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20 Amazing Things to Do in Bologna Italy

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Are you planning a trip to Bologna and wondering what to do in Bologna Italy? Regardless if you are visiting Bologna or just curious about the city, here are the top things to do in Bologna Italy with the must-see places in Bologna!

Best things to do in Bologna Italy
Bologna, photo source Pixabay

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Bologna might not be the most visited city in Italy, but it is one of the most interesting cities in Italy. This historic Italian city is home to the oldest university in Europe (Bologna University), the national dish of Italy (Bolognese sauce), and the longest portico in the world (the 4 km-long Portico San Luca).

Besides that, Bologna is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. The city has the most beautiful porticos in Italy (the iconic arched Bologna porticos) and the prettiest red-tiled roofs in Italy. Still, Bologna is not an Italian tourist hot spot like nearby Florence (Tuscany), and Venice.
Bologna is nicknamed La Grassa (the Fat One) for its world-renowned cuisine, La Rossa (the Red One) for its predominant red roofs, and La Dotta (the Learned One) for its oldest continuously operating university in the world.

‘La Grassa, La Rossa, La Dotta’ is a must-visit destination in Italy for gourmands, history fans, and culture enthusiasts.

Bologna is the Food Capital of Italy. Taking a food tour in Bologna is one of the best things to do in Bologna Italy.
Bologna has the oldest university in Europe. Visiting the Archiginnasio of Bologna, the historic seat of Bologna Univesity is one of the top things to do in Bologna Italy.
Bologna has the longest portico in the world. Strolling under the 4-km-long Portico San Luca is one of the best free things to do in Bologna.

20 Amazing things to do in Bologna Italy

Bologna things to do

1. Visit Piazza Maggiore, one of the oldest city squares in Italy 

Right at the heart of the city, you will find the Piazza Maggiore. Piazza Maggiore is the main square in Bologna and the most important place in Bologna. It is the heart of the historic core of the city.

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna is one of the most famous squares in Italy. 
Some truly iconic buildings, like the Basilica of San Petronio and various grand palazzos, are on the sides of the Piazza Maggiore.
The Piazza Maggiore in Bologna is among the oldest squares in Italy. The plot of land has been a square since the 12th century and was used for markets initially.

Piazza Maggiore, the heart of Bologna, is a great place to start sightseeing in Bologna. So, head to Piazza Maggiore and start exploring the city.

Bologna is among the best day trips from Rome Italy
Me in Bologna, Italy

2. See Basilica di San Petronio, one of the largest churches in the world

This large building is the 5th largest church in the world, and you cannot miss its unfinished façade that borders the Piazza Maggiore. When in Bologna, visit this iconic church and see its stunning stained glass windows. Of course, dress modestly and in line with the religious guidelines of the church. 

3. Visit the Pinacoteca National Museum 

The Pinacoteca is known as one of Bologna’s most important museums. It is one of the top places to visit in Bologna Italy for art and history fans.

Initially, in the 18th century, the collection consisted of altarpieces only. As time passed, the art collection of Pinacoteca expanded and now includes many paintings by local artists from the Emilia Romagna region. Most pieces of the art collection are from the 13th to the 18th century. Let me mention that the art collection has works by Botticelli and Bellini. Check out the Pinacoteca National Museum in Bologna!

4. Climb the Two Towers

Interestingly, Bologna is home to many Medieval towers. Nearly twenty of them are still standing! During the Medieval era, there were over 180 of them. Their exact purpose remains unclear to this day. Potentially, they were used for military purposes or as a status symbol by prestigious families. Today the most famous are the so-called Two Towers. Their official names are Garisenda and degli Asinelli. The Two Towers welcome visitors to Bologna since they are the first sight to see when coming to Bologna.
A fun fact is that these towers lean more than the famous Tower of Pisa. Are you brave enough to climb them? The Asinelli Tower is the highest tower. Entrance ticket to Torre degli Asinelli is 5 €. However, you can climb the tower, tour the city, and taste local delicacies on this affordable and popular tour!

Travel Guide to Best Things to Do in Bologna Italy
Bologna Towers; photo source Pixabay

5. Visit the Archiginnasio of Bologna to learn about the oldest university in the world

Visit the Archiginnasio of Bologna and learn more about Bologna as the oldest university city in the world. 
The Archiginnasio of Bologna is one of the historic buildings of Bologna University. Currently, it houses the municipal library and anatomical theatre. The building was completed in the 16th century and has an iconic courtyard. 

Nowadays, it is deemed one of Bologna’s most important buildings, open for visitors. A visit to the Archiginnasio building is a must-do in Bologna. Visiting the seat of the oldest university in the world is among the 10 best things to do in Bologna Italy!

6. Wander the city and explore the porticos of Bologna

Wondering about the free things to do in Bologna? Stroll the stunning porticos!
As soon as you enter Bologna’s city center, you stumble upon many porticoes (arcaded patios). They are a highlight of Bologna. 
You find these covered walkways lining many of the streets. They conveniently protect you from the sun and the rain as you explore Bologna. The city has over 38 kilometers / 24 miles (!) of these arcades, often decorated with marble and paintings on the ceilings.

Strolling the historic porticos is one of the best things to do in Bologna Italy
Bologna portico, photo source

7. Eat the local specialties

Bologna is called the World’s Capital of Food. Quite rightly so, if I may say! The list of Bologna delicacies is long, and I highly recommend trying as many of them in some of Bologna’s countless restaurants. 

Some of the dishes to add to your list: Tagliatelle al Ragù alla bolognese (this is the pasta with Bolognese sauce. Be aware the original recipe for the sauce is meat-based and less tomato-sauce!), Tortellini al Brodo, stuffed tortellini pasta in broth, Mortadella, a flavourful Italian cold cut and of course the internationally famous Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese is from the Emilia Romagna region (Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna). Join Taste Local Specialties on a Guided Walking Tour and enjoy the mouthwatering Bologna food.

8. Visit one of the food festivals 

If you want to make the most of your food experience when visiting Bologna, plan your trip during one of many annually recurring food festivals the city organizes:

Festival del Tortellino: This festival celebrates the famous folded, stuffed tortellini pasta of Bologna and takes place in October. The festival happens in the prestigious Palazzo Re Enzo on Piazza del Nettuno.

The Festival of Flavours, or Festival dei Sapori d’Italia: This annual festivity takes place in April, and every year, it has a slightly different theme. However, the general purpose is to bring together various cultures and food specialties of Italy of the country as a whole. 

The Mortadella, Please Festival: Another event in Bologna in October is the Mortadella, Please festival. The city turns pink, and this weekend in September is the best moment to try some of this delicacy in Bologna. Usually, on the Sunday of the event, there is an opportunity to visit some of the leading Mortadella producers in a guided tour.

9. Enjoy an evening drink on the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna

As the beating heart of Bologna, the Piazza Maggiore square is a fantastic spot for a drink, especially on summery nights. Pick one of the many terraces on the main square and enjoy the surrounding buildings that lit up stunningly.

10. Head to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca 

Make your way to this Baroque sanctuary on top of the hill if you do not mind a climb. 

During this walk, you will walk underneath the longest portico in the world! This covered and well-paved walkway is more than 3,796 long and has 666 arches. The impressive construction was built in the 17th century. The lovely sanctuary and the fabulous panoramic landscape views are a perfect reward for completing the walk. 

Visiting the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca is among the best things to do in Bologna Italy
The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca in Bologna, photo source

11. See the Fountain of Neptune

The Fountain of Neptune d is the most famous fountain in Bologna. It is a landmark of Bologna.

It was built in the 16th century and it was the first fountain in Bologna. Located on Piazza del Nettuno (it got its name after the square!) Neptune overlooks the bordering Piazza Maggiore. Surprisingly, the Catholic Church ordered the building of this fountain. This fountain aimed to show the power of the pope, who reins the land as successfully as Neptune reigns the sea. The legendary Neptune fountain is a must-see in Bologna.

Seeing the iconic Founatin of Neptune is one of the best things to do in Bologna Italy
The Fountain of Neptune in Bologna, photo source

12. Enjoy the annual film festival if you visit in the summer 

The ‘Sotto le Stelle del Cinema’ takes place every summer (from around June until August). This fabulous outdoor film festival happens on the Piazza Maggiore. A different film is shown on the enormous screen in the main square every night. Entrance is free, and the setting – between these ancient buildings – is magical. The agenda is announced before the film festival starts. So, make sure you visit when they play your favorite film.

13. Do a wine tasting in Bologna

Italy is undoubtedly one of the best wine-producing countries in Europe. Therefore, it is the perfect place to join a wine tasting. Learn all about the flavors, the harvest and production process, and what food you best pair it with. The Pignoletto is the most famous local wine. So, make sure you give it a try! On this Bologna City Center Guided Wine Walking Tour you will discover the best wineries in Bologna with a local certified sommelier!

RELATED READ: Most Popular Italian Drinks

14. Visit the food market Mercato di mezzo

This market has existed since Medieval times and is a delight for anyone searching for fresh goods and delicacies if you fancy some grocery shopping. Additionally, the market includes various small restaurants and street food stands. Thus, you can try anything on the spot. Go earlier if you can. It often gets busy!

15. Rent a Vespa 

What better way to experience Italy’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ feeling than to rent a Vespa and discover the city at your own pace? Make the most of the entire Bologna in a single day without tiring your legs, and hop on and hop off wherever you like! Rent a Vespa in Bologna and explore the city!

16. Visit the Museum of Modern Art Mambo

Visiting the Museum of Modern Art in Bologna is a top thing to do for modern and contemporary art fans. Located in an old bakery, the museum hosts an art collection from post the Second World War date. They currently host an impressive art collection by Giorgio Morandi, a deceased local from Bologna who was a master painter of still lifes and appreciated for his art around the world.

Day Trips from Bologna: 
Because Bologna is very centrally located in northern Italy, it is easy to catch a train to one of the below destinations if you fancy mixing things up:

17. Day trip to Modena

Modena is only a half-hour train ride from Bologna. The city is worth visiting as the city center is simply stunning. Like most places in Italy, Modena has a rich history and scenic streets. Furthermore, this is the best place for a balsamic vinegar tasting as the delicacy originates from Modena. Finally, if you like cars, visit the Ferrari Museum!
Interested in a Ferrari test drive? Book Ferrari VIP Experience with a Test Drive and Museum Visit!

18. Day trip to Florence 

Conveniently, it is less than 40 minutes by train to get to Florence, the capital of the Renaissance era. Captivating Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy! The highlights of this famous Italian city include the magnificent Duomo Cathedral, the Uffizi and Academia museums (which are some of the best museums in Europe), and the Ponte Vecchio.
If you haven’t visited Florence yet, you can do it easily from Bologna.
Plan your day in Florence. Book Skip-The-Line Uffizi Gallery Timed Entrance Ticket and Michelangelo’s David in Academia Skip-the-Line Entry Ticket in advance.

Florence is a must see if planning to travel to tuscany italy
Florence

19. Day trip to Parma

Another great place to visit, and less than an hour away by train, you find the wonderful city of Parma. The city has a rich history dating back to the Roman era. It has a wealth of stunning architecture from many centuries ago. The city is known for its famous Parma Ham, of course. This Parma Cheese & Ham Factory Tours and Tastings is one of the most popular day tours from Bologna for a good reason!
Besides the fantastic food, Parma is home to many breathtaking churches and fantastic museums, such as the Palazzo della Pilotta.
Parma is a must-visit city in northern Italy. (Check out this interesting 3-week European itinerary that covers northern Italy with Parma, France, and Switzerland).

20. Day trip to Venice

Even Venice is only an hour and a half away from Bologna. Who does not want to see the city known for its many canals, palazzos, and stunning waterfront views? Enjoy scenic views from a gondola and walk across the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge crossing the canals. If you are short on time, consider booking this Private Venice Day Trip from Bologna. (If you are visiting Venice in February, make sure to read about the famous Venice Carnival masks and costumes!)

Venetian Carnival masks and costumes
Venice during the Carnival of Venice

Where to stay in Bologna Italy

Hotel Corona d’Oro – is a stunning historic hotel with a superb location in the city center. It is 350 meters from Piazza Maggiore Square and 20 minutes from Bologna Train Station. The hotel has spacious and elegant rooms and good breakfast. It has a private parking.

Map of Bologna Italy: Attractions, Hotel, Day Trips

Conclusion

Bologna is one of the top cities to visit in Italy. As you can see from the above, there is something fun to explore for everyone in this city, and you can make your visit as varied as you please. Whether you only have a day or more time in this city, you will not get bored of Bologna!

Faye Bonsing

This article was written in collaboration with Faye. Faye is an avid traveler from the Netherlands who enjoys slow travel to really get to know the places. She shares valuable travel info on Travel Europe Like A Local with the aim of helping readers make unforgettable trips to Europe!

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