In spite of being only the seventh most populous city in Italy, Bologna is still one of the most popular destinations in the country. Numerous attractions such as Piazza Maggiore and its arched colonnades, the remarkable Basilica di San Petronio, and the 16th-century Fountain of Neptune are just some of the reasons for that. The city has alternatingly been known as La Grassa (the fat one; referring to its rich culinary legacy), La Dotta (the learned one, referring to the university), and La Rossa (the red one, alluding to the ever-present medieval terracotta buildings). But only by spending one day in Bologna can you truly experience each of the city’s many identities. Find the one that suits you best and fully immerse yourself in it.
Plan your trip to Bologna
1. WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT BOLOGNA?
2. A FEW FACTS ABOUT BOLOGNA
3. ONE DAY IN BOLOGNA ITINERARY
3.1. Keep This in Mind Before Starting Your Trip
3.2. Go to Piazza Maggiore First
3.3. Visit the Basilica di San Petronio
3.4. Pay a Visit to Basilica of San Domenico
3.5. Spend an Hour or Two Exploring the Museo Civico Archeologico
3.6. Check Out Bologna’s Two Towers
3.7. Make Time for Lunch
3.8. Take the Time to visit the University of Bologna
3.9. Take the Bus or Taxi to Al Parco Giardini Margherita
3.10. Visit Palazzo Albergati on Via Saragozza
3.11. Stop at a Nearby Restaurant for Dinner
3.12. Have a Few Drinks Before Calling It a Night
4. WHERE TO STAY IN BOLOGNA?
5. DAY TRIPS FROM BOLOGNA
6. EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING BOLOGNA
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT BOLOGNA?
When it comes to the world’s most popular destinations, Bologna is kind of the odd one out. Unlike many other places, where summer is the peak tourism season, in Bologna it is almost the other way around. In August in particular, most of the shops and hotels are closed due to the holidays (Ferragosto). Apart from that, though, the period between March and October certainly is the best time to visit Bologna. You will have numerous outdoor drinking and dining options and warm weather accompanying your trip.
If you want to skip the crowds, avoid early fall, when most tourists visit the city. This makes it hard to find a hotel room unless you book months in advance. Other tricky/expensive periods include the Cosmoprof week (March 15th – 21st), the Cersaie week (September 24th – 30th), and the Trade Fair week (October 15th – 23rd). If you have a choice, you can also visit Bologna in early spring (March and later) or in winter, for example around Christmas time.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT BOLOGNA
First off, what is Bologna known for? There are several things, but the University of Bologna takes the cake as number one. It is the oldest university in Europe (founded in 1088), older than Cambridge and Oxford! Its alumni include people such as Dante Alighieri, Albrecht Durer, Petrarch, Copernicus, Pope Alexander VI, and many others.
Another thing Bologna is famous for is its arcades. At 38 kilometers in the city center alone, Bologna has more arcades than any other city in the world. They give the city a unique character, but also serve a practical purpose: pedestrians can walk under the arcades and never get wet, no matter the weather.
Bologna sausage (obviously) gets its name from the city of Bologna. The sausage is derived from mortadella, which can be traced back to the 15th century, with one document potentially mentioning it as early as 1376. The Romans ate a similar sausage called farcimen mirtatum (myrtle sausage).
The city center of Bologna is 100% pedestrian on weekends, with the city’s three major streets closed to traffic. Few people know of the fact that Bologna is full of small canals, which were used by merchants to transport goods. A good place to see the canals is the famous Piella street.
ONE DAY IN BOLOGNA ITINERARY
Welcome to a city of great food, stunning architecture and rich history. Welcome to Bologna! Spending a day in this place means you will have plenty of sightseeing opportunities, so a good itinerary will always be handy to have. Follow these steps to have a great time and experience this incredible part of Italy – these are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Bologna.
TIP: To experience Bologna like a local, we highly recommend private tour!
Start your day on Piazza Maggiore
Surrounded by gorgeous medieval and Renaissance buildings, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s main square, is a perfect example of the city’s varied and interesting architecture. Located in the very heart of Bologna, the eclectic square has been the focal point of Bologna’s social and political life since the 13th century, which makes it one of the oldest squares in the country.
Expect to spend 1 to 2 hours here because many important sights line this wonderful square. These include the Basilica of San Petronio and the fountain of Neptune, an important symbol of Bologna. But more on them in the next part of this itinerary.
Visit the Basilica di San Petronio
Basilica di San Petronio is a large Gothic basilica overlooking Piazza Maggiore. Its brick and marble façade is still unfinished, even though construction began in 1390. In fact, the basilica remained unconsecrated for more than five-and-a-half centuries, until 1954. By volume, this is the tenth-largest church in the world at 132 meters long and 66 wide. It is also the largest brick church in the world. The basilica is dedicated to Saint Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna.
After spending some time exploring the church, don’t forget to also check out Neptune’s Fountain, facing Piazza Maggiore from Piazza del Nettuno (Neptune’s Square). The fountain, made of marble and bronze, was built between 1563 and 1566 and symbolizes the power of the pope ruling the world like Neptune rules the oceans.
Pay a visit to Basilica of San Domenico
Since most museums open at 10, you may want to try to squeeze in a couple of the more prominent nearby Bologna attractions first. There are many fascinating churches, such as the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita or Basilica Santa Maria dei Servi.
But there are also many palaces to explore, primarily Palazzo d’Accursio (a city hall/government building from the 14th century with a fine art museum & self-guided tours), Palazzo dei Banchi, and Palazzo del Podesta, all three of which are located on Piazza Maggiore.
So, start with the palaces and then make your way south. About 500 meters south of Piazza Maggiore and Basilica di San Petronio (7 minutes on foot), you will come across the Basilica of San Domenico, an impressive historic basilica with a gorgeous Romanesque façade. Since it’s open for all to visit, you can go inside and admire the numerous sculptures, paintings, and the remains of Saint Dominic.
Spend an Hour or Two Exploring the Museo Civico Archeologico
Next, head to Via dell’Archiginnasio near Basilica di San Petronio to visit Museo Civico Archeologico. The Civic Archaeological Museum is one of the most prestigious institutions in Bologna, housing priceless Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts in a gorgeous palace from the 1400s. Located just off Piazza Maggiore, the museum has been open to the public since the late 19th century.
Most of the artifacts come from a series of excavations in Bologna and its surroundings, as well as a generous donation by Pelagio Palagi, a notable Italian painter. There are many fascinating exhibits, and the museum is easy to tour, so this will be a very enjoyable visit indeed.
Check Out Bologna’s Two Towers
Bologna’s two leaning towers are widely recognized as the main symbol of the city. One of the towers is called Torre Garisenda, and the other one Torre degli Asinelli. The latter is the taller one, almost 100 meters tall (97.2). While the tower is open to the public, the climb can be challenging. However, the view is quite beautiful. There is also a local legend stipulating that students who climb the tower will never graduate.
Torre Garisenda is two times shorter than its neighbor (at 47 m), although it is more tilted. If you intend to climb the tower, you will have to purchase tickets in advance at the tourist information center (Bologna Welcome) on Piazza Maggiore or from the official website.
The towers are surrounded by a complex of medieval religious buildings from the 8th century, something you should also take the time to check out.
Make Time for Lunch
TIP: Keep exploring the city with City Center walking tour!
You will probably be famished after climbing the 500 steps to the top of Torre degli Asinelli. Once you’re back on solid ground, it may be a good idea to take a lunch break to regain your energy. Pizzeria Due Torri is the closest eatery. Its prices are very affordable and it’s not a tourist trap, so it’s a great place for a quick bite.
If you’d like to sit down for a proper meal, consider Cluricaune Irish Pub, also very casual and affordable. It’s like a large sports bar with TVs, great beer, and typical pub grub like burgers, sausage with coleslaw, fish and chips, and so on.
Sfoglia Rina is also right next to the towers and serves great pasta, so if you’re in the mood for something quintessentially Italian, go for this. Osteria dell‘ Orsa is a short walk north and is immensely popular with all kinds of tasty food, so definitely consider it, too.
Take the time to visit University of Bologna
As stated previously, University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world, so it should find its place on pretty much any Bologna itinerary. You can visit the university anytime from Monday to Saturday afternoon, so plan accordingly.
You will very quickly see that the university is quite beautiful, especially the Archiginnasio, which was its center until 1803. Then there’s the impressive Palazzo Poggi, which has a wonderful museum showing how science evolved to what it is today, the botanical gardens, the Specola astronomical observatory, and much more.
Fascinating frescos, intricate carvings and numerous other works of art are everywhere. It really shows just how special this place is. Honestly, you could spend the whole day just exploring the university, but even a short visit will leave you in awe.
Take the Bus or Taxi to Al Parco Giardini Margherita
For a break from museums and monumental buildings, visit one of Bologna’s most popular public parks, Al Parco Giardini Margherita. It has a beautiful little lake, large open lawns, and plenty of lush trees. To get there, you can get a taxi/Uber, or hop aboard bus 32 at the Porta San Donato station behind the University. Exit at Porta Santo Stefano (4 stops total) and take a short walk south.
The park is at its most beautiful in spring and early summer, when the trees are in bloom and everything is green and peaceful. The summer heat does take its toll on the greenery, but it is still a great place to relax and spend an hour or two with friends or family. The little lake is filled with fish and turtles that you can watch from the shore as you enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet.
Visit Palazzo Albergati on Via Saragozza
One more museum to go! Catch a bus (32 again) from Giardini Margherita to Aldini (4 stops), then take a short 3-minute walk north on Via Malpertuso until you reach Palazzo Albergati, located on the street corner.
The place is worth a visit for its large exhibition of Andy Warhol’s works, as well as for the palace itself. It has a remarkable structure, beautiful ceilings, amazing wall paintings, and kitschy baroque stucco. The construction of the palace, belonging to one of Bologna’s most important families, began in 1519. If you’re into contemporary art, you will love seeing the famous portraits of Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe in this uniquely historic setting only 20 minutes away from the city’s shopping district.
Stop at a Nearby Restaurant for Dinner
When you are in Bologna, one of the culinary capitals of the world, known for its Bolognese sauce and numerous other dishes, you want to experience the best that the city has to offer. For that, you’ll need to get off the beaten track and check out the small unassuming taverns in modest surroundings. In short, you’ll have to eat like the locals. There are several great places like that within two to three minutes of Palazzo Albergati.
One of them is Osteria Bottega, an amazing place facing a long red-brick wall on Via Santa Caterina. It is a very casual place, with a focus on excellent food and a great atmosphere. Since the place can get busy, consider making a reservation. They serve outstanding local food such as Tortellini al brodo and Tagliatelle al ragù.
Trattoria del Tempo Buono is also a great place to sit down, with classic Italian dishes but also seafood on the menu. Donatello puts a bit more emphasis on meat dishes and this part of Italy specifically, and its wonderful atmosphere will make sure you enjoy your meal every time.
Have a Few Drinks Before Calling It a Night
What you want to do next depends on your own tastes and preferences. If you like beer, whiskey, live music, and a charming, chill atmosphere, then Black Cat Live Music Pub is your place. Marino, the pub’s owner/bartender is a minor local celebrity, with a winning, amiable personality.
Lime Bar is a lovely place to sit down for a drink and just relax a bit, and Celtic Druid Irish Pub certainly stands out too, not just because of its name but because of its good beer and tasty bites, too.
If you prefer a proper nightclub, dancing and partying, you need to check out Covo Club. It may be a bit out-of-the-way (2 miles from the city center), but when it comes to places to be and things to do in Bologna for young people, Covo Club takes the cake. It is the oldest indie rock venue in Italy and has even been featured in Rolling Stone magazine.
WHERE TO STAY IN BOLOGNA?
Grand Hotel Majestic gia’ Baglioni
Via Indipendenza 8
If you’re not sure where to stay in Bologna, check out Grand Hotel Majestic gia’ Baglioni and eliminate all doubt. Instead of touring and taking photos of gorgeous palaces, you can stay at one. The exquisite 18th-century palace surroundings of Grand Hotel Majestic gia’ Baglioni cast a spell with their antique furnishings in the very heart of the city, only 250 m from Piazza Maggiore. Book a room here and you will feel (and be treated) like royalty!
Hotel Corona d’Oro
Via Oberdan 12
Hotel Corona d’Oro is Bologna’s golden crown, just down the street from Torre degli Asinelli. It is a historic hotel (dating back to 1890) but equipped with all the modern amenities, including free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs with satellite television, and a minibar in each room. A number of the hotel’s elegant and comfortable rooms offer great views of the two towers. When you stay at the hotel, there are several things you can count on, including free bicycles and a rich complimentary breakfast.
Boutique Hotel Liberty 1904
Via Giuseppe Massarenti 98
Located only a short 10-minute walk from the city’s University district, Boutique Hotel Liberty 1904 has everything you need to make your stay in Bologna as enjoyable and convenient as possible. The spacious air-conditioned rooms are all equipped with a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with free toiletries and a hairdryer. It is a great value property, with a variety of options for breakfast (complimentary) and friendly, accommodating staff. Several of the hotel’s rooms have a balcony where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city or watch the stars at night.
Via De’ Carracci 69/14, 40129 Bologna
Located only 800 meters from Bologna Train Station, Combo_Bologna is a modern, charming hostel with a beautifully designed orange and black front facing a large open area filled with trees and tables where you can sit down and relax. The interior is stylish and comfortable, with plenty of activities available in the shared areas. The rooms are all air-conditioned and free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property.
DAY TRIPS FROM BOLOGNA
Food, art, history, higher learning, architecture – that’s primarily what Bologna is famous for. For all the other things to do in Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region, you may want to consider booking one of the numerous organized tours and day trips from Bologna.
Less than two hours by car from Bologna is a unique day trip destination – San Marino. One of the smallest sovereign countries in the world has been independent since the year 1600, whereas the city of San Marino was founded in 301. You can see that there will be a lot of sightseeing to do here, and the whole place is really beautiful, too. A unique and fascinating day trip, that’s for sure!
For something completely different, there is the Private Ravenna Tour with Transport from Bologna, exploring the numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in a city famous world-over for its numerous breathtaking mosaics and unparalleled architectural wealth. Check out these and other offers in our separate article, where the best day trips from Bologna are compared and reviewed.
Less than an hour from Bologna is the Mecca of the automobile industry – Maranello is the town in which Ferrari has its headquarters. Yes, THAT Ferrari! You can check out the company’s museum, book a test drive of one of these incredible machines, and generally learn about this iconic brand. When it comes to cars, there is no bigger name than Ferrari, so if you’re at all a car fan, you will absolutely love coming here.
A lovely little town right next to Bologna, Monteveglio is a great place to visit. That’s especially the case if you just want a relaxing day with a bit of wonderful nature for good measure. Moneveglio Abbey Park offers plenty of soothing hiking trails for everyone. However, the town is located in a wine region, so you can enjoy some wine tasting, too! Of course, excellent food is also easy to find. Just perfect for a slow and relaxing day out.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING BOLOGNA
-Start your day early, around 8 AM, and allow yourself a flexible schedule in case something catches your eye. The sheer number of attractions can seem confusing, but it is all manageable as long as you accept that and just focus on having a great time.
-You should always carry enough cash in Bologna, mostly for little shops, hole-in-the-wall type establishments, and traditional tavernas.
-If you want to use a taxi, make sure to negotiate your fee in advance. Also, it is considered courteous to leave a generous tip.
-Tips are customary in all bars and restaurants, 10 – 15% is OK.
-The rules of etiquette mean a lot to the locals. Make sure to greet everyone present as you enter a shop or an office.
PIN FOR LATER!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).