Are you planning to walk the Portico di San Luca in Bologna? We’re sharing all you need to know for your journey up the longest portico in the world!
Bologna is one of our favorite cities in Italy, with some of the best Italian food and gelato, and many amazing historical sites to visit.
We’ve visited Bologna on 3 separate occasions and one of our favorite things to do in the city is walk up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
After having done the pilgrimage twice, we can say that it’s not only a good workout, but it’s a fantastic way to experience Bologna’s cultural heritage.
In this guide, we’re sharing some helpful tips on walking to San Luca, including the difficulty level, the time it takes to walk to the top, and a few things you need to do to prepare for the walk. Let’s get started!
What is the Portico di San Luca?
The Portico di San Luca in Bologna is an iconic sight that travelers from all over the world come to experience. This arched walkway spans around 3.8 km long and has a total of 666 arches, making it the longest portico (covered walkway) in the world.
The portico was built between 1674 and 1793. It was originally meant to protect the sacred icon of the Virgin of San Luca, a painted image, as it was carried to and from the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca during an annual pilgrimage.
The story goes that in 1433, the city of Bologna was suffering from a particularly wet spring, which led to ruined crops. Because of this, the locals decided to ask for a miracle.
In doing so, they led a procession from the top of the Colle della Guardia, the hill where the sanctuary is located, down to Bologna. Upon arriving to the city, the rain ceased.
To celebrate this miracle, the city still holds a procession every year in May.
The icon is carried down from the sanctuary to the Cathedral of San Pietro in Bologna where it rests for one week. It is then taken back up to the sanctuary a week later during another procession.
Where does the Portico di San Luca start?
The Portico di San Luca starts at the Porta Saragozza (gate of Saragozza). This gate was part of the 13th century wall that originally surrounded the city of Bologna.
From here, you’ll start your journey up the Colle della Guardia, a 300 meter tall hill, until you reach the basilica.
How long does it take to walk the Portico di San Luca?
It takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes to walk the Portico di San Luca from the center of Bologna.
A bit of a disclaimer, the walk is more of a hike for the second half of the journey. You’ll be walking uphill with a mix of stairs for around 2 km.
We were definitely tired during this leg of the journey and had to take quite a few breaks despite being in decent shape. We didn’t mind though because the views were nice along the way and it gave us time to admire the centuries old architecture of the porticoes.
When is the best time to hike to the Basilica di San Luca?
You can walk to the Basilica di San Luca all year round thanks to the handy porticoes that keep you covered from any type of weather, rain or shine.
We suggest starting your walk in the morning around 8 AM or 9 AM to beat the crowds. It gets pretty hot during the summer months, so the mornings are the best time to start in order to stay cool.
A Guide to Walking the Portico di San Luca Bologna
Where do you start the walk to San Luca Bologna?
We’ve done the walk to San Luca twice and both times we “officially” started the walk from the Piazza Maggiore in the center of Bologna.
You can use our map at the bottom of the post or plug in the “Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca” into Google Maps to help guide you in the right direction.
It takes about 15-20 minutes from the main square to get to the Porta Saragozza, which is where the portico begins.
Porta Saragozza: The beginning of the Portico di San Luca
You’ll know that you’re going in the right direction when you pass the first gate on the walk – the Porta Saragozza. This is the entry gate into Bologna and was once part of a Medieval wall that surrounded the city.
This Porta Saragozza is the official beginning of the Portico di San Luca. Your 3.8 km journey starts here.
Along Via Saragozza, you’ll experience a bit of local life in Bologna with many cafes and shops located on the outskirts of the city. We loved stopping by Bar Billi for a delicious pasticceria and drink.
Bar Billi is closed on Thursdays, so if you’re planning to do the walk on this day, just know that you’ll need to stop somewhere else for a break.
This is also a good time to use the restroom if you need it because there are no restrooms at the top of the hill.
This part of the journey is fairly flat and easy. After about 1.5 km along Via Saragozza, you’ll reach the next gate and the start of your uphill climb – Arco Del Meloncello.
Arco Del Meloncello to the Basilica di San Luca
The Arco Del Meloncello is the final gate before you start your ascent to the sanctuary atop the hill. Make sure you are stocked up on water and any snacks you may need. There are no facilities from this point on.
Get ready for an uphill climb. The two kilometer ascent is a mix of stairs and a pathed uphill path. Along the way, you’ll notice many shrines and chapels for different families from the area.
Take it slow if you need to and enjoy the views. Our first time doing the climb took us a while. We got tired quickly because we were initially taking it way too fast. It’s better to enjoy the journey up and take it all in.
Save some energy to get through the last stretch, which includes a lot of stairs, but we promise you’ll make it to the top!
Arriving at the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
At the end of your pilgrimage, you’ll be greeted with stunning countryside views and the beautiful Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
The basilica is bright orange, typical for this region, and stands out beautifully on top of the hill.
You can visit the inside of the church and see the painting of the sacred image of the Virgin yourself behind the main altar. You can also climb to the top of the dome for a fee if you’d like to get even better views from the basilica – more on this below.
Afterwards, head down the stairs to the front of the church to relax for a bit on one of the benches, or to refuel before your journey back down to the city.
The panoramic views of the hills are unbeatable, particularly of the Parco San Pelligrino, which is a fantastic hiking area just outside of the city.
For the best views of the basilica, walk down the driveway in front of the church to see it in its entirety.
San Luca Sky Experience
Inside of the Sanctuary of San Luca, you can walk up a small, spiral staircase to the top of the dome for panoramic views of Bologna. The cost is €5 per person.
- Monday to Saturday – 10AM – 1:30PM / 2:30PM – 6PM
- Sunday – 12AM – 6PM
You can purchase your tickets at the basilica. This is also included in the Bologna Welcome Card if you purchased that for your trip.
Walking from San Luca back to Bologna
The walk back to the city center feels like a breeze compared to the uphill journey. It is also much faster going down than the walk up – it only took us about 40 minutes to get back to the Piazza Maggiore.
If you’re tired and need a break, stop at one of the cafes on Via Saragozza to relax for a bit. We prefer to make reservations at one of the best restaurants in the city for lunch. Nothing like a hearty Italian meal after a long walk uphill!
Taking the San Luca Express Train
Alternatively, if you prefer an easier route up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca instead of walking, you can take the San Luca Express Train.
The San Luca Express train departs from the Piazza Maggiore in the center of Bologna around every 40 minutes (with a few exceptions). The first departure leaves Piazza Maggiore at 9:55am and the last departure leaves at 5:30pm.
The duration of the ride takes between 20-40 minutes each way, depending on traffic and the number of stops it makes.
Once the train arrives at the Basilica, it waits for about 15-minutes before heading back to the city. We recommend spending a little more time walking around and waiting for the next train.
San Luca Express Tickets + Prices
Prices for a round-trip ticket:
- € 12 – Adults
- € 6 – Children (6-10 years old) and Disabled persons
- € 3 – Kids (0-5 years old)
Purchase tickets online in advance here or buy them at the ticket counter in Piazza Maggiore. You’ll see a little booth outside with signs for the train in the piazza.
Are there one-way tickets for the San Luca Express?
You can also choose to walk up to the basilica through the Portico di San Luca and then take the San Luca Express train back to Bologna. We’ve done this and paid €6 for a one-way ticket. They charged us via credit card at the train.
Here is a timetable with the full schedule of the train.
Tips for Walking to San Luca in Bologna
- Use the restroom before you leave and/or at a cafe. There are no restrooms once you reach the top of the hike, so we suggest you stop at a cafe along Via Saragozza to use the restroom if you need to.
- Bring food to snack on. We’ve done the hike twice. The first time we didn’t bring any snacks, and we wished we had becuase we were quite famished by the time we reached the Basilica di San Luca. The second time, we were smart and brought a little picnic with some meat, cheese, and bread. We sat on one of the benches and relaxed for a bit while we ate our picnic lunch. We recommend doing this!
- Bring water. More than half of the walk is uphill and it gets warm by mid-day. Bring enough water to keep you hydrated during the walk.
- Plan on a half-day for the walk. You can do the walk as fast or as slow as you’d like. We recommend planning for at least 3 hours round trip, so you have enough time to take breaks and to enjoy the views.
- Wear decent walking shoes. Your feet will get tired from walking up and down the hill. Wear comfortable shoes that are easy to walk in.
Map of the Portico di San Luca Walk
Here is a map to help guide you on your walk to the Sanctuary di San Luca. If you select the icon on the left with the arrow, you will see a list of all of the major points along the way.
On your phone, if you select the box icon on the right, it will open up the map on Google Maps.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are the porticoes of Bologna a UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
Yes! In 2021, the porticoes of Bologna were officially made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In total, there are 62 km of porticoes in the city that were built starting from the 12th century.
How long is the Portico di San Luca?
The Portico di San Luca starts at the Porta Saragozza and goes up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. The total length of the portico is around 3.8 km.
Can you take the bus to the Basilica di San Luca?
Yes, there are a couple of options for the bus to San Luca; however, the bus is not direct and does not drop you off right at the basilica.
You can either take Bus 20 to Arco del Meloncello from Piazza Maggiore, and then walk uphill to the basilica from there.
Or you can take Bus 20 to Villa Spada and then transfer to Bus 58. This bus will drop you off at Monte Albano 15, which is about a 20 minute walk from the Basilica.
To avoid the hassle, we suggest taking the San Luca Express train, as it’s much more convenient and quicker than the bus.
Final Thoughts: Walking the Portico di San Luca in Bologna
Walking the Portico di San Luca is a truly unique and memorable experience. You will have the opportunity to explore centuries of history, take in stunning views, and enjoy a lovely walk in one of the best cities in Italy.
Whether you choose to walk up the hill or ride the San Luca express, remember to come prepared with some snacks, water, and comfortable walking shoes so that you can enjoy the journey to its fullest!
We hope that you found this guide useful, and we’d love to hear about your experience walking to San Luca in Bologna in the comments below!
More Information for your trip to Bologna
Bologna has some of the most delicious gelato in all of Italy. Check out our guide to the best gelato shops in Bologna.
Looking to do a day trip from Bologna? There are so many incredible day trips from Bologna, including a food tour in Modena and a visit to the Ferrari factory in Maranello. Take a look at our article about the 23 best day trips from Bologna.
Wanting to try some unique foods from Emilia-Romagna? Check out our article on the most underrated foods in Emilia Romagna.
For a full a list of all of the things to do in Bologna, read our article on the best things to do in Bologna.