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The Perfect One Day in Bologna Itinerary (2024)

The Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy.
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Are you planning to spend one day in Bologna, Italy? We’re sharing all you need to know for your day trip in this guide.

Bologna is one of the most underrated destinations in Italy and is definitely worth visiting – even if you only have a day. Dubbed as “Italy’s Food Capital,” this medieval city is home to incredible cuisine and beautiful historic sites.

We have spent over 2 months in Bologna, and while we think it’s worth spending a few days here, you can see most of major attractions within one day.

In this one day Bologna itinerary, we are sharing our favorite places to eat (because it’s all about food in Bologna!), the most important sites to visit, and practical information to help you easily navigate your day trip.

One Day in Bologna Itinerary

Find the hidden canals

If you are arriving from the Bologna train station, then make your way along Via dell’Indipendenza, one of the main streets in the city, to find the hidden canals.

Surprisingly, there are over 60km worth of canals in Bologna that date back to the 12th century; however, most of them are covered now. Today you can see one of the few canals left from a tiny window.

Put La Piccola Venezia into Google Maps, and you’ll find a small window overlooking a canal. This is one of Bologna’s hidden gems, and it’s best to see it early in the day before other tourists and tour groups arrive.

Get breakfast from Caffe Terzi

A brioche and cappuccino from Caffe Terzi in Bologna

No start to the day in Italy is complete without an Italian coffee and a brioche.

Caffe Terzi serves up one of the best cappuccinos in the city. They have a huge drink menu with different combinations like coffee and chocolate or coffee and hazelnut. Our favorite? A cappuccino with shaved chocolate on top.

Grab a stuffed brioche (Italian croissant) with either a pistachio or cream filling to go along with your drink. If it’s nice weather, sit outside at one of the tables, or try to snag a table in the back. If it’s full, do as the Italian’s do, and stand at the bar and chat with the baristas.

Walk around Piazza Maggiore

Neptune's Fountain in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy.

Piazza Maggiore is located in the historical city center and is Bologna’s main square. Dating back to the middle ages, this beautiful square is surrounded by some of the most iconic and important buildings in the city.

Head to Neptune’s Fountain first. This 16th century fountain was commissioned by the Pope and is a symbol of the power of the Catholic church.

If you look closely, you may notice the trident in Neptune’s hand looks familiar. Fun fact: it inspired the design of the Maserati car logo.

Across from the fountain is Palazzo Re Enzo, a beautiful 13th century palace that is used to host major events in Bologna.

View of the towers and buildings in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy.

If you’re visiting in October, we highly recommend planning your visit to Bologna around the beginning of the month to attend the Tortellini Festival, which is held in Palazzo Re Enzo.

Keep walking towards the center of the square and to the right you’ll see Palazzo d’Accursio with the clock tower. This is Bologna’s town hall that also hosts the Municipal Art Collections.

If you have more than a day in Bologna, we suggest visiting this beautiful palace with its frescoed ceilings and ornately decorated rooms. You can also climb up to the top of the clock tower for wonderful views overlooking Piazza Maggiore.

Want to learn more about the history of Bologna from a local guide? Check out this Bologna walking tour.

Go inside Basilica di San Petronio

San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, Italy

At the heart of Piazza Maggiore is the Basilica di San Petronio. From the outside, the church looks half finished, with pink and white marble on the bottom of the exterior, and bricks on the top half.

Construction on the basilica started in the late 14th century, but it was never completed. The ambitious plans of making one of the largest churches in the world were halted due to other construction projects in Bologna, such as the Archiginnasio Palace.

However, legend has it that the Pope didn’t want the church to be larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The inside of the church is pretty simple but worth a visit. As you walk in, the first thing you notice is a bunch of people looking at the floor.

The Meridian Line inside of the Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna
Chapel of the Magi inside of the Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna.

They are admiring the meridian line designed by Gian Domenico Cassini. This is the longest indoor meridian line in the world at 67 meters long.

Everyday around noon, if the sun is shining, you’ll see a circle appear on the line indicating the time of year and placement of the sun. We suggest trying to visit the basilica around mid-day to experience this unique phenomenon.

Additionally, one of the most famous and controversial artworks in Bologna is located inside of the Chapel of the Magi within the basilica. Giovanni di Pietro’s “Heaven and Hell” fresco is a depiction of Dante’s “Inferno.” The fresco shows a giant creature (Lucifer) eating people in hell down below and saints floating above in heaven.

To visit the chapel, you must pay a €5 fee.

Opening hours: Everyday from 8:30 am – 1:00 pm / 2:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Ticket price: Access to the main church is free. €5 fee to visit the museum, which includes Magi’s Chapel (Bolognini), Saint Sebastian’s Chapel, Saint Vincent Chapel
Address: Piazza Maggiore, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy

Discover the beautiful porticoes

Bologna is famous for its endless porticoes, or covered walkways, that line the city’s historic center. With over 62km of porticoes, this unique architectural feat was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021.

Take your time to wander around the city and admire these throughout the city. Some of the city’s most beautiful porticoes are located in Piazza Cavour. Look up and enjoy the stunning frescoed ceilings.

If you have more than a day in Bologna, then we highly recommend walking up the longest portico in the world to the Basilica of the Madonna di San Luca. You can see this iconic church sitting atop the Colle della Guardia overlooking Bologna.

We have a complete guide on walking to San Luca. It’s one of our favorite activities to do in Bologna, and we’ve done it several times.

Read more: 30 Best Things to do in Bologna

Visit the Archiginnasio Palace

The hallways inside of the Archiginnasio Palace in Bologna

The Archiginnasio Palace is the home of the old university and is a must-see on your one day in Bologna itinerary.

Did you know the University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world? Founded in the 11th century, the university is still operating today and is a sought-after school for students from Europe and around the world.

The Archiginnasio Palace was built in the mid-16th century but was tragically destroyed during the bombings in World War II. The palace was rebuilt to look the same as before.

The most fascinating room inside the palace is the Anatomical Theater, which was built by Antonio Levanti in the 17th century.

This incredible room, flanked with wood paneling and wooden statues, was once the anatomy classroom. You’ll notice a marble table in the center of the room. This is where they dissected corpses during class.

Wander around the rest of the palace where you can peek into the Municipal Library and Stabat Mater Hall, and admire the beautiful frescoed ceilings and painted walls.

The coats of arms that cover the walls of the hallways represent students that attended the University of Bologna from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Opening hours: Monday – Saturday from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Ticket prices: €3 per person
Address: Piazza Galvani, 1, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy

Explore the Quadrilatero

Fruit stand at the quadrilatero in Bologna, Italy

Located next to the Piazza Maggiore is the Quadrilatero – the oldest outdoor market in Bologna. This is one of the most lively districts in the entire city with local vendors selling everything from fresh produce and fresh fish to local specialties, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar.

Here are a few of our favorite shops in the Quadrilatero:

  • Osteria del Sole | This is the oldest bar in Bologna where you can bring your own food and purchase drinks at the bar.
  • Tamberini | A mini-market selling a fantastic selection of local goods.
  • Ancient Aguzzeria Horse | Our favorite place to buy pasta tools, such as pasta stamps and rollers.
  • Roccati | A wonderful chocolate shop. Try their Gianduja.

READ ALSO: Best Museums in Bologna, Italy

Enjoy lunch

Charcuterie board from Salumeria Simoni in Bologna, Italy

You have a couple of options for lunch in Bologna. Either you can sit down at a restaurant for a delicious pasta lunch, or you can eat at one of the delis in the Quadrilatero.

We suggest eating at Salumeria Simoni for lunch and saving pasta for dinner.

Salumeria Simoni has the best charcuterie boards in Bologna where you can get a taste of the foods from the Emilia Romagna region.

Get a sampler board with local Mortadella, Prosciutto di Parma, Parmesan cheese, and balsamic vinegar. You won’t be disappointed.

Visit the Seven Churches of Santo Stefano

The Seven Churches of Santo Stefano is a hidden gem in Bologna. This 5th century religious complex features seven churches that were built during different time periods.

The oldest of the seven is the Church of The Holy Sepulcher from the 5th century. This is a replica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Santo Stefano complex is free to visit and is open every day. Plan on spending at least 30 minutes here.

Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday from 9:30am – 12:30pm and 2:30pm – 7:00pm | Monday 6:00pm – 7:30pm (only the basilica is open this day)
Ticket price: Free
Address: Complesso di Santo Stefano Via Santo Stefano, 24 – 40125

Get gelato at Cremeria Santo Stefano

Gelato from Cremeria Santo Stefano Bologna

No visit to Bologna is complete without tasting some gelato. Of course, gelato is necessary no matter where you are in Italy, but the gelato in Bologna is exceptional. With over 100 gelato shops in the city, you’re guaranteed to find good gelato here.

In fact, the best gelato we have ever tasted in Italy is in Bologna at one shop in particular. From Piazza Santo Stefano make your way up Via Santo Stefano to a small gelato shop called Cremeria Santo Stefano.

Usually there is a line, especially on the weekends, so be prepared to wait for a few minutes.

So what sets Cremeria Santo Stefano apart from the rest?

The ingredients are fresh and local, the flavor is rich but not overbearing, and the texture is melt-in-your-mouth perfect.

Our favorite flavors are Caffe Bianco and Crema Libanese, but you really can’t go wrong with any of their flavors.

If you don’t have time to make the extra walk to this gelato shop, then you can check out our guide on all of the best gelato shops in Bologna for some other options. We suggest Cremeria Cavour as another solid option.

Climb the Asinelli Tower

Views from the top of the Asinelli Tower in Bologna, Italy

The Asinelli Tower is the tallest tower in Bologna standing at 97.2 meters tall. Next to it is the Garisenda tower, also known as the leaning tower.

Officials have been worried about the Garisenda tower collapsing for years (since the 14th century), but it’s still standing today.

Built in the 12th century, you can climb the 498 steps to the top of the Asinelli tower for the best views overlooking Bologna and the gorgeous hills surrounding the city.

We recommend doing this at the end of the day when the lighting is best for photos.

Book your tickets for the Due Torri (two towers) online at the official website. Reserve your tickets in advance, as time slots book up quickly.

*Winter 2024 Update – The tower is currently closed for renovations. Therefore, it is not possible to climb to the top until the works are completed.

Opening hours: CURRENTLY CLOSED 10:00am – 5:15pm (fall and winter hours vary)
Ticket price: €5 per person
Address: P.za di Porta Ravegnana, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy

Grab dinner at a local restaurant

Tagliatelli al Ragu Bologna food

Bologna is one of the best food destinations in all of Italy, so you can’t leave without tasting some of the food that has made the city famous.

Our favorite restaurant in Bologna is All’ Osteria Bottega. Everything here is fantastic, but we recommend the pigeon and the ragu. It’s a bit out of the way, so if you don’t want to walk too far, here are a couple of other options.

One Day in Bologna Map

From the best places to eat in Bologna to the city’s main attractions, this map will help guide you through this one day in Bologna itinerary.

To save the map to Google Maps on your phone or computer, click on the star next to the title. Once you do this, you’ll be able to find the map in your “saved maps” list on your phone.

To see a list of all the items on the map, click the box with arrow on the left. To enlarge the map, click the box on the right.

More time in Bologna

View of the Sanctuary di San Luca and the countryside

Planning to spend more than 24 hours in Bologna? Here are a few additional sights we recommend visiting.

  • Mercato delle Erbe – An indoor food market with vendors selling everything from local produce, fresh pasta, horse meat, and more.
  • Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca – A beautiful church at the top of the longest portico in the world. This takes 3-hours round trip if you walk it. Alternatively, you can take a tourist train to the top to save time.
  • Palazzo d’Accursio – A 14th-century palace located in the Piazza Maggiore with beautiful frescoes and decorated rooms.

Check out our guides on how to spend 2 days in Bologna and 3 days in Bologna.

How to get around Bologna

Beautiful porticoes in Bologna, Italy

Everything in this one day in Bologna itinerary is within walking distance. All of the main attractions are within a 5-10 minute walk from each other.

The covered walkways make it easy to walk around no matter the type of weather because even if it rains, you’ll be sheltered.

As with any destination, we always suggest wearing comfortable walking shoes, as you will put in a lot of steps during this day trip to Bologna.

Recommend Bologna tours

We have spent months exploring the best of Bologna, and we’ve also taken several tours to learn more about the history of the cuisine and sites.

From history walking tours to food tours, here are a couple of tours that we recommend:

  • Classic Bologna Food Tour – We have done this tour twice and it is one of the best food tours in Bologna! You’ll get a sampling of pastas, cured meats, wines, and treats.
  • Historical Tour of Bologna – A wonderful half-day tour with an expert guide learning about the history of Bologna.

How to Get to Bologna

View of the hills and Bologna from the top of Asinelli Tower during one day in Bologna

Whether you’re planning to visit Bologna on a day trip or spending the night, getting here from neighboring cities in Italy is easy and straightforward.

Bologna day trip by train

Traveling from another city in Italy? The train is the best way to get to Bologna.

The Bologna Centrale train station is a major hub and connects you with the rest of Italy. Bologna’s central location makes it convenient to get from other major cities like Milan, Florence, Venice, and even Rome.

Here are three of the most popular train routes:

  • Milan to Bologna train: High-speed train takes between 1h 5min to 1h 21min | Regional train takes 2h 50min
  • Florence to Bologna train: High-speed train takes 38 minutes | Regional train takes 1h 27min
  • Venice to Bologna train: High-speed train takes 1h 33min | Regional train takes 2h 6min

One of the most popular day trips is from Florence to Bologna, since it only takes half an hour to get here by train.

Book your tickets on the Trenitalia website or app beforehand. This is the official site to book trains in Italy. We suggest booking your tickets at least 3 weeks in advance for high-speed trains to get the best pricing.

If you’re planning a list minute day trip to Bologna, then you can easily book your tickets at the station on the day of.

Bologna day trip by car

Unless you’re visiting from a smaller city in the Emilia Romagna region, like Brisighella or Dozza, we do not recommend renting a car to get to Bologna. Parking is available around the train station, but it’s much more convenient to simply take the train.

If you decide to rent a car, you can easily book a car rental through Discover Cars, our go-to rental site for cars in Italy.

Flying into Bologna

Are you flying into Bologna? The Bologna international airport connects you with the rest of Europe.

To get from the Bologna airport to the city center, take the Marconi Express train to the Bologna train station.

The train runs every 7 minutes throughout the day and costs €11 each way or €20 round trip. You can review the timetable and book your tickets here.

Marconi Express entrance

You can also use contactless payment to purchase your tickets at the station. We used our credit card and it was super easy!

The monorail drops you off at Bologna train station. From here, it’s a 15-20 minute walk to the center of the city.

Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the airport to your accommodation. It takes around 15-20 minutes and is pretty reasonably priced.

Where to eat in Bologna

Tortellini from one of bologna's best restaurants

With so many incredible restaurants in Bologna, it can be hard to decide where to eat, especially if you only have one day in Bologna. These are our top 5 favorite places to eat in Bologna and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

  • Trattoria da me – A great place to get crescentina and cured meats, plus local specialties like friggione.
  • All’ Osteria Bottega – Hands down, one of the best Bologna restaurants and one that we go back to every time we are in the city. Every dish is heavenly, but if you want something unique (and delicious!), try the roasted baby pigeon.
  • Da Cesari– A good place to try different varieties of pasta dishes. Try the tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms in the fall.
  • Caminetto d’oro – Fantastic grilled meats and truffle pasta dishes.
  • Trattoria collegio di Spagna– Try the cotoletta alla bolognese and zucchini dishes.

A few tips on booking restaurants in Bologna. Make sure to reserve restaurants in advance, at least two days beforehand. Tables book out fast.

If you don’t have time to reserve ahead of time, then arrive at the restaurant right as it opens. Some restaurants save a few tables for walk-ins. We’ve done this many times and usually have success.

However, this may be more difficult for larger groups.

Foods to Try in Bologna

Tortellini in Emilia Romagna

Wondering what foods you must eat during your day in Bologna? We have an entire article dedicated to the best foods in Bologna that you can check out, or here’s our quick list below.

  • Tagliatelle al Ragu – The most famous and popular dish in Bologna is ragu served with homemade tagliatelle, an egg-based pasta. It’s a meat sauce that is heavy, rich, acidic, and perfectly balanced.
  • Tortellini – This small hat-shaped pasta is often stuffed with a pork mixture. It’s best eaten as a soup with a meat-based broth and topped with some fresh parmesan.
  • Tortelloni – This pasta is usually stuffed with a ricotta and spinach mixture and served with sage and butter. During the fall, you can get it stuffed with pumpkin, which is our personal favorite way to eat it.
  • Lasagne Verde – This green, spinach-based pasta is layered with ragu and bechamel sauce, creating the perfect combination of rich and creamy flavors.
  • Crescentina – Made with flour, salt, lard, and water, this Emilia Romagna staple is most often served with a plate of cured meats as an appetizer.
  • Mortadella – This savory meat is served as an appetizer at most restaurants and is a must-try in Bologna.
  • Lambrusco & Pignoletto – These are the two wines of Emilia Romagna, both sparkling, and pair well with the fatty foods from Bologna.

Where to stay in Bologna

Spending the night in Bologna? We recommend booking your hotel in Centro Storico. This is the historic center of the city that’s within walking distance to all of the main attractions.

Book well in advance if you’re planning to visit Bologna during the peak travel season (June to September). Rooms book out quickly and prices get pretty expensive the closer you get to your travel date.

Check out our guide on the best 11 Boutique Hotels in Bologna for more hotel options.

Best time to visit Bologna in a day

Porticoes in Bologna, Italy

Bologna is a wonderful city to visit anytime of the year. Winters are cooler but there are plenty of indoor activities to keep you busy. Plus, the heavy foods in Bologna are more enjoyable to eat when it’s colder outside.

Spring and fall are the best times to visit Bologna. The temperatures are mild and the crowds are thin.

Summers are hot and humid and extremely busy. If you are visiting in June and July, book your hotels well in advance to get the best pricing.

Tip: Avoid Bologna in August. We made this mistake ourselves and all of the restaurants we wanted to eat at were closed.

Best time to visit Bologna: Based on our experience, the best month to visit Bologna is in October. The weather is warm and mild, and the food options this time of the year are amazing (porcini mushrooms, truffle, pumpkin pasta…).

One Day in Bologna: Frequently Asked Questions

View of the Piazza Maggiore from the Palazzo d'Accursio in Bologna, Italy

Is 1 day enough time in Bologna?

One day in Bologna is enough time to see the main attractions and get a feel for the city. However, we suggest spending a minimum of 2-3 days here to experience the best of the city without feeling rushed. There is quite a lot to do, plus the day trips from Bologna are fantastic.

How long should I spend in Bologna?

3 days in Bologna is an ideal amount of time to spend in the city. This gives you enough time to eat at several restaurants, see the main sights, and do a day trip to the local food producers in the Emilia Romagna region.

Is Bologna, Italy worth seeing?

Yes! Bologna is worth visiting for those looking for a unique food experience in Italy and to visit a less-touristy Italian city. Bologna is our favorite city in northern Italy.

More Information for your Trip to Bologna

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.

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