Located in the north of Italy is the city of Bologna, the capital of Emilia Romagna region with a population of 390,000. Bologna is an important city in Italy due to its location between the cities of Florence and Venice as well as Milan.
The city’s strategic location made it an important city in agriculture, industry, and finance so many companies have chosen to establish their headquarters in Bologna. In 2009, Bologna was rated as the first Italian city and the 47th European city according to the economic growth rate. The city well knows that it is Italy’s gastronomic capital, so if you are a food lover, then we recommend tasting the many flavours Bologna has to offer.
There are many cultural sights in Bologna. Most of the attractions are located downtown and the best thing is that you can visit them all by walking around the city s they are very near to each other. The city also contains the University of Bologna that was founded in 1088 AD; it is the oldest university in the world. In 2000, it was announced that Bologna is a European capital of culture and in 2006 it was declared by UNESCO as the city of music and it is a part of the Creative Cities Network.
There are also many charming places to visit in the city from the Piazza Maggiore, Asinelli Tower to shopping at the Quadrilatero, so let us break them all down.
Things to do in Bologna
Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno
You can start your day by visiting Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno, the two squares located near each other in the centre of the city. Stepping into the Piazza Maggiore, you will be amazed by its magnificent grand Renaissance buildings like the Pallazo d’Accursio, the Palazzo del Podesta, the Basilica di San Petronio, the Palazzo Comunale.
While walking to the north of Piazza Maggiore, you will find the Piazza del Nettuno; another beautiful square in Bologna that was designed by Giambologna in the 16th century and it contains the famous Fountain of Neptune. Much like Piazza Maggiore, Piazza del Nettuno also contains many palaces and basilica that you can enjoy visiting and you can have a delicious meal at any restaurant in the street of Porticos and admire all the beauty of the architecture all around you. One of the enjoyable things that can be found in Piazza del Nettuno is the open-air movie screenings and concerts that take place often. Also not far from the square there is the famous shopping street Via dell’Indipendenza and the street Galleria which is famous for its many aristocratic mansions.
Santo Stefano (St. Stephen Basilica)
The St. Stephen Basilica is located in the Piazza Santo Stefano. It contains the Church of Saint John the Baptist, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the courtyard of Pilate; all of which is called the cradle of faith in Bologna. It was built by the Benedictines between the 10th and 13th centuries to shelter the remains of Bologna’s early martyrs, Saints Vitale and Agricola. The main church is called Chiesa del Crocifisso and it has an exterior pulpit and a cellar that dates back to 1019. The second church, Santo Sepolcro, opens onto a pillared courtyard adjoining a monastery. The third church features various styles that are made from previous Roman and Byzantine buildings with mosaic floors from the 6th century. Every church showcases different designs and artwork from the others and you will also find a museum providing information about St. Stephen Basilica.
The Leaning Towers of Bologna
Did you know that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not the only leaning tower in the world? Yes, that’s right, there two of these towers in Bologna. The two towers are the Asinelli, which is the tallest at 97.2 meters, and Garisenda, which is 48 meters, both of which were named after famous Italian families. The two towers are just 5 minutes walk from Piazza Maggiore. These towers were built in the 12th century as many towers built at the time, so they can be watchtowers and places of refuge in case of attack but now they are famous attractions in the city. You will have the chance to climb 498 steps inside the tower of Asinelli and it is worth it because at the top you will have a fantastic view of all of Bologna.
San Petronio (Basilica of St. Petronius)
This is one of the famous attractions in Bologna, as it is the 10th largest church in the world and it is located in the Piazza Maggiore. The church was built in 1390 and the façade wasn’t completed at all, where the lower part of it was colored marble stonework and the top part is bare and contains exposed brown brickwork. In the inner part of the church, you will see colorful and frescoed walls with high ceilings and stained-glass windows. Also inside you will be able to see Cassini’s 67-meter long meridian line which is drawn into the marble floor.
Bologna Archaeological Museum
The museum is located in the middle of the city of Bologna, specifically in the famous Piazza Maggiore and it shows the history of the city throughout the ages. The museum is divided into nine different sections, which are the Prehistoric, Etruscan, Celtic, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Numismatic. These sections contain many kids of artefacts, such as Bronze Age tools, skeletal remains, pottery, weaponry, china, and marble statues. You can spend hours in the museum due to the large collections but you will enjoy being there and discovering these rare and unique artefacts.
Bologna National Gallery
The National Gallery is located in the old university complex and it is also near the Piazza Maggiore. The gallery is divided into two sections: the Accademia Clementina and the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts. The Accademia Clementina contains a lot of wonderful Byzantine paintings from the 13th century and the other gallery contains other works through centuries.
Archiginnasio Anatomical Theater
The Archiginnasio is located on the Piazza Galvani and was built in the 16th century. This building is a magnificent example of historical architecture and it was the former main building of the University of Bologna. The Anatomical Theatre dates back to the 17th century, and it was built in wood and it comprises a small room where medical students once learned about anatomy by watching as corpses were dissected and there are carved statues of famous medical practitioners.
San Domenico (St. Dominic Church)
San Domenico is one of the important churches in Bologna and it is near the Piazza Maggiore. It was founded by Saint Dominic as a cloister. While you visit the church you will see the marble tomb that contains his remains, craved in specific details by the greatest artists at that time like Michelangelo and Nicola Pisano. It is said that the church is the eighth wonder of the world, due to the superb wood inlay by intarsia master fra’ Damiano da Bergamo in the choir which was hailed by Renaissance contemporaries. If you are visiting Bologna on the first or the second Saturday of the month, you will be able to have a free tour of the church choir, Inquisition rooms and St. Dominic’s cell from 10:30 am till 3:30 pm.
This is one of the well-known towers in Bologna, as we said before that Bologna is full of watchtowers and sure this is one of them. The Prendiparte Tower was built in the 12th century during the middle ages and it is 59.5 meters high. The tower is located on the Prendiparte square and it is also near the leaning tower and the Maggiore Square that we talked about them in the upper part. The interesting thing is that you also can stay there, have breakfast and climb to the top so you can explore the beautiful views.
Oratory of Battuti
This part is for art lovers, located in the street of Clavature in Bologna, and it is a small chapel inside the church of Santa Maria Della Vita. This is one of the amazing things you will see and one of Bologna’s unsung treasures. This place is a small oratorio decorated in Baroque paintings, frescoes, and gilded carvings. The Oratory was built in 1604 and designed by Floriano Ambrosini. When you enter there, you can lay on one of the benches and look up at the magnificent splendid ceiling, also in the same room, you will find a group of 15 statues which are the statues of St. Proculus and St. Petronius and a set of lovely frescos.
Monte Della Guardia
It is such a beautiful place to escape the noise of the city and relax. This forested hill is about 300 meters high and is located to the southwest of Bologna near the Reno River. To reach the top of the hill you will have to walk through the length of the portico and climb downhill and when you are at the top you will see a beautiful view of Bologna and the places near it and you can also visit the shelter of the Madonna of San Luca which is at the top of the hill and it is another nice place to visit.
Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca
This is one of the oldest churches in Bologna. It was built in 1194 but wasn’t finished until 1765 and as we said before that the Sanctuary of Madonna is located on top of the Monte Della Guardia and from there you can see a fantastic view of the city of Bologna. The church has the main basilica and is created from an orange and pink material with a green collar and it is in a Baroque style. When you enter the church, you will be fascinated by the lovely decorations and detailed frescos.
Museum for the Memory of Ustica
The museum is considered one of the important landmarks in Bologna’s history, as it is devoted to the fateful Ustica Disaster. This disaster took place in 1980 when the plane Douglas DC-9 full of 81 passengers crashed while heading to Palermo and all the people on board were killed. To this day, this disaster remains a mystery and the reason for the crash is still unknown. If you visit the museum you will see the remains of the plane Douglas DC-9 with some collections of photographs and the holdings of the victims. The museum was built to honour the victims of this disaster.
Bologna’s Historical Libraries
Bologna is famous for its historical libraries; there are more than 12 libraries in the city whether it is a part of universities, in a historical palace, or even in conservatories. Among these libraries is the Archiginnasio of Bologna, a cultural space that is the central Salaborsa library which is located at Piazza Maggiore. Also, you will find the Library of Music and which is only 10 minutes from the Piazza Maggiore that contains over 80 historical musical instruments and documents by some of the world’s greatest composers.
Bologna is a famous city for its corridors, where you can walk through 40 km of corridors, and among these corridors is the Bonaccorsi Arch which leads you to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. While walking through these corridors you will be amazed by their unique architecture and the paintings that adorn their walls.
The Quadrilaterois a famous place for shopping, with its many well-known shops and malls, such as the Galleria Cavour; a popular place that contains many brands in one area like Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci. There is also the historical market which is called Mezzo di Mercato or the Middle Market where you can sample some of the delicious Italian food like fish, fresh fruits, and vegetables. It’s a great place to relax and have a good time in the middle of historical attractions.
Mercato delle Erbe (Herb Market)
The Herb Market is the oldest street market in Bologna but it was restructured again to resemble a courtyard. The market contains fruits and vegetables in its centre and with small shops around selling anything from Mortadella to dried plates of pasta. Also, there are cafes to have some coffee and some small restaurants, where you can have some delicious pizza, risotto, and porchetto. This is also another place where you can relax and discover everything in it, especially the local food in the market.
La Piazzola Market
The market is located in the Piazza dell Agosto in the north of the city centre, where there are about 400 different stalls. La Piazzola Market has been in Bologna for hundreds of years and it is famous in Bologna. The moment you enter the market, you will find everything you need to buy from clothes, shoes, fashion accessories, flowers, pottery, to jewellery. It is a lovely place to go to where the atmosphere there is amazing.
Sample the Local Dish of Tortellini
This is one of the famous traditional Italian foods in Bologna and many restaurants serve this delicious dish. Tortellini has ringed shaped pasta with many things stuffed in it like pork, prosciutto, and cheese and can be served with chicken or beef broth. Look for any restaurant in Piazza Maggiore so you can try this local delicious dish as Bologna is one of the best places to try the Tortellini dish in Italy.
Have a Drink at Osteria del Sole
The Osteria del Sole is a bar located behind Palazzo dei Bianchi on Piazza Maggiore and it is one of the oldest bars. It has been open since 1465. It is a good place where you can hang out with your friends and there are some great wine collections such as Fattoria del Cerro from the Montepulciano hillsides of Tuscany.
The Margherita Gardens is a really good choice for families to visit. It is located in the south of Bologna at the Piazza di Porta Santo Stefano. It is a very large place with a beautiful lake surrounded by vast green lawns, cypress, and oak groves. Families can escape the noise and traffic in the city and come here, where kids can have fun and play freely. There are also tortoises in the lake and birds inhabiting the trees; it is an amazing place to relax.
City Red Bus Tour
Another interesting thing to discover and enjoy many of Bologna’s attractions is the red bus. While you are riding the bus, you can put on headphones so they can guide you through the historical sites and areas. Also, you will have the opportunity to take wonderful pictures while you are on top of the bus. The bus tickets cost 14 Euros and half that for children.
Villa Spada was built in the 18th century and it is a famous Italian park and villa in Bologna. The villa is full of statues and frames of natural landscapes and there is a museum where you will see many examples of dresses across different cultures and periods. It is an interesting place to explore and you can relax in the gardens where there are many kinds of plants like Mediterranean cypresses and laurels.
Gelato Museum (Ice Cream Museum)
This is a great place to visit for ice cream lovers, as you can learn about the past and current famous Italian desserts. When you enter the museum you will see many kinds of equipment used in making ice cream whether it is old or modern machines and some historical pictures. Entering the museum costs 5 Euros.
This is one of the best family destinations in Bologna, located in the centre of the city and specifically at the University of Bologna. Kids will love the gardens where they can scout the tropical rainforest house and the interesting thing is that some herb samples date back to the 16th century. You will love being there and relaxing in these lovely gardens while your kids can play around.
Luigi Bombicci Museum of Mineralogy
The museum has a huge collection of over 50,000 specimens, including meteorites and ornamental stones. There are also about 10,000 other objects that are shown in the museum-like Systematic Mineralogical, Italian Regional Mineralogical, Bolognese Mineralogical-Petrographical, and Systematic Petrographical. Not only that, but the museum also contains the silvery-white Bologna stone, 142 meteorites, and tools used by 19th-century scholars.
This park is such a beautiful place to visit and it is one of the oldest public parks in Bologna. The magnificent views in Montagnola Park were designed in the 19th century by the French when they were in the city. If you visit the park, you will see the wonderful entrance on the northern side beside the Scalinata del Pincio staircase which was built to welcome anyone coming to Bologna by train. There is also a memorial which was dedicated to those who died in a battle against the Austrian in 1848.
Teatro Testoni Ragazzi
Teatro Testoni Ragazzi is a great attraction for kids, where it hosts live shows suitable for them. The Teatro also hosts conferences, meetings, and exhibitions all year long. The theatre is located in the city centre, it does about 200 productions for kids throughout the year and that’s why it is considered one of Bologna’s best live show venues.
Another famous theatre in Bologna is Teatro Comunale, it is located north of Piazza Maggiore in Rizzoli Street. When you enter the theatre, you will be fascinated by the design, where the convex auditorium has rows of boxes across four levels above its main ground seating area. The tickets start from 52 Euros for the symphony and opera performances.
Museum of Modern Art of Bologna
This is a pretty nice museum for kids to discover their artistic side. The museum art collections are divided into 8 themed areas, presenting masterpieces from the 19th century to modern artworks. Also, you can take a look at many temporary exhibitions and a broad collection of art books. The museum’s goal is to provide knowledge and necessary tools for interpreting the language and message of art and kids can also participate in workshops that help to encourage their creativity and develop artistic sensitivity.
Giovanni Capellini Geological Museum
This is a famous museum for prehistoric animals. It contains rocks and fossils that were discovered about 500 years ago. The museum has an interesting exhibit for children, where they will see a Proboscidean mastodon skeleton, a giant mammoth, and also a model of a 26 meter long and 4-meter tall Diplodocus dinosaur.
Capriolanda is a nice place for family, relaxation, and entertainment in Bologna. It has a space of 70,000 square meters and contains a wooden castle, slides, and climbing frames. All the activities in the place are safe with trained staff; there is also a botanical route among vegetable gardens and orchards, and a nature trail through the woods. Capriolandia is a perfect place for a picnic with a food truck available nearby.
Places to Stay in Bologna
Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni:
This amazing hotel is located close to the Basilica and Piazza Maggiore, and it has beautifully decorated rooms and a lovely historical building.
Al Cappello Rosso:
The hotel is located in the Piazza Maggiore which is stocked with luxuries and amenities to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
It is located near Piazza Maggiore with many shops and restaurants surrounding the hotel.
Hotel Albergo Atlantic:
It is in a street between Piazza Maggiore and the rail station, the price of the hotel is affordable and it is close to most of the major attractions in the city.
Bologna certainly has more than meets the eye. It might not be the most famous Italian city among tourists, but it also has no shortage of attractions, museums, theatres, and restaurants that guarantee you will have an enjoyable time in this quaint Italian city.