Bologna is a location I know well. If you haven’t been yet – then I’d recommend trying it. It is one of the main contributors to Italy’s reputation for good food. So if you are into gastronomy, then this is the place for you
My name is Guido. I’m an Italian native, travel enthusiast and founder of Ciao Italy & Carrani Tours. I regularly travel in Italy, keeping myself up to date with what the country has to offer and testing out the Italian tours and Italian vacations that we offer at Ciao Italy and Carrani Tours. And for that reason, Bologna is a location I know well. If you haven’t been yet – then I’d recommend trying it. It is one of the main contributors to Italy’s reputation for good food. So if you are into gastronomy, then this is the place for you. But Bologna offers so much, in addition to great food! So, here’s my take on the top attractions in Bologna:
Definitely try out the food!
Italy is blessed with good food, so what makes Bologna SO good?
Well, firstly it’s a market city, so you’ll find colourful street markets full of beautiful and fresh ingredients – from in season fruit and vegetables to traditional balsamic vinegar, meats and cheeses. I always think that this is a great sign – as these ingredients will make their way to the city’s restaurants.
It also has its own signature dishes – for instance, it’s famed for its Tortellini and for its tagliatelle al ragù. Of course, outside Italy, this is sometimes known as Spaghetti Bolognese. In Bologna it will always be served with tagliatelle and never spaghetti. And, Bologna’s nickname is ‘La Grassa’. It means the ‘large one’, and perhaps hints at what you’ll experience by visiting Bologna.
Walk to the top of San Luca
And, in addition to sampling the food, when you visit Bologna you’ll see that it is a beautiful city. Make sure you walk to the top of San Luca to reach the Basilica San Luca. The walk up is as beautiful as the reward of the basilica at the top – since you’ll be under the longest portico in the world on the ascent. Bologna is famous for its porticoes, but more on that later.
Visit the Piazza Maggiore
This is the central square of Bologna. Like many of its other Italian counterparts, this square has a beautiful atmosphere – especially at sunset. You can watch the world go by at one of its cafes or you can visit the Basilica of San Petronio, which dominates the square and was at one stage going to be the largest church in the world, until the Vatican intervened. Although it’s not Bologna’s largest church (that is Cattedrale di san Pietro), it is the tenth largest in the world and I am inspired by the story of its construction. The building of the church was a communal project by the city of Bologna as opposed to being a project of the bishops alone.
Visit Torre degli Asinelli and the leaning Garisenda
One of the most famous attractions in Bologna is the Torre degli Asinelli and the leaning Garisenda. You can climb the Torre degli Asinelli for a fabulous view across the red roofs of Bologna. It has 498 steps and is over 97 metres high. It’s neighbour, the Garisenda tower, is a large leaning tower – and has a tilt of around 3 metres, so you can’t climb that. But yes, leaning towers are not unique to Pisa. Interestingly, in the 12th Century, there were almost 200 towers in Bologna but most were destroyed or collapsed in time.
Check out the seat of the oldest university in the western world
The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and it is the oldest university in the western world. The Archiginnasio building is one of the most important buildings in the city – since this was the first seat of the University. Prior to that classes were held in private houses, religious buildings or even in the open air. Although the University was relocated in 1803, you can visit this fascinating building – which includes an anatomical theatre where some of the earliest anatomy lectures took place – with corpses!
Shop at La Piazzola
La Piazzola is an open-air market that’s held in the Piazza Mercato in central Bologna. It was originally a cattle market, but now you can shop for everything from clothing to arts and crafts sold by local artists and craftsmen.
Explore the Porticoes
As I mentioned earlier, Bologna is famous for its porticoes. There are around 38km of porticoes and archways in the city. They are one of Italy’s UNESCO world heritage sites. You can find them all over the city – and as I said earlier, even on the ascent to Basilica San Luca. They are related to the demand for extra housing that came with the expansion of the university. Students travelled to Bologna from all over Europe and they found accommodation above the porticoes, which had shops and workshops located on the ground floor.
Marvel at the art of San Domenico
Perhaps one of the lesser-known Bologna attractions is the art inside San Domenico. The Basilica San Domenico was built to honour Saint Dominic – in the convent of the order he founded. His remains lie here in a marble tomb that was carved by some of the world’s most famous artists – including Michelangelo and Pisano.
Pop over to Parma
If you are in Bologna, it’s a great idea to pop over to Parma – a city known for its art, music and of course, its food produce like parma ham and parmesan cheese. It is also almost devoid of cars and has some beautiful architecture. It’s altogether a beautiful day trip from Bologna.
If all that Bologna has to offer tempts you into planning an Italian holiday, then please let my team at Ciao Italy & Carrani Tours help you organise your trip. We run a variety of Italian tours and Italian vacations across the country, including our 3 day Eatalia food and wine trip which includes both Bologna and Parma.
If you would like more information like these Bologna travel tips – including other travel advice for Italy and information about tours in Italy or Italian vacations please do visit us at ciaoitalytours.com We always say that with us, your Italian tour or Italian vacations will be one you’ll never forget.