Almost all on the itineraries to Europe in general or to Italy in particular, the city of Bologna is not mentioned as much to tourists as famous cities of this country such as Rome, Venice, or Florence… However, not much is included, doesn’t mean that this city has nothing special, for most Italians, this is an ancient historic destination and a land associated with the great Italian cuisine that not everywhere else can comparable. So, is Bologna worth visiting, what to do in Bologna and how to plan a perfect budget trip to Bologna for the first-time? Let’s check out our Bologna travel blog (Bologna blog) with the fullest Bologna travel guide (Bologna guide, Bologna city guide, Bologna tourist guide) from how to get to Bologna, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit, what to eat and top things to do in Bologna to find out the answer!
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Is it strange to say that the Italy in my mind when I was a child was not the great Colosseum, the leaning tower of Pisa, but the blocks of streets with cookie-colored domes in the picture below. Actually, when I was a kid, I didn’t care much about Italy, because American movies were often shot in New York, then London and Paris, so my image of the West is only those places. As for the Italy I know from a documentary, it was filmed in Bologna, the same setting, only in the 90s Europeans were richer and more stylishly dressed than they are now. Stop rambling, and this is my sharing of Bologna travel guide and experiences.
Bologna travel blog: Overview of Bologna
Where is Bologna?
The city of Bologna, located between the Reno and Sevena rivers in Northern Italy, has long been recognized as a center of culture and art. This ancient city has a lot of scenic spots, historic structures and is also home to the oldest universities in the world, including the University of Bologna (Alma Mater Studiorum Universita di Bologna) established in 1088, Bevilacqua Palace, Morandi Museum, Church of San Pietro, especially the two leaning towers of Asinelli and Garisenda. Not only that, Bologna is also one of the fastest growing cities in Italy because the quality of life is quite prosperous. And most attractions like churches and museums are not far from each other, so if you intend to visit Bologna, you should prepare yourself a pair of really good sneakers!!
Bologna is about 2 hours by car from Rome to the north and 1 hour by car from Milan to the south. Bologna is the capital of the Emilia Romagna region and also the largest city in the same province. and one of the economic centers of Northern Italy. Since the Middle Ages, Bologna has been a rich city-state, rich in cultural traditions and today Bologna is one of the cities with the highest quality of life in Italy.
Bologna, the seventh most populous city in Italy, with a population of nearly 1 million people, it is one of the fifty cities directly under the central government of Italy. Bologna is known for its unique cityscape and is also known as the red city of Italy.
This thriving city has acquired other nicknames over the years, such as “La Dotta, La Grassa, and La Rossa” which roughly translates to “The Learned, The Fat, and The Red”. One of its nicknames, La Rossa (red), comes from its terracotta buildings, as well as its revolutionary past. Bologna is also one of the most beautiful cities of Italy but it is often overlooked by tourists when they want to visit the famous tourist attractions of Italy such as Florence and Venice.
Bologna’s compact historic center is made for walking, brimming with great Medieval and Renaissance architecture, historic sites, quirky museums and 40 kilometers of portici, roofed arcades cover winding around the old town. But it doesn’t stop with that quaint look, there are music, theater and art events take place year-round to complement the lively cafe and bar scene.
Bologna is one of the oldest cities in Italy, often ranked among the top cities for quality of life in Italy. Ranked 5th in 2006 and 12th in 2007 out of 103 Italian cities. This is due to its industrial tradition with a wide range of highly developed social services, where important road and rail crossings are located. The city has a rich history, art, cuisine and culture, and was chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2000.
Bologna guide: When to come?
January and February the weather is very mild, often featured with clear blue skies, but you still need an extra coat, scarf, hat and gloves.
From March to October is the best time to travel to Bologna, when the weather at this time is quite warm. However, you should also be careful because around June the weather in Bologna will be quite hot. August is summer, so many shops and restaurants may have to close for the holiday.
Although the winter time is cold, the weather is usually very beautiful 2 weeks before Christmas.
How to get to Bologna?
Bologna has an international airport connecting to many major cities in the world called Guglielmo Marconi. The airport is about 6km north of the city center. Currently at the airport, there are operating airlines such as: Aegean Airlines, Air Malta, Air Slovakia, British Airways, Centralwings, Iberia…
To travel to Bologna in the northeast of Italy, visitors will not have any difficulty in transportation because the way from Venice, Florence or Rome to Bologna is quite convenient. Travelers can use the trans-European bus routes to come to Bologna because all journeys stop in Bologna. And for traveling faster, visitors can take a plane or a high-speed train, it only takes 1-2 hours to arrive.
As for other Italian cities, you can easily get to Bologna by other means such as bus and train easily because Bologna is the traffic hub of Northern Italy.
You can getting to the city center by different means of transport, namely:
- Taxi: Taxi from the airport to the center costs about €15
- Aerobus: Cost of Aerobus ticket €6
- Bus: Bus routes you can take include 54, 81, 91. The buses take 60 minutes to reach the center and cost around €1.5.
Bologna travel guide: Getting around Bologna
Walking to visit Bologna is the best because the city is quite small. Most attractions such as churches and museums are not far from each other, so you don’t need to take a taxi or bus. The most popular means of transport in the city are bicycles (there are many places in the city for rent a bicycle).
Bologna’s public bus system is also quite efficient and fast. Buses operate daily from 6AM – 11P, tickets are available at bus stations, newsstands, shops and many bars, travel agencies, tourist offices. However, it will be difficult to find a taxi in this city because the fare is very expensive. Car rental is always available from the airport.
The public bus system in Bologna operated by ATC is quite efficient and fast. Travel agencies have tourist maps and detailed information on bus routes available. Buses run daily from 6 am to 11 pm, tickets are available at bus stations, newsstands, shops and many bars, sold at travel agencies, tourist offices. It is very difficult to find a taxi in the city and the fare is expensive.
Bologna is actually not a famous tourist city even among Italians. Normally, if you getting to from Milan, you can come to Bologna to explore for a day and then return. Many tourists also skip this city when traveling to Italy. But because I love Italy like my second home, I spent 2 days to explore Bologna and Forlì, a city on the outskirts of Bologna. If you love food, you can have an alternative choice of Parma instead of Forlì, a city famous for cold cuts, cheese and chocolate. If you like the sea, replace it with Rimini, the famous Italian coastal city.
Is Bologna worth visiting? What to do in Bologna and top things to do in Bologna?
The center of Bologna is not too large, so you just need to walk to visit all the famous places here, including:
Piazza Maggiore (Maggiore Central Square)
Because it is a city with bold medieval architecture like Bari, Bologna has many Gothic and Roman buildings interspersed with each other. Even the cathedral has an unfinished façade with a detailed Gothic lower part while the upper part is simple with a Romanesque style. In this square we can visit the cathedral of San Petronio, two mansions, a museum and a famous fountain. Hang around for about 2, 3 hours and you will get enough nice photos to change your facebook avatar for a whole month.
Fountain of Neptune
Address: Piazza del Nettuno, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy
Hours: Open 24 hours
The correct name is the fountain of Neptune, the god of the sea, representing the Greco-Roman polytheistic religion, located in a corner of the Main Square in a typical Christian city. Not to mention the bronze statue that depicts the muscles very in detail, the stance cannot be more ostentatious with a key point, if viewed from the back, the hand of the sea god looks like a “pen!s” pointed directly at the basilica at the opposite side. In the 15th century, when Renaissance Art gave birth to more evocative statues like David, this statue caused great controversy. Thankfully, through the purges of pagan icons, today we can still see one of Italy’s most beautiful outdoor sculptures.
Bevilacqua Palace (Palais Bevilacqua Ariosti)
Address: Via d’Azeglio, 31, 40123 Bologna BO, Italy
Bevilacqua Palace was built between 1474-1482. Like one of the many palaces in Florence, the palace has a rather beautiful entrance, grandiose exterior, and a quite small courtyard. Today, the palace with its quaint beauty has attracted millions of tourists to visit and admire a masterpiece of the Renaissance period.
Morandi Museum (Giorgio Morandi House)
Address: via 40125 36, Via Fondazza, 40125 Bologna BO, Italy
Hours: Saturday: 2–5PM/Sunday: 10AM–1PM, 2–5PM
The Morandi Museum was established inside the Palazzo d’Accursio. This museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bologna. The museum displays all of Morandi’s works. The museum is also a place to display the artworks of painter Giorgio Morandi with 62 oil paintings, 18 watercolor paintings, 92 drawings, 2 sculptures and 2 engravings on metal.
Palazzo Comunale (Palazzo d’Accursio)
Address: Piazza Maggiore, 6, 40121 Bologna BO, Italy
Hours: 9AM–6:30PM/Monday: Closed
The Town Hall is located in Piazza Maggiore and is a historic building with the Bologna city council built in the 14th-century architectural style. Here you can view collections of paintings and sculptures from the 13th and 19th centuries, as well as the famous Neptune Fountain as mentioned above.
University of Bologna (Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna)
Address: Via Zamboni, 33, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy
Today, the University of Bologna retains its ancient look with the largest campus in Europe. The oldest university in Italy has not only one building but also a neighborhood with a complex of lecture halls, administrative areas, and beautiful dormitories like in a fairy tale. Fortunately, the school’s students did not organize a protest that day (you have to understand that European students in general often protest to express their political views or demand improvement of the curriculum), so the school still had the same atmosphere of the city. However, I have to admit that the school is so beautiful, it’s true that getting a scholarship here is a real lottery win.
The University of Bologna (Italian: Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna or UNIBO) was founded in 1088. The university’s motto is Alma Mater Studiorum which roughly translates as “Nourishing mother of studies”. Bologna University has about 100,000 students studying at 11 member schools and has branches in Reggio Emilia, Imola, Ravenna, Forlì, Cesena and Rimini and an overseas branch center in Buenos Aires. The University of Bologna is considered the oldest university continuously operating since its founding. This was the first educational institution to use the word universitas in its name.
The Cathedral of San Pietro
Address: Via dell’Indipendenza, 7, 40125 Bologna BO, Italy
Hours: 7AM–7PM/Sunday: 8AM–7PM
This church was started construction on April 18, 1506 on the foundation of another church. It was Pope Julius II who ordered the demolition of this old church to build a new one with the hope that this would be the place to bury himself after his death. Therefore, he chose the famous painter Michelangelo to lead the construction of this work. However, Michelangelo had to give this role to Donato Bramante due to some controversy over whether to demolish the old church or not. Bramante demolished most of the 1,200 year old church foundation along with 4 pillars.
The two leaning towers of Asinelli and Garisenda
Address: P.za di Porta Ravegnana, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy
The tallest tower is Asinelli, built in 1109 by the Asinelli family in the square of Porta Ravegnana. It is one of the few surviving towers in the city from the Middle Ages.
with a height of more than 100m (almost equal to a 30-story building). Visitors have to climb 498 steps to reach the top. This tower leans 1.3m. It is not in vain to have to put in effort to climb nearly 500 steps, because at the top is a panoramic view of the city and suburbs. The other tower, Garisenda tower, built in 1267, is 49m high. It tilts to… 3m! Also due to this deviation, the tower is not for visitors. And these two leaning towers have become one of the main symbols of the city of Bologna. Looks like it’s challenging the existence of gravity!
Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Museum)
Address: Via delle Belle Arti, 56, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy
Hours: 10AM–7PM/Tuesday, Wednesday: 9AM–2PM/Monday: Closed
It has a collection of works by Bolognese artists between the 13th and 18th centuries. The museum building was built in the 15th century, making it a sight worth to visit.
Basilica di Santo Stefano
Address: Via Santo Stefano, 24, 40125 Bologna BO, Italy
Hours: 7:30AM–12:30PM, 2:30–7:30PM/Monday: 6–7:30PM
The building believed to have been built by Saint Petronius, bishop of the city in the fifth century, is one of the oldest buildings in Bologna. Santo Stefano is a complex of 7 separate churches, but only 4 of these are intact. In this basilica you can also see impressive mosaics from the Roman and Byzantine times.
The city of towers
In the Middle Ages, Bologna had many towers (pictured below) but today, after many events, only 17 are still standing. If you are rich enough, you can rent a hotel room at the top of the tower to spend the night. Uncle Lisa, an Italian friend who took me around Bologna told me that it was as expensive as a 5-star hotel. I forgot to ask what the rooms at the top of the tower were used for in the past. Now, the penthouse on the top floor is usually reserved for business men like Mr. Grey, and in the past, the top floor was reserved for solitary confinement until prisoners were too lonely (or too hot) to go crazy and die. And I save money, so I don’t buy a ticket to the top of the tower to see the whole Bologna.
Basilica di San Francesco
Address: Piazza Malpighi, 9, 40123 Bologna BO, Italy
Hours: 6:45AM–12PM, 3:30–7PM
The Church of San Francesco is located in the north of the city, a well-known tourist attraction in Bologna, was built in 1236 by two brothers, Marco da Brescia and Giovanni, monks in Francesco. In 1388, a large altar was made of marble combined with Gothic architectural style. The altar was commissioned by Jacobello and Pier Paolo delle Masegne to design. The church is located in the west of the city center, very convenient for tourists when traveling to Bologna to visit this city. Standing on top of the church can see the entire Piazza San Francesco. In the church there are memorials to the jurist Accursius and his 3 sons, Rolandino dei Romanzi, Odofredus and Francesco.
The city of arcades (portici)
As I said above, you can go around the city of Bologna without fear of rain or sun tanning. In fact, building a house with a 2nd floor on the sidewalk is quite common in Singapore, Bangkok or even in Hanoi in small alleys, people also race to cover the whole sky on the 2nd floor, but Bologna has arcades (portici). They were built in the Middle Ages, the oldest wooden one still survive and is quite well preserved. The rest, the more the arcades in the center, the more elaborately decorated with relics and elegant patterns. In general, how cool are these arcades when take pictures, stunning, stylish.
Via Pescherie Vecchie
This is a street with many bakeries, restaurants, and fruit stalls, so tourists and office workers come here to eat and drink a lot. In Italy, the office takes a 3 hour lunch break. If I had a long lunch break in Vietnam, I would have lunch in 30 minutes and nap for the remaining 2 and a half hours. As for a people who like to enjoy themselves like Italians, they will leisurely have lunch, drink coffee, take advantage of dating, and flirting with each other. We also eat cold cuts buffet in this street. You will be served a plate full of a variety of cured meat of all kinds and cheeses to eat until your eyes are closed because you are full.
Bologna has also a vibrant nightlife with lots of nightclubs, discos and cafes. One of the best areas to have a great evening would be the student quarters, the main square area and Via del Pratello. You can find reasonably priced restaurants and pubs around the student neighborhood of Via Zamboni.
What to explore in Forlì?
Forlì is about an hour by train from Bologna, and like other cities in Emilia Romagna province, it has all three characteristics: The buildings are painted with the color of biscuits, the sidewalks with arcades, and Medieval Art shadow all over the city. However, Forlì is quite special for one thing: Benito Mussolini was born in a town 15km from Forlì. Because it was the hometown of the Italian Fascist leader, Forlì has many buildings of the Futurist, Rationalist and Italian utilitarian styles of the early 20th century. Some of the buildings in the photo are remarkable examples that representative of the Italian art style of the fascist period, characterized by strong and pragmatic lines.
During my visit to Forlì, I was taken out by two uncles Vidmer and Anna. However, Aunt Anna doesn’t like to post her pictures so I don’t post pictures taken with the two of them.
Bologna travel blog: What to eat in Bologna?
Bologna has so many delicacies to try in one day: Lasagna, parmigiano cheese, parmigiana ham. Not to mention the famous Sangiovese red wine.
Honored as the “Culinary Capital” of Italy. In particular, Bologna is also famous for its diverse and unique cuisine by the delicious sauce made from meat called “Bologna Sauce”.
When coming here, tourists also have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of excellent cheeses and cold cuts such as Prosciutto, Mortadella and Salame with a wide variety of wines: Pignoletto dei Colli Bolognesi, Lambrusco di Modena and Sangiovese di Romagna.
Bologna is at the heart of freshly prepared pasta dishes. Bologna’s restaurants serve all types of pasta, in which Tagliatelle al Ragu and Gramigna being loved by locals. Also, don’t forget to try the traditional Bologna pizzas before you leave the city.
Lasagna is one of the traditional Italian dishes, now famous and loved all over the world. If you’ve tried Lasagna and like it definitely try this regional version.
Bologna guide: Shopping in Bologna
Bologna has large outdoor shopping malls with clothing stores, furniture stores and numerous bookstores, antique shops and art galleries. Via Indipendenza is concentrated in gold trading with countless shops with long and wide rows. Via dell’Archiginnasio is famous for jewelry, Strada Maggiore, Corte Isolani and Via S. Stefano are famous for their numerous antiques and furniture.
It can be seen that Bologna is increasingly diverse and rich in culture, tourism and shopping. There are large outdoor shopping malls with clothing stores, furniture stores and many other great book stalls, antique shops and art galleries across the city.
Bologna blog: Where to stay?
I booked this hotel (Agoda, Booking) in Bologna and this hotel in Forlì. These two hotels are affordable because the prices in this area are quite expensive. If you intend to save a bit, then choose these two hotels. However, the hotel in Bologna is located far from the center, shared bathrooms, and poor service, so I don’t like it very much. As for the room in Forlì, it is in the central area, the twin room is a bit tight but the facilities are quite good.
Below we recommend more best budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- Aemilia hotel (Agoda, Booking)
- Savhotel (Agoda, Booking)
- Hotel Cosmopolitan Bologna (Agoda, Booking)
- Relais Bellaria Hotel & Congressi (Booking)
- Hotel Il Guercino (Agoda, Booking)
- Hotel Bologna Airport (Agoda, Booking)
- Hotel Bologna Airport (Agoda, Booking)
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Bologna you can refer to
- Bologna: City Center Walking Tour
- Bologna: Torre degli Asinelli & Food Tasting
- From Bologna: Train to San Luca Basilica & Food Tasting
- Bologna with a Local: Customized Private Meet-Up
- Bologna: Hands on Home Cooking Class
- Bologna: Red Bus City Tour and Local Food Tasting
- Bologna: Self-Guided Food Tasting Tour with Vouchers
Read more Italy guide here.