7 must-do things to do in Bologna

Visiter Bologne

Visiting Bologna: what are the best things to do and see in Italy’s seventh-largest city?

A visit to Bologna is always a good idea. This medium-sized city, less well-known on Italy’s classic tourist circuits, nonetheless contains all the country’s characteristic gems. Basilicas, sunny squares, colorful facades, tasty cuisine – all the pleasures of Italy can be found in Bologna.

Known as « the red » because of the color of the bricks on its buildings, the city has an atmosphere all its own. A student city, it is home to some 80,000 students out of a total population of 400,000. Its emblematic arcades make for gentle, peaceful strolls in this city in the northern Emilia-Romagna region, about halfway between Florence and Venice.

If you’re planning a trip to northern Italy, here’s a list of things to do in Bologna.

1. The Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore, Bologne

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Vanni Lazzari

Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, or main square, marks the heart of the city. It’s a good starting point for a visit to Bologna, as it’s considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. Flanked by sumptuous palaces, its greatest asset is undoubtedly the Basilica of San Petronio, the fifteenth largest church in the world! A jewel of Gothic architecture not to be missed. While you’re in Piazza Maggiore, make sure you visit Neptune’s monumental fountain in the adjacent square.

2. Visit Bologna’s oldest university

Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, Bologne

Photo credit: Flickr – Jacqueline Poggi

Close to Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore is the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, the city’s oldest university. This Renaissance-style building was designed by the architect Antonio Morandi. Its impressive anatomical theater, built in cedar and fir in the 17th century, was the site of autopsies performed by the Faculty of Medicine to teach anatomy to students.

3. Climb to the top of the Asinelli tower

Tours Garisenda et Asinelli, Bologne

Photo credit: Flickr – Dimitris Kamaras

Visiting Bologna also means looking up to the sky. The city is famous for its towers, particularly the Asinelli and Garisenda towers, the tallest you’ll find anywhere. Don’t hesitate to climb the 498 steps of the Asinelli Tower (ticket price €3) for a breathtaking view of the city and the perfect photo opportunity.

4. Walk to the Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca

Sanctuaire Madonna di San Luca, Bologne

Photo credit: Flickr – Davide P.

This beautiful basilica sits atop Mount Guardia, just a few kilometers from the historic center. Although you’ll find buses to take you there, it’s advisable to make the journey on foot to pass under a monumental arcade 3.5 km long and with no fewer than 666 arches, which serves to protect the icon during processions to the sanctuary. It’s the longest covered archway in the world!

5. Bologna, a gastronomic city

Tagliatelle al ragu, Bologne

Photo credit: Comuna di Bologna

To recover from your pilgrimage, it’s time to discover the city’s culinary riches. Stroll through the small fresh produce markets that populate the streets. Choose your restaurant and sample Bologna’s specialties. On the menu: tagliatelle and tortellini « al ragu », a mixture of meat and tomato sauce, mortadella, Parma ham, Parmesan and Modena balsamic vinegar. It’s not for nothing that Bologna is also known as « la grassa »!

6. Also in Bologna

Piazza Santo Stefano, Bologne

Piazza Santo Stefano – Photo credit: Flickr – Jean

If you are extending your stay and are still wondering what to do in Bologna, here are a few suggestions:

  • The Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Bologna’s largest art museum
  • The Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna
  • Bologna’s canals, including the hidden canal visible from Via Piella
  • Palazzo Poggi
  • Piazza Santo Stefano, with its basilica and sculpted faces
  • Bologna Cathedral

7. Things to do in the Bologna area

Ferrare, Bologne

Photo credit: Flickr – Elena Gabrielli

If you have a car and plan to stay in the Emilia-Romagna region for a week or so, be sure to visit the following places:

  • Ferrara, 30 minutes from Bologna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Ravenna, just over an hour away, UNESCO city center
  • Modena and its balsamic vinegar factories
  • Parma, another gastronomic city in the Emilia-Romagna region!

How to get to Bologna

Bologna’s Guglielmo Marconi airport is served by Air France, Hop!, Vueling, easyJet… in short, you’ll have no trouble getting to this magnificent city. To find a cheap flight to Bologna, you can search on the website of our partner Ulysses.

Where to stay in Bologna

Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno, the Basilica, the excellent archaeological museum and the two towers are the main tourist attractions to visit in Bologna, and they’re all grouped within a very short distance of each other. Two major churches, Santo Stefano and San Domenico, are just a few blocks away, making it easy to visit Bologna from any accommodation in the old center. To find a cheap hotel in Bologna, search on this hotel comparator.

Map of hotels and accommodation – Bologna,it