IN BOLOGNA, ITALY
Now that I’ve convinced you to visit Bologna, Italy… let’s get into the fun stuff. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Bologna (a lot of it is food related, as it should be)!
EAT ALL THE TAGLIATELLE AL RAGU
I had to start the list off with food. Gastronomy is at the heart of Bologna (and the entire Emilia-Romagna region), so you absolutely cannot miss their staple dish–tagliatelle al ragu. Tagliatelle al ragu consists of freshly made egg pasta with a delicious fatty meat sauce that’s been slow-cooked for hours. It’s absolutely delightful.
One of my all-time favorite places to get tagliatelle al ragu is at Osteria dell’Orsa. There are no frills about this restaurant. Just straight up good food at affordable prices. Osteria dell’Orsa is located in Bologna downtown in the university area.
Pro Tip: This is NOT the same thing as “spaghetti bolognese”, which we often call meat pasta here in the USA. Spaghetti bolognese is not actually an Italian dish.
TAKE A BOLOGNA FOOD TOUR
I recommend taking a food tour at the beginning of your trip so that you can deepen your knowledge of the amazing food culture here. Not only will it be fun and ful-“filling” (ha ha), but it’ll help you make the most of the meals you eat during the rest of your stay!
Your tour guide will take you around the markets, pasta shops, and food stalls, stopping to sample things like olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, and Prosciutto di Parma. Learning about history, culture, and local food products while taste testing everything? What a win!
Here are a few Bologna food tours that come highly recommeneded:
- Bologna Food Experience: Factory Visits with Gourmet Lunch and Wine Tasting
- Full-day culinary tour; visit local factories to understand how Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Modena balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, and wine are produced.
- Enjoy samples of fresh, hand-crafted products along the way and indulge in breakfast and multi-course Italian lunch with wine pairings.
- Bologna Food Tour From A Local’s Perspective
- Small-group tour where your local guide will take you to family-owned restaurants and cafes away from the tourists
- Makes up to six stops for food, dessert, and wine
HANG OUT AT PIAZZA MAGGIORE
Piazza Maggiore is the main square and a must-see landmark while you’re in Bologna. It’s the perfect place to start your exploration of the city. Wander around by foot, take in the views of the impressive Renaissance architecture, or simply have a seat and watch the pedestrians pass you by.
On one side of the plaza, you’ll find the very unmissable Basilica di San Petronio. On the other sides, you’ll see other grand palaces including Palazzo d’Accursio (this was once the Town Hall).
Piazza Maggiore is all in all a great place to catch a break or eat lunch. Simply grab something from any of the nearby restaurants and have a seat on the stairs for a delightful afternoon meal under the sun.
Just around the corner of the Piazza Maggiore, you will find a very impressive 16th-century Neptune Fountain built by Flemish sculptor Giambologna. Don’t miss it!
SEE THE BASILICA DI SAN PETRONIO
The Basilica di San Petronio, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, is located within Piazza Maggiore and is the largest and most important church in Bologna.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Basilica of San Petronio is the stark contrast of the upper half of the church compared to the bottom half. Interestingly enough, the marble façade of this 17th-century church is actually only half-finished. The church was never finished, which is why today we get to enjoy views of its exposed brown brick.
After you’re done admiring the outside, head on in. Even if you’re not religious, you’ll be able to appreciate what’s inside, as this structure houses a ton of history. Inside the basilica itself, there are over 20 different smaller chapels that are easy to see and visit. Do not miss the longest sundial in the world, measuring 67.27 meters, by the astronomer Cassini.
Entrance is free, but if you want to go to the panoramic terrace, there is a small entry fee. If you love sweeping views, don’t miss the chance to take the elevator to the top for picturesque views of the city.
CLIMB THE ASINELLI TOWER
Bologna’s famously beautiful terracotta roofs are best admired from above. The best place to get epic aerial views? Atop the leaning Asinelli Tower, 498 steps up! From the top, you can enjoy stunning 360º views of Piazza Maggiore, the other leaning Garisenda Tower, and the picturesque hills surrounding the city. Who knew Pisa wasn’t the only city with leaning towers??
There is an admission fee (€5 for adults), and you must book your ticket in advance on the Due Torri website. The admission fee is pretty affordable and 100% worth it. You can really get your money’s worth by spending a few extra moments soaking it all in.
Pro Tip: Go early and beat the crowds. The view is that much better when it’s peaceful and quiet. Since you’ll be climbing almost 500 stairs, wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
SHOP FOR MEATS AND CHEESES IN THE QUADRILATERO
The Quadrilatero is one of the most lively areas of the city. This quaint cluster of narrow streets in the city center is lined with cafes, bars, and specialty food shops. It has long served as Bologna’s market and trading area since the Middle Ages. Today, it’s still full of delis, stalls, and cheese shops selling cured meats, giant wheels of cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Quadrilatero is a good place to pick up cheese and cured meats, especially if you plan to have a little picnic or a meal at your hotel. Via Pescherie Vecchie is one of the cutest streets there, so don’t miss a little stroll through this section.
Pro Tip: If you think it’s busy during the day, wait until you see it at night. Head here if you’re looking for nightlife in Bologna!
VISIT THE MODERN ART MUSEUM
Art enthusiasts, this one’s for you. The Bologna Museum of Modern Art (known as MAMbo) features Italian modern art in a very interesting space (that used to be a bakery). The permanent collection covers Italian art from World War II to the present day. The museum also carries temporary exhibits throughout the year, so be sure to check the site for current exhibitions. There is also a cafe on site. If you are interested in modern Italian art this is a must.
VISIT THE BASILICA DI SANTO STEFANO
Ready to get a dose of medieval life? Consisting of various churches, chapels and courtyards linked by winding passageways and cloisters, exploring the Basilica di Santo Stefano is a truly unique experience. It is mainly known as sette chiese (“seven churches”) because it quite literally houses multiple buildings built during different eras (between the 5th and 13th centuries).
Originally there were seven churches, but only four remain intact today– Chiesa del Crocefisso, Chiesa della Trinità, Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro and Santi Vitale e Agricola. Wander through the rooms and enjoy the early Christian relics, artwork and sculptures, and beautiful mosaic floors.
Entrance is free. You can also buy memory coins.
ENJOY APERITIVO BEFORE DINNER
While you’re in Bologna, be sure to save some time to enjoy aperitivo (happy hour) before your dinner meal! Try a local wine or an Aperol spritz and enjoy some light bites in a “buffet” fashion while you’re sipping on your drinks. Food-wise, you can expect a spread of various meats, cheeses, breads, pizzas, and light pasta dishes for snacking on. As long as you are drinking, you can continue to nibble on the appetizers!
Aperitivo is a great way to fill your appetite for cheap, especially if it doesn’t take much to get you full! Wondering where to go? Start at Zerocinquantino, one of my favorite spots to go for pre-dinner drinks.
SEE THE ARCHIGINNASIO OF BOLOGNA
The Archiginnasio of Bologna is one of the most important buildings in the city of Bologna. It was once the main building of the University of Bologna, and it currently houses the Archiginnasio Municipal Library and the Anatomical Theatre.
The Anatomical Theater is one of the more unusual Bologna tourist attractions on this list (but oh so fascinating if you’re interested in biology or science like I am). The Anatomical Theater was built in 1636 and was the setting of many educational autopsies. Imagine being a student, perched in one of the seats above, watching dissections occur in the middle of the room. Just take a look around– this is easily the most grandeur place for such a thing to be taking place!
After seeing the anatomical theatre, check out the vast library and the Stabat Mater Lecture Hall, then take a stroll around the rest of the grounds and enjoy the elaborate wall art adorning the building.
SHOP FOR PRODUCE AT THE MERCATO DELLE ERBE
Visiting food markets where locals tend to shop themselves is always one of my favorite things to do on a trip. If you also like strolling through food markets, Mercato Delle Erbe is the place for you. It’s a chef’s dream!
Stop at each of the specialty shops to get all the fruits, cheeses, meats, bread, produce, and fresh pasta your heart desires. There are also a few food stalls here where you can get prepared foods such as sandwiches, pizza, fried snacks or even full entrees.
EXPLORE THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF GHETTO EBRAICO
Ghetto Ebraico, or the historical Jewish quarter, is one of the coolest, hippest places to explore in Bologna. This historical neighborhood dates back to 1555 when Pope Paul IV restricted all Jews to a small area of the city, which was then walled in. Today, the ghetto has a wide array of amazing street art, shops, bakeries, restaurants and bars. The synagogue here is gorgeous and worth a visit as well.
FICO EATALY WORLD
FICO Eataly World Bologna bills itself as the world’s largest agri-food theme park and aims to teach people about where their food comes from. The 25-acre park will show people how food gets from the farm/field to fork, with more than 200 animals and 2,000 species of plants living at the park.
More farm than theme park, FICO Eataly World is dedicated to teaching the world about Italian cuisine through its workshops, markets, restaurants, and classrooms. There are also 45 different on-site restaurants, trattorias and takeaway kiosks, featuring cuisine from across Italy.
Sure it’s probably a bit touristy, but who doesn’t want to say they went to a “food theme park” or learn more about what they’re eating?
TAKE A WALK TO THE SANTUARIO DI MADONNA DI SAN LUCA
Perched right on top of a hill on the outskirts of the city is the Sanctuary of the Madonna. Taking an urban hike to Santuario di Madonna di San Luca is easily one of the best things to do in Bologna. Sure, it’s a farther distance away from the city center, but it’s totally worth the effort.
Start by exiting the city from Porta Saragozza and follow the portico all the way to the top. The path will be flat until the Arco del Meloncello–from there, it’ll be an uphill climb. From the church, you can enjoy sweeping views of the city and countryside. If you’re looking for even better views, you can get them on the rooftop of the church by climbing a narrow spiral staircase (admission fee is €5).
You can expect a 45 to 60-minute walk (2.5 miles) from the city center under the 666 arches of the Portico San Luca, the longest in the world. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes for this activity. A walk to the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca is a must-do for travelers who don’t mind hills and are looking to burn off some of those delicious food calories!
If you don’t want to walk up to San Luca, you can take the San Luca Express bus. This is a red bus that completes a circuit of ~12 stops around the city, including San Luca.
ADMIRE THE PORTICOS
If you still haven’t caught on, Bologna is uniquely characterized by porticos that line nearly the entire city. As they are a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, they’re worth stopping to admire. Don’t forget to look up during your exploration!
SHOP AT MERCATO PIAZZOLA
If you’ve got some time to kill and want to get some retail therapy in, head to Mercato Piazzola. Mercato Piazzola is filled with all kinds of shopping stalls and eateries. If you’re a non-pretentious shopper, then it’s a great place to find a gift.
Here you can find practically anything for sale from clothes, shoes, fashion accessories, flowers, pottery and jewelry. Dust off those haggling skills and have fun exploring! You might not come away with anything, but it’s a good place to spend an hour or two.
VISIT THE GELATO MUSEUM
This one is so fun. Who can resist a gelato museum?? The Carpigiani Gelato Museum is the only museum dedicated to the history of artisan gelato! Here, you’ll be able to learn everything you need to know about gelato and see 19th-century ice-cream carts and vintage gelato-making equipment. If you want to sample a flavor or two of gelato, opt for the “Taste Gelato History” tour.
The museum is a 30-minute drive out of the city (you can also get here by bus), but it’s ideal for foodies who want to learn more about gelato and even try their hand at making their own. Reservations are a must, especially if you don’t speak a lick of Italian, as there are only two English tours per day.
DAY TRIP TO PARMA
Parma is another charming little town in the Emilia-Romagna region. Also a university town, Parma is known for its architecture, music, art, and food (duh). As you can tell by the name of these iconic foods, Prosciutto di Parma and Parmagiano-Reggiano (parmesan cheese) originated here.
Parma can be easily explored on a day trip. Start by strolling around the city center, exploring the various shops, the Parma Cathedral (so beautiful on the inside), and the pink-marbled Baptistery (octagonal baptistery adorned in crazy gorgeous artwork). If you have more time, try to catch a performance at the Teatro Regio di Parma.
If you’re a foodie, don’t miss the chance to take a factory tour in the countryside to sample some of Italy’s most famous foods: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma Ham. If you love cheese and meats, then you need to book a factory tour to learn about the process of how these foods are made. This combo factory tour combines three of the most famous Italian food products from the region—Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Prosciutto di Parma— in just half a day.
All in all, Parma is a wonderful destination for those who appreciate art, architecture and Italian food.
DAY TRIP TO MODENA
Ready for another gastronomic adventure? If so, take a quick 30-minute train ride right on over to Modena. If you didn’t know, Modena is the home to the world’s finest balsamic vinegar. Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from fresh grapes cooked almost to a syrup and aged in wooden barrels for two decades or more. If you haven’t given real Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena a try, you’ve been missing out!
Modena is also home to some of the best restaurants in the world, including the three-Michelin-star restaurant by Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana. If you’re a Massimo fan or a foodie for all things Italian, you’ve just hit the jackpot of fine dining experiences. Be sure to book reservations way in advance to secure a seat at the restaurant.
Aside from the gastronomy this city offers, Modena is a pleasant city to wander around. Be sure to stop and see the Piazza Grande, Mercato Albinelli (selling colorful, fresh produce and fine food products), the Ducal Palace, the Duomo, and the Ghirlandina Tower. Visiting the Ferrari museum and doing balsamic vinegar tastings are two of the most popular things to do in Modena as well.
If you’re looking to explore Modena as part of a guided tour, this tour from Bologna is exactly what you’re looking for:
DAY TRIP TO VILLAGIO DELLA SALUTE PIU
In the hills of Monterenzio, Italy, you’ll find an aqua-escape from the city life, Villaggio della Salute Piu. This aqua park/spa complex features more than a dozen pools, with various slides, fountains, and other fun water features. The water park is great for the kids and the spa area is great for the adults looking to get some rest and relaxation. There are multiple options for food, including a trattoria (restaurant serving full meals) and other quicker options.
Villaggio della Salute Piu is about 50 minutes away by car from Bologna’s city center. If you can find your way out here, it’s a great way to spend a day (or overnight) relaxing after all the sightseeing you’ve done in Bologna!
LOCAL FOODS TO TRY IN BOLOGNA
- tagliatelle al ragù – thick strips of fresh egg pasta with a decadent, slow-cooked meat sauce.
- tortellini – meat-stuffed pasta dumplings typically served in broth
- piadina – a flat bread sandwich filled with many different fixings choose from.
- Prosciutto di Parma – sliced cured meat that can only be produced from the hind legs of specially-selected heritage breed pigs raised in the 11 approved regions of Italy
- Pignoletto – a fruity sparkling white wine, almost like prosecco.
- Lambrusco – a sparkling red wine from the Emilia-Romagna region
Don’t forget to get your fill of gelato wherever you are in Italy—real gelato is so irresistible, especially on a warm summer day!
LOCAL EVENTS IN BOLOGNA, ITALY
- Film Festival (January) – with various screenings in central Bologna
- Carnevale (February) – a child-friendly parade that winds its way down Via Indipendenza through to Piazza Maggiore. To experience more famous Carnival festivals, head to Cento or Venice (famous for celebration with parades, parties, costumed entertainment, and crazy floats)
- The Bologna Childrens Book Fair (March/April) – the world’s leading professional event dedicated to the children’s publishing industry attracting over 1,400 exhibitors and around 30,000 visitors from around 80 countries
- Grandi Interpreti (April to June) – series of outdoor concerts and musical events great performers to celebrate internationally prestigious symphonic groups
- Sintonia d’Assoli (May to July) – modern jazz festival attracting many prominent jazz artists and musicians
- Il Cinema Ritrovato (June to July) – massive open-air cinema screen in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore. The Cinema Ritrovato festival screens cinema classics that have been restored. Silent films are often shown with full orchestra.
- Bologna Sogna Open Festival (July to August) – features concerts, films, theatrical performances and other popular events
- Bologna Festival (July) – with major events, concerts and celebrations held all around the city
- Cioccoshow (November) – a fair celebrating the best of chocolate, takes place in the main squares of the city.
- New Year’s Eve Festival (December) – Constantly evolving event (usually involves an organized show) which culminates in the burning of the Vecchione (Old Man) in a bonfire, which represents the burning of the old year and the welcoming of the new year, usually followed by fireworks.
WHERE TO STAY IN BOLOGNA, ITALY
In my opinion, Central Bologna is the best place to stay. By staying near the city center, you’ll be walking distance from almost all of the attractions in Bologna.
Anywhere within a 10-minute walk of Piazza Maggiore would be ideal. If you are planning to do a few day trips by train, consider staying within walking distance from the train station as well.
During my last solo trip through Europe, I stayed at Dopa Hostel. It was such a cute and clean hostel–with the added perk of weekly community dinners! Don’t know the first thing about where to eat or what to do for nightlife? The workers there will give you all the pointers you need. If I were to travel back to Bologna alone on an upcoming trip, I would totally stay there again in a heartbeat!
Not into hostels? There are a ton more options! Search for prices and availability for Bologna accommodation here on Booking.com (they guarantee the best prices for any type of property and no booking fees).
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR BOLOGNA, ITALY
- Bologna is compact enough to walk almost anywhere. Unless you’re planning on taking a day trip that’s inaccessible by train, there is no need to rent a car. Walking is the best way to explore the narrow, winding streets of the city. Who knows, you might discover a new hidden bar or restaurant!
- Bologna is an absolute haven for foodies. Eating here is quite simply one of the best things to do in Bologna. You should 100% make time to try as many local specialties as you can (tagliatelle al ragù, Parmigiano Reggiano, tortellini in brodo, tortelloni, mortadella, Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, and more).
- Bologna is a lot quieter than other tourist destinations in Italy. Which is why I can’t say enough good things about this city. Despite it being a lively university city, it still feels laidback and calm.
- Bologna is a pretty covered city. By porticos, which are actually on UNESCO’s world-heritage list. This means more outdoor spaces to enjoy (and more al fresco dining opportunities)!
- You don’t need to tip at restaurants in Bologna (or the rest of Italy). Tipping is not expected. However, there is sometimes a service charge at restaurants. More on that below.
- There is coperto (cover charge) at most restaurants. Coperto is like a per-person cover charge for things like the tablecloth, silverware, plates, bread, etc. Expect to pay between €2-3 for the coperto charge, which will need to be paid regardless of whether you eat or not. So eat up!
- Credit card is widely accepted in Bologna. And when the machine asks you to choose a currency, always pay in the local currency! We still recommend carrying a few euros in case you come across a restaurant or bar that doesn’t yet take card.
- Bologna pairs really well with other nearby Italian destinations like Rome, Florence, and Venice. If you’d like to see additional lesser-known cities, consider this tour, where you’ll get to explore 9 picturesque Italian cities in 5 days:
- Best of Italy: 5-Day Escorted Tour from Rome – depart from Rome and visit Assisi, Siena, Florence, Pisa, Bologna, Padova, Venice and Montepulciano.
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST FOR BOLOGNA, ITALY
- Travel backpack | I love my Osprey Aura 65 so much. It’s extremely comfortable because of its super intense hip belt (if you get it, you’ll see what I mean) and perfect for those warm travel days due to the ventilation technology. If you’re looking for a new travel bag, GET THIS BAG! You won’t regret it.
- Packing cubes | You need to get these, they are amazing. However you choose to organize your clothes— by day, by the outfit, by type—these will be the most useful thing you have in your packing artillery. You’ll no longer need to go through the entire suitcase for that one thing you’re looking for because you’ll know exactly where it’s at.
- Everyday bag | A mini backpack that can fit a water bottle is a great option. Another good option for days where you’re not feeling the backpack look is a medium-sized, cross-body bag.
- Shoes | Bring one or two pairs of comfortable walking shoes with good support and traction. I usually go with one pair of sneakers (gives you the ability to go for a run in the morning and then walk all day in them) and another pair of cuter shoes when I want to dress up a bit more. For your second pair, consider sandals for the summertime.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Travel adapter | Necessary for many EU countries. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
- Light Jacket or Cardigan | Ideally, this jacket will be a lightweight, water-resistant, windbreaker. You’ll be walking around a lot, the last thing you want is to be lugging around a jacket that you may or may not wear.
- Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the spring or autumn seasons, you’re going to need layers in Bologna, which tends to get pretty cool nights. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of adventuring!
- Shawl or scarf | One of my Europe must-haves! I’ll always have a medium sized thin scarf in my bag. Not only can you use them for warmth or style, you can use them as a coverup in churches and other sensible places, as a towel, as a mat on grass/sand/dirt, as a quick rain shield, or as an emergency skirt if your bottoms get stained or soaked somehow.
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. Even when I’m not hiking! It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Sunhat | Sun protection is key for any sunny European destination.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a day of extended walking or bike ride but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Squeeze bottles | GoToob travel bottles are my favorite thing ever. Made of high-quality silicone, they are extremely durable, have never leaked on me, and are super easy to squeeze. They have different TSA-approved sizes.
- Moisturizer with SPF | You’ll be out in the sun all day. Save yourself face from premature aging and sunburns.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Travel belt/money belt | Thief proof! I used a Flip Belt when I went out exploring, which doubled as my running belt. I swear, this thing doesn’t budge or jiggle at all when you run, plus it’s super comfortable!
- Travel pillow | This one by Turtl is the one! It comes highly rated because it has so much support, almost like a neck brace (there’s a chunk of flexible plastic in there to prop your head up). It’s warm and super packable too.
- Foldable tote bag | Great for doing groceries or carrying your belongings in a pinch.
- Laundry bag | Keep your worn clothes separate from your clean ones, especially when traveling to high humidity places such as the EU. When it’s humid, you’ll just be sticky all day and all that stickiness will transfer to your clothes. In either case, you will inevitably have dirty socks and undies to toss in here.
- Small lock | If you’re staying in hostels, you may need to provide your own lock for the lockers. Otherwise, this can be used on your luggage bag when you’re traveling and checking your luggage.
- Small Massage Ball | One of the best things in my bag, hands down. Roll your legs, upper back, and under your feet whenever you have downtime to undo that tension and soreness you’ve built up over the course of the day’s adventures. This one by TriggerPoint is my go-to.
- Money | A mix of local currency because you’ll need it, and your home currency for emergencies.
- Tickets and travel documents | Passport, student ID (for all those great student discounts), medical card, proof of travel insurance, printed documents of your flight/hotel bookings, visas if you need them
- Travel cards | Credit cards, debit cards, airport lounge access cards, visas
And that’s our Bologna travel guide! We hope you’ve found some great ideas for your Italian travel itinerary. And if you’ve been to Bologna before, what are some of your favorite things to do in Bologna? I’d love to learn more and add it to my list for my next trip!