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As you plan your Italian getaway, you might be asking yourself, “Is Bologna worth visiting?”
Often overlooked by more well-known cities like Rome, Venice, or Florence, Bologna, the vibrant and historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, offers a unique blend of rich history and world-renowned gastronomy making it a must-visit Italian destination.
When we visited Bologna for the first time, we were delightfully surprised by the amazing culinary scene and the authenticity compared to other touristy cities in Italy.
This kept us coming back for more, and we’ve since been back 3 times and spent a total of 2 months in the city.
Whether you’re a food lover, a history buff, or simply someone looking to explore Italy beyond the well-trodden tourist path, Bologna should definitely be on your Italy bucket list.
Keep reading to discover 20 reasons why we think Bologna is 100% worth visiting.
Is Bologna Worth Visiting?
In case you’re still wondering – YES, Bologna is definitely worth visiting!
If you’re a fan of Italian food (who isn’t?!), then a trip to Bologna, also known as the food capital of Italy, can almost be considered a gastronomic pilgrimage.
This Emilia Romagna region is the birthplace of many iconic Italian foods – we’re talking about Parmesan cheese, Balsamic Vinegar, Prosciutto, and more. Bologna sits at the very heart of it all.
Beyond the food, you’ll find a charming medieval city with towers, cobblestoned streets, and classic Italian shops. Not to mention it’s home to the oldest university in the Western world and is surrounded by UNESCO World Heritage porticoes.
For us, what really sets Bologna apart from other major Italian cities is its lack of overwhelming crowds. Making it a place where you can truly immerse yourself in the Italian way of life without all of the cheesy touristy gimmicks.
Bologna is a true, hidden gem that should be on every traveler’s Italy itinerary.
20 Reasons why Bologna is worth visiting
1. Historic City Center
Bologna’s historic city center is a blend of medieval, renaissance, and baroque architecture. At the center of it all is the Piazza Maggiore, a sprawling square with magnificent buildings like the the Basilica of San Petronio and the Palazzo d’Accursio.
It’s the heart of the city where locals come to socialize at one of the many cafes surrounding the square or to gather for events on the weekends.
Dominating the skyline are the iconic Two Towers, Asinelli and Garisenda, symbols of the city’s medieval past. One of the best things to do in Bologna is to climb the 498 steps to the top of Asinelli tower for incredible panoramic views of the city.
Fun fact, there used to be over 100 towers in Bologna – can you imagine if they were still there today?
2. It’s the food capital of Italy
Known as the food capital of Italy, Bologna is an absolute haven for food lovers. It’s often referred to as “La Grassa,” meaning “The Fat”, which is a testament to its world-famous culinary scene.
Bologna lies in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, which is the birthplace of some of Italy’s most iconic foods like Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Mortadella, Balsamic Vinegar, and Proscuitto di Parma.
Bologna itself is famous for dishes like tagliatelle al ragu (often known abroad as “spaghetti bolognese””, tortellini, and mouthwatering lasagna verde (green lasagne).
One of our favorite dishes is tortellini in brodo, which is made of small hat-shaped pastas stuffed with pork and served in a meat-based broth and topped with Parmesan.
Don’t forget to pair your meal with a local Pignoletto or Lambrusco – the traditional sparkling wines of the region that perfectly compliment the meat-centric meals in the region.
The city is filled with historic markets, family-run delis, and traditional osterias serving hearty, delicious food that is central to Bolognese culture.
The local love for food and wine is infectious, and the city’s cuisine alone is reason enough for a visit. In Bologna, food is a way of life.
To learn more about the history of gastronomy, we highly recommend taking a Bologna food tour. We’ve done it twice and absolutely loved learning.
3. The gelato is the best in the world
The gelato scene in Bologna is phenomenal. Bologna takes gelato very seriously, and there are over 100 gelaterias in this city alone. Not to mention the University of Gelato where people come from all over the world to train to become a gelato-maker.
From traditional flavors like pistachio and stracciatella to more unique offerings like caffe bianco (white coffee) and apricot with ricotta and chocolate, you’re in for a treat.
Each scoop of gelato is a masterpiece of texture and flavor, it’s just melty enough but also smooth enough. Somehow they know how to make the perfect scoop in Bologna.
Wondering where to try the best gelato? Check out our top 8 gelato shops in Bologna.
4. University City
Bologna is not only known for its rich history and cuisine but also for its vibrant academic life. The University of Bologna, established in 1088, is known as the oldest continually operating university in the Western world.
For a small fee, you can visit the Archiginnasio, which is the old part of the university. Inside, you’ll discover the Teatro Anatomico where students used to learn about anatomy in the 17th century, as well as wander through the halls that are covered in coats of arms by previous students.
The modern university sits at the edge of the city where its bustling with students and helps to create a lively and culturally diverse atmosphere within the city.
5. Centrally Located
Bologna’s central location makes it an excellent hub for day trips. Being in the heart of Italy, it’s just a stone’s throw away from many major cities and sights.
Within a couple of hours, you can find yourself in the romantic canals of Venice, the rolling hills of Tuscany, or the coastal charm of Cinque Terre. Florence is just a 35-minute train ride away and Verona is only an hour and a half.
You can visit the Ferrari factory outside of Modena on a day trip from Bologna, or go on a full-day foodie adventure and visit local Parmesan and prosciutto producers near Parma. The options are endless.
With excellent rail connections from the Bologna train station, day trips are both easy and convenient making Bologna an ideal base for exploring the region.
6. Less Touristy
Since Bologna is still considered an under-the-radar destination in Italy, one of the perks of visiting is that it tends to be much less crowded than some of the more famous Italian cities.
While Rome and Florence undoubtedly have their allure, they are often swarming with tourists and touristy shops, making it a less authentic and relaxing experience.
Bologna, on the other hand, has a much calmer and more authentic atmosphere. Here, you rarely run into large groups of tourists and souvenir shops are almost non-existent.
Most of the restaurants are locally owned and actually serve fantastic food that does not cater specifically to tourists. Many of the shops sell locally-made goods, such as pasta-making tools, Italian wool coats, and other crafts.
It is the perfect place to experience true Italian culture, and unfortunately, one of the few major cities in Italy where you can still experience that.
7. Local Markets
One of the highlights of visiting Bologna are the local markets. In the center of the city, you’ll find the Quadrilatero. The oldest market in Bologna where locals sell everything from fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, meats, pastries, homemade pasta, and bread.
The Quadrilatero is also the best place in the city to sit down and taste a variety of the cured meats, cheeses, and wines from the region. We recommend going to Salumeria Simoni and ordering their charcuterie board.
Mercato delle Erbe is a covered market that is filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers. It’s the perfect place to pick up some fresh produce to cook a delicious Italian meal at home. Or you can eat at one of the restaurants inside of the market serving everything from pizza by the slice and fresh fish.
8. Music Scene
Bologna boasts a vibrant music scene that caters to a wide array of tastes. Whether you’re into classical music, jazz, rock, or electronica, you’ll find it all in Bologna.
The city’s prestigious Bologna Philharmonic Orchestra often performs at the Teatro Comunale, a wonderful experience if you’re a fan of classical music. On the other hand, clubs like Covo Club and Estragon are known for hosting concerts ranging from indie rock to electronic music.
Jazz lovers should not miss Cantina Bentivoglio, known for its live performances and classic Bolognese food. This eclectic mix makes Bologna’s music scene one of the most dynamic in Italy.
One of Bologna’s most distinct and fascinating features is its extensive network of porticoes. These elegant, covered walkways stretch for over 62 kilometers across the city and have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Originally built in the Middle Ages to accommodate a growing population, the porticoes have since become a symbol of Bologna. You can walk up the longest portico in the world from the city center to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca overlooking Bologna. This is one of our favorite activities in Bologna.
You’ll find some of the most beautiful porticoes around Piazza Cavour, which feature stunning frescoes.
Bologna is a good place to visit if you’re looking for a more affordable destination in Italy. It tends to be significantly more affordable than tourist hotspots like Rome, Venice, or Florence.
Accommodation options in Bologna are diverse, ranging from mid-range hotels, boutique hotels, and hostels. The hotels may not be as fancy as those in Rome or Florence, but they are cheaper. There are limited hotels in the city center, so we suggest booking in advance to get the best rates.
When it comes to dining, you’ll find more higher quality restaurants for a much more affordable price than in the larger cities. it’s pretty hard to go wrong with food in Bologna.
Additionally, many of Bologna’s attractions are either free to enter or reasonably priced, making it possible to experience a lot of the city without hefty entrance fees.
Bologna’s museums do not compare to those in Rome or Florence, but they still offer a unique glimpse into different aspects of the city’s rich history.
- The first museum we recommend is the Museo della Storia di Bologna (Bologna History Museum). Housed in the stunning Palazzo Pepoli, this museum provides a comprehensive exploration of Bologna’s past, from the Etruscan era to modern times.
- For art enthusiasts, the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (National Art Gallery of Bologna) is an absolute must. It hosts a vast collection of Emilian paintings from the 13th to the 18th century, along with works by renowned artists like Raphael and Titian.
- Lastly, the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica (International Museum and Library of Music) is a hidden gem that music lovers will find fascinating. Located in a beautiful 16th-century palace, it houses a large collection of musical instruments, scores, and manuscripts, providing insight into the world of music through the centuries.
Whether you’re a history buff, an art lover, or a music enthusiast, Bologna’s museums have something to pique your interest.
12. Authentic and local charm
Another reason to visit Bologna is that it’s one of the most authentic Italian cities we have visited. Unlike other popular tourist destinations in Italy, Bologna remains unspoiled by the trappings of mass tourism.
The city isn’t dominated by souvenir shops selling trinkets and postcards, but rather family-run businesses, local butchers, quaint bookshops, and homemade pasta shops that have been there for generations.
As you meander through the city’s narrow streets, you’ll come across vintage markets, small restaurants, and locals going about their day-to-day life. This is what we love so much about Bologna – it’s retained authenticity.
On Sunday evenings, you can join locals in their traditional passeggiata – a leisurely evening stroll where people come together to socialize.
Bologna is the place to go if you are looking to live like a local in Italy.
Bologna’s nightlife is indeed alive and well, with many locals hanging out at local bars every night of the week. We went out on a Wednesday night at 11pm and couldn’t believe how crowded the streets were!
Thanks to its large student population from the University of Bologna, the city buzzes with energy even after the sun goes down. Throughout the week, you’ll find locals and students alike at the numerous bars and cafes scattered across the city, enjoying good company, great music, and drinks.
Camera A Sud is a popular spot amongst locals, along with the bars on Via Belvedere near Mercato delle Erbe.
Bologna is an exceptionally walkable city, with most attractions within 15-minutes of each other.
The city’s porticoes make it easy to get around on foot without having to keep an eye out for cars. They also keep you shaded when its hot and protected when it rains – a win win situation.
Additionally, the city’s signage is clear and informative, making it easy for tourists to navigate their way around. Being able to leisurely stroll around the city makes the experience of visiting Bologna more stress-fee without having to rely on public transportation or taxis.
Overall, Bologna is a safe city for all travelers, including solo travelers. We’ve always felt comfortable and safe walking around.
Of course, you should always take normal precautions no matter where you’re traveling. Especially keep an eye on your belongings in crowded areas, as this is where theft and pickpocketing happens most often.
The porticoes are well-lit at night and the main streets remain busy with people until at least 11:00pm, which always makes us feel safer while walking around.
16. Proximity to nature
Bologna’s location is convenient if you’re looking to get out into nature for the day, making it an excellent destination for those who love the outdoors.
The city is nestled at the edge of the Apennine Mountians, offering a host of opportunities for long walks, hikes, and even mountain biking.
The Parco Regionale dei Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi dell’Abbadessa, a short drive from the city, is a paradise for nature lovers. The park is home to unique geological formations, numerous hiking trails, and a wide array of flora and fauna.
For those willing to venture a little further, the Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino Tosco-Emiliano offers stunning mountain landscapes, picturesque lakes, and diverse wildlife.
Closer to the city, the Bologna Hills (Colli Bolognesi), specifically San Pellegrino park, provide a nice retreat from the city with walking trails that can be easily reached on foot from the city center.
17. Friendly locals
The locals in Bologna are exceptionally friendly. We’ve always felt welcomed here, and people are always more than happy to help out or offer suggestions on where to eat.
Actually, one of the best ways to get restaurant recommendations in Italy is to strike up a conversation with a local and ask them where they love to eat. We’ve eaten at some of the best places because of this.
For us, it’s the people we’ve met in Bologna that has left the most significant and lasting impression on us.
18. Learn to make pasta
One of the best things to do in Bologna, especially considering its culinary reputation, is to take part in a cooking class.
What better way to appreciate Bologna’s food culture than learning to make one of its many famous local dishes? We did a cooking class with two local women and learned how to make tagliatelle al ragu and spinach and ricotta stuffed tortelloni. It was one of our top experiences in Italy.
Several local chefs and cooking schools offer classes where you’ll learn all about pasta-making techniques and old traditions. Here are a couple of classes that we recommend:
The Cinema Ritrovato Festival, held annually in late June or early July, transforms the city into a hub for film enthusiasts.
It is a celebration of classic cinema, screening restored films and forgotten masterpieces from around the world in the city’s historic theaters and open-air piazzas, such as the Piazza Maggiore.
On the culinary front, the Tortellini Festival is an event that foodies won’t want to miss. This festival is an ode to Bologna’s most iconic pasta, with local restaurants and vendors offering their take on the beloved dish.
The Tortellini Festival is usually held during the first week of October. We attended the festival last year and getting to try so many variations on one of our favorite local pastas was a major highlight.
20. Taste iconic foods straight from the producers
Bologna’s central location in the Emilia-Romagna region makes it easy to take a half-day or full-day trips to visit the producers of some of Italy’s most iconic foods.
Several organized tours offer guided visits to these local producers where you can learn about the process involved in creating these world-renowned delicacies.
In Parma, you can visit a cheese dairy where Parmigiano Reggiano is produced and then aged, or you can tour a prosciutto factory to understand the meticulous curing process.
In Modena, we suggest exploring an Acetaia, where the rich, syrupy balsamic vinegar is slowly aged in wooden barrels.
These visited include tastings where you can taste the product right at the the source.
As food lovers, these opportunities to engage and learn directly from the producers is one of our favorite parts about visiting the region.
For food lovers, these trips offer an unparalleled insight into Italy’s culinary heritage and the chance to engage with the passionate producers who have carried on these traditions for generations.
A journey to Bologna is not complete without venturing out into the surrounding region to experience these gastronomic treasures firsthand.
Good to know before you visit Bologna
While we absolutely love visiting Bologna, there are a few things that you should be aware of before you go.
Weekends are busy
Weekends in Bologna bring an influx of locals making the streets really busy. It’s harder to get restaurant reservations on a Saturday night than during the week, so we suggest calling ahead to book your spot if visiting on a Saturday.
Sunday is probably the worst day to visit Bologna. Most of the shops, restaurants, and some museums are closed. We suggest planning your trip for the middle of the week when everything is open without all of the crowds.
If you’re not into food, you may not love it
If you’re not a food lover, then Bologna may not be the place for you. While Bologna certainly possesses a historical charm and a rich cultural scene, it doesn’t boast the same volume of world-famous art and iconic sights like it’s neighbor in Florence.
If you’re Italian dream is centered around visiting the most iconic sights in the country, then you may want to skip Bologna this time. Bologna offers a different kind of Italian experience, one focused on the gastronomy and the local experience.
However, if world-renowned landmarks and renowned art galleries top your travel wishlist, other Italian cities might cater more directly to your interests.
Winters are chilly and summers are hot
Bologna’s inland location and proximity to the Apennine mountains can lead to quite hot and muggy summers, as well as colder, foggy winters.
The best time to visit is in September and October when the temperatures have cooled down and the leaves are starting to change colors. The Emilia-Romagna countryside in the fall is breathtaking.
Spring is also a great time to visit, when the temperatures start to warm up and the city begins to come alive again.
Is Bologna worth visiting: FAQs
Why do people go to Bologna Italy?
People go to Bologna, Italy to experience its world-renowned cuisine. Some of the most incredible pasta dishes, such as tagliatelle al ragu, tortellini, lasagna, and more come from this region. It’s known as the gastronomic capital of Italy for a reason.
Is Bologna Italy worth going to?
Yes, Bologna, Italy is 100% worth going to. From its amazing culinary scene to its Medieval city center and authentic Italian culture, it’s one of the most underrated destinations in Italy.
How many days in Bologna is enough?
2 days in Bologna is enough to see the main sights, enjoy some of the local cuisine, go on a food tour, and experience the culture. However, if you want to do some day trips, we suggest 3-4 days in Bologna in total.
ITALY TRAVEL PLANNING GUIDE
Italy Travel Insurance – Should you get travel insurance for Italy? YES! We always get travel insurance before all of our trips for peace of mind. Check out Travel Insurance Master to find the best plan for you.
Italy Rental Cars – Is it safe to rent a car in Italy? Yes! We’ve rented a car in Italy too many times to count, and it’s definitely the most convenient way to get around the countryside. We rented our car through Discover Cars (our go-to rental agency), which helps you find the best rates no matter where you are traveling.
Italy Phone Plans – If your phone plan does not offer free coverage in Italy, then we suggest getting an eSIM. We used Airalo during our trip to Italy, and we had fantastic coverage the entire time. It’s easy to download and you can even top up via the app if needed.
Italy Hotels – Wondering where to book your accommodations for Italy? We’ve been reserving all of our hotels through Booking for years. Their messaging tool makes it easy to communicate with the hotels, and there are endless options to choose from.