Although Bologna might be well known by Italians, it is less so amongst foreign visitors. I’m not sure why it’s not one of the first cities you’d mention if you think of Italy. Nevertheless, in my opinion Bologna can truly rival with the biggies when it comes to architecture and food.
What the city stands for can also be neatly explained by its nicknames: “La Grassa” (the fat – since the city has a rich cuisine), “La Rossa” (the red – due to its left political point of view) and “La Dotta” (the learned – the university is one of the oldest in the world).
Moreover, it’s a rather small city and therefore a splendid destination if you’re looking for a short city trip. There’s no need to take a cab between all of the activities, yet there’s a lot to discover. So bring your appetite and find out where to go in here!
Torre degli Asinelli
If there’s only time for one thing you can do in Bologna, make it a climb to the top of the Torre degli Asinelli. I’ve been up quite a few tall buildings in a lot of cities and for me this one was beating them all hands down. This peculiar tower is really worth the climb.
Think of your heart and your knees though. Built by the Asinelli family between 1109 and 1119, today the tower leans 2.2m off vertical. Apart from that scary idea, there are some 498 rickety and very worn wooden stairs that you need to conquer before you get to the viewpoint. Therefore this is no task for the faint of heart, nor for superstitious students. The locals say after all that if you climb the tower, you’ll never graduate.
Buy your ticket up front at the Tourist Office as you cannot buy it at the tower itself unfortunately. Next you have an allocated slot of 40 minutes to get up and down. Go around sunset; up in the sky there are some gorgeous golden vistas on the city and its surroundings to admire.
Think you deserve a treat after this workout? I think so too. The best pizza slices are sold straight next to the Torre at the Pizzeria Due Torri. A friend of mine who studied there for half a year told me this, so this is golden information – make use of it!
Aperitivo at Via Zamboni
From the Due Torri it’s a short walk to the Via Zamboni. Over there you’ll find a small piazza where on the left side you can have a great time at the popular bar Lab 16. A glass of wine will costs you €5,- in here and the small bites that come along ‘aperitivo’ are for free! How great is that! Aperitivo time is often from 6 to 9 pm. Italians take this very serious and luckily this bar knows how to serve it.
Le Stanze at Via del Borgo di San Pietro
Another awesome place for aperitivo is at Le Stanze: a bar set in a church. The 17th century frescoes are a slightly remarkable setting for a bar, but hey, this is Italy. The aperitivo buffet is okay in here, but not overwhelming. Basically just go here for a couple of aperol spritz and soak up the vibe.
Drink a ”cappuccio” or “cafe corretto”
Start your day with a ”cappuccio” (say: kapoe-tsjie!). Indeed, that’s a cappuccino in the local Bologna language. In Italy you only drink this in the morning, so therefore you might get an angry look or two if you order it later on the day. If you really want to start your day properly, take a “cafe corretto”; a cappuccino with amaretto. Heartwarming in winter too!
Cute little streets + food:
Via Pratello is a great street to visit in the evening. Over here you’ll find ristorantes (restaurants), trattorias (simple restaurants) and osterias (even simpler when it comes to dishes, yet still very enjoyable and authentic).
Two famous choices nearby are:
Osteria dell’Orsa: One of the most fun and chaotic osteria’s in the city. A liter of wine comes for the superb price of €8,-. Pasta’s of the day are served for €7,- and they are good! Don’t forget dessert in here, the tiramisu is worth a visit on its own.
Trattoria del Rosso: The oldest trattoria in Bologna, which is family run and serves the best traditional pasta and meat / fish dishes. Here you’ll learn that a real “spaghetti bolognese” is made without tomato sauce and is called “tagliatelle al ragu”. If you want to upgrade your knowledge about cheese, you might want to taste the “melanzane alla parmigiana”: aubergine in tomato sauce with melted mozzarella/parmesan cheese on top and in between. Absolutely divine.
Visit a market
On Saturdays there’s a market at the Via del’Indipendenza. It’s not a must, but it might be fun to walk around and see what’s for sale. Another little food market is at the Ugo Bassi, on the other side of the two towers.
Hike it up to Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Bologna ánd are in for a decent hike, then go to the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca. The place is set on a hill and to get there you can either take a touristy bus or walk up the long portico, a covered archway. I think they’re gorgeous and therefore I was pleasant surprised there are a lot of those porticos in Bologna.
The walk to the church is 2,3 km (yes, each way) along 666 arches which form the truly impressive portico – from the Ponte Saragozza up to the top and the Basilica. From there you can climb the cupola (for €5,-) for stunning and panoramic views of Bologna and the surrounding countryside. The church itself is pretty too, with some lovely architecture and artwork on the inside.
Basilica Santo Stefano
There are lots of churches in Bologna, but this building a spectacular one as is comprised of at least seven churches. All of those are built in different centuries and were combined into one wondrous building. The original church was supposedly built in the 5th century over a pagan temple and designed like the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
While walking around you’ll feel an air of mystery. Every room holds another surprise, full of historic tales. Take a moment to discover all of the details and if you want to take a rest, drink a coffee on the quiet square in front of the church. It really feels like you stepped back into time over here too.
Visit one of those drop dread gorgeous place outside of Bologna:
Bologna’s location is absolutely splendid as a base to visit other cities too. It’s only two hours by train to get to Venice and one hour to Florence.
But perhaps you’ve already seen those biggies. Luckily, there are some other cute towns – within half an hour reach – too. Go to Parma for example, and eat it up with ham and cheese before you visit the beautiful church. Or go to Modena, the place where the best balsamic acid comes from. It’s another small, yet very impressive town to walk for an hour or two.
Looking for food? Then go to Ferrara, it has the oldest osteria/wine bar in Italy: “Enoteca al Brindisi“. This place opened up in 1435!
If you plan it well, you could easily do two (or perhaps all of them) in one day!