Bologna: What to do & See

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Bologna, the capital of the Emilia–Romagna Region, is a beautiful city with a historic center and many tourist attractions. However, it attracts a smaller number of tourists than other similar cities. It is also a stop on high-speed trains, which zip across Italy. This makes it easy to add this city to any Italy itinerary. Florence is just a half hour from Bologna and Milan takes just over an hours.

Although the university is a major attraction, it keeps the city lively and alive all year. My favorite thing to do is simply wander around Bologna, looking for churches and other historical buildings. Or I wait until my next opportunity to eat. Here are some ideas for people who want to know more about Bologna and how to spend your time there (or how to get hungry again).

My Bologna travel guide will help you plan your trip.

Bologna’s Top Attractions

Piazza Maggiore || creative commons photo by Vanni Lazzari

  • Food Bologna, a country famous for its exceptional cuisine is still a popular destination for foodies. This city and its surrounding area is where you can find staples like tortellini (and parmigiano-reggiano), prosciutto. balsamic vinegar, mortadella and the city’s famous lasagne alla Bolognese. For snacks and souvenirs, eat heartily and without shame at the Quadrilatero’s food markets.
  • Piazza Maggiore Bologna’s main square has beautiful buildings and is large. On one palazzo, you will find the statue of Pope Gregory XIII’s hometown boy and on the other facade of the Basilica of San Petronio. You can also find outdoor cafe tables, which are perfect for people-watching and short breaks.
  • Asinelli & Garisenda TowersPisa doesn’t have the only off-kilter tower in Italy. Bologna has two towers that are still standing. The shorter tower, Garisenda, is so far in the leaning that it isn’t open to the public. But La Torre Asinelli is. You can climb the stairs to enjoy a spectacular view of central Bologna for only a few euros. They are known as Le Due Torri or the Two Towers and are one of Bologna’s most iconic symbols.
  • Neptune Fountain The Neptune statue, which is atop a fountain at the Piazza Maggiore’s one side, is another symbol of Bologna. It was part of the Giambologna’s design and was put up in the middle-1560s.
  • Basilica of San Petronio This huge church is located on the Piazza Maggiore and is the largest in the country. It was originally meant to be the largest, but the Pope decided that it would not be right for St. Peter’s second. Fast 200 years ago, the church was still in construction.
  • Basilica of Santo Stefano– Although it sounds like one church it was actually seven buildings. It is also known locally as the “Sette Chiese,” which means Seven Churches. It is believed that the complex dates back to the 5th Century.
  • Museum of the History of Bologna Visit the Palazzo Pepoli in the historic center of Bologna to discover more about Bologna’s history through artifacts and high-tech interactive exhibits. The museum displays are in Italian but audio guides are available in other languages.
  • Porticoes — This is where I suggest covered sidewalks be noticed. They are a common sight in Bologna. They are beautiful and decorative, covering miles of streets throughout the city. They provide shade in summer and dry corridors when it rains. Be careful with your footing as the marble can sometimes get slippery. Bologna has the longest portico in the world, measuring a little over 2.3 miles (3.4km) and connecting to the Basilica of San Luca.
  • Sanctuary of San Luca – This hilltop church, also known as the Basilica of San Luca, is a steep climb. But you are rewarded with a spectacular view of Bologna.
  • Gelato Museum and Classes – You’re enjoying great gelato. But you can take it one step further by taking a class at Carpigiani Gelato Museum. The museum is worth a visit even if you don’t want to make gelato.
  • Food Museums There are four food museums located in Emilia Romagna region, where Bologna is its capital. They include one for prosciutto as well as one for parmigiano reggiano. All of them are close to Parma. If you have a car, one or two of these could be combined to make a day trip from Bologna. Another day trip that is easy to do is the Modena balsamic vinegar museum.
  • Eataly World About 20 minutes from central Bologna lies what’s being described as “the largest food and agricultural park in the world,” Eataly World, also known as FICO. There are displays and exhibits that allow visitors to learn about food production and growing. Also, there’s a vineyard, an orchard and active grazing areas. There are classes available, as well as the opportunity to eat in one of the restaurants or shop.
  • Automobile & Motorcycle Museums – Regardless of your interest in cars, you have no doubt heard the names Lamborghini and Ferrari. The headquarters of the former (including a museum, factory, and test track), are located in Modena near Bologna. Bologna is just outside the headquarters of the latter, which also includes a museum and factory. If you prefer two-wheeled riding to four-wheeling, Ducati’s museum and factory are also located in Bologna.

Guided Tours of Bologna

Bologna’s Most Amazing Attractions

  • Chiesa della Santa This church is also known as Corpus Domini. It gets its “Church of the Saint” name from the relic that it holds – the mummified corpse of Saint Catherine of Bologna. Since her death in 15th century, she has been sitting in the chapel of the church. To visit her, you must ring the doorbell to get buzzed in.
  • Teatro Anatomico at Bologna University – Bologna’s is the oldest continuously-operated university in the world, founded in 1088. International students are what gives Bologna its youthful and vibrant feel. There are many reasons to visit university buildings, even if you’re not a student. The Teatro Anatomico is the best stop. This was once a theater where medical students could watch the dissections of bodies.
  • Hidden Canals You already know Venice has Canals. Milan also has Canals. Did you know that canals once ran through Bologna? Although it is more difficult to find them today than in the past, you can. Look for the little window at the wall as you head towards Via Piella. You’ll find one of the few remaining canals in the city if you look through.
  • Prendiparte Tower– While a Medieval tower isn’t uncommon in Bologna, the Prendiparte Tower is the only one where you can stay the night. The only (very large, over several floors) room in the B&B is this one. The Asinelli Tower is the tallest tower in Bologna, and it’s not even the Prendiparte. It’s not necessary to book the room in order to see the city from its rooftop. Instead, you can take a guided tour that includes it.
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2 Responses to “What to Do & See In Bologna”

  • Nice article about an underrated city. It is home to some of the finest food in Italy, as well as the first university in the world. A visit here is definitely worthwhile!

  • AyTlyh SHly:

    Thank you for your tips

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