Our Picks for the Best Things to do in Bologna

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Bologna is one of my favourite cities in Italy. Mostly because I met Andrea from Taste Bologna here and he showed me the best things to do in Bologna.

Yet most people never even consider the city because they are so busy with Rome, Florence and Venice.

But Bologna is a city for food lovers.

It’s the largest city in the Emilia Romagna region, one of the most prolific food regions in the world producing products like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Modena balsamic vinegar, prosciutto.

Bologna is also a university town. In fact, it houses the world’s oldest university and is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.

Today it has the energy and relaxed nightlife of a university town with so many inexpensive things to do in Bologna.

Yet as it’s not as high on the radar for first-time travelers to Italy, you won’t have any of the crowds.

If you need just one reason to visit Bologna it is for its nickname La Grassa – who doesn’t want to visit a city called The Fat?

 

The arcades in Bologna Italy are just one of many reasons to visit this town that most food lovers miss.

Things to Do in Bologna: Walk Off Lunch

Bologna is also known as La Rossa or the red, for its terra cotta rooftops.

It isa medieval city so you will find beautiful cathedrals and historic buildings but it’s also a left-leaning progressive city with modern art exhibits.

There’s no shortage of culture in Bologna.

  • Asinelli Tower is the city’s largest tower and you can climb to the top to get a great view. It slightly leans, and is actually taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the 498 steps to the top will surely work off the extra pasta calories.
  • Piazza Maggiore is the main plaza in the city with lots going on from movies in the square to art fairs. To get here travel up Bologna’s main street – Via dell’Indipendenza and you’ll arrive at the famous Neptune Fountain in Piazza Nettuno which is just around the corner.
  • Piazza Maggiore is also home to the Basilica of San Petronio which is an odd looking church as the bottom is pink marble but the top is brick. While it may not be the most beautiful, it is one of the more interesting as it was once supposed to be the largest church in the world until the Vatican discovered the plans and suddenly funds disappeared and were given to the university. Perhaps a better investment anyway.
  • Stroll the 666 portici in Bologna, or covered terracotta arcades. With an influx of university students it needed to expand rapidly. No one wanted to expand outside the city so they build on top of the streets, student houses were created in front of existing storefronts with the portices below. They needed to be high enough to allow horse carts through and today over 45km remain, which are fantastic for the hot Italian sun or rainy days.
     
 

What to Eat in Bologna

If you are heartbroken that spaghetti bolognese does not exist in Bologna, have no fear and order the tagliatelle with ragu or order one of many traditional food in Bologna.

  • Mortadella
    Everywhere else in the world we know it as bologna, but here it’s called mortadella and it’s fantastic. Mortadella is an Italian sausage made from ground pork and pork fat. It’s decadent and amazing with a glass of prosecco.
  • Salame Rosa
    Once you’ve had your fill of mortadella, try its lesser known cousin – salame rosa, which means pink salami. If a cooked ham and mortadella had a child it would be salame rosa as it is a cooked sausage made from pork shoulder.
  • Pizza
    In Bologna you will find neapolitan pizza, so think thicker, softer crust. It’s not my favourite but if you’re on the go it’s a perfect snack.
  • Tortellini in brodo
    Delicate parcels of pasta filled with minced pork in broth.
  • Piadinas
    Italian flatbreads stuffed with cheese and meat.
  • Torta di Riso
    A sweet rice cake.
  • Gelato
    There are some fantastic gelato shops in Bologna; however, I learned early on how to distinguish the difference from those that tourists eat at and gelato shops for locals – real gelato isn’t piled high to draw people in, it’s hidden in canisters beneath a counter so gelato needs to be cold. Makes you wonder how those piles of tempting gelato-like shops keep it cold. When in doubt go to Cremeria Santo Stefano.

Also don’t miss out on Lambrusco, gorgeous sparkling red wine, that pairs fantastically with cured meat.

 

Bologna Italy is full of amazing markets and at night some of them turn into restaurants.

Markets in Bologna

  1. Mercato di Mezzo is the oldest market in Bologna just off Piazza Maggiore, and runs 6 days a week, only closing for Sunday. Located in the Quadrilatero, it’s the most famous market and a bit more touristy than others so the prices are a big higher than other markets.
  2. Mercato della Terra is an open air market run by Slow Food Italy and it’s a great way to find local products from the region.
  3. At Mercato delle Erbe there’s an opportunity to shop for food but it’s also home to what North American’s would call a food court. Although this doesn’t really give it justice. In the evenings you’ll find locals eating and drinking from stalls. This is a modern local experience and one of the best things to do in Bologna.
 
Learn to make pasta in Bologna. Discover the best things to do in Bologna if you only have a little time.

Food Tours in Bologna

Taste Bologna
One of the best things to do in Bologna is to take a food tour. Hands down one of the best food tours I’ve taken anywhere in the world has been with Taste Bologna.

A local from Bologna, Andrea runs tours on the side and has a classic Bologna as well as Gelato and Pizza tour, soon he’ll have a pasta making class.

He has such a passion for food and it feels like hanging out with friends. So much so we’ve become friends and we visited his parents to experience the classic Italian lunch.

Use the promo code “BACONINBOLOGNA” to get 5% off.

Don’t believe how amazing it is? Read these reviews on TripAdvisor.

Yummy Italy
Helena is originally from London but has lived in Italy long enough to know the best places to go and all the best things to do in Bologna.

She has a number of great food tours, and we had a great time learning how to make pasta with her.

One of her signature tours will be the balsamic tasting as no one does this in Italy but she takes you to a great aceteria to learn about how it is made and then sit for a tasting, trying balsamic of different ages.

We tried one that was 100 years old and realized it wasn’t that much different than the 50 year old balsamic. You’ll never look at vinegar the same way again.

 
Osteria del Sole in Bologna is Italy's oldest osteria and still frequented by locals but missed by tourists.

Where to Drink in Bologna

Osteria del Sole has been around since 1465 and is the oldest Osteria in Italy.

You can bring your own food and drink alongside old Italian men playing cards.

Keep in mind you go to the bar to order a drink, no one is coming by your table to take your order.

Piazza del Maggiore you’ll find lots of cafes and bars around the city square, if you’re on a budget you can bring your own food and wine and join the group.

Le Stanze is a former chapel that is very popular with reasonable prices and an interesting decor. It gets busy at night but it’s also open during the day for coffee.

Want to hang out with students, it’s definitely one of the cheapest things to do in Bologna?

In Piazza Verdi you’ll find crowds of people drinking in the streets and the faint smell of illegal substances in the air.

Drop into a bottega to get some beer and you’ll meet plenty of people in the square.

 
Where to shop in Bologna Italy and other must-do experiences in this food lovers city.

Where to Shop in Bologna

Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo first opened in 1783 and at first look it seems like a cooking shop for tourists.

It’s true there are some whimsical overpriced items for tourists but behind the trinkets you’ll find a serious cookware shop.

One that I had to drag Dave out of, but only after we bought a fish knife and pasta stamps.

Tamburini – this deli is also a wine bar and perfect place to stop for a drink and some salumi.

Where to Stay in Bologna

I Portici – I Portici hosted us for a few nights and it was a great experience. The rooms are so spacious you wouldn’t believe you were in Europe and the service is superb.

The hotel is also home to a Michelin star restaurant with amazing mortadella macarons.

If you’re looking for something more low key there is also a tortellini shop, La Bottega dei Portici, where you can watch staff expertly crafting these tiny pasta.

We walked in off the street and they were happy to have us watch and take photos.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor and Check Rates on Expedia

Albergo Rossini 1936

We found this for the bargain price of $80/night on Hotwire including breakfast and absolutely loved it.

The only downside is that it’s in the student district so on the weekends it is very loud.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor and Check Rates on Expedia

How to Get to Bologna

We traveled with Eurail passes so it was easy to hop on the train. Bologna is less than 3 hours from Rome and only half an hour from Florence.

Bologna is also home to an international airport and there are numerous flights to Bologna from London and other major European cities.

What did we miss? What are your favourite things to do in Bologna? It is an amazing town and we’d love to know your best tips for the next time we visit!

Pin it: What to Do in Bologna Italy

Travelers rarely have time to visit Bologna, or even know of this foodie city, don't miss out on our best picks for things to do in Bologna.
Rooftop view of Bologna Italy
Travelers rarely have time to visit Bologna, or even know of this foodie city, don't miss out on our best picks for things to do in Bologna.

Join the Conversation

  1. A Lady in London says:

    Lovely post! I visited Bologna for my birthday a few years ago and had a great time eating my way through the city. I loved stopping at the markets and had a fun lunch at Eataly!

  2. What a delicious post. I didn’t get to visit Bologna, and perhaps it was best for my stomach. Ha! You did such a great job of highlighting the food of the area. It didn’t even occur to me that it would be a big University city. D’oh! That must have been cool.

  3. Wonderful! I visited Bologna for just one night earlier this year and loved it. Now I’m excited to go back in a few months and try some of your recommendations. I went to a co-op restaurant when I was there that was fantastic, I think it was run by university students, if I remember correctly…

  4. Great post looks like there’s lots of good eats in Bologna! I would not have thought! I love going on food tours with locals!

  5. Bologna looks pretty rad, wish I would have stopped by there while in Italy! It all looks tasty =)

  6. Your post made me very hungry and wishing I were back in Italy!

  7. Bertozzi is a brilliant and authentic trattoria – my girlfriends family live in Bologna and every time we go there we eat at Bertozzi. Also Gianni for gelato. The best

  8. dana freeman says:

    Looks delicious! I have not been to Bologna yet.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      “Yet” is the most important word here. It’s fantastic and Modena is less than an hour away.

  9. Thank you for your blog…been searching net for info on Bologna as we travel there this Friday. Lot of tips we will take on board 🙂

  10. Hey, there, thanks for sharing this amazing blog about Bologna! Actually, I did not know much about Bologna! I love to know about new amazing city and country! Your blog have really informative info!

  11. Lady and her Sweet Escapes says:

    Now I should include this to my ET when I go to Italy. Thanks

  12. We rented an apartment in Bologna for a few days and in addition to seeing the city itself, we used it as a hub for our visits to Ravenna (great mosaics!) and the Ducati motorcycle factory and the Ferrari museum. While there we ate out and also visited the local grocery store. We had the best raviolis ever – fresh from the grocery store. Mushrooms and a little cheese – they were to die for!! Between my teeny bit of Italian and using the visual clues from the jar, I bought what I thought was jarred spaghetti sauce for using with the fabulous raviolis. (I should have known there is no such thing as a jarred spaghetti sauce in Italy – LOL!) Once back at the apartment that had only salt and pepper for seasonings I realize it was not spaghetti sauce, but tomato sauce. Bleh!! LOL! What an experience!

    Bologna isn’t called Bologna the fat for nothing….ah the food, but if you cook it yourself….be sure of what you are buying! We always travel with the family and kids and since we also went down the cookie aisle choosing several packages to try we didn’t go hungry that night. 🙂

  13. Shelly Belange says:

    lovely post – visited bologna recently and it is definitely a must. it is a paradise for foodies and it is also recognised as the “motor valley” – we did a fantastic day tour joining food coma and visit to Ferrari!!! if you are in italy do not miss this hidden gem

  14. Should let outsiders know that you can not drive your vehicle into the city. We went to see the university, which we thought was not part of downtown center. We just followed all the other cars. What we didn’t realize is you need a special permit. EVERY Car that enters the city is photographed. If a special permit is not given, you are hit with a rather substantial fine, without even knowing it. Read up on it. The city makes huge amount of money fining unsuspecting travelers. Nothing but a scam. Not well marked, that one cannot enter the university area. Put a damper on our visit. We won’t visit again.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Judy – were you driving a rental car? Many cities do this but tourists often can get temporary permits on their rentals as they would drive in the city.

      1. Kathy Marvin says:

        Do you know how we can get such a permit? We are picking up our rental car at the airport in Bologna and keeping it for 2 weeks. Do you know where else we will need permits to drive in the cities? We will go to Siena, Florence and Rome for sure!! Thank you so much for including this info about the permit and rental cars.
        Kathy

  15. Foodetccooks says:

    Looking even more forward to my upcoming Bologna trip now after reading this. 🙂

  16. Thanks for your post, I’m in Florence at the moment and visiting Bologna tomorrow.. Great tips!

  17. storbyferie says:

    Fantastic foodie-guide to Bologna! Just got to love the italian food 😀

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