Bologna, the birthplace of Bolognese and Communism, is the ideal location for a short break in Italy. Located in the Emilia Romagna Region of Italy, Bologna is often referred to as the La Grassa meaning the fat one, as it is considered to be one of the gastronomically exciting cities in the world. Rich, thick balsamic, freshly rolled pasta and meaty mortadella are just a few of the scrumptious bites which you can indulge in while exploring this city.
Wander through the terracotta-coloured streets, hiding from the sun under the beautifully carved porticos of decadent Italian buildings. Rest and relax in the Piazza Maggiore, Aperol Spritz in hand, admiring the communist graffiti that adorns the walls of villas, markets and restaurants alike - perhaps you’ll even see a political march (don’t worry, they’re peaceful!)
The weather in Bologna is nothing but bliss. In the months of June, July and August, temperatures can reach 35 degrees +. As this city is located in the heart of Italy, there is no beach, and very few hotels have pools. Despite this, the clever architecture of the city enables you to cool down. The porticos that weave around the city protect those wandering around the streets from the beating sun. Be sure to stay hydrated (water or wine) and keep out of the direct heat.
Bologna has its own airport that operates just outside the periphery of the city. However, the flights are more infrequent and expensive. Instead, choose to fly to Milan Malpensa airport and take the train to Bologna. Italy is very well-connected, so there is no need to worry about travel. Similarly, the city of Bologna itself is small and entirely walkable. If you want to take day trips to the outskirts and visit sites on the periphery, various buses and trains will take you to your desired destination for a very reasonable price.
During your first day in Bologna, it is essential to get your bearings and establish the main things that the region has to offer. Start off with the oldest university in the world, to get you prepared for the remaining historical visits. Being around the university area with the trendy students will give you the youthful energy needed to complete your first day.
Bologna is of course the gastronomical capital of Italy, therefore it seems fitting to treat yourself to local dishes in Mercato delle Erbe, the finest working market in the city. The city will lead you around the rest of the historical sites through its ornate and cooling Porticos, so there is no need to worry.
University of Bologna
The University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world, with alumni ranging from famous poet Dante Aligheri and Adone Zoli, former prime minister of Italy. The former university headquarters, known as The Archiginnasio is perhaps the most ornate of the buildings. The building is full of ornate vaults and stone staircases that wrap around the stone exterior. Immerse yourself in knowledge and history with a walk around this historical site and book tickets here to avoid queuing to see its architectural grandeur!
Bologna National Gallery
La Pinacoteca Nazionale di bologna is one of the first museums in Europe to open its doors to the public. If religious art is your particular area of interest, then pass by this museum. In this gallery, you will find gold Polyptych depicting various biblical scenes as well as various frescoes in peach and azul hues that adorn the walls of the gallery.
Porta San Vitale
If you are looking for a hidden piece of history in the heart of Bologna, visit the Porta San Vitale. This brick portal is a souvenir of the former outer walls of the walled city and serves as a reminder of the former military defences of the city. Despite being forgotten about by the majority of tourists, this brick tower was built as a core axis for Bologna.
Paolo Atti & Figli
Hidden amongst the various porticos in the city centre lies this historical Deli, Paolo Atti & Figli. From the window, cream-filled Sfoggliatelle stacks alongside olive-flavoured ciabatta. This deli has every Italian classic. The interior is reminiscent from pre-war times with tiles floors arranged in terracotta flowers and large cases stocked with Italian goods. Pick yourself up an Italian cupboard staple, pastry or pasta to remind you of your trip!
The plentiful porticos of Bologna provide visitors with respite from all weather, whether that be rain or shine (hopefully the latter). These beautifully arched walkways act as pedestrian streets that connect this antique city. Wherever you are needing to go, elaborate archways attached to grand markets and other exceptional architecture will guide you to your destination. In fact, the porticos are recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site, and are not to be overlooked during your trip!
The leaning towers of Bologna
Asinelli and Garisenda are two bothering towers that lean over the centre of Bologna. The rather awkward tilted buildings were built in 1109 and 1119 and served as military watchhouses for the town. However, their tilting structure may make you question their efficacy. If you’re in the mood for a workout, climb the 498 steps of the tower. Once you’ve caught your breath, admire the view over this historical city. Book tickets here to ensure a smooth climb up the tower.
As you meander through the various stradas and porticos of Bologna, you will soon notice the street art that decorates the terracotta-colored streets. Bologna has a rich history of communism, which the various students in the area contribute towards. Seeing that the city is incredibly liberal for Italy, and Europe, expressive art and street art is encouraged. Elaborate murals with a plethora of colours can be found hiding at the back of buildings, and liberal and anti-fascist quotes can be found throughout the city. Snap a few Instagram pictures as you traverse the streets, gaining political knowledge as you do so!
Despite not being quite as known as other romantic spots in Europe such as Montmartre or the Trevi fountain, the Finestrelle is not to be missed. Translated as window in Italian, Finestrelle is a little portal that looks onto the waterway. If you look through the little window, you can see the various burnt orange houses that neighbour each other and the green canal down below - you could even be in Venice! Although not a grand spectacle, this piccolo site is enchanting.
Located in the heart of the medieval city you will find the former Jewish Quarter of Bologna. The ghetto was only accessible through three different gates, only one of which still remains. Narrow streets, Juliette balconies and peephole windows give an air of mystery and antiquity to this area and take you back to a different time. Until 1569, Jews lived in this quarter until they were banished from the city. However, you will still find Jewish shops specializing in iconography and kosher delicacies. To be led around the area by a knowledgeable local guide, book here.
Mercato delle Erbe
Mercato delle Erbe is a working indoor market, providing foodies with ingredients and meals to remember. Mountains of chilli-marinated olives, fresh artichoke and fresh San Marzano tomatoes. With seating available inside and out, take your time to weave through the various stalls to choose your desired restaurant. There is a buzz radiating from this historical market, a melting pot of tourists and locals alike. Why not try the pizzeria specializing in Napoli-style pizza or Banca 32?
Where to Eat
Osteria dell'Orsa - Perhaps the most famous restaurant in Bologna with over 12,000 reviews. Here you will be introduced to the classic tortellini soups in a classic Italian trattoria setting. This palace is popular so be prepared to queue or visit during the week.
Oltr - Can be found a short walk away from Mercato delle Erbe. If you are looking for a modern twist on Italian classics such as ravioli, this is the place to go!
On your second day, I’m sure you will have acquainted yourself with Bologna and gathered your bearings. As with any city break, you have to visit a few informative museums to relay a few facts on your return. Therefore, the Museo Archeologico di Bologna seems the perfect place, with exhibitions catered specifically towards Bologna and the region. Seeing that you are more comfortable with the area, it seems time to venture beyond the walls of Bologna and visit some sites in the surrounding area such as the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
As you ascend the hill where the sanctuary lies, you will gain 180 views over Bologna. It is well worth your visit. Equally, after wandering around the city, it seems time to reward yourself with some material goods, in the form of vintage clothing. Italy is known as one of the most fashionable places on the planet and is the birthplace of numerous famous designers. Indulge your inner fashionista by visiting the vintage shops scattered around the city.
Museo Archeologico di Bologna
Located in the 15th-century Palazzo Galvani you will find a treasure trove of archaeological finds. The Museo Archeologico di Bologna houses a variety of ancient art ranging from the roman time to the 20th century. Interestingly, the exhibition has a range of items found in excavations in the Emilia Romagna region enabling you to learn more about the region you are visiting. Why not pop in for a quick visit and discover an element of Italian history you never knew about before. If museums aren’t your thing, the gift shop equally has interesting souvenirs to pick up!
Museo della Salumeria
This gastronomy-centred city has a range of restaurants and delis to visit. However, why not honor the region by visiting the famous Museo della Salumeria. Is there anything more Italian than a museum dedicated to deli meats? Although a humorous concept, meat is no laughing matter in Bologna, or Italy should I say. The museum itself provides visitors with an elaborate and exciting history of charcuterie and the different methods used to create such delicious meats. Located just on the outskirts of bologna in Modena, escape to learn more about this region's food history. You are promised a delicious lunch!
Biblioteca delle Donne
Reward your inner feminist by visiting the famous Women’s Library, Biblioteca delle Donne, which specializes in women's history, culture and genre studies in Italy. The library is situated in Santa Cristina Complex and was founded by an association of women dedicated to celebrating Women’s history and gender differences. The library is home to over 30,000 volumes of which over 20,000 are already included in the single catalogue of the National Library System and 495 periodicals of which 141 are still active. Check in advance to see if there are any special guests visiting the library as they often host interesting events!
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
If you are looking for the perfect day trip, look no further than the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. Located in the South-West region of Bologna, this Sanctuary has been the place of worship for individuals since the 18th century until the present day. Make the pilgrimage to this precious spot to gain 180-degree views over the town of Bologna. The ornate observatory and manicured gardens are just a few reasons to visit this spot. Book here to plan your trip in advance.
Mercato del Collezionismo, Piazza VIII Agosto, Bologna
Held every Thursday on the Piazza VII Agosto, is a wonderful flea market. The market is known for its rare collectibles, ranging from comics, antique books and satirical newspapers.You will feel like you are straight out of a Fellini film as you traverse the market stalls, checking out antique pock matches or antique prayer books.
Bologna is arguably the gastronomical capital of Italy- it is at the end of the day the birthplace of Bolognese. However, Bologna has much more to offer. Sign up here for your guided food tour to be taken throughout the city, tasting its various offerings. Starting of with an espresso, you will begin your tour, tasting traditional tortellini, cured meats and famous aperitifs. You will be left feeling satiated and a little more Italian with the knowledge and history provided by local guides.
When in Italy, you cannot leave without diving into the regional gelato. One heladería you must visit is Cremeria Funivia, where flavours range from classic stracciatella to the more experimental maraschino cherry. Treat yourself after a long day of meandering with a double scoop of artisanal ice cream in a flavour of choice!
Museum of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Another food item that Bologna, and the Emilia Romagna region, is home to is the finest Balsamic Vinegar. Why not learn more about the region by visiting the Museum of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The guides will lead you through the vaults and attic buildings that tell the story of balsamic vinegar’s history and production process. The sweet glazed scent of balsamic will follow you around your tour, leading you to the tasting room where you will finally be able to try the famous vinegar.
Much like any city in Europe, you will find a buzzing Piazza. These piazzas tend to be the meeting point for drinks, food and even dancing for locals. The Piazza Maggiore in Bologna is no different. This large quad is encircled by porticos and significant Bolognese buildings, such as the Palazzo del Podestà. Have a drink at one of the many trattoria’s and watch the waltz through the square, wondering where their next destination will be. Keep and eye out for events happening in the square as during the summer months, there are organized film screenings!
There is no doubt that Italians are associated with coolness and looking suave. When in Italy, it seems fitting to do a bit of boutique shopping. Swap high street brands for some vintage finds in the various vintage boutiques dotted around the city. The vintage shops are where all the trendy university students buy their outfits and wander around the university, looking sleek as ever. Why not join them by visiting a few shops during your visit. There are boutique vintage shops that sell branded clothing at a discounted price however there are equally afforded vintage shops with great pieces
- Griffe e Vintage
- Fratelli Broche
- Upper Vintage
Where to Eat
I Carracci is located in an 18th-century hotel and is decorated with Italian frescoes. Not only is the interior sublime but so too is the menu, revealing the various delights of the region.
Located in the Jewish quarter in the cellar of a 17th-century palazzo you will find Ristorante Ciacco; a wholesome restaurant specialising in sea-food dishes and superb wines.
Where to stay
On a Budget
Ospitalità San Tommaso d'Aquino - A mere 500m away from Piazza Santo Stefano square. For a great location and great price, choose to stay here!
B & B 21 Bologna - Just a short walk away from the main street in Bologna Via dell' Indipendenza. Rest your head at this hotel with the ideal location.
Hotel Accademia - Located in the university quarter and is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Piazza Maggiore.
Hotel Marconi Express - A sleek and clean hotel located near to Bologna’s train station. Here you are ensured to have a relaxing stay.
Hotel Perla - An unassuming and small hotel, equipped with everything you might need for your short stay in Bologna. Located in the university district, everything is on your doorstep.
Hotel Astoria - A short walk from Bologna’s main train station making traveling super simple. This hotel is fully equipped with a swanky bar and there is even a courtyard to enjoy your drinks in!
Albergo delle Drapperie - Perhaps the most central Hotel you can find in Bologna. This 19th century Italian villa is clad with Italian interiors and appears to be straight out of A Room With a View.
Bibliò Rooms Guesthouse - Designed with modern interiors, ensuring your stay is as peaceful as possible.The location is equally as perfect!
Albergo Rossini 1936 - The place to stay if you are looking to treat yourself during your stay. The tranquil interiors and hotel bar are enough to make you never want to leave.