Is Bologna Worth Visiting?

by Olivier De Winne

The city of Bologna is situated in the north of Italy. Bologna is one of Italy’s most beautiful cities with streets lined with buildings in tones of yellow, orange and red with terracotta roofs.

Bologna is worth visiting for its fabulous food!  Bologna is the gastronomic capital of Italy.  Bologna also has many interesting and historic buildings to visit with beautiful architecture including the famous Porticoes of Bologna that are UNESCO World Heritage sites and Le Due Torri (Two Towers).

Bologna is a fascinating city and was full of towers back in the Middle Ages. Listed below are our 15 reasons to visit Bologna to help you decide if Bologna is worth visiting on your next trip to Italy.

Is Bologna Worth Visiting? 15 Reasons to Visit Bologna

1. Marvel at a Middle Ages Skyscraper (Due Torri)

The Due Torri are two towers which are a symbol of the city of Bologna.  Like the tower in Pisa, they lean but not to the same extent.

The towers are located in the old part of Bologna and you can use them as a good indicator to know whereabouts you are.  Basically, if you get lost in the city, look for the towers to re-orientate yourself. The towers are very tall and dominate the city skyline, so it is very easy to see them.

Interestingly, the two towers are not the same size.  The taller tower is called the Tower of Asinelli, whereas the smaller is called Garisenda. So, why two towers?

The towers were named two families.  To demonstrate their power, these families decided to build the towers in around 1110. The Asinelli family built a bigger tower than the Garisenda family, so I imagine they were more powerful.

You can visit the towers and climb the stairs to the top.

2. Discover the Unfinished Basilica di San Petronio

The Basilica di San Petronio is located in Piazza Maggiore and is the biggest church in Bologna.  It is also the sixth largest church in Europe, measuring 132m long, 60m wide and 45m high.

The façade of the Basilica di San Petronio was never finished, so it is strange to see the façade half white and half in bricks. To begin with, this building was not supposed to be a church at all but a public space.

Don’t miss the intricate sculptures over the doorways on the front of the building.  Be aware that to enter the Basilica, you must respect a dress code – no hats and your shoulders must be covered.

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3. Hike to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

The Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is a church which was built on top of a hill above Bologna.  As a result, it provides great views of the city.

The entrance to the church is free but for a small charge you can climb to the observation deck. When you plan your visit, be aware that the church is closed between 12:30 and 14:30.

How to get to the Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca

1. Walk Through the Porticoes

The first option is to walk to the Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca. Although it’s a long walk (3.5 km), it’s worth the effort. Along the way, you will walk under porticoes (see below number 4) and you will pass 15 chapels. 

Each chapel has an information board displaying their name and description to help you learn more about them.  If you choose to walk, we strongly advise you to take some water with you because you won’t find any on your way. If you don’t have a reusable water bottle, we recommend this one on Amazon because it’s a good size and is reliably leakproof.

2. Take the San Luca Express

The second option is to take the tourist train from the Piazza Maggiore. A round trip ticket costs 12 Euros and includes a multilingual audio guide that gives you lots of information during your journey.

If you are interested in a round trip skip-the-line ticket with food tasting experience at the Basilica, click on the link below for more details.

3. Take the Public Bus

The third option is to take the public bus number 58.  You won’t get an audio tour, but this method of transport will just cost you 1.5 Euros.  A great option if you’re on a budget!

4. Stroll Through the UNESCO Porticoes

The porticoes in Bologna form part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will find them everywhere in Bologna.  In total, there are 38 km of porticoes in the city.

The porticoes are basically arched arcades which stretch over the pavement to protect you from the rain or the sun. The Bologna porticoes make the city unique in the world and make walking about very easy whatever the weather.

5. Explore the Palazzo d’Accursio

The Palazzo d’Accursio is the seat of the Municipal Authority and is one of the most important buildings in Bologna. It includes a number of buildings.

Palazzo d’Accursio

The Palazzo d’Accursio is situated on the Piazza Maggiore and is free to enter. However, you need to pay to climb the Clock Tower.  Check out this website for the Palazzo d’Accursio opening hours.

Don’t miss the horses’ great staircase which was the original staircase to enter the building.  Initially, it was designed for horses with carriages to access the apartments on the upper floor.  Today, it is more commonly used for wedding pictures!

6. Admire the Enormous Fountain of Neptune

You can find the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza del Nettuno. The Neptune fountain was built by Pope Pius IV when Bologna become subject to the Papal States.

The Fountain of Neptune is massive and is often called Il Gigante as it stands four meters high and weighs more than two tonnes.

Neptune stands on top of the fountain with his arms outstretched to calm the seas – the ultimate symbol of power. Under the statue, you will see four cherubs which represent four of the world’s major rivers: the Nile, Amazon, Danube and Ganges.

7. Relax on the Piazza Maggiore

You can’t miss the Piazza Maggiore.  It’s located in the centre of Bologna next to the Fountain of Neptune.

This square has kept the same layout since the 15th century. Many events take place on the Piazza during the year, like open air cinema showings. It is also a great place to rest and enjoy a delicious meal or coffee.

The square has stunning architecture and is also home to many famous buildings, including the Pallazo d’Accursio (see number 5), the Palzzo del Podesta (a civic building built in 1200), the Basilica di San Petronio (the main masterpiece of the Piazza) or the Palazzo Comunale (another city office).  All these buildings are of architectural interest.

8. Visit the Archiginnasio of Bologna

The Archiginnasio of Bologna is perhaps one of the most significant buildings in the city.  It has housed the Municipal Library since 1838 and the Anatomical Theatre.

The building dates from the 16th century when the Piazza Maggiore was redesigned. The impressive porch of the building is 139 meters long and features thirty arches which are supported by columns.

Students learn about the human body in the Anatomical Theatre.  This room has remained unchanged over the years and you can easily imagine yourself taking an anatomical course here. The room was built in wood by skilled craftsmen and there are plenty of intricate details to be discovered.

9. Eat Bologna Food Specialities

Rome is ancient, Venice is romantic, Naples is pizza, but Bologna is known for being the capital of gastronomy in Italy. In fact, the Italians call Bologna the La Grassa (The Fat One).

I’m guessing you know where Bolognese sauce originates from as most people enjoy Bolognese pasta dishes.  However, you need to try this dish here and you may be surprised.  If you love lasagne, you definitely need to try Green Lasagna in Bologna. 

Alternatively, if you are looking for something special, you could try the Tortellini en Brodo which is a pasta dish served in a hearty broth.  The tortellini are stuffed with meat and cheese. 

Bologna is also famous for its delicatessen foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Mortadella.  Don’t miss the opportunity to have a Piadina which is a folded or rolled sandwich with this inside.

In Bologna you don’t need a guidebook to find the best place to eats, you can expect to have delicious food everywhere in the city. 

However, to have a memorable experience during your time in Bologna, you can learn how to cook delicious Italian meals.  Why not take a cooking class and learn to cook like a local in a Bologna home? Click on the banner below for more details.

10. Wander Around the Markets

Bologna is a great place for markets.  This is unsurprising given that Bologna is Italy’s food capital.

I love food markets and it is here where I can feel the city, where I can see the locals and where I can discover new varieties of vegetables, meat or fruit. It is a great place to immerse yourself in a new culture with your eyes, nose, mouth and hands.

There are several markets in the city.  One of my favourites is the Mercato della Erbe.  If you get up early, you will find locals doing their shopping with their small trolleys.  The market itself is a great place to wander around to admire the glass and iron structure. In the evening, you can also enjoy a nice Aperitivo here.

Other markets worth visiting are: Mercato Ritrovato, Mercarto del Novale or Mercato di Mezzo which is the oldest.

11. Discover the Santo Stefano Complex

The Santo Stefano is a well-known complex of seven churches (Sette Chiese).  This area will transport you back in time and there are plenty of hidden gems in this complex. 

These interconnected churches are like a small village inside the city. All the areas are pedestrianised, so you don’t need to worry about the safety of your kids – they can run and have fun!  Make sure you plan enough time to explore everything as there is plenty to see. 

There are many charming coffee shops and restaurants in this area, if you need them. When you are in this stunning area, you will forget the rest of Bologna and feel like you are part an old movie.  It’s a real gem!

12. Enjoy Bologna with Kids

If you want a place to relax for a while with your kids, you could head to the Bibliotheca Sala Borsa near the Piazza Maggiore. They have a special library section for kids and a terrace with a vegetable garden.

Alternatively, you could leave the buzz of the city and enjoy the Complex di Santo Stefano where your kids can run and have fun in this pedestrianised place.

Another idea is to take the San Luca Express to the Sanctuary of San Luca.  The train ride will be popular with kids and save the whining on the long walk!

13. Visit the Pinacoteca di Brera Museum

The Pinacoteca di Brera Museum is considered to be one of the best museums to visit in Bologna. Here you will find many examples of religious art that was confiscated in the early 19th century.  It’s an interesting place to visit.

14. Take a Day Trip from Bologna

If you are in Bologna for few days and you love cars, then you should go to experience the beautiful Ferrari Museum in Maranello, the Ducati Museum and Factory and the Lamborghini Museum and Factory.

If you are a sports car lover, don’t miss out on these visits as they are so near to Bologna. See below for a full day out visiting one of the most prestigious car makers in history.

As I’ve mentioned, Bologna is the capital of food, but the wine is also very good.  From Bologna, you can go for a trip in the Romagna Region for a day of wine tasting. Taste the wine but don’t drive!  For peace of mind, join a guided tour group and have the best wine tasting experience.

15. Discover Bologna Hidden Places

Did Venice copy Bologna or is it the other way around?  In Bologna, there is a place called Little Venice (Finestrella di Via Piella)

In the past, Bologna had many canals which were used to transport goods but now only a few remain as they have been filled and covered over the years. The best viewpoint of Little Venice is a window looking over the canal in the Via Piella.

Bologna’s creepiest attraction is a mummified body.  If you want to see it, you need to go to the Corpus Domini or Chiesa della Santa and follow the sign ‘Cappella della Santa’. 

At the door, ring the bell and wait to enter. Walk until the end where you will see a mummified relic of St. Catherine of Bologna sitting on a throne. Click here for the opening times of the Chiesa della Santa.

Where is Bologna?

Bologna is located in northern Italy and is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Bologna is accessible by car, train or plane and the international airport is located 6 km from the city.

There are buses from the airport to the train station and the journey is approximately 20–30 minutes.  From Bologna’s railway station all the major attractions are within 1.5 km. 

Alternatively, you can take a taxi or private transfer from the airport to your hotel.

Is Bologna Worth Visiting?

Although Bologna is perhaps not as well-known as some other Italian cities, it is the gastronomic capital of the country.  If you love good Italian food and appreciate architecture, it is worth visiting Bologna as it has some unique historic features like the porticoes. 

Of course, it is also worth visiting Bologna if you are a sports car fanatic. The city offers a great base to visit the museums and factories of respected world-class car manufacturers.  A once in a lifetime opportunity and perhaps great gift for that special person in your life!

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Saverio Fabbri 14/01/2021 - 17:17

Due torn??? I’m from Bologna and this must have been misspelled… “Torn” makes no sense in Italian. The correct words are TORRE (TOWER) and TORRI (TOWERS)… so you should say Due Torri

Off The Tourist Treadmill 17/01/2021 - 11:37

Thank you for pointing this out to us. This website is a community website so all comments which help others are valued and appreciated! Grazie!

Saverio Fabbri 17/01/2021 - 12:25

It was my pleasure to help! ?

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