Top Things To Do In Bologna Italy: Our Bologna Travel Guide to the best Bologna attractions, Bologna food experiences, the best pasta in Bologna, food tours, Bologna markets, the best pizza Bologna, nightlife and live music. Plus more.
The city was originally founded by the Etruscans in the 6th century BC. It really hit it’s stride in the 12th & 13th centuries with the establishment of the university (now considered the oldest continuously functioning university in the world). Bologna, as an independent city state, had it’s ups and downs against the holy Roman church over the years, who took ownership of the city from 1506 until the late 18th Century.
In 1860 Bologna became part of the unified kingdom of Italy. Though many outer parts of the city were damaged during World War II, the core historical centre survived largely unscathed. Today, you can visit hundreds of years of architectural history which is still part of an active, living city.
So, here are our pick of the top things to do in Bologna Italy.
Table Of Contents – Top Things To Do In Bologna Italy
Get Our FREE Bologna & Emilia Romagna Map: Interactive Google Map Overlay For Tourists
We’ve put together a google map overlay with all our top picks of Bologna attractions, restaurants, foodie experiences, accommodation, transport locations and more! Save your self a bunch of time by having our huge list of Emilia Romagna & San Marino highlights instantly at your fingertips. Get Our Emilia Romagna Map NOW – Click Here – Features Bologna, Modena, Parma, San Marino, Rimini and more!
- Works on any device over 4G or wifi – follow the map as you travel
- Includes every restaurant mentioned in the article.
- 100+ highlighted spots to visit
- Super easy to use on google maps
Things To Do In Bologna Italy – Foodie Experiences
One of the biggest Bologna attractions is the food.
Bologna & the region of Emilia Romagna is the home to famous fresh pasta, such as tagliatelle and tortellini. Eating is an essential part of the Bolognese experience and the locals are serious about their cuisine.
From the world’s 1st gelato university to pasta making classes and food walks. Bologna is a dream foodie destination!
Eat Mortadella (+ Parma Ham & Parmigiano Reggiano)
Mortadella, also known as “Bologne” or “Bologna” in the USA, is the namesake meat product of the city of Bologna. In Bologna Italy, this is not cheap lunch meat. It’s a luxurious, melt in the mouth pork sausage. If you’ve never tried the real thing, then it’s a must for your visit to Bologna.
Two other famous products that come from the Emilia Romagna region are Parma Ham and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese). Although these are not produced in the city, they are big name local products from other parts of the province. They are easily available at delis and restaurants across Bologna and it’s hard not to eat them every day during your trip!
For a full list of other essential things to eat in Bologna & Emilia Romagna – Check our full 37 Things To Eat Bologna – Plus What to Eat in Bologna Podcast.
Bologna Cooking Class & Pasta Making Class
Bologna & Emilia Romagna are the home of fresh egg pastas like Tagliatelle, Tortelini, Torteloni, and many more. Eating them in Bologna is a given. Learning how to make them, and then eating them, is an even bigger treat. The art of freshly made pasta should be something every foodie learns.
We tried out some pasta making classes for ourselves. So for more info on Bologna cooking classes – Check out our 5 Best Bologna Cooking Classes Article.
Eat The Best Fresh Pasta!
If you don’t want to make the pasta yourself, you still have to go out and eat it! Your first attempt at pasta making may not be quite at the expert level. So let the masters serve you fresh pasta as it’s supposed to be.
Visit a traditional trattoria to taste some of the best pasta dishes in the city. From Tagliatelle Ragu to Tortellini en Brodo.
Oltre – Pasta Classics. Get the Tortellini, tagliatelle ragu or Tortelloni.
La Montanara – Lasagne al Forno, the traditional Bolognese lasagne known all over the world. Or, our top pick “Gramigna alla Salsiccia” pasta in a sausage ragu.
Ristorante Al Sangiovese – Serving up a local secret pasta “passatelli”.
For a comprehensive list of other essential pastas to eat in Bologna & Emilia Romagna – Check our full Bologna Food Guide.
Have A Hand Made Pasta Experience With A Difference…
At Pasta Fresca Naldi you’ll find top quality pasta at affordable prices. The twist? It’s a pasta take away shop. Unlike most pasta take away places, they sell the pasta cooked, rather than raw, so you don’t have to cook it yourself. The best part of the story though, you can choose to take the pasta into any one of the many bars opposite the shop, and you can eat free of charge – just buy a drink.
Alternatively, you can take the pasta to a local park or square and enjoy it on the grass, or sitting on the steps of one of Bologna’s historic buildings
Take A Bologna Food Tour
Looking to learn about the culinary history of the city, visit local markets and get a taste test of many of Bologna’s most famous foods? Taking a Bologna food tour is the best way to get all done in one go.
Andrea (as seen on somebody feed Phil, S2E1 on Netflix) or one of his team members will guide you through this amazing foodie city. Join one of Taste Bologna’s many food tours to see the city from a tasty new perspective.
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Learn About The World Of Italian Cuisine All In One Place – Fico Eatly World
In November 2017, Italy’s first “food theme park” opened its doors. Fico Eatly World brings together regional cuisine from the whole country, all into one massive foodie warehouse. Over 40 restaurants and food stalls representing everything from Arancini to Zuppa.
Fico Eatly World includes not just restaurants but it’s own farm, with livestock as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. They make their own pasta on site, churn their own dairy and much more. It’s like a living museum of Italian cuisine.
We visited Fico as part of a tour. The first part of the tour we had free time to wander the aisles. The second part was a guided tour to the regional dishes and produce of Italy.
I have to say that visiting Fico independently, for the first part of our trip, was really not worthwhile. It’s overwhelming. Many stall owners don’t speak English and taste tests are rarely available (as the entrance is free). It felt like just a big food court, with too many choices to know where to begin.
However, taking a tour of the site was fascinating. If you don’t have time to visit the whole of Italy… Having a bilingual guide explain the products and production methods around this massive site was like a fast-track course in Italian culinary history. Amazing!
So, if you are thinking of visiting, book a guided tour first. Then go eat.
We hope in future they will introduce a “tasting ticket” so you can pay to sample many dishes, rather than having to commit to one or two and then being full.
We took the “Fico & The City Tour” with Bologna Welcome which also includes a walking tour of Bologna’s historic centre.
Aperitivo in Bologna
Aperitivo is a tradition which began in North Italy, possibly as early as 1786 – in conjunction with the invention of vermouth.
It’s essentially a pre-dinner buffet to accompany your pre-dinner drinks. The crazy thing is, you pay for the drink and then the buffet is free and unlimited (sometimes you pay a small supplement for the buffet). It’s your chance to try many local foods. Depending on the quality of the establishment, you may get cuts of mortadella, local cheeses and more. Or, at the budget end, some bruschetta and pizza.
For students and backpackers, it’s an opportunity to get a drink and a full meal for about 5 euros per person.
For everyone else, it’s a tasty snack where you can enjoy a glass of fine wine with some nibbles.
It’s especially popular in Bologna & Emilia Romagna, though it likely originated in Milan or Turin.
Osteria Del Sole – The BYO Food Bar
BYO drinks, where you bring your own bottle of wine or other drinks and may just pay a small corkage fee, has been around forever. But what about a BYO food option? We mentioned above that Pasta Fresca Naldi is surrounded by bars that let you sit down with your take away pasta. But, as Osteria Del Sole first opened as a pub in 1465, it seems likely they were trending this concept first.
As the oldest continuously running pub in Bologna, and a place occupied almost exclusively by locals, it’s certainly an off-path destination. For many years, it’s hard to say how many, they have not sold food, only drink, and it’s expected for you to BYO. With affordable prices, the bar is a mix of the older generation during the day, and mostly students in the evening. Though they do close at 9.30pm. So it’s more of a dinner and a drink, then go elsewhere, sort of place.
Every place mentioned in this article is listed in one place on our free interactive tourist map.
Gelato University & Museum
Yes, you can get a degree in Gelato making! Carpigiani Gelato University opened in 2003 as the first gelato university in the world. Bologna has a strong connection to the world of Gelato as they produce and export the highest quality gelato making equipment, worldwide. And now, students come from around the world to study the art of gelato here.
A basic 5 day gelato course comes in at around 1,300 Euros. So if you are not ready to quit your job yet, you can just visit the on-site museum instead – including guided tours for tourists by request. Get ready to dive into a creamy wonderland!
If you just want to indulge your gelato fantasies, rather than get a full education then Bologna has many fantastic Gelaterias to feast on dairy perfection. Tow of our top choices.
Biscotti gelato @ La Cremeria della Grada
Caramelised fig with ricotta and honey @ La Sorbetteria Castiglione
Eat Incredible Pizza
Bologna may historically be all about the fresh egg pasta but pizza has certainly found its way into the city.
Our top picks for best pizza Bologna:
PizzArtist – Incredibly rustic crust with a “buy by the kilo” system that lets you sample slices of many different pizza toppings.
Berbere Pizza – Possibly the best pizza sauce I’ve ever had (pictured above) and also a Neapolitan airy-yet-doughy-yet-crispy, melt in the mouth dough.
More Foodie experiences: Looking to visit a food market? Check out our Bologna Market section below.
Things To Do In Bologna Italy – Bologna Attractions & History
The area now known as the city of Bologna was first settled in 1000 BC. Part of the Etruscan civilization from around 500 BC, and then Roman by 196 BC. Bologna has seen a lot of history. It’s important to remember that the city didn’t even become Italian until 1860 when it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
So, the people of Bologna are today still proudly Bolognese, first and foremost, before being Italians. And you’ll discover that in the architecture and stories of the city too, as you explore.
Piazza Maggiore – Spot Neptune’s Giant Naked… Thumb
The Piazza Maggiore is the principal plaza of Bologna and one of the top Bologna attractions. The city started working on this huge space in 1200. The current plaza has had the same configuration since around the 16th century. Grand civil and religious buildings are present on every side.
One important landmark to check out is the Fountain of Neptune. It was erected between 1564 and 1568, shortly after Bologna had somewhat reluctantly come under much stronger influence from the Papal state. It was supposed to show that Neptune ruled the sea, but the pope ruled the world.
The initial design was met with some criticism from the Papal state, and Neptune’s genitals were reduced in size. As a secret retaliation, the sculptors instead enlarged Neptune’s thumb, and if you stand behind the statue at the right angle, it looks like he has a large erect phallus, which points towards the statue of the Pope (pictured above).
Basilica di San Petronio
The giant basilica at the south of the plaza was built over many years, starting in 1390. It’s named after the 8th Bishop of Bologna (431-450).
As well as religious art and relics, the basilica also houses the world’s longest sundial (67 meters)
(Don’t forget, the exact locations of every Bologna attraction and much more is listed on our free Emilia Romagna Map)
The Leaning Towers of Bologna
The Asinelli Tower (70 meters high) and the Garisenda Tower (48 Meters high) are considered a symbol of Bologna. The Garisenda Tower actually leans to a greater degree than the leaning tower of Pisa! Both are believed to have been constructed between 1109 and 1119. It’s said the construction turned into a feud between 2 rival families as to who could build the highest tower.
Today, only the Asinelli Tower can be climbed. It’s well worth it for a spectacular view of Bologna and the Basilica di San Petronio.
Bologna originally had as many as 180 towers in the past, today less than 20 still stand. The Two towers are the most famous ones.
Visit The Oldest University In The World
Bologna University is the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Established in 1088, it still ranks as one of the top Universities in Italy to this day. You can walk the halls of this ancient institution for free, and visit the old medical university demonstration theatre for a small extra fee.
Explore The Porticoes (Arched walkways) of Bologna
Bologna has some 40Km of Porticoes throughout the city and beyond. They’ve actually been granted UNESCO status.
Construction of Porticoes began around 1100 AD. With increased migration to the city and the rapid growth of the student population, the porticoes provided additional living space above the arches, as well as covered areas below. While porticoes had been banned in many other parts of the country, Bologna actually made them compulsory from 1288.
Some of the oldest porticoes were originally supported by wooden beams, some of which still exist today (Visit Le Tre Frecce at Isolani House (19, Strada Maggiore), Palazzo Grassi (12, via Marsala) and the portico of the Reggiani – Seracchioli Houses (Piazza della Mercanzia)).
The more modern ones are stone. They were designed to be big enough to allow a man on horseback to ride down them easily.
Find The Secret Window To Bologna’s Canals
Venice isn’t the only Italian city built over a network of canals… Bologna has a network including 60Km of canals, which are mostly hidden under the city. Construction of the canals began as early as the 12th century. Today they are rarely used, but in the past, these canals were trade routes connecting Bologna with other cities in the north of Italy.
To find the canals, you need to search for them! There is even a secret window that you can open to spy through to one of the canals. It’s near Trattoria dal Biassanot, but the nondescript window is easy to miss! For the exact location, grab a copy of our free Emilia Romagna Map.
Take A Guided Walking Tour Of Bologna
We took a walking tour with Bologna Welcome, we got to visit many of the main sights mentioned above with an expert guide who shared fascinating stories about the history of Bologna.
We took the “Fico & The City Tour” which also included a guided tour of Fico Eatly World, which I mentioned in the foodie section above.
Also, check out more walking tour options on Viator.
Things To Do In Bologna Italy – Out Of Town & Day Trips
Climb The Hill At San Luca
We mentioned earlier that Bologna loves their porticoes… At San Luca, you’ll find the longest portico in the world – follow 3,796 meters of covered walkway up the hill to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. The portico starts just a couple of KMs from Bologna City Centre.
15 More Day Trips From Bologna Italy
The state of Emilia Romagna has a lot to offer. If you want to get a little further out than just San Luca, you have a lot of options.
Visit a Parma Ham factory. Get revved up in Motor Valley – the home to Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborgini. Visit the 5th smallest country in the world, San Marino. All this and many more Day Trips all within easy reach of Bologna.
Things To Do In Bologna Italy – Markets, Nightlife & Other
Bologna Market: Mercato di Mezzo – The downtown market streets of Bologna
Right in the heart of Bologna, just east of Piazza Maggiore, lies the small medieval streets where you’ll find one of the oldest Bologna markets, the Mercato di Mezzo. Small vendors, both indoor and outdoor, selling fresh produce as well as cooked food. Don’t miss this atmospheric and historic slice of Bologna.
Bologna Market: Mercato delle Erbe
Unlike the Mercato di Mezzo, which has a location that most tourists can stumble upon even by accident. The Mercato della Erbe is visited mostly by locals. Everything for foodies in one place. Meat, fish, produce and cooked food stalls where you can stop for a snack and a glass of local wine.
Bologna’s Historic Flea Market – Mercato “La Piazzola di Bologna”
Bargain hunters rejoice, at the Bologna market of La Piazzola di Bologna, held in the Piazza Della 8 Agosto, you will find over 400 street vendors with new and used clothing, footwear, yarns, handicrafts, household items, cosmetics, perfumes, and more.
The piazza where the market takes place has been hosting markets since 1251. The original market in those times was a cattle market. In the early 19th century, the piazza was used as a military training ground. But after that, it returned to it’s earlier function and has been hosting markets throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
The flea market operates on Fridays & Saturdays.
Drink In One Of Bologna’s Piazzas
Eating or drinking outside at street cafes and bars is certainly an essential part of Bolognese lifestyle. Finding a place to sit and enjoy the evening, surrounded by a little historic architecture, is easy. Some places to check out:
- La Linea (Pictured) right next to Piazza Maggiore. Sit under the historic arches.
- Piccolo E Sublime, in Piazza Giuseppe Verdi. Has a student vibe.
- Piazzetta Francesco Molinari Pradelli. Food trucks, some trees and a bit more of a hipster vibe.
- La Baita Vecchia Malga. Grab a drink on the tiny streets of the Mercato di Mezzo.
Enjoy Some Local Craft Beer
Bologna loves craft beer and there are certainly a few options to try. Here are some of our top picks.
- Birroteca Tana del Luppolo – Probably Bologna’s oldest craft beer bar. The original bar opened in the 90’s. Since 2004 it’s current location in west Bologna has been feeding the needs of thirsty visitors, currently with 12 beers on tap.
- Il Punto – Normally 8 beers on tap (7 kegs, 1 cask) and about 100 carefully-selected bottles featuring mainly local and Italian beers.
- Brewdog – The Scottish brewery that is taking over the world of craft beer also has a site in Bologna. As well as classic Brewdog beers, you’ll find local Italian guest ales too.
Live Music In Bologna
Enjoy an evening of live music. Some options to consider
- Cantina Bentivoglio Jazz Club. Music Monday to Saturday.
- Covo Club – Rock club featuring concerts of both national and international artists for over 35 years.
- Arteria – Cellar bar featuring rap and rock acts. Wednesday to Saturday.
For more live music options, take a look at the Bologna Welcome Website.
Bologna Hotels & Accommodation
We stayed at Hotel Regina, located right in the heart of the city and easy walking distance to many of Bologna’s attractions and public transport. This hotel was closed for most of 2017 for a complete overhaul and we can say they did a great job. Don’t pay attention to the old pics on Google – they are very incorrect.
Upon their reopening, in February 2018 Hotel Regina offers all of the modern comforts and design elements that we absolutely adore at Food Fun Travel. Comfortable beds that we could collapse in and sleep off our food comas after a long day of sightseeing. Refreshing rainwater shower heads and all of the amenities you would expect with a modern hotel.
Looking for something else? Take a look at other accommodation options below.
DON’T Forget! Get Our FREE Bologna & Emilia Romagna Map: Interactive Google Map Overlay For Tourists
We’ve put together a google map overlay with all our top picks of attractions, restaurants, foodie experiences, accommodation, transport locations and more! Save your self a bunch of time by having our huge list of Emilia Romagna & San Marino highlights instantly at your fingertips. Get Our Emilia Romagna Map NOW – Click Here – Features Bologna, Modena, Parma, San Marino, Rimini and more!
- Works on any device over 4G or wifi – follow the map as you travel
- Includes every restaurant mentioned in the article.
- 100+ highlighted spots to visit
- Super easy to use on google maps