10 things to do and see in Bologna

A complete and detailed guide about 10 things to do and see in Bologna in 1, 2 or 3 days

10 things to do and see in Bologna
10 things to do and see in Bologna

“Erudite, red and fat”:  these are the three nicknames used to describe Bologna, chief town of the rich region Emilia Romagna.  Bologna  “la Dotta – the Erudite”, because in Bologna you can find one of the most ancient Universities of the world, still attended by many Italian and foreign students.

Bologna  “la Rossa – the Red”, because of the colour of the roofs, the typical colour of the medieval age.  Bologna “la Grassa – the Fat”, because of its delicious cuisine:  Bologna’s food is known all around the world because it can seduce everybody. In this page we suggest 10 things to do and see during a holiday or a weekend in Bologna.

If you are looking for a hotel in Bologna, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 120 hotels with prices, pictures  and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna

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Piazza Maggiore or Piazza Grande (called in this way by people of Bologna and Lucio Dalla, a famous italian singer),  is the heart of Bologna because is the centre of the religious and civil life of this city. It’s famous for the Fontana di Nettuno and for the ancient medieval buildings into the square: The Palazzo Comunale (City Hall) , the Palazzo dei Bianchi, the huge San Petronio Basilica and, in front of the basilica, the Palazzo del Podestà All these buildings testify the story of this city from 1200, when people of Bologna  needed a market square.

Piazza Maggiore Bologna
Piazza Maggiore Bologna

All the buildings, that were there before, were bought by the township and then destroyed. In 1400  the square was completed and took the austere appearance that we can see today. In spite of its historical importance there’s a legend among students of the University of Bologna:  it’s bad luck to pass through the square from the centre, it must be crossed going along the borders. Students that don’t follow this suggestion risk to never get the University degree.

Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna

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The Basilica di San Petronio is the most important church in Bologna and it’s the fifth largest church in the world. The construction of this church began in 1390 and continued for centuries. In order to build this temple,  civil pride’s symbol of Bologna, towers, houses and eight churches were destroyed.

Basilica San Petronio Bologna
Basilica San Petronio Bologna

This is the last big Gothic church realized in Italy, characterised by a Latin cross plan with three naves and chapels. You can’t miss the Cappella Bolognini  frescoed with Stories of the Three Kings;  the left wall, at the top, The Last Judgment  and Heaven.  At the bottom of the fresco, the Hell with an extraordinary and big Lucifer, and the representation of the prophet Muhammad in hell.

This Basilica has been for long time used by the township of Bologna as public building for many purposes: place of ceremonies, court, public meeting; in 1929 after the Patti Lateranensi (Lateran Pacts: agreements made between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See), it returned property of the church. If you visit this Basilica you can’t miss the beautiful Sundial made by Cassini, which demonstrate that the Earth moves around the sun.

Where: city centre
How to get there: by feet
When – Hours: from 7.45 am to 2.00 pm and from 3 pm to 6 pm
Tickets: free entrance, during exhibitions some frescoes could not be free

Asinelli's Tower

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The towers are one of the main features of Bologna. Between the XII and XIII century many towers were built, but nowadays they are less than twenty. These towers had a military and civil function: they gave prestige to the families which paid for their construction.

Asinelli's Tower
Asinelli’s Tower

The two most important towers are The Asinelli’s tower and the Garisenda.

Asinelli’s tower was built between the 1109 and the 1119 by Asinelli’s family, which used the tower also for military reasons. In 1448 a little stronghold was added to the tower in order to host soldiers. Nowadays the arch and the arcades host artisans’ shops in memory of the commercial function of this city during the middle age. The visitors have to climb 498 wooden stairs to reach the top of this tower, that is 97,20 meters high. From there they can enjoy the beautiful view of Bologna’s red roofs. When the weather is good it’s possible to see the sea and the Alps. Garisenda Tower is less high (47 meters) and cannot be visited

Where: city centre
How to get there: by feet
When – Hours: Summer from 9 am to 6 pm, Winter 9 am to 5 pm
Tickets: 3 €

Basilica di Santo Stefano in Bologna

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The Basilica is a complex of sacred buildings that form the “Sette Chiese” (Seven churches). The complex is placed in a triangular shaped square (it has been recently restored) and is made by  Chiesa del Crocifisso,  Basilica del Sepolcro,  Chiesa di San Vitale e Sant’Agricola,  Cortile di Pilato,  Chiesa del Martyrium,  Chiostro Medievale (the medieval cloister) and  Museo di Santo Stefano.

Basilica di Santo Stefano in Bologna
Basilica di Santo Stefano in Bologna

All the buildings are very ancient, and even if they were built in different periods, they have a certain stylistic uniformity. This complex is the most interesting and best preserved Romanesque monument in Bologna. The project was probably made when the bishop Petronio, after a voyage in Jerusalem in the V century, decided to make a reproduction of the sacred places of that city in Bologna. After all the restoration works made during the centuries, the churches are nowadays only four

Where: city centre
How to get there: by feet
When – Hours: Every day from 8 am to 7 pm
Ticket: free offer

Bologna Canals

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Maybe only few people know that Bologna have always been a city of water, a little Venice now largely hidden. The most charming part of this unusual Bologna is discovered by opening a small window located in Via Piella. Here, as in a vision, the view is on the Moline canal, used for centuries to power water mills with which people used to work the wheat.

Bologna Canals
Bologna Canals

Forgotten for decades, so much that most of the canals were buried in the ’50s, the water nature of Bologna has been rediscovered recently by the residents who are trying to revalue it. Besides the window of Via Piella, other “views” have been opened on Canale delle Moline from via Oberdan and via Malcontenti. Around the old town, you can see half-hidden torrents, you can hear the sound of water but you can’t see it. Where? In the Jewish Ghetto, under which flows the Aposa river or between via delle Moline and via Capo di Lucca, where you can hear the roar of Salto del Reno river.

Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna

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The Pinacoteca Nazionale of Bologna is one of the most important museum collections in Italy. The works here represent a trace the history of art in this region from the XIII to the XIX century. You can see painting of artists as Raffaello, Carracci, Reni, Perugino, Parmigianino, Tintoretto, Vasari, Guercino and other personalities.

Pinacoteca Nazionale Bologna
Pinacoteca Nazionale Bologna

The first core of this museum was a donation made by Monsignor Francesco Zambeccari; then during the years, thanks to donations of private citizens, acquisitions and legacies, this Pinacoteca has become one of the most appreciated and famous gallery in Italy and Europe. The museum has thirty exposition rooms and spaces dedicated to temporary exhibitions and didactic activities. The Pinacoteca besides exposing, preserves, keeps and studies the artistic patrimony of the city of Bologna and Emilia Romagna region.

Where: city centre
How to get there: by feet
When – Hours: from Tuesday – Wednesday , 9 am – 1 pm; Thursday-Sunday and holidays , 2 – 7 pm.
Never: Monday
Tickets: 4 €, reduced tickets 2 €

Porticoes of San Luca in Bologna

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What would be Bologna without its porticoes? This city is covered by porticoes for almost 40 kilometres. Porticoes are not only an architectural element but represent the very essence and the mood of the city.

Porticoes of San Luca in Bologna
Porticoes of San Luca in Bologna

In the summertime they are a perfect refuge from the sun and in the cold seasons a perfect refuge from the rain. They are the open subway of Bologna, covered path that allow people to reach all the points of the city centre.

The most famous colonnade is about 4 km from the centre of Bologna that leads to the Church of San Luca, the symbol of Bologna placed over the Colle della Guardia . The church was built between 1723 and 1757 to replace an earlier XV century church. The church has an elliptical plan with the Greek cross interior, decorated with works by Guido Reni and Guercino. The covered colonnade, with 666 arches, connects the sanctuary to Porta Zaragoza in city. The number of 666 (the symbol of the devil) is full of symbolic references: the arches have the shape of a snake (the devil) crushed by the foot of the Holy Virgin, represented by the church. The climb, then, is a path of liberation and purification from sin. Every year, during the week of the Ascension, from the church starts the procession that carry the Madonna and Child to the cathedral.  Along the porticoes of San Luca people use to jog , especially on Sundays. If you want to deal with them, you should wear comfortable shoes and lots of patience, because it is very hard!

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna

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This small church can be reached by a side road of Piazza Maggiore, and it’s worth a visit for the beautiful “Mourning over the Dead Christ” made in the second half of the ‘400 by Niccolò dell’Arca.

Chiesa Santa Maria Vita Bologna
Chiesa Santa Maria Vita Bologna

This sculpture group is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian sculpture, even if it’s unknown to many people. The pain expressed by the faces of the statues let Gabriele D’Annunzio to define the work a “scream of the stone” .The Church of Santa Maria della Vita was founded in the second half of the XIII century by the Confraternity dei Battuti o Flagellati and it’s considered the most important example of Bolognese Baroque. Don’t miss the nearby chapel and the Museo della Sanità which preserves the memory of the hospital wanted by flagellants.

Where: city centre
How to get there: by feet
When – Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 7 pm. Closed on Monday
Ticket: free entrance

Things to eat in Bologna

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The Bologna gastronomic fame dates back to the Middle Ages, when students and professors from all over the world needed an enrichment of food culture. Bolognese cuisine, like the one of Emilia in general, is varied and abundant. Besides the famous tortelli, still hand-made by pasta makers and served in broth, pasta and pork meat are the main characters of the boards. Some typical dishes are created thanks to the many combinations of these two elements.

Things to Eat in Bologna
Things to Eat in Bologna

Among these typical dishes there is the sauce, prepared with mixed pork meat, veal and beef; tagliatelle , prepared with flour and eggs; lasagne, seasoned with alternate layers of meat sauce, bechamel sauce and parmesan cheese; Bolognese cutlet, covered with cheese and a slice of ham. Also from porkmeat  is made the mortadella, a typical salami which is used to fill the ravioli, but also a froth that can be used as ingredient for sandwiches and croutons. Among the desserts, there’s the famous Certosino cake: it is a Christmas cake made with honey, almonds, candied fruit, pine nuts, butter, raisins, cinnamon and dark chocolate.

Where to sleep in Bologna

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A constant presence of students, professors, businessmen and tourists make it difficult to find a cheap  place, especially in high season. But you don’t have to be worried about it, Bologna has an excellent accommodation capacity of hotels, B&Bs and apartments.

Where to Sleep in Bologna
Where to Sleep in Bologna

Hotels of the city centre are the most expensive, but don’t choose them if you want to get there by car: Bologna has a very wide restricted traffic zone and there are fines for unauthorized access. Just outside the centre or near the station there are small hotels and B&Bs where you can find typical hospitality and friendliness of Bologna. Hotel prices start at 50 Euros per night in 3 star hotel.

If you are looking for a hotel in Bologna, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 2000 hotels with prices, pictures  and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com