Oh, Bologna: as the largest city of the region known as Emilia-Romagna and a gourmet heaven, there are many things to do in Bologna, Italy to keep you entertained during your time there. (And yes, many of them involve eating your face). Bologna is one of our favourite cities in Italy–a contentious title–and one we intend to return to time and again. We’ve been to Bologna several times now, ranging from day excursions to a month spent “living” there. Bologna also known as La Dotta (the learned, for its university), La Rossa (the red, for its building), and La Grassa (the fat, for its food), is such a beautiful city that its beauty may be second only to its food reasons to visit. Are you planning a trip to Bologna but don’t know where to begin? Here are the greatest activities in Bologna, Italy!
Best Unmissable Things in Bologna
1. Piazza Maggiore
Bologna’s main piazza is a must-see on any visit to the city. Grab a cappuccino or spritz from one of the shaded cafes and take in the sights of the city.
2. Asinelli Tower
Want to see a leaning tower in Italy but don’t have time to travel to Pisa? Don’t worry: Bologna has a taller leaning tower than Pisa anyway! The leaning towers of Asinelli and Garisenda are immediately next to one other, and if you’re up for the challenge (all 498 steps), Asinelli is open for tours and offers stunning views of Bologna. If you’re feeling bold, you can always lean over to the top (don’t worry, it’s enclosed and safe) for a magnificent view of the smaller Garisenda Tower underneath you. Climbing this tower wasn’t my favourite thing in the world because I’m afraid of heights… but the views made it worthwhile.
Via Drapperie is one of the most lovely alleys we’ve seen in Italy (which is saying a lot considering how much we travel here!). Via Drapperie is a narrow cobblestone street with towering buildings on either side, with tonnes of food booths, crammed stores, flower stands, and cafes with tables overflowing onto the pavement. This is one of our favourite places in Bologna to photograph, and it also provides for great dog and people-watching! Grab some prosecco and a plate of cured meats (one of Bologna’s specialties!) and settle back for the entertainment in the early evening.
4. San Petronius’s Terrace
Though the Asinelli Tower offers the highest vista in Bologna, San Petronius’s Terrace has my favourite view. I love vistas that feature a city’s most iconic monuments, and San Petronius’s Terrace has a fantastic perspective of Bologna’s leaning towers!
5. Consume your heart’s desire.
Emilia-Romagna is one of Italy’s most foodie areas (after all, this is where authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic vinegar are), and food is a big incentive to visit Bologna. You’ve probably had less-than-ideal versions of both in the past because they’re better recognised around the world by the names inspired by their origins: spaghetti Bolognese and bologna (though mortadella is nothing like what you’ll find in your regular grocery store!).
Venice isn’t the only place in Italy where you can witness canals! Bologna has many canals that date back to the Middle Ages, but finding them is a bit of a scavenger hunt. Many of the canals have been closed up as the city has developed, or can only be seen from specific locations (one can even be seen via a window!). Bologna makes it simple for visitors looking for canal vistas. The city gives a good map of the canals, and the stroll through town is a terrific way to see more of Bologna along the route.
7. Plan a day excursion
Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, but it’s far from the only attraction worth visiting while there! The city is an ideal starting point for daily travels around the region and beyond. Consider visiting Rimini for one of the best beaches in Emilia-Romagna, San Marino for a taste of the world’s fifth smallest country, Florence for a taste of Tuscany, or Verona to follow in the footsteps of Romeo and Juliet (or to enjoy a great and undervalued Italian city). Two of the best day trips from Bologna for foodies or those looking to stay nearby are to Modena (home of balsamic vinegar) and Parma (home of Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano).
8. Anatomical Theatre and Library
Wandering through luxurious, old universities has a mystical quality to it. There is so much history and intrigue (excuse the pun) in centuries-old academic institutions, all demanding to be investigated. Add a dash of Italian radiance to the mix, and the picture becomes even more enticing. The Archiginnasio Palace comes from the 16th century and has long belonged to the University of Bologna–and it is magnificent and interesting enough to be on any list of things to do in Bologna.
9. Ascend Torre Prendiparte.
Looking for a one-of-a-kind climb in Bologna? Torre Prendiparte is a good fit. This tower not only has a great view of Bologna, Italy from its terrace and a fascinating history as a prison, but you can also sleep there if you choose! Torre Prendiparte, tucked into a quiet plaza in Bologna that you’d never know existed without a map, is home to a little bed and breakfast that definitely fits the bill if you’re seeking unusual accommodation in Bologna!
10. Museum of the History
Want to get a feel for the city of Bologna? Here, you may learn about the many periods of Bologna’s history and go away with context that will help you enjoy the rest of your Bologna activities even more.
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