Best Things To Do In Bologna

Bologna, the culinary capital of Italy, is located between two of Italy’s most visited cities, Florence and Venice, making it a perfect escape when too many tourists become too much. Although the highlight of Bologna is its mouthwatering Italian food specialites, this city also offers miles of colonnaded porticos, or arcades, charming traditional Italian squares, and some history that I bet you didn’t know. This post covers the top things to do in Bologna.

Aptly nicknamed ”La Dotta, La Grassa E La Rossa”, which means “the educated, the fat, and the red”, this city has its own unique charms. “La Dotta”, or ”the educated”, honors the University of Bologna, the oldest in the western world, while ”La Grassa”, or ”the fat” recognizes its amazing cuisine, and ”La Rossa”, or ”the red”, is for the multitude of red clay rooftops here, which you can see from one of its historic towers left standing today.

Bologna | Wikimedia Commons

Best Things To Do In Bologna

Sample Bologna’s Mouthwatering Specialties

Different than the food in southern Italy, Bologna’s specialties include its fluffy, hand-made, stuffed pastas, slow-cooked meaty ragu sauce, heavenly verde lasagna, flavorful cured meats, and the ”King of Cheeses” Parmegiano Reggiano. You can either wander the many restaurants here and try them on your own, or sign up for a food tour. If you want a food tour, Italian Days and Taste Bologna are both great options.

Tortellini

Bologna’s passion for stuffed pasta started with its invention of tortellini, its slightly larger version, tortelloni, and even bigger version, tortellaci. There are actually many stuffed pastas here, but the most traditional is tortellini in brodo, or freshly made tortellini, stuffed with meat and/or cheese, and spices, and served in broth, like soup. This signature dish is a must try. Or you can just try this delctable pasta on its own, like I did. Several times ;).

Eating tortellini is one of the best things to do in Bologna
Eating tortellini is one of the best things to do in Bologna

Tagliatelle Al Ragu (A.K.A Pasta Bolognese)

Most Bolognians would scoff at what we call pasta bolognese. Here, its called Tagliatelle al Ragu. A thick ragu sauce with veal, pork, carrots, onions, and just a little tomato, slowly simmered for hours and served over freshly made tagliatelle. Have you booked your flight yet? I getting hungry just writing this!

Lasagne Verde al Forno

Bologna’s lasagne, 100 times better than what we call lasagne in the USA, is lasagne verde al forno. This amazing version, made with freshly made spinach pasta, meaty ragu, béchamel sauce, and authentic Parmigiano, was invented here.

Mortadella

Mortadella, which originated in Bologna in the 1400’s, is the great, great, great, great grandparent of what we call bologna, or baloney. Although much, much, much better. This thinly sliced meat is pork and fat, spiced with ingredients like coriander, celery seed, allspice, nutmeg, myrtle berries and/or black pepper. You’ll find it on menus everywhere in Bologna.

Cured Meats | Peachyeung316

Prosciutto

Technically Prosciutto di Parma is from neighboring Parma (an hour northwest of Bolgna), but also an outstanding choice here.

Parmegiano Reggiano

Parmegiano Reggiano, only produced in the Emilia-Romagna region, which includes Bologna, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Mantua, is classified as ”Protected Denomination of Origin”, or PDO. This artisanal, aged, ”King of cheeses” dates back to 12th century, made by Benedictine monks in this region. Try it drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar from neighboring Modena.

Stroll Quadrilatero, Bologna’s Premier Market

This is the oldest market in Bologna and premier foodie destination. You’ll find the best street food, produce, and local specialties here, including its meats, cheeses, tortellini, and more. Quadrilatero covers several streets, with indoor markets, pizzerias, pubs, pasta bars, and restaurants, so plan to spend an afternoon, or two, here.

While here, visit one of the oldest pubs in Bologna, Osteria Del Sole. Established in 1465, it’s also one of the oldest bars in the world in continuous use. This establishment does not serve food, but you can bring your own. It’s authentic and highly ranked. Another must-see stop here.

How To Get To Quadrilatero: Quadrilatero is just steps from main square, Piazza Maggiore, in Bologna’s historic heart.

Visit Piazza Maggiore

Bologna has several charming Piazzas, but Piazza Maggiore is its central square. One of the oldest and biggest squares in Italy, it was built to give prominence to the seat of government and provide a meeting/marketplace for citizens.

Lined with key historic buildings like Palazzo del Podesta, the Bascilica of Patronio, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d’Accursio, the city’s town hall, and Palazzo dei Banchi, a palace, it’s a must-see spot.

This is also where to find Piazza del Nattuno and its Fountain of Neptune. It was built along with the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, the first seat of the University of Bologna.

In the summer this square has regularly scheduled entertainment, including movies, orchestras, shows, etc, with over 3,000 seats. I watched an orchestra, which was very entertaining with audience participation, and ending in an impressive light show and fireworks. Italians really know how to have fun, even at an orchestra. The schedule is often on display in the square (below).

Visiting Piazza Maggiore is one of the of the best things to do in Bologna
Piazza Maggiore

How To Get To Piazza Maggiore: Piazza Maggiore is located in central Bologna, rvery close to Quadrilatero.

Walk Its UNESCO Listed Porticos

There are about 23 miles (38 km) of charming porticos, or arcades, in Bologna. It’s perfect to stroll and shop, or just explore, as they each have their own charm. They range from old, medieval wooden porticos, to ornate designs with delicately painted ceilings, and some with historical stories. They’re such an integral part of Bologna’s identity, they’re UNESCO listed. Some suggested stops include the following.

The portico of San Luca is the longest in the world at about 2.5 miles (4 km) with over 600 archways. It picturesquely snakes up Monte della Guardia to the Sanctuary of San Luca.

Built in the 17th or 18th century to provide protection to the icon of the Madonna with Child and its procession during the annual Feast of the Ascension.

There’s also a 13th century medieval portico at Casa Isolani on Strada Maggiore. This one has a unique story as 3 arrows are stuck in the ceiling, reportedly from a failed kidnapping in the 15th century. Possibly foiled by a woman bearing her breasts. Good story, but no one knows if it’s true. See if you can find the 3rd arrow as most people only find 2.

One of the most beautiful porticos is on Via Farini at Palazzo della Banco d’Italia, near Piazza Cavour. It’s one of the few with a painted ceiling, and is stunning.

The ceiling of the portico below, at Via dell’Indipendenza, features the words, “Panis vita, canabis protectio, vinum laetitus”.

San Luca Portico | Wikimedia Commons

This translates to “Bread life, Cannibis protection, Wine pleasure”, which references the important trade of cannibis here in the past. The trade, however, was for its use as a textile. This unique portico is about a 5-minute walk from Piazza Maggiore. See the directions for Piazza Maggiore to Portico.

Exploring the many porticos is one of the best things to do in Bologna
Canabis Protectio

Visit The Sanctuary of San Luca

The Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca sits atop the Monte della Guardia, 300 meters above the city, providing spectacular views. Especially at sunset. The original church was built in the 12th century, while the version standing today is from the 18th century.

Sanctuary of San Luca View | Carlo Pelagalli

How To Get To Sanctuary San Luca: You can reach the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca via Portico San Luca, used for the procession of the Feast of the Assumption, or by road.

Peer Into The Little Window To Little Venice

The window on Canale delle Moline, an extension of Canale di Rino, opens to Bologna’s past, around the 12th century, when canals were used for transportation and electricity to the mills and factories here. It’s one of the few, of once many, canals once here. Most were eventually covered by pavement.

The window itself is a bit underwhelming, but if you have time, it’s an interesting “touristy” stop. Plus, there are some great restaurants in this area.

Via Piella | Bristin

How To Get To Canale dell Moline: Located on Via Piella. The Canale dell Moline is a 7-minute walk from the Parco della Montagnola

Due Torri di Bologna: Garisenda and Asinelli

An important part of Bologna’s history is that in medieval times, wealthy families built towers here. So many that Bologna was known as ”La Turitta”, or “full of towers”.

They built them to symbolize their wealth and power, as well as for defense between feuding factions supporting either the Pope or the Holy Roman Emperor.

Although only a small number remain today, Bologna once had 80-180 towers, depending on the source. A lot for a small town!

The two most iconic towers still standing are Garisenda and Asinelli, located in the heart of the Old Town, in Porta Ravignana Square.

Garisenda is unique as it actually leans more than the tower of Pisa. In fact, Garisenda used to be taller, but was shortened for safety reasons. Aniselli, beside it, offers a birds-eye view of the city when you climb its 496 stairs. Both are located at the end of Via Rizolli.

Due Torri of Bologna | Conti di Cavour

Take A Day Trip To Motor Valley

If you’re a performance motor enthusiast, take a day trip to visit either Ferrari, Lamborghini, Ducati, or Maserati. Each are a relatively short drive away and open to visitors for factory, and/or museum, tours. Click the links above for more details and booking information.

Other Top Spots in Italy

West of Bologna are Cinque Terre and Portovenere, perfect places to hike off some of the food you ate here. The vistas on the hike between these charming villages are truly spectacular.

Not far from there is the port town of Genoa. This melting pot city was the birthplace of both Christopher Columbus and Pesto Pasta, which I thought I didn’t like until I tried the REAL version.

Heading south, you can’t miss Florence, with its iconic Duomo, and outstanding Renaissance art. And, of course, Rome is a top highlight in Italy. The Colosseum, ancient archeological sites, rich history, impressive architecture, and food are top notch, making this one of the world’s top travel destinations.

Heading south of Rome, the ruins of Pompeii and Hurculaneum, are less than a 3 hour drive. One of the world’s top archeological sites, it’s fascinating to wander the streets and homes frozen in time almost 2,000 years ago. This is one of my all time favorite places!

South of Pompeii, highlights include the idyllic beauty of the famed Amalfi coast. And, from there, the jaw-dropping beauty of Capri, is just a ferry ride away.

Sicily, off the tip of Italy’s boot, is very diverse and full a fascinating cities and sites. While the lovely Aeolian islands are scattered north of it. They’re fun to ferry between and explore one-by-one. I explored a few and hiked up the volcanic island of Stromboli for some adventure.

On Italy’s east coast, Venice is a top highlight. I loved wandering its lovely side streets and watching the gondoliers gliding along the canals.

To see all the highlights of Italy, as well as understand how to get around, safety, scams, logistics, and more, to help you plan your trip, see my Italy Travel Guide.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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