A city for food-lovers, history fans and Italophiles, Bologna is often overlooked as one of the best places to visit in Italy. Our Senior Product Manager, Paul Britchford, spent 48 hours in this beautiful city to find the best things to do in Bologna…
You’ve probably heard of the sauce, but do you really know the city? Bologna is a champion when it comes to food and a is true intellectual, with the oldest university in the world in its centre. It also has a tower that is taller, and with a more precarious lean, than the Leaning Tower of Pisa itself, plus some of the most beautiful churches in Italy. You may be surprised with how much is on offer when you visit Bologna, so be prepared to have a new favourite place for a luxury holiday to Italy…
How to Get There
To visit Bologna, fly direct from London to Bologna Marconi Airport. The flight time is around 2 hours, making it perfect for a quick getaway if you want to enjoy a two or three day break where you can potter historic streets and taste some seriously good food. The airport is just four miles from the centre of the city, making for a hassle-free transfer.
How to Get Around
With a compact historical centre, this is a great walking city, so you can see most of the best things to do in Bologna on foot. If you purchase a Bologna Welcome Card, you can access many of the most-visited museums free of charge, plus receive discounts on special exhibitions during your visit to Bologna.
Where to Stay
Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni is one of the best Bologna hotels. Fitted in a former palace, this luxury hotel is one of the oldest in the city and ideally located in one of the most fascinating historic areas, just minutes from Piazza Maggiore and the Two Towers. Along with its fittingly regal guestrooms, this beautiful Bologna hotel boasts a brilliant spa and the prestigious I Carracci restaurant, which features a stunning frescoed ceiling, merging together the history and gastronomic expertise that the city is known for.
Things to do in Bologna in 48 hours
With an easily walkable size, there are plenty of things to do in Bologna, whether you are planning to visit Bologna for 48 hours or longer. This Medieval city is scattered with beautiful cathedrals and historic buildings that brim with culture, so make sure to really spend the time exploring the streets – and remember to stop to enjoy a gelato!
1. Climb to the top of a tower
Bologna has many monikers, one of which is ‘city of towers’. Going back centuries, there was once around one hundred across the city, though only 24 have survived until the present day. The Asinelli Tower has stood at the entrance to the city for nine centuries, making it a true icon of Bologna, and there are stunning views over the characteristic red roofs below from the terrace. Climbing the 498 steps to the top is one of the most popular things to do in Bologna and well worth the slightly strenuous walk!
2. Take time to savour the food
One of Bologna’s more humorous nicknames is ‘La Grassa’, meaning ‘the fat one’, thanks to its culinary prowess. Its name alone may get your taste buds tingling with the thought of flavoursome Bolognese sauce, but you may be surprised to hear that this world-renowned pasta dish doesn’t really appear on menus here – Ragù alla Bolognese is the correct dish to ask for. Visit the Quadrilatero market for one of the best things to do in Bologna for food-lovers, where traditional specialities can be found alongside authentic crafts and traders – stop to taste the cheese, pastries, wine, charcuterie and more.
3. Have dinner at I Carracci
In a city known for its phenomenal food, you must eat at least once in one of the finest restaurants in Bologna. I Carracci, at Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni, serves traditional recipes of the Emilia-Romagna region with only the freshest, highest quality ingredients. The setting is beautiful too, with a 16th century fresco forming the centre piece to your exquisite Bolognese dining experience.
4. Get your engines ready…
Out of all the things to do in Bologna, nothing is more impressive than finding yourself behind the wheel of one of Italy’s finest motor cars. Bologna is home to some of the most envied car brands, including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati, with tours available to their factories to see a masterpiece being crafted. If you stay at Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni, the hotel can arrange for you to spend a day tearing up the tarmac in a Ferrari at the Modena track. If you want more of a thrill, Elegant Resorts also offers private guided Ferrari itineraries, giving you the memorable chance to rev across the Italian landscape behind the wheel of one of the country’s most iconic vehicles.
5. Explore Piazza Maggiore
Just a short walk from the Asinella Tower you will find one of Bologna’s main squares, Piazza Maggiore. Overlooking the square is the vast gothic Basilica di San Petronio, which is Europe’s sixth-largest church. Inside, you will find the longest meridian line in the world, which was designed in 1656, plus a slightly unnerving fresco depicting heaven and hell based on Dante’s Inferno. Also around the square, is an invaluable handful of Renaissance-style palaces, with frescoes, galleries and museums inside, plus the landmark Fountain of Neptune.
6. Head out the city
If you stay at Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni, the concierge can arrange for you a more exclusive food experience outside of the city. First, you will travel to Modena to see how Parmigiano cheese is made at a local dairy before visiting Parma and Piacenza to seek out Italy’s most famous charcuterie, which you can taste and wash down with some excellent Italian wine. If you want to make the most of the gastronomic delights, this is one of the best things to do in Bologna.
7. Find your Favourite Church
Like many Italian cities, Bologna has a grand selection of churches that you must explore when you visit Bologna. The Basilica di San Domenico has an unrivalled wealth of art and history, including the remains of St Domenico encased in a marble ark and an angel-shaped candle-holder by Michelangelo amid its stunning interiors. Another highlight is the basilica of Santa Stefano, which is an intriguing web of churches, chapels and courtyards. There were once seven structures, giving it the nickname ‘Sette Chiese’, but only four remain intact today.
8. Visit the Archaeological City Museum
History-lovers will find plenty of things to do in Bologna. The Archaeological City Museum is one of the most prestigious in the city, and while you can see a trove of centuries-old remnants walking the streets, there is a thoroughly fascinating collection of ancient artefacts within its walls; their ancient Egyptian collection is among the most important in Europe.
9. Walk the footsteps of noble scholars
The Archiginnasio is home to the oldest university in the world and a must-see when you visit Bologna. Inside, be sure to visit the 17th century anatomical theatre where trainee surgeons once studied. Inside, you will see a statue of a figure holding his nose, which is a portrayal of Gaspare Tagliacozzi, an early rhinoplasty pioneer. As you walk the hallways, look out for the coats of arms painted on the walls, an honour reserved for those elected as heads of student organisations in one of Italy’s most intellectual cities.