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12 Best Things To Do in Bologna, Italy

Posted Date: March 2, 2021

Bologna is located in the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. This once medieval city is one of the most underrated destinations in Italy and still feels authentic without being overrun by tourists.

After having visited the major cities in Italy several times, we decided to spend 8 days in Bologna to explore the region. We heard the food was delicious, so we decided why not?

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of our visit because I didn’t know anyone personally that had been to Bologna before.

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy

To our delight, Bologna is an incredible city filled with a rich history and one of the best food scenes in all of Italy. I’m talking about the best ragu and gelato we have ever tasted before.

If you aren’t sure whether or not to add Bologna to your Italy itinerary, I guarantee that after reading this article, you’ll want to make sure to add it to your list, even if it’s just for a day.

Here are the 12 best things to do in Bologna.

University of Bologna

Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is Italy’s oldest university and is considered the oldest university in the Western world. Take your time to explore the beautiful campus and pay a visit to some of the most significant buildings in all of Bologna.

One of the top things to do in Bologna is to visit the Archiginnasio of Bologna – one of the original buildings of the university. There are several important rooms within this building, including the Public Library of the Archiginnasio, which is the largest library in the region. Sadly, the library is off-limit to the public.

Instead, you can tour the Anatomical Theater where students once had lectures on anatomy back in the 1600s. You can buy your tickets online here – they are 3 euros per person.

Wander Through the Porticos

Bologna is known for its porticos that span a total length of 38 kilometers (24 miles) inside the walls of the city. Originally made of wood, the porticos were built to help solve a housing problem for an ever-expanding city in the 11th century, due to the popularity of the University of Bologna.

One of our favorite things to do in Bologna was spending our afternoons wandering through the city and getting lost. It’s especially nice in the hot summer months when you need shade while walking!

Gelato Tasting

Bologna boasts more than 100 gelato shops, which is quite a feat for a relatively small city. You’re guaranteed to find good gelato in the city. In fact, we had the best gelato we have ever had in our life here.

One of the best things to do in Bologna is to take yourself on a gelato tour to taste some of the best gelato in the city. Here are a few of our recommendations.

La Sorbetteria Castiglione – hands down, the best gelato in Bologna and maybe in all of Italy. They make their gelato fresh every day and the texture is so smooth and soft. We went here 3 times during our stay and daydream about it all the time.

If you’re lucky, you can also take a gelato course at La Sorbetteria. It’s only open a couple of dates every month, but if you happen to be there when they have a course, here is the link to register.

Cremeria Santo Stefano – we didn’t make it here, but we have heard that this shop also has incredible gelato flavors.

Cremeria San Francesco – this was a small shop near our Airbnb. We got an apricot ricotta flavor with chocolate. We both really enjoyed it and would recommend stopping here on your tour.

Did you know there is a Gelato University in the outskirts of Bologna? They have week-long and month-long courses if you are interested in learning how to make your own gelato.

Eat, Eat, Eat

The food was our main lure to Bologna and it did not disappoint. If you only have a couple of days in Bologna, the one thing you need to do is eat, eat, eat!

The Emilia-Romagna region is known for producing some of the most famous Italian products in the world. Parma ham, parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar – you can even take day trips to Modena and Parma to see how these products are made and stored!

And we haven’t even got to talking about the famous dishes in the region. Tagliatelle wih ragu, tortellini stuffed with ricotta and cooked in butter and sage, tortellini in broth . . . the list could go on.

Sadly, many of the restaurants we wanted to try were closed in Bologna because we visited in August. Do not visit Italy in August! Almost all of the high-rated restaurants were closed because everyone was on vacation.

Some of these recommendations come from a “foodie friend” who also spent time in Bologna.

Here are a few of our favorite restaurants in Bologna:

Sfoglia Rina – freshly made pasta – get the tortellini and the tagliatelle with ragu.

Da Cesari – try their pasta Bolognese – apparently one of the best in the city.

Drogheria Della Rossa – this is one that we hoped would be open but was not.

Le Golosità di Nonna Aurora Рgo here for the lasagna bolognese.

For more restaurant recommendations, you can check out this article by Female Foodie who spent a month living in Bologna and trying out the best restaurants.

Mercato delle Erbe

Image Credit: Timofey Zadvornov / Getty Images

The Mercato delle Erbe is a food lover’s haven. From sausages and cheese to fresh bread and locally sourced produce, you will find everything you need to make your own Italian meal.

One of our favorite things to do in Bologna was to walk from our Airbnb to this indoor market and by our groceries for the day.

There are also a few food stalls within the market where you can get a pizza slice or sandwich for lunch.

Climb the Asinelli Tower

Walking around the center of Bologna, you’ll notice two tall towers that stand out – these are known as “Le Due Torri”. You can climb to the top of the tallest tower called the Asinelli tower.

The Asinelli tower was built between 1109 and 1119 and was once 1 out of 180 towers standing during the medieval period in Bologna. The tower stands at 97.2 meters tall and is 498 steps to the top. If you would like to experience an incredible view of Bologna, then you can book your tickets here for 5 euros.

Piazza Maggiore & San Petronio Basilica

Dating back to the 1200s, Piazza Maggiore is the main square in Bologna. This piazza is known as the heart of Bologna, and you can visit many of the main sites within walking distance from the square.

The San Petronio Basilica is located in the Piazza Maggiore. The construction on the basilica began in 1390, but it was never finished – even to this day.

Access to the church is free but if you want to visit the terrace you can reserve tickets here.

Seven Churches of Santo Stefano

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This complex of buildings is made up of seven churches that were built during different eras. We sadly never made it inside of the complex but is something we look forward to visiting once we return to the city.

Walk to the Sanctuary of San Luca

Image Credit: RokaB / Getty Images

Walk up through the Portico di San Luca, the longest portico in the world, and make your way up to the Sanctuary of San Luca. The portico is 3.8km (2.4 miles) long and takes you from the city up to the sanctuary.

The walk begins at the Porta Saragozza and you’ll walk uphill under over 600 archways until you reach the basilica.

Once you reach the time, you will get a fantastic view of Bologna from the hills.

San Pellegrino Park

If you are looking for an escape from the city, then San Pellegrino park is for you. We spent the afternoon wandering our way through the green hillside and enjoying the incredible views of the Basilica of San Luca and Bologna from the park.

To get to the park, you’ll follow Via di Casaglia up past Villa Spada until you arrive. It’s about a 3.5 km (2.2 miles) walk from Piazza Maggiore, so make sure to take some water and snacks.

Find the Hidden Canals

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Many of Bologna’s medieval canals are hidden and were turned into underground waterways. You can spot one canal from Via Piella and get a view of it from the “Canal Window.”

You can download a map to find the canals on the Bologna Welcome website.


The Quadrilatero is the old market in Bologna. Here you will find streets lined with shops and restaurants where you can sit outside and get a taste of “old Italy.” It’s located just off of the Piazza Maggiore.

How many days in Bologna?

I would recommend spending at least 2 days in Bologna. That will give you enough time to see all of the sites listed in this article and to try a few different local dishes.

We stayed in Bologna for a total of 8 days because we planned to do a lot of day trips. Bologna is a great city to stay in if you are looking to explore a few other cities in Northern Italy, such as Florence and Verona. You can read about the best day trips from Bologna here.

How do you get to Bologna?

You can get to Bologna by car, train, or plane. Bologna has a train station and an international airport.

To get from the airport to the city, you take the Marconi Express monorail to the Bologna train station. The train runs every 7 minutes throughout the day. You can look at the timetable and book your tickets here. The train station is within walking distance to the center of the city – about a 1.5 km (0.9 miles) walk from the station to Piazza Maggiore.

Florence is the next closest major city and is only a 40 minute train ride away. You can also fly into Milan and either rent a car or take the train to Bologna – it’s about a 1 hour 15 minute train ride from Bologna.

Let us know if you have any questions about your trip to Bologna in the comments below!

Related Posts:

10 Best Day Trips from Bologna

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