Bologna Travel Guide

Medieval Center, Old University, and Foodie City

Bologna is a large university city in northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, known as one of Italy’s top gourmet cities for its excellent cuisine that includes the famous pasta Bolognese, tagliatelle with ragu (a long cooked meat sauce). Bologna’s compact medieval center is easy to explore on foot and its many covered sidewalks make for good walking, offering protection from the rain and sun. In fact, the Porticoes of Bologna, covering 62 kilometers, were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2021.

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Passageway in Bologna by James Martin

Plan Your Visit to Bologna

Bologna is on several major train lines giving it easy access to Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, and both coasts. The historic center is a short walk from the train station but there are also buses. A small airport has flights from other parts of Italy and Europe. Bologna’s historic center is mostly a limited traffic zone, so if you’re arriving by car you’ll need to park in a lot outside the center.

Top Rated Places to Stay:

See Bologna’s location on this Emilia Romagna Map

Check Bologna’s Weather and Climate for when to go.

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Piazza Maggiore in Bologna

Top Things to See and Do in Bologna

  • Piazza Maggiore, the 13th century square in the middle of the historic center, is a good place to start your visit. Here you’ll find the 13th century Palazzo del Podesta (with the tourist information office inside), city hall, the huge Gothic Church of San Petronio, and Torre dell’Arengo, one of Bologna’s medieval towers. Have a coffee or an apertivo at one of the outdoor cafes and enjoy the ambiance.
  • Piazza del Nettuno, next to Piazza Maggiore, has the ornate Neptune’s Fountain designed by Tommaso Laureti in the mid-16th century with nude bronze figures by Giambologna spouting water. The square is surrounded by medieval civic buildings, one of the best being the library with a beautiful interior.
  • Piazza Santo Stefano has an interesting religious complex of seven interlocking churches (sette chiese), founded on a site that’s been sacred for about 2000 years. The church of Saints Vitale and Agricola, the oldest church, has parts of Roman temples and columns. Some of the churches are Romanesque in style and a picturesque maze of little chapels is inside a courtyard.
  • Visit the unusual San Colombano Museum to see (and maybe hear) stunning musical instruments from the 16th century to replicas of folk instruments created in the 20th century. The museum is housed in a former 7th century church at Via Parigi 5 (closed Mondays) with frescoes, art works, and a medieval crypt.
  • Climb the narrow staircase to the top of Torre degli Asinelli, one of Bologna’s surviving medieval towers, for a great view of the city’s rooftops. You’ll see the tower and Garisenda tower, both leaning, in Piazza Porta Ravegnana, an interesting spot where seven medieval streets converge.
  • Wander through the colorful market district on Via Clavatura, east of Piazza Maggiore, where there are interesting food stalls. You’ll see small pasta shops, vegetable markets, fish mongers, and delis offering the many cured meats and cheeses of the Po valley.
  • The Pinacoteca Nazionale is one of Italy’s best galleries with several important works of art. Bologna’s Archaeological Museum has one of Italy’s top collections of ancient artifacts.
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Elegantly Covered Sidewalks in Bologna

Where to Go Near Bologna

There’s more than enough in Bologna to keep you busy for a couple of days at least, and the city makes a base for exploring the region:

  • 5 Bologna day trips by train
  • Ravenna is known for its stunning Byzantine-style early Christian mosaics inside its churches and monuments.
  • Modena is home to Ferrari, Balsamic vinegar, and a beautiful Romanesque cathedral.
  • Comacchio, a pretty town with canals on the east coast, is the gateway to the Po Delta wetlands.
  • Dozza has murals on its walls and a castle with an enoteca inside.
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Vegetables and Fruits in Bologna Market
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Medieval Detail on a Building in Bologna by James Martin

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Bologna Travel Guide originally appeared on , updated: Jul 28, 2021.