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Best Things To Do In Bologna, Italy: Itinerary & Travel Guide (2024)

Bologna city center

If you have a trip to Italy on your mind, consider having a stopover in Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in the northern part of the country. A blend of beautiful architecture, delicious cuisine, and nightlife activities makes this city suitable for every tourist. Recently, we went there for one day as a part of our journey through European cities and did not regret it. In this article, we list things to do in Bologna, Italy, and touch upon food, hotels, and day trips from the city.

Our list of things to do in Bologna in one day

Basilica of San Petronio

Ah, Bologna! A foodie’s paradise, heaven for museum lovers, party capital, history buff’s wet dream… Should I go on? Bologna has something for everyone! Thankfully, it’s pretty compact, with most notable attractions packed together like sardines in a can. This fact is pretty handy for travelers — you can spend just one day in Bologna and leave knowing that you’ve seen most of what the city has to offer. Of course, you can linger here for as long as you want to: Adopt a locals’ pace, and give in to the la dolce vita of it all.

If it’s your first time traveling to Bologna, you’re in luck: We’ve made many pilgrimages to the city over the years, and by looking at our heavily dog-eared notes, you can tell we’ve assembled quite the line-up of things to do in Bologna. Get ready to absorb our wisdom (more tips and tricks, less philosophical blabber): Here we go!

Is one day enough for Bologna?

How many days do you need for a stay in Bologna? Not to step on our own toes, but we feel strongly that one day is more than enough to check out the top attractions in Bologna. To get a complete picture of the city and its surroundings though, plan up to three days of stay. You will find out what to do in Bologna both on a one-day trip and on a longer visit if you keep reading.

Without further ado, here’s our list of best things to do in Bologna:

Walk through the porticoes

porticoes of bologna porticoes of bologna 2

While wondering what to see first you will most definitely run into porticoes — covered walkways attached to most buildings here. There are almost 40 kilometers of these structures in Bologna city center alone! Recently declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bologna porticoes became the symbol of the city. Locals socialize and mingle here, as well as stroll through these wonderful covered passages to hide from the summer heat.

The most notable porticoes include the Portico di San Luca (the world’s longest, set at almost four kilometers in length!), the Portico of Santa Maria dei Servi (the city’s widest), and the Portico dei Bastardini (one of the city’s tallest). Our favorites are the porticoes of Via Zamboni and Piazza Cavour with lovely wall paintings and frescoes. When it comes to porticoes in Bologna, you can never go wrong with exploring just one more: They are all unique, bringing an entirely new atmosphere to the table.

Take a guided sightseeing tour

sightseeing tour in Bologna

If it is your first time in Bologna, you should make the most of your stay. The best way to save time is to take a guided tour. You will not have to look at the map trying to figure out directions or search for information about tourist attractions on the internet. Instead, you get to stroll through the city with an experienced guide who will share all their knowledge and little secrets about Bologna.

Our personal choice fell on the most general city center walking tour. We visited all of the must-see attractions of the city center in two hours: The Basilica of San Petronio, the Two Towers, the Quadrilatero market, and several squares. The guide spoke excellent English and was very friendly. This tour gives a chance to cross out several things from your Bologna to-do list in a quick fashion and have almost all day left for other sites.

There are a few more tour choices if you want to go against the grain and not pick the most popular option:

  • Another basic walking tour experience that covers all the key points,
  • This smaller group tour that promises a “passionate” local guide (aren’t all Italians passionate?), a more personalized schedule, as well as a pit stop for some yummy local eats;
  • and, finally, your standard hop-on hop-off bus tour that also comes clad with local food tasting!

Make sure to book the tours online either through GetYourGuide or Viator beforehand, especially during peak tourist season — the spots tend to fill up fast!

Enjoy the views from above

Asinelli tower viewpoint from Asinelli tower

Bologna has many nicknames, one of which is La Turrita — the city of towers. More than 100 towers have been built in the city with only around 20 left today, which is still impressive. The most popular of these medieval constructions are the Two Towers. Located right in the center of Bologna, this iconic duo is easy to spot from anywhere in the city.

A more leaning Garisenda Tower is overshadowed by its neighbor, the Asinelli Tower. The former tower is smaller in size, bit it raises a more pressing fear of collapse, to the point of local officials deciding to close the area surrounding it and plan its repair and reconstruction in the nearest future. The bad news doesn’t stop there: It’s unlucky taller fellow — Asinelli Tower — has also been closed off to the public until further notice.

bologna viewpoint Asinelli tower

Before, you could pay €5 and climb the winding staircase (almost 500 (!) steps) to the top of the tower (granted you made a reservation online, as it’s literally one of the top things to do in Bologna). The breathtaking views of the city were definitely worth the effort though: With hundreds of terracotta roofs under your nose, you could also get to see the origin of another Bologna’s nickname — La Rossa, or “the Red one”.

As of March 2024, you still cannot climb Asinelli Tower. However, we have a great alternative for you: Torre dell'Orologio, or Bologna’s Clock Tower offers views that are just as exciting as those from the Asinelli Tower. Granted, the cost of admission is a tad more expensive: You’ll pay €10 for a chance to see the surrounding panoramas. Remember to book your ticket in advance!

Look around the Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore

The main square of Bologna is surrounded by several landmarks that are worth seeing. It is a perfect spot to explore the history of this old city. Here the medieval Basilica of San Petronio shares the space with beautiful Renaissance buildings. There are a lot of cafes in the area, from where you can marvel at the architecture while enjoying your meal.

Another major tourist attraction nearby is the Fountain of Neptune. The magnificent bronze sculpture of the Sea God and mermaids became a common meeting point in the city center. There is a pretty naughty tip (wink-wink) regarding the statue: From a certain angle, Neptune’s outstretched thumb can be confused for his… manhood. Rumors have it that the Church didn’t allow the sculptor to make the Sea God too well-endowed, so it was the creator’s way of rebelling against the restrictions.

The fountain stands between two medieval palaces: Palazzo Re Enzo and Palazzo d'Accursio, with the statue of Papa Gregorio XIII keeping an eye on you from the top. If you happen to visit Bologna in mid-summer (late June, mostly), you’re in luck: Piazza Maggiore holds open-air movie screenings at night.

Side note: If you want to have some fun, head on over to the small portico on the other side of Basilica of San Petronio, right underneath the Palazzo della Podestà. Here, you’ll find a vaulted archway with whispering walls — a cool phenomenon where two people standing in opposite corners can hear each others’ whispers.

Visit the Basilica of San Petronio

Basilica of San Petronio Bologna

The huge gothic church was supposed to be bigger than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but Pope Pius IV did not like the idea and halted the construction. Basilica of San Petronio is still one of the largest churches in Europe. Though unfinished on the outside (half red brick/half white marble), it will impress you with its interior. Not only does it consist of 22 side chapels with stunning frescoes, but it also holds the record for the longest internal meridian line. A good idea for travelers with family is to take kids here around midday to show them how a sundial works.

The church is free to enter, but you have to pay extra to be able to take photos (€2) and gain separate access to the Magi Chapel (€5). The Basilica is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. For the most up-to-date schedules of the chapel and the museum check out their website.

Feel like a student at Bologna University

Bologna University

Bologna is also known as La Dotta — “the Erudite” — for housing Bologna University. Founded in 1088, it is the oldest functioning university in the world. The most popular part of it is Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio, near Piazza Maggiore. It is home to one of the most unique tourist attractions of Bologna — the Anatomical Theater. The interior of a wooden amphitheater was recreated after the war and looks intact now. You will find plenty of beautiful carved sculptures here.

Working hours are from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you are searching for things to do in Bologna on a Sunday, this is not an option — the palace is only open to visitors from Monday to Saturday. It is free to visit for young people under 18. The adult ticket will only cost you €3 (plus an extra €0.50 if booked in advance). While at Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, do not forget to check out the gorgeous decor of the Municipal Library.

Taste the local cuisine

bologna ice cream Local Dishes from Bologna

Bologna is famous for its food and wine. In fact, local cuisine is so popular that the city is most often referred to as La Grassa — “the Fat one” in Italy. After all, it is the place where they make a huge number of Italy’s most toothsome dishes — bolognese, lasagna, tortellini in beef broth… They say that the best foods to try in Bologna are Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and balsamic vinegar, — locally made and out-of-this-world delicious!

local food market in Bologna

There are several ways to get acquainted with traditional dishes here. You can find multiple food tours on the organized tours services:

They vary from 🔹 voucher tours with coupons and instructions on where to eat on your own to a more 🔹 personal tasting experience with a guide and the one with 🔹 local factory visits.

Another option of getting to know the local cuisine of Bologna is taking a 🔹 cooking class (it promises an exceptionally fun and light-hearted atmosphere; there are no Gordon Ramsays in Italy!).

Shop for a picnic at Quadrilatero

Quadrilatero Bologna

If you are on a budget and want to do some food tasting on your own, go to Quadrilatero. It is home to many restaurants and pubs as well as the old produce market. A good idea for a hot day in Bologna is to buy snacks and cold wine and have a picnic in a park. Some of the goodies that should get into your basket are the aforementioned prosciutto and parmigiano, as well as mortadella and olives (add freshly baked focaccia to the mix and your charcuterie board ingredients turn into a kick-ass sandwich!). For wine, we recommend trying Pignoletto.

Finding a park in Bologna city center might be a challenge — most of the green areas are located outside of the city walls. One of the peaceful places is Villa Ghigi park. It offers a great picnic spot with a view of the city from the top of a hill. Another closer option is Margherita Gardens. In case a picnic isn’t enough to satisfy your hunger, you can take a bite at a lovely Vetro Bistrot right near here (the bistro is also an amazing breakfast spot, with great coffee and tasty sweet treats).

Explore the museums

museums in Bologna

No wonder Bologna is considered “the Erudite” in Italy — there are more than 50 museums in this small city. We want to highlight the most interesting places to visit in Bologna among them. The list starts with MAMbo (€6), which presents the evolution of Italian contemporary art from the post-war period up to this day. If you find modern art overrated and prefer something more classical, National Gallery (€8) will give an insight into the paintings of Renaissance, Mannerism, and Baroque periods.

To learn about the past of Bologna, come to the History Museum. This is not a boring ordinary museum — there are immersive activities, lots of interactive displays, and even virtual reality simulators! For non-Italian speakers, they offer a free audio guide in English. The ticket is expensive (€13), but the entrance is free for Bologna Welcome Card* holders. A great place to visit with children is the Geological Museum “Giovanni Capellini” (€5) — it has a spectacular dinosaur skeleton.

* Bologna Welcome Card is an investment you can make into your cultural program here (”Easy” option costs €25, and “Plus” — €40). While it does give you some very cool discounts and free experiences, we wouldn’t recommend you buy it if you only have one day in Bologna. If you plan to come back to the city within a year, a better option would be Card Cultura — it has plenty of perks that are accessible within 12 months since the date of purchase.

Hike to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca

Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca
Photo from

One of the free things to do in Bologna is to visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca. Located 300 meters above the city, it offers breathtaking views from the outside and wonderful frescoes on the inside. The best way to get here is on foot through the porticoes, so that you can admire their beauty along the way. Porticoes will protect you from rain and heat. It is a 1-hour hike from Porta Saragozza — if it is hard for you, there is a San Luca Express from Piazza Maggiore. A round trip costs €12 and includes an audio guide in 10 languages. You can find the latest prices and timetable here.

Want to stay closer to the city center? There’s another great place with no entrance fee and importance on par with that of San Luca — the Santo Stefano complex, also known as “the seven churches”. There are four religious buildings with murals and holy artifacts left today on this site. You can relax in the wonderful and peaceful courtyard during the visit.

Hang out at the University district

University district in Bologna

Students have always been an integral part of the local community. And where there are students, there is nightlife. Looking for things to do in Bologna at night, we came across Via Zamboni. The street and surrounding area are full of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. The best way to get in a party mood is to come for aperitivo, a pre-meal drink between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., to one of the venues (there’s even an English Pub hiding in the midst of all the classically Italian haunts).

They usually offer free snacks to go with wine: Usually cheese, ham, and olives. Other perfect locations to hang out are Via Mascarella and Via del Pratello.

Take a peek at Bologna canals

Bologna canals

Bologna Canals are hidden gems — they are not as easy to find as the canals in Venice. Most of them are out of sight, concealed beneath buildings and roads.

Do not worry — there is a perfect spot on Via Piella to take a look at the waterways. It is called La Piccola Venezia, which means Little Venice. A small hole in the building wall uncovers a picturesque view of Canale delle Moline. Open 24/7, this popular free attraction is not a secret anymore, so you have to find a window of opportunity to take a peek.

Some places to add to your itinerary

Asinelli tower and city center

Bologna is a perfect starting point to go in any direction. The most convenient and fast way to travel is by train. Buses are slightly cheaper, but the price difference is insignificant. If you want to explore the small towns and villages of the Emilia Romagna region, you should rent a car.

  • You can choose any major company like Hertz, Europcar or Aviz. Prices start from €30/day: Find your next Italian four wheels with the help of RentalCars.

If you are looking for answers on what are the best day trips from Bologna, check out our list below.

Things to do in Bologna in 3 days

If you are wondering what to do in Bologna, our itinerary will keep you busy. We came up with the routes for short stays from one to three days. All of the things to do in Bologna in 2024 are marked on the map for your convenience.

Things to do in Bologna in 1 day.

The first day is devoted to major landmarks in Bologna city center:

  • Two Towers;
  • Piazza Maggiore — look at Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo Re Enzo, and Fountain of Neptune;
  • Lunch at Ditta AF Tamburini;
  • Basilica of San Petronio;
  • Anatomical Theater and Municipal Library;
  • Basilica Santo Stefano;
  • Aperetivo at Bar With No Name;
  • Dinner at Ristorante Da Cesari.

Things to do in Bologna in 2 days.

The first day is the same, but you get to see other areas of Bologna on day two:

  • National Gallery;
  • Little Venice window;
  • Lunch at Ristorante Teresina;
  • Hike through porticoes of San Luca;
  • Sanctuary of Madonna of San Luca;
  • Dinner at Drogheria della Rossa;
  • Wine at Osteria del Sole and nightlife in University district.

Things to do in Bologna in 3 days.

As you have seen all of the city center already, it is time to go for a picnic outside of city walls. You may also use the third day to explore other cities in the region.

  • Shop at Quadrilatero market;
  • Picnic at Villa Ghigi park;
  • Have fun at Gelato Museum Carpigiani;
  • Ogle at fantastic two-wheelers at Museo Ducati.

Day trips from Bologna


  1. Florence (1-hour train) — for beautiful architecture and artworks by famous Italian artists.
  2. Venice (1,5-hour train) — for Piazza San Marco and a gondola ride through Venice Canals.
  3. Ravenna (1-hour train) — for fresh piadinas, seafood, and Byzantine mosaics.
  4. Rimini (1-hour train) — for the nice sandy beaches of this coastal town.
  5. Modena (20-minute train) — for the Ferrari museum and the best balsamic vinegar.
  6. Parma (1-hour train) — for the frescoes of Parma Cathedral, Lambrusco wine, the best Prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Food in Bologna — your gastronomic to-do list

Food in Bologna

While we’ve already alluded here and there to the best foods to eat while in Bologna, the truth is, we’ve only scratched the surface.

Food culture is very important in the Emilia-Romagna region. There are so many must-try dishes in Bologna that you will have to make an effort to fit them all in one day. First, let us figure out what food Bologna is known for:

  • Mortadella — an Italian pork sausage;
  • Prosciutto — dry-cured ham made of high-quality pork legs;
  • Parmigiano Reggiano — hard dry cheese;
  • Squacquerone — creamy soft cheese;
  • Tigelle — small flatbreads. Goes with cheese, salumi, or paste;
  • Friggione — tomato and onion sauce;
  • Balsamic di modena — vinegar. Goes with cheese, vegetables, pasta, pastry, and even gelato;
  • Piadina — sandwich with ham, cheese, and vegetables;
  • Tagliatelle al Ragù Bolognese — beef ragu with pasta. Commonly known as spaghetti bolognese around the world;
  • Tortellini — pasta dumplings stuffed with meat and cheese;
  • Lasagne Verde — lasagna with spinach pasta layers;
  • Gelato — famous Italian ice cream;
  • Zuppa Inglese — a dessert made of layers of custard and sponge cake (trifle-adjacent);
  • Certosino — traditional Christmas cake with nuts, honey, cooked fruits, and spices;
  • Pignoletto — sparkling white wine with fruity notes;
  • Lambrusco — sparkling red wine.

aperol spritz bologna

Now that you know what to order, go through as many places to eat in Bologna as you can. Keep in mind that it might be hard to find a seat in a restaurant if you show up without a reservation, especially on holidays and weekends. This is the list of our favorite cafes & bars to help you out with the choice:
🔹 Aroma Specialty Coffees — for great coffee.
🔹 Ambasciatori — a 3-story cafe in a bookstore.
🔹 Ditta AF Tamburini — for snacks on a terrace.
🔹 Teresina — for Michelin guide followers.
🔹 Rossopomodoro — for pizza lovers to try Neapolitan-style pizza.
🔹 Ristorante Da Cesari — for pasta, meat, and desserts.
🔹 Drogheria della Rosa — for the homey atmosphere.
🔹 Osteria del Sole — the oldest bar in the city. Bring your own food.
🔹 Cremeria Santo Stefano — for the best gelato.

A few more things you need to know before visiting Bologna, Italy

porticoes of bologna 3

In all seriousness, you can never be too prepared when visiting a new city. And it is our job to share everything you need to know before visiting Bologna, so that your stay here is as magical and glorious as it was for us! Here’re some more deets on Bologna, classifieds’-style:

  • Is Bologna worth visiting? Absolutely! What is famous about Bologna? Beautiful architecture and delicious cuisine. The city is a wonder for your eyes and stomach. Do not think it is all about gluttony and indulgence though — Bologna also offers good food for thought with its infinite list of museums.
  • Practically speaking, Bologna is a great spot for a layover. On our last trip, it was the cheapest destination for us from Istanbul to Europe. There are many low-cost flights from Bologna to other European cities. It is also a major transportation hub in Italy linking big cities like Florence, Venice, and Milan. You can go to Venice or Florence for as low as €4 (!) by using FlixBus services. If you want an even more comfortable trip, you can count on Italian train system: A train ride to Florence will start from €11 one way. You can even fly from Bologna to Sicily: Plenty of low-cost airlines (like WizzAir) offer deals where you can spend no more than €20—€25 one way (make sure to follow their deals). The Adriatic Sea is only one hour away from Bologna. Good location and transport accessibility offer many various options for day trips from Bologna.
  • The distance from the airport to Bologna city is only 6 kilometers. There are multiple ways to get here. The fastest is a 7-minute monorail train ride. It costs €12.80 and goes to Bologna central train station. A cheaper option is to take the 944 bus for €4, but you will arrive further from the city center to Maggiore Hospital and will have to spend some more on a transfer. Speaking of transfers, you can use the services of (your ride from the airport to the city center will start from approximately €40).
  • The best time to visit Bologna is spring and early fall — the weather is cooler and prices are lower than in summer. The city is less crowded, so you can get a more authentic experience. Bologna is not as popular a hotspot as Venice and Florence, but it gets a fair share of tourists during high-season months. Looking up things to do in Bologna in winter is also not such a bad idea anymore — February has been getting warmer and sunnier over the recent years.
  • Bologna is such a small and pleasant city that you can and should discover it on foot. Most of the top attractions are within walking distance of each other in the historic center. Moving at a slower pace will give you a chance to spot the overlooked beauties of this ancient city. The ZTL zone, which means limited traffic in the city center, will ensure that you have a pleasant walk.

Where to stay in Bologna?

canals in Bologna

In general, there are more guesthouses and apartments in the city than hotels. Accommodation in Bologna is pretty expensive — it is hard to find something cheaper than €50 for a room in B&B during high season. Prices for a decent three or four-star hotel in the city center start from €100. An obvious tip is the earlier you book, the cheaper it gets.

A great location for a short stay is the city center. This neighborhood will allow you to have all of the major landmarks at hand. Another option is the central train station area, which is a point of departure from Bologna to nearby cities in Italy or the airport.

  • We stayed here at B&B Silvano (from €50 a night). There is nothing fancy about the place, but we needed it for one night only. Try not to book hotels close to the station itself — it is noisy out there.

Before getting from Bologna airport to your accommodation in a rented car, make sure it is not in the ZTL zone. Almost all of the historic center has limited traffic access. To check if your street is included in the ZTL zone use this website. If it does, you have to contact hotel staff, so that they insert your plates into the list of authorized entry. Otherwise, you might get a fine — there is a surveillance system in the city. You can buy a daily subscription for parking for €9 at the hotel. This way you can park anywhere you see the blue lines in the city. For detailed information, check out this website.

The following are our recommendations on where to stay in Bologna:
— 3* Hotel Accademia (from €70 per night) — excellent location in the city center, but might be noisy outside. Breakfast is okay.
— 4* Aemilia Hotel (from €120 per night) — affordable 4-star hotel outside of city walls, but within walking distance to the city center. It has an amazing rooftop terrace to chill and watch the sunset from.
Skyline 1/7 B&B (from €160 per night) — close to the National Gallery and Via Zamboni. A nice view of the city from the terrace. Wonderful breakfast included.
— 4* Hotel Corona d'Oro (from €200 per night) — a comfortable stay with all the major landmarks right around the corner. Beautiful interior design.

Bologna trip budget

Coffee in Bologna

Okay, we will not be humble here: Bologna (and, let’s face it — Italy in general) is the place to indulge in all the best of things. While in theory you could do a budget-friendly Bologna trip, you wouldn’t get the same outcome — this is where you treat yourself! Keeping that in mind, we believe that if you only have one day in Bologna, you can afford to let loose a little:

🏨A day’s stay at a nice (but not too nice) hotel will cost you anywhere from €100.

🚶‍♂️The good news is you’re bound to mainly be walking around, so that’s €0 in transportation costs (and the most budget-friendly option of a bus ride from the airport will cost €8 for two).

🧀Now it’s time for food. This is where the biggest chunk of your finances will go to, and with good reason: You only live once, and in Bologna, you’ll only get one chance to do things right. Your first impression of Bologna’s culinary delights will be paramount to your experience:

  • Start your day with pancakes with butter and maple syrup and black coffee (€15 for two).
  • For lunch, its eggplant parmigiana to share (€12) and two tagliatelle with bolognese ragu (€24).
  • Dinner starts with a couple of glasses of wine (€6), and then chaos ensues: Assorted coldcuts (€14) for the table, and then tortellini in beef broth (€32 for two).
  • End the night with gelato: Around €1 per scoop, and you’ll be craving seconds (if not thirds), for sure (€4 for two).

All in all, you’ll land somewhere around €100 for a day’s worth of eats in Bologna, but the price will rise if you’ll order anything even a tad more extravagant.

🎶As for entertainment, you’ll spend around €20 per person no matter what you decide on: An organized walking tour or a self-guided exploration of the most notable tourist attractions.

🔸When it comes to souvenirs, we’re pretty sure they will all be food-related (and I doubt they’ll reach the person they were bought for), so allot at least €20 – €30 to bring your friends some kick-ass balsamic vinegar and some really good parmesan!

All in all, €250 is the most reasonable budget to spend for a magnificent day in Bologna for two people!

Things to do in Bologna, Italy: In conclusion

We hope that our exhaustive list of things to do and places to visit in Bologna is enough to make your trip planning simpler and not as daunting. Whether you focus more on “the Fat one”, “the Erudite”, or “the Red one” characteristic of Bologna, you’ll have a seemingly never-ending supply of activities and experiences ensconced in a pretty compact area. Just one more advice: Take it slow, you’ll see way more when you’re not rushing to tick all the boxes from your travel to-do list.

If you have any questions regarding our Bologna itinerary, or if you want to share your personal anecdotes about the city, — feel free to leave your comment in the section down below. Dai!