I first visited Bologna in 2010. It was the start of a two-month trip across Europe and I had managed to secure a cheap flight from my adopted home in Edinburgh. Hostel options were non-existent and I, therefore, decided to only spend one day in Bologna before catching a train elsewhere in Italy.
I spent my time in Bologna walking around aimlessly. I vaguely remember stumbling across some grand piazzas and interesting monuments, however, my takeaway from my visit to Bologna was that the city had an undeniable energy that I knew would surely require a return visit one day.
Over the years, I heard Bologna being whispered more frequently in the travel community. “Underrated,” “undiscovered” and “hidden gem” were common phrases used to describe this northern Italian city.
While visitors can definitely spend days in this Northern Italian city, many travellers only have time to spend one day in Bologna (probably as a logical stop between Florence and Venice). I have created this Bologna itinerary to help maximise your time in the city. However, I hope that some of my other suggestions will convince you to spend at least two days in Bologna or maybe even more if it works within the confines of your Italy itinerary!
Getting To & Around Bologna
As mentioned, Bologna is becoming somewhat of a hub for budget airlines such as Ryanair & Wizz Air. If planning to fly into Bologna from another country as a city break destination, chances are you’ll be able to find a good deal from a nearby airport, it’s best to browse on Skyscanner to find the best flight deals.
Bologna is also well connected by train to other Italian and European cities. If only planning a short trip, it’s best to book point-to-point tickets in advance as train fares increase in price the closer you get to the day of travel. You can browse schedules and prices here.
Alternatively, if planning on taking many trains throughout Italy, you might find that an Italian train pass is better value than buying point to point tickets. If you’re from outside of Europe, then you can purchase a Eurail Italy Train Pass or alternatively if you’re a resident of the EU, then you can purchase an Interrail Train Pass.
Once in Bologna, the city is fairly walkable and you should be able to get around on foot to most of the city’s attractions.
One Day in Bologna Itinerary
Morning coffee and pastry
During our time in Italy, we quickly adopted the northern Italian morning ritual of having a coffee and pastry at a local pasticceria (pastry shop). Many of these shops are standing room only meaning you choose your pastry from the display, order a coffee and then find a standing spot at a bar to enjoy your breakfast. A pastry and a cappuccino shouldn’t cost more than €2-3 and there’s simply no better way to fuel up for your one day in Bologna!
Explore Piazza Maggiore
In Italy, all roads may lead to Rome, however, in Bologna, all roads lead to Piazza Maggiore. On multiple occasions, we would inevitably find ourselves back here to spend some time basking in the sunlight, enjoying the energy of the place and listening to some buskers.
There are also some interesting sites to explore around the piazza. The most popular attraction is the Fountain of Neptune – an impressive fountain that has a statue of the Roman god Neptune at the top and is surrounded by angels, dolphins and naked women.
While exploring Piazza Maggiore, if you stumble across people facing an arch and yelling at it – don’t fear, you haven’t stumbled across crazy people! Rather, you’ve come across Voltone del Podesta, a place where the architectural design allows you and a friend can stand in opposite arches, speak into the walls and be able to hear each other from several yards away!
Visit Basilica di San Petronio
Dominating the Piazza Maggiore is the beautiful and imposing Basilica di San Petronio. This beautiful church, though not the main cathedral in Bologna, is certainly one of the most impressive in the entire city and it is the perfect place to visit if you only have time for a one-day Bologna itinerary.
Dedicated to St Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna, construction originally began on this church in the late 14th Century, however, it wasn’t officially consecrated until the 1950s. Even though it is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, it has only been home to his remains since the year 2000.
The building itself is incredibly impressive and it is very much worth visiting. There is so much history comprising this building alone that makes it an unmissable stop on any time spent in this Emilia-Romagna city.
See the Two Towers of Bologna
You don’t need to travel to Pisa to see a leaning tower in Italy!
The Two Towers in Bologna, arguably Bologna’s most famous landmark is only a short walk from Piazza Maggiore and offers you the opportunity to see a leaning tower and a slightly less leaning version of another nearby tower. The two towers – Asinelli and Garisenda – are the most prominent remains of a group of around 180 towers (known as the towers of Bologna) that existed in the 12th and 13th centuries in Bologna.
Over the years some of these towers collapsed, while others were demolished and today there are still a handful of smaller towers around the two main towers of Bologna as a reminder of what once existed in this city.
You can climb Asinelli tower’s 498 steps all the way to the top for spectacular views of Bologna. Tickets cost €5 for full-price entry and €3 for students with a valid ID.
Wander down Via Rizzoli
Bologna is no stranger to beautiful, grand thoroughfares, however, if you were to wander down only one of them during your one day in bologna, make it Via Rizzoli. This avenue is the main drag in central Bologna and makes for a wonderful stroll complete with excellent people watching.
Home to countless shops and cafes, the sidewalks on Via Rizzoli is also covered by Bologna’s iconic porticos. In fact, these porticos make wandering in this city wonderful even if it happens to be pouring rain! This gorgeous hg street is unavailable if you’re exploring Bologna and makes for the ideal stroll, with plenty of photo and window-shopping opportunities.
Visit Bologna’s university area
The University of Bologna, opened in 1088, is considered the oldest university in the Western world and today continues to draw students in from around the world making Bologna a lively student city.
To understand more about the daily lives of many Bolognese students it’s worth venturing into the student area, both to explore some of the university’s buildings, pop into a student cafe or bar or hang out in one of the popular student meeting points.
One such place is Piazza Verdi which is considered the main meeting point for local students and is filled with street art, particularly political pieces that serve as a reminder of Bologna’s strong anti-fascist history.
Aperitivo on Via del Pratello
If students aren’t hanging out in the university area, then chances are you’ll find them on Via del Pratello particularly in the evening for aperitivo!
If it’s your first time in Italy, you’ll quickly warm to the ritual of aperitivo – an evening tradition where bars and cafes serve complimentary food when you order a drink. It’s not a huge surprise that a city full of students embraces aperitivo vigorously!
Via del Pratello is a trendy street in the western part of the city, with plenty of cool street art and a number of great options for a glass of wine or Aperol Spritz in the evening. It’s also a great place for a lunch or dinner as there are a number of cheaper options here compared to the central part of the city.
Eat an amazing dinner
Speaking of eating, somehow I haven’t yet mentioned in this article of the most important reasons to visit Bologna – the amazing food!
If there’s one thing you have to make sure you do during your one day in Bologna, it is to eat as much food as you can! The best way to ensure you end your one day in Bologna on a positive note is to splurge on a nice meal at one of Bologna’s many great restaurants.
If you’re already having aperitivo on Via del Pratello, then one place we can highly recommend is nearby Casa Monica. The restaurant is homely, cosy and serves fine-dining quality food at reasonable prices. If it’s still on the menu – don’t pass up on the cuttlefish cordonetti pasta!
Bolognese people love to eat out so if you’re only in Bologna for a day, be sure to make a reservation as many popular restaurants book out!
Have More Time?
If you have 2 days in Bologna or more to spend, there are numerous different things to do and see in the city that are sure to keep you occupied. Here are some ideas of what to do in Bologna for 2 or 3 more days!
Understand more about daily Bolognese life
One of the main reasons we recommend spending more than one day in Bologna is to give yourself the opportunity to learn more about life in this city. One of the best ways to do this is to join a free walking tour in Bologna. Free Walking Tour Bologna runs four times a week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and starts at 11 am.
If you’re not able to make the free tour then another good option is to take a paid walking tour. This Bologna City Walking Tour runs daily. Click here to check availability for your travel days
Explore Bologna’s gastronomy
In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear yet in this article, Bologna has amazing food. In fact, one of the nicknames for the city – La Grassa – translates to ‘the fat’, highlighting the unfortunate consequences of indulging too much in arguably Italy’s gastronomic capital!
Therefore, if you only spend one day in Bologna you will undoubtedly have to limit yourself to the amount of great food you eat in the city. By spending some extra days in Bologna we were able to eat at a number of other great restaurants including Va Mo Là (a restaurant and library in one!) and Balotta – a brilliant panini and deli platter bistro.
If Bologna is your only stop in Emilia Romagna then you should also consider doing a food or wine tour to enjoy local specialities like Parma ham, Parmigiano Reggiano and Lambrusco wine.
I suggest checking out this 3 Hour Secret Food Tour which includes 6 stops where you sample a variety of Bologna’s most famous foods and get to learn a lot about the history of Bolognese cuisine. Click here to check availability for your travel days.
Take time to get lost
Bologna is a city that lends itself to aimless wandering. As we walked around each day, we were always pleasantly surprised by some of the great monuments and sites that we would discover by accident.
Some of our favourites included La Piccola Venezia — a lovely canal that brings a slice of Venice to Bologna — and Pozzo dei desideri, a small square located not far from Piazza Maggiore with an old well in the middle and a lovely park to relax in.
Bologna has a number of these hidden gems that you will undoubtedly discover if you spend long enough in the city which is why I recommend spending more than one day in Bologna!
Explore more of Emilia Romagna
If you have only two days in Bologna then I recommend spending them in the city itself, however, if you have three days in Bologna or even more then you can also easily use Bologna to explore other great cities in Emilia Romagna like Modena, Parma and Ravenna.
One of the other reasons why Bologna is a great base to explore this region is that there a number of accommodation options for different levels of budget.
Where to Stay in Bologna
Whether you only have one day in the city or more, you’re going to need to have a great place to stay in Bologna. there are lots of options in the city that sill suit anyone’s travel style or budget. If you’re wondering where to stay in Bologna, then have a look at these suggestions:
Dopa Hostel — If you’re travelling solo or on a tight budget, this hostel is a great option located in the heart of Bologna. They offer dorms and private rooms, free breakfast and their bunk beds even have curtains for that extra bit of privacy. Click here to see their availability
B&B Chez Moi Lame 57 — If you’re after some more upmarket, this is a lovely boutique bed and breakfast, perfect for a romantic getaway in Bologna. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available and offer a breakfast voucher for a local cafe each morning. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to find the best hotels in Bologna!
Bologna might be beginning to shed its image of being an undiscovered city however that shouldn’t stop you from visiting. Bologna is undoubtedly one of my favourite cities in Italy to explore and deserves to be treated as much more than just a short stop on the Florence to Venice route.
Before visiting Bologna make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy. We personally used World Nomads for our trip, however, it’s important to read the policy details to ensure it’s right for you. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads!
Are you planning a trip to Bologna? How long are you planning on spending in the city? Let us know in the comments below!