The Perfect 2 to 3 Days in Bologna Itinerary

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by Olivia Ellis

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Planning a 2 to 3 days in Bologna itinerary is a joy if you happen to be visiting Northern Italy. As one of the most beloved food destinations internationally, Bologna is an ideal city to visit on any Italy itinerary. With a rich history, Bologna holds a title as one of Europe’s cultural capitals and the unique, beautiful, and delicious discoveries are endless. 

Spending a bit of time in Bologna will allow you to find yourself surrounded by one of the most beautiful and delicious Italian cities. From fresh tortellini to the quintessential red rooftops, Bologna is a strong contender if you’re looking for a destination off the beaten path in Italy.

How Many Days in Bologna?

With any Italian city less known than places such as Rome or Florence, it can be hard to know how long to plan to stay during your visit, and in this case, how many days to spend in Bologna. 

Bologna is a fairly compact city, with the majority of the main tourist spots in the pin-pointed center. Because of this, Bologna is a fairly easy city to explore in one day if you’re hoping to have a few traditional Bolognese meals and see the main sights in the city.

If you’re hoping to move at a slower pace and explore areas out of the center and get a better feel for “the red city”, 2 days in Bologna is an acceptable amount of time. 

For travelers hoping to maybe go on a day trip and do the city of Bologna justice on a deeper level, I recommend spending 3 days in Bologna. 

View of Bologna
View of Bologna

Getting To & Around Bologna

Bologna is in an ideal location, sitting just a few hours away from most major Italian cities by train including Venice, Florence and Milan.

The Bologna central train station (Bologna Centrale) is located in the center of the city and you’ll find regular routes connecting Bologna to the rest of Italy either by regional, intercity, or high-speed rail services. You can view train schedules here.

If you’re hoping to save money, you can take a bus from other cities or even nearby countries. Flixbus is a great option as they offer routes throughout most of the country, as well as low-cost fares. You can view bus schedules here.

For visitors reaching Bologna by air, Bologna’s Guglielmo Marconi Airport is located 7.5 km from the city center. The airport offers flights to/from other major Italian cities as well as international destinations and even seasonal North American routes.

For easy transportation from the airport to the city, take the Marconi Express for a journey of 7 minutes with trains running frequently. You can also book a private transfer.

Due to the small size of Bologna’s city center, it’s a fairly easy city to get around on foot. It’s also an incredibly enchanting city to wander around so I highly suggest walking the city if it’s an option for you.

Otherwise, Bologna has a great bus network connecting the city. Single tickets cost €1.50, last for 75 minutes, and can be purchased at tobacco shops.

Fountain of Neptune
Fountain of Neptune (Fontana del Nettuno) in Bologna

2 to 3-Day Bologna Itinerary

Whether you’re someone who’s been drawn to Bologna either for its food, architecture, or history, or you’re looking for a unique Italian destination to visit, you’ll quickly find Bologna is a true gem.

This itinerary for Bologna will bring you through the historic center, into the delicious food culture, as well as through the oldest university in the world.

Day 1 – Bologna Historic Center 

The ideal spot to begin your time in Bologna is the historic center. Here in the heart of the Emilia Romagna region, there’s no better place to enjoy your time in Bologna. 

Wandering the historic center while marveling at the city’s architectural delights dating back centuries is a true joy. One of the quintessential traits of Bologna’s historic center and the urban landscape is the city’s “portici”.

These covered walkways spread throughout the city are a UNESCO World Heritage site themself and have sheltered locals and visitors from the weather since the 11th and 12th centuries.

Discovering Bologna through its traditional cobblestoned streets and quintessential red terracotta buildings lining the city will undoubtedly make you fall in love with this Northern Italian city. 

Basilica di San Petronio
Basilica di San Petronio

Walking Tour in Bologna

If you want to get your bearings and gain a historical context of Bologna as you begin exploring, I recommend taking part in a tour of the city. You will not only be able to take in historic sites, but you can also see some hidden gems (such as the Archiginnasio Canal) or learn about the city’s culinary tradition.

There are a number of tour options including this walking tour of the historical centre and this food tour to learn more about the delicious cuisine. There’s an abundance of tours in the city of Bologna to give you a deeper insight and perspective on various aspects of this rich and tasty Northern Italian city. 

Piazza Maggiore 

In the heart of Bologna, you’ll find the most iconic Piazza in the city, Piazza Maggiore. Lined with Medieval and Renaissance buildings, Piazza Maggiore is where much of the action happens in the city, whether it’s locals coming and going during the day, or sharing a conversation and drink with friends in the evening.

There are numerous cafes and restaurants throughout the piazza, making it a great spot to enjoy a coffee and prepare for your day in Bologna.

Among other important landmarks in Piazza Maggiore, a must-visit spot in the square is the Saint Petronio Church (the Basilica di San Petronio). The Saint Petronio Church is one the largest churches in Italy and a prime example of Gothic architecture.

Upon entering the church you’ll find a striking and impressive facade with delicate glass stained windows, a medieval sundial, and incredibly intricate art and sculptures. Visits to the church are free unless you’d like to visit the panoramic terrace, which is ticketed.

And if you want to visit a great museum, head to the Palazzo d’Accursio which was once the town hall building but now functions as an art museum.

You can also venture over to the ornate and beautiful Fontana del Nettuno – or the Fountain of Neptune. This fountain depicts the Roman god of the sea – Neptune – and is worth seeing.

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna
Piazza Maggiore in Bologna

The Two Towers of Bologna

About a pleasant 5-10 minute walk from Piazza Maggiore through the Quadrilatero district, you’ll come across one of the most famous and well-recognised monuments in Bologna, the Two Towers or “le Due Torri”.

The Torre degli Asinelli and The Torre Garisenda are a pair of Medieval towers located in the heart of Bologna’s city center built in the 12th century by Noble families as status symbols, as well as in the hopes of protecting themselves from outside forces. Throughout history, there have been over 100 towers in the city of Bologna, with just these two still existing today. 

While the Garisenda Tower is closed to visitors for safety reasons, it’s possible to climb the 498 steps to the top of the Asinelli tower for incredibly picturesque panoramic views over Bologna, its red terracotta rooftops and the delightful, rolling Emilia-Romagna countryside. The hike to the top consists of a number of steps and a narrow path, but it’s incredibly worth the trek up.

It’s worth noting, however, that the Asinelli Tower is also currently closed to visitors, as well, as it is being renovated for safety reasons. So it is not possible to see the view from the top at present.

Just a bit away from the two towers you can also wander over to the Basilica di Santo Stefano, another lovely, historic church with iconic porticos to see when you visit Bologna.

The Two Towers of Bologna
The Two Towers of Bologna

Tagliere and Aperitivo in Bologna 

One of Bologna’s international names to fame and a great way to wrap up your first day in Bologna is to enjoy a tagliere platter and aperitivo. Tagliere is essentially a platter of various cold-cut and cured meats and cheeses typically enjoyed with an accompanying drink as a complete aperitivo. 

A great spot to enjoy a tagliere aperitivo in the center of Bologna is at ​Osteria dell’Orsa located north of Piazza Maggiore. Here you’ll find local meat and cheese sourced from local producers in a cosy and traditional Bolognese setting. 

Day 2 – Sanctuary of San Luca & The University of Bologna 

Sanctuary of San Luca

Perched on top of a towering hill outside of the city of Bologna, you’ll discover the Sanctuary of San Luca, one of the most stunning landmarks of the city and visiting is one of the best things to do in Bologna.

One of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Emilia-Romagna region, the sanctuary of San Luca was built in the 18th century with inspiration drawn from Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

The rusty red and orange Portico of the sanctuary is one of the most distinguishing characteristics as it’s considered to be one of the longest in the world and spans just over 3.5 kilometers connecting the Sanctuary of San Luca to the city of Bologna.

Inside the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, you’ll find striking pieces of art, frescoes and religious relics, and a special interior dedicated to Saint Luke.

Outside of the sanctuary, you’ll discover outstanding views of the city, as well as the surrounding areas of the region, and the space surrounding it is incredibly peaceful, a perfect getaway from one of the most populated Italian cities.

The most convenient way to reach the Sanctuary of San Luca from Bologna’s city center is by the San Luca Express. At Piazza Maggiore, you’ll find the San Luca Express station and from there, take the picturesque train to the top of the San Luca Hill bringing you to the San Luca Sanctuary.

Sanctuary of San Luca
Sanctuary of San Luca

University of Bologna

Continuing onward on day 2 of this Bologna itinerary, you’ll spend time exploring the University of Bologna, the oldest continuously operating university in the world. 

Founded in 1088, the university was first founded as a center for law and to this day is a top university in both Italy and internationally as well as a key-research center internationally.

By no surprise, the university campus is a special place to wander around during your visit to Bologna. The historic center of Bologna is home to many of the university’s oldest and most prestigious buildings, with many open for tours and visitors. 

The University of Bologna offers guided tours of the university’s historic buildings and courtyards, led by knowledgeable student guides covering the university’s architecture, history, and traditions.

Tours can be booked in advance or at the university’s tourist office. If you decide to visit the university independently, make sure not to miss the Museo Palazzo Poggi, and the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna.

University of Bologna
University of Bologna

Tortellini & Tagliatelle al Ragu

A major draw for any visitor planning time in Bologna is its rich food history and culture. Tortellini, one of the most famous foods in Bologna, is a treasure of the city and has been a major part of Bologna’s culinary tradition for centuries. 

Emilia-Romagna, and Bologna in particular, is known for having some of the best food in all of Italy and you can’t visit the city without trying some regional specialities.

Legend has it that tortellini was inspired by the shape of Venus’ navel, with a Bolognese chef spying on the goddess through a keyhole, and with inspiration gave birth to the delicious stuffed pasta we enjoy today. 

In Bologna tortellini is typically served either in broth, with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano, or with ragu Bolognese, another famous, rich, and meaty sauce originating in Bologna. Another iconic Bolognese dish is tagliatelle al ragu, which is simply thin, wide egg pasta covered with delicious ragu Bolognese.

After spending the day wandering through San Luca Hill and the University of Bologna, head to Trattoria da Me, located on the northwest side of the city center to enjoy delectable tortellini at fair prices in a traditional Emilia Romagna setting. You can also take a cooking class to learn how to make this iconic dish.

Tortellini en brodo
Tortellini en brodo

Day 3 – Parma or Modena

If you’re lucky enough to be exploring Bologna in 3 days, I recommend making your way to a neighboring town or city to experience another part of the rich Emilia Romagna region. 

A great option is to head to Parma, another holy grail city for foodies and history lovers traveling to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Home of Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, and gorgeous Romanesque architecture and frescoes throughout the city centre, Parma can easily be reached by train from Bologna in just around an hour. You can go on this full-day tour that visits parmesan and prosciutto factories.

Another option is to make your way to Modena, a charming town located just about half an hour away from Bologna by train and the home of the true Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

Visiting the Modena Cathedral, getting lost in the quaint alleyways of the city, and maybe even visiting the famous Osteria Francescana is a perfect way to enjoy the city on a day trip from Bologna. 

Cathedral and Ghirlandina Tower in Modena, Italy
Cathedral and Ghirlandina Tower in Modena, Italy

Where to Stay in Bologna

B&B Chez Moi Lame 57 – Located within walking distance between the Piazza Maggiore and the train station, this cosy bed and breakfast is a great mid-range option. There are several bright and comfortable rooms and a lovely breakfast is available each morning.

Hotel Metropolitan – Just 5 minutes from the Piazza Maggiore, this upmarket hotel boasts an incredible rooftop terrace and bar, plenty of modern rooms and an excellent breakfast buffet offered daily.

Dopa Hostel – Situated in the lively and youthful University area of the city, this hostel is a good budget option in Bologna. There are typical dorm beds and private rooms available, along with kitchen facilities, good common areas and free breakfast.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to find the best hotels in Bologna!

Regardless of whether you’re exploring the city of Bologna in 2 days or 3, this is a city that will capture your mind, soul, and stomach. While gaining popularity in the travel community, Bologna is still a bit of an underdog when it comes to Italian destinations and once visiting, you’ll see too, that it’s difficult to understand why.

One word to describe the city is rich, from its food, culture, architecture, surroundings & history. For that reason, it’ll be hard to find yourself not wanting to return for more.

Are you planning to visit Bologna? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Olivia is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Michigan, USA, she is currently living in Athens, Greece exploring Europe and filmmaking. When she’s not travelling or writing, Olivia can be found cooking delicious new recipes from around the world, reading, and spending time outdoors.


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