As much as we travel to Bologna almost exclusively to eat, there are other things to do in Bologna other than eating (gasp!). No proper Bologna Travel Guide would be complete without helping travelers fill in the time between meals with recommendations on how to explore Bologna, Emilia Romagna. That’s why I wanted to share our top tips and recommendations on the best things to do in Bologna Italy.
In this Bologna blog post, we answer the question what is Bologna Italy known for. We also provide tips on how to visit Bologna Italy whether you love food, history, or even are looking for free things to do in Bologna.[box]
We’ve written A LOT on Emilia Romagna, check out our Emilia Romagna Food Guide for more travel tips. Or, if planning a Bologna trip, check out The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, available on Amazon.[/box]
What To Do In Bologna Italy
If you are looking for something particular from this Bologna blog, use the handy table of contents above to jump right to it.
There’s a reason why Lonely Planet placed Emilia Romagna on their list of top destinations in Europe for 2018. It’s the heart of Italy when it comes to food. And, a Bologna trip means a trip to the heart of the heart of Italy. Bologna sites and any Bologna itinerary revolves around the perfect mixture of food and history and art.[box]
Check out our recommendation for the Best Bologna Day Trips[/box]
Don’t have enough time for our full review of the top Bologna Italy points of interest in the rest of this Bologna travel blog? Check out our list of recommended sightseeing Bologna options. Each of these makes great options for things to do in Bologna Italy in 1 day.
Bologna Top 10 Day Tours in the Bologna City Center – Bologna City Guide
|Tour||Duration||Price From||Book It!|
|Bologna in a Day Must Visit Sites including Piazza Maggiore & Local Market||5 Hours||€53|
|Jewish History Tour with a tour of the Jewish Quarter||2 Hours||€72|
|Bologna Running Tour||1 to 3 Hours||€35|
|Bologna Segway Tour||3 Hours||€99|
|Italian Food & Museo Ferrari including visits to Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto, and balsamic producers||8 Hours in Small Group||€153|
|Bologna Cooking Class with a professional chef in the Bologna Countryside||5 Hours||€195|
|Private Group Food Tour with your own car, or upgrade to private driver||7 Hours in Private Tour||€80|
|Small Group Food Tour with lunch and producer visits||8 Hours in Small Group||€149|
|Bologna Day Tour Vineyards and Fortresses by bike and train||1 Day in Self-Guided Tour||€100|
|Bologna Day Tour to Marconi's Villa and Thermal Baths by bike and train||10 Hours in Self-Guided Tour||€140|
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
Bologna Places To Visit For Food Lovers
There are so many great foodie things to do in Bologna. After all, food is so important to the history and culture of Bologna. Think about taking a Bologna food tour. If you do, try taking it at the start of your trip. That way you can learn about the best places to eat in Bologna and what to eat in Bologna to help plan the rest of your visit to Bologna.[box]
Check out our Ultimate Bologna Food Guide to learn more about what to eat and where to eat in Bologna[/box]
If you are not interested in a Bologna food tour or a walking tour of Bologna, there are other ways to explore the best of Bologna more independently. Go food shopping in the Quadrilatero, one of the most atmospheric areas of the city. The Quadrilatero is a series of narrow streets just off of Piazza Maggiore. It served as the Bologna food market starting in the Middle Ages. There are still a handful of shops carrying local specialties, and it is one of the areas that Bologna Italy is known for.
One of the Bologna top attractions for food lovers is the Mercato delle Erbe, which offers more fresh produce. It is also more like a traditional Bologna food market. There is also an Italian food court of sorts, called Altro, where you can eat some of the top Bologna dishes. Or, a great way to spend a day, or a half day, in Bologna is to visit Eataly World, just outside of town. Check out our full review of Eataly World here.
If trying to kill time before a traditional Italian dinner, try stopping for an aperitivo in Bologna. For me, this is on the top of my list for must do in Bologna. Aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink. Starting around 6:00 pm, you can find many bars offering a drink along with a minimum of peanuts or potato chips. Sometimes there is a full buffet of Italian specialties laid out. Often for the price of €8 or €10 for a drink, a buffet of tasty meats, cheeses, and sandwiches are laid out. Some places even offer hot specialties including Bolognese pasta.
This is our recommendations for the Best Aperitivo Bologna – At Bella Vita – Grab an Aperol Spritz Aperitivo just steps from Piazza Maggiore[/box]
Bologna – What To Do For Free
Bologna is a great city to just wander around, and walking the city is one of the best free things to do in Bologna. Start your tour at the Bologna Welcome office and pick up a free Bologna tourist map. Using the map and these recommendations, enjoy the city during a little bit of a passagiato, a classic Italian walk. Be sure to walk past some of these Bologna attractions.
A piazza is an Italian square, and Piazza Maggiore, or Major Square, is the heart of Bologna’s city center. The square is always chock full of both locals and tourists, snapping photos or enjoying a cafe al fresco. The square is also home to the Palazzo d’Accursio, the Palazzo del Podesta, the Basilica di San Petronio, and the Palazzo Comunale.
Basilica di San Petronio
The large Basilica that is the heart and soul of Piazza Maggiore is actually the 10th largest church in the world, but volume. Although the basilica has a gothic design, it’s most known for having an unfinished facade, or front, of the church. It almost looks like two different churches, stacked one on top of the other. On a nice night, I like to sit on the church steps with the locals and people watch across the Piazza Maggiore.
Piazza del Nettuno and the Neptune Statue
On the northwest corner of Piazza Maggiore is the Piazza del Nettuno, home to the famous fountain and statue of Neptune. When people ask what is Bologna known for (other than food) this statue certainly is one of the top things to see in Bologna and it features prominently in traveler’s photos.
During 2017, during renovations of the 16th Century statue, architects found some ancient remains below the Bologna city streets. It will take some time for them to investigate the historical significance.
Discover the Hidden Canals
Bologna was once a port city and housed numerous canals that meandered through the city. Although most of the canals were paved over, filled in, or built over, there is a small remaining section behind the two famous Bologna towers. Keep an eye open for the Finestrella di Via Piella, to see a view of the canals from a window in the wall – perfect for Instagram!
Wander the Porticoes
One of the top things to do in Bologna, and one of the easiest, is to wander the famous Bologna Porticoes. A portico is a covered walkway, with arches and columns. One of the key facts about Bologna is that is hosts over 40 kilometers of porticoes and corridors. The porticoes alone make Bologna worth visiting. It’s a welcome relief from the sun in the summer and the snow in the winter too. The porticoes are certainly a must see in Bologna Italy, and wandering them is free!
Explore Bologna on a Walk or a Run
In this post, and in our Ultimate Bologna Food Guide, we provide advice on where to eat some of the best pasta in Bologna. We eat like gluttons when we travel to Bologna. That means we try to walk as much as possible. When staying in Bologna for a few weeks once we even got into the habit of seeing the city while running. There are a few places to explore the Bologna sights on two feet. Just be prepared for some hills. The Bologna city center is flat, but the outskirts are filled with hills (or stairs).
A good place to start, without hills, is the Giardini Margherita, just south of the city. The loop around the park is about 1.5 kilometers, so a few laps could be a great run.
There is the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca, which is a church up on a hill above the city called Monte della Guardia and is a Bologna must-see attraction. It takes less than an hour from the city center and follows along some of Bologna’s most famous porticoes, the Portico San Luca. You can see Bologna from the top of the hill, or climb to the rooftop of the church, which costs €5.
Historic Things to Do in Bologna
Many of the top Bologna Italy things to do relate to the history and architecture of the city. There are loads of Bologna museums. There are almost two dozen museums in Bologna. And, it’s possible to learn about the history of the city not only from the museums but from some of the famous Bologna attractions included above.
Bologna Towers at Piazza di Porta Ravegnana
There are two “leaning” towers in Bologna. They might not be as famous as the leaning tower in Pisa, but it is definitely one of my favorite Bologna tourist attractions that doesn’t involve Bolognese cuisine.
You can climb to the top of Asinelli Tower, all the way up 498 steps. Once at the top, you can enjoy 360-degree views over the center of Bologna. On clear days you can see the Bologna Hills out in the distance. The smaller tower, Garisenda Tower, leans just next to Asinelli and can be seen from the top as well. The Garisenda Tower has a much more noticeable lean.
Bologna What To See Pro Tip: The government limits the entry into Asinelli Tower, and they time visits to avoid too many people climbing the tower at once. I am happy they do because the staircase in some places is pretty narrow. Book your ticket ahead of time to secure a spot. For the clearest weather, try the morning, particularly in the summer months when the Bologna temperature can soar and the air becomes muggy. Earlier spots also tend to be less crowded. Grab the Bologna Welcome Card to visit many Bologna activities, including tickets to the two towers.
Bologna Archaeological Museum
We are not generally museum-goers, other than for museums relating to food and wine. That said, we’ve heard great things about the Bologna Archaeological Museum. It’s a great way to learn about the history of Bologna over time, all the way back to prehistoric times. It’s located right on the Piazza Maggiore. Another option close to the city center is the Bologna National Gallery, which houses paintings from the 13th Century to the 18th Century.
Where to Go Shopping in Bologna Italy
Bologna is filled with shopping opportunities, most of which include Italian shops and international brands in the roads surrounding the Piazza Maggiore. In addition, there’s La Piazzola Bologna Market, a market that’s been around for hundreds of years. It’s held in the Piazza dell Agosto, on the way into the city center from the Bologna train station. The market is like an Italian version of a flea market, selling everything from clothes to housewares from over 400 stalls.
Places to Visit in Bologna Pro Tip: The La Piazzola Market is for locals and tourists, but probably more locals. That said, knowing that tourists can be found meandering the stalls, watch for pick-pocketers!
Unique Opportunities for Bologna Sightseeing and Attractions
If you’ve hit all of the major places to visit in Bologna, there are some really unique things to do see. How about a visit to the Seven Churches of Santo Stefano, where there are really only four churches? The Piazza Santo Stefano is lovely, with porticoes, bars, and cafes. The churches that remain are set around quiet courtyards as well. It’s a unique place to visit in Bologna because all of the buildings are connected and you can wander among them while enjoying the architecture. Or, check out the Museo per la Memoria di Ustica, a museum dedicated to the lives lost in an airplane crash in 1981.
Recommended Restaurants in Bologna Italy
I love recommending Emilia Romagna to people because it has some of the best food in Italy. I also like it because it isn’t over-touristed so it’s easy to eat great food everywhere, because the restaurants are all for the locals, unlike the center of other popular Italy destinations, like Rome, Venice, and Florence.
That said, there are some fairly touristy restaurants in Bologna, more so than in other cities in Emilia Romagna. We’ve written an extensive Bologna Food Guide, but here are our top recommendations for the best places to eat in Bologna.
In my opinion, Trattoria Bertozzi, Via Andrea Costa, 84/2, has some of the best food in Bologna. It’s a little outside of the city center and reservations are required because it’s so small. Other great options for Bologna restaurants include Osteria dell’Orsa, Via Mentana, 1, and Osteria al 15, Via Mirasole, 13, both great for traditional Bolognese cuisine and Bologna pastas.
A great option just a handful of blocks from Piazza Maggiore Bologna is Trattoria la Montanara, Via Augusto Righi 15. A small spot, where reservations are recommended. Trattoria la Montanara offers a good mix of classic Bolognese cuisine and some more creative dishes. Try the gramigna with sausage or the green lasagna verde.[box]
Best Restaurants in Bologna Italy Pro Tip: Like much of Italy, restaurants close during the middle of the day, often between 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm. They also may close one or two days a week, often Monday or Tuesday. If you are stuck in Bologna, hungry, outside of the “normal” eating schedule, try … I wouldn’t recommend eating at these places if you only have one day in Bologna, but if stuck, they are reliable and pretty decent too.[/box]
Bologna Nightlife – Visit Bologna at Night
What about Bologna nightlife? Well, we are not really night owls. And, when dinner usually begins between 8:30 and 9:00 pm, by the end of the meal, I’m stuffed and in a food coma. Generally, our idea of nightlife involves a gelato on the way back to a hotel. Sometimes we stop for a spritz, a glass of wine, or even a limoncello on the way home. There are a handful of bars that stay open a little later. For the most part, though, Bologna, like many other Italian cities, is an early destination.
Where is Bologna Italy & How Do I Get There
Bologna City is in the center of Northern Italy, at a crossroads, making it an easy place to get to from almost everywhere else in Italy. The Bologna Airport is only 6 kilometers outside of the city. Getting to Bologna is easy. You can take a taxi or rental car. Or, hop a bus from the airport to the Bologna train station. From there you can walk almost anywhere in the city.
You can also arrive in Bologna city center from almost anywhere in Italy. In fact, the Bologna train station is one of the most connected as it is located in the center of the country. I cover the distances from Bologna to many of the main cities in Italy as well as in Emilia Romagna in our post on the Best Day Trips From Bologna. I will recommend, though, that you book train tickets in advance, where possible, as prices increase as the journey closes in.
Once in the Bologna city center, there are buses and trams that traverse the city. But, we walk everywhere! It’s much easier to get around on foot.
FAQs – Facts About Bologna City Italy
- What is the weather in Bologna Italy? Bologna weather is pretty typical and seasonal. Bologna temperatures range from super hot in August to cold and possibly snowy in the winter months.
- When is the best time to visit Bologna Italy? Because summers are crowded and hot and winters can be cold, I recommend spring and fall as the best time to visit Bologna.
- What is Bologna (the meat)? One thing that people ask us about is not Bologna the city, but Bologna the meat. We wrote a very detailed post about what is Mortadella, including what’s in “Bologna.”
- Can I drive in Bologna city center? In the heart of the city, no. There are many restricted areas in Bologna. Ask at your hotel if you can drive to the hotel, or try parking in the outskirts. Get more tips for driving in Italy here.
Tourist Information Bologna
We’ve traveled to Bologna more times than I can count. During that time, we’ve been hosted by Emilia Romagna Tourism and Bologna Welcome, the Bologna tourist office. We’ve also been several times on our own over the years. It’s why we have one of the most comprehensive lists of Bologna highlights and what to see in Bologna Italy.
The Bologna tourism office, Bologna Welcome, is located right in the heart of Bologna, on Piazza Maggiore, across from the Basilica. They can provide free tips and resources, Bologna tourist maps, and can tell you about events and what’s on in Bologna.
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Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.