Of all the places in Italy that we visited during this month-long trip (see travel guides for Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, and Cinque Terre), Bologna felt the least packed full of tourists, which was a nice change of pace. While Bologna might not be as glitzy as Italian destination cities like Roma or Florence, it’s definitely a wonderful place to visit—especially if you are into food! Two to three full days in Bologna is the perfect amount of time to explore this city, and I’m covering all the deets on what to do in Bologna in this travel guide.
Bologna is known for being a culinary enthusiast’s dream, since the Emilia Romagna region is the epicenter for some of Italy’s most treasured ingredients (like prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and aged Parmigiano-Reggiano). Couple incredible food experiences with a rich culture and history, and Bologna is an amazing stopover during any trip to Italy. If you’re looking for ideas on what to do in Bologna, read on for my in-depth travel guide below!
Bologna is a relatively small, walkable city so it’s pretty easy to get around. If you’re traveling in by train station, it’s located on the north part of the city’s outer ring, and you can easily grab a cab from there.
As far as where to stay in Bologna, you’re not going to find many big name hotel chains here, so I’d recommend staying at a local hotel that has some authentic, historical flavor, like Art Hotel Orologio. This hotel will put you right in the center of Bologna, next to Piazza Maggiore, and is reasonably priced at ~$150 per night.
What to do in Bologna: Bologna Travel Guide
What to do in Bologna: Day 1
Bologna Walking Tour: Get a lay of the land and a feel for Bologna’s rich culture and history by starting our your trip with a walking tour. If your scheduling lines up, you can book a free walking tour like this one (don’t forget to tip!), or if you want more of a private experience with just your group and at the optimum time for you, you can book a walking tour like this one. Since Bologna has such an awesome foodie scene, a food walking tour like this one would also be pretty epic.
Two Towers: Visit the Two Towers, a symbolic spot in Bologna. When the city was once encircled by a ring wall in the early 13th century, there were several gates around the ring. These two towers are positioned where the roads that lead to these gates all intersect. You’ll notice the leaning tower—it’s really, scarily leaning! You can go up the taller, Asinelli Tower (the one that isn’t scarily leaning) to see the inside and get gorgeous views of the city of Bologna from the top.
Mercato Delle Erbe: For lunch, head to Mercato Delle Erbe (less than a 10 minute walk from the Two Towers). Mercato Delle Erbe is Bologna’s most popular indoor market, with tons of stalls selling fresh produce, wine on tap (mamma mia!), balsamic vinegar (great for something to take home for yourself or as gifts), and other delicious things. You can have lunch here as well, so keep an eye out for delicious looking pasta stalls and other spots to grab some food, like Polpette e Crescentine where you can get crescentine fritte (fried dough pillows) that you pair with their cheeses and cured meats.
Piazza Maggiore: Stroll over to Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s central square. It’s a lively part of town, and you’ll find street entertainers, people watching, and lots of restaurants. This is also where your next sight seeing destination is…
Basilica di San Petronio: The large, imposing building at Piazza Maggiore is Basilica di San Petronio. This church has frescoes inside dating back to the 15th century, and intricately decorated doors depicting scenes from the Old Testament.
International Museum and Library of Music: I’m no musician and know next to nothing about music, but this little museum was interesting to check out. It houses lots of very old instruments, many I’d never seen or heard of before. The collection spans over six centuries, and it was interesting to see and read about these pieces.
Anatomical theatre of the Archiginnasio: By now it’s almost dinner time, but before you sit down for some good eats, walk over a few blocks to see the Anatomical theatre of the Archiginnasio. This space used to be a lecture hall at the medical school in Bologna, and it’s probably the most beautiful lecture hall you’ll ever see. The theatre is covered in floor to ceiling wood, with carvings from the 1600’s. It’s really beautiful and just 3 Euro to stop in and see.
Dinner at Tamburini: Yay, time for dinner! Head to Tamburini for a smorgasbord of Italian delicacies. Tamburini has a market full of tempting cheeses, spreads, charcuterie and other foods that you can order for take away, and it also has a sit-down restaurant. It’s a popular spot, but if you can snag an outdoor table, this is def where it’s at. At first we were seated indoors, but I kept an eye on the outdoor space and as soon as one of those tables opened up, we jumped on it.
Their food was simple and delicious (and SO reasonably priced), and we enjoyed a couple different pastas (had to get some of Bologna’s most famous pastas—Tagliatelle alla Bolognese and Tortellini Bolognesi) as well as some super delicious burrata. Also, do not sleep on the Lambrusco! The Emilia-Romagna region is one of the main producers of this red sparkling wine, and it’s become a favorite of mine. There are sweet and dry versions, and the alcohol content is a little lower than usual wine (8% instead of 11%), which is great for a lightweight like me.
Cocktails at Ruggine: Grab a nightcap at one of Bologna’s most popular cocktail bars. It’s also a restaurant, and while the food is ok, people really come here for the cocktails.
What to do in Bologna: Day 2
Bologna Food Tour with Italian Days: Ready for the most epic day of your Bologna trip (and maybe your life??)? We booked a food tour day trip with Italian Days and it was nothing short of amazing. Seriously one of the best day trips we have ever booked while traveling—if there’s one thing you have to do during your trip to Bologna, it is this! Omied has been researching food tours and he found Italian days, read all their amazing reviews, and booked it for us, and I’m so glad he did.
The Italian Days food tour will pick you up and take you to a few of Emilia-Romagna’s key specialty food hot spots. We started by going to Parma early in the morning, and seeing how Parmigiano-Reggiano is made. We learned SO much, especially about all of the rules and regulations that have to be followed in order for their food department to approve and stamp a cheese wheel as official Parmigiano-Reggiano. After seeing the whole process we got to go into the room where the factory stores rows upon rows of floor to ceiling wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano—each wheel weighs about 200 lbs, and inside that room there was about 6 million Euro worth of Parmigiano-Reggiano!! In. Sane. And so fun to check out. And of course, we got to try a couple different Parmigiano-Reggianos (12 months and XX months aged).
Next up, we were whisked off to Modena, where we had another epic foodie experience waiting for us. We did a balsamic vinegar tasting at a balsamic aceto, and we got to sit down with the owner and hear all about the history of traditional balsamic acetos in Modena, and how it is such a labor of love passed down from each family’s generations. The sweetest thing: when a child is born, the family makes a new line of balsamic named after them, and it ages with them throughout their life. The different balsamics that we tried were absolutely unreal!
Our next stop was a prosciutto factory. We learned a ton about how prosciutto is made, and got to walk through the different parts of the factory. And while I say “factory,” that’s really only because I can’t think of a better word, but it doesn’t really accurately describe it since so much of the process is done by hand with such precision and care. At the end of the tour we of course got to try some of their delicious prosciutto, and it just melted in your mouth.
As if we hadn’t had enough food that day, our last stop was a leisurely three hour lunch at a spot overlooking the hills and countryside. We enjoyed several different delicious pasta dishes and wines (chianti, lambrusco, and others) as a group, and we felt like one big Italian family. It was soooo much Italian food and we were absolutely stuffed by the end of the day, but it was seriously so much fun.
Dinner at Dinner at Drogheria della Rosa: After we made our way back to Bologna’s city center after the food tour, we were still pretty full from our epic day of non-stop eating. But we took a power nap, walked around our neighborhood a bit, and then had a late dinner at Dinner at Drogheria della Rosa. We ordered their tortellini en brodo (tortellinin in broth)—a popular Bolognese dish that we had to try—as well as the veal cutlet.
Dessert at Cremeria Santo Stefano: After dinner, head just around the corner to one of Bologna’s most popular dessert spots, Cremeria Santo Stefano. While they of course have some of the best gelato in Bologna, they also have other confections, chocolates, and pastries to satisfy any sweet tooth.
What to do in Bologna: Day 3
Cooking Class: On your last day in Bologna, be sure to take a cooking class! That way when you’re home after your trip and missing all the Italian food, you’ll know how to make some by hand at home and it’ll help take away the sting of missing beautiful Italy. This cooking class is taught by a local and is four hours long. During the class you’ll learn how to make two types of pasta by hand, as well as two traditional Italian sauces (including, of course, Bolognese. When in Rome.). And then you get to eat your yummy pastas for lunch!
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca or Santo Stefano: I don’t want to fill your itinerary up with too many churches and basilicas, so I’m giving you a couple options here. If you don’t have time to do both (or are sick of European churches—hey, I get it, I’ve been there!), but you do have time to get outside of the city center and visit Sanctuary of the Madonna, that would be my rec. Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is located on a hillside in Bologna overlooking the city. You can get there by taking the San Luca Express train from Piazza Maggiore. Be sure to climb up to the terrace for amazing views of Bologna and the countryside.
Another popular area to check out is Piazza Santo Stefano, and the seven churches there. The architecture of these churches span several centuries of Bologna’s history, and this is a popular holy area to visit.
FICO Eataly World or Da Cesari for dinner: Ok, again I’m doing a bit of a choose your own adventure here. If you have time to get out of the main city center and FICO Eataly World interests you, do this for dinner on your last night! It’s recently opened and the world’s largest food park. You’ll find 45 different restaurants there, and workshops and demos featuring pasta making, gelato, and all of the delicious Italian foods. Be sure to check their website to see if there are any fun events coming up while you’re there.
If you’d rather stay in the main city center for dinner, head to Da Cesari for dinner. Here, you’ll find good wines, flavorful meats, and all the classic Bolognese dishes.
Those are all my recs for Bologna! We had so much fun visiting this city and eating our way through it.
Bologna is famous for its specialty Italian foods, including prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and balsamic vinegar.
– Climb the leaning towers
– Do a food tour
– Visit the different basilicas
– Take a cooking class
– Visit FICO Eataly World
Bologna is a relatively small city and is very walkable.
The Art Hotel Orologio is a nice, reasonably priced, and centrally located hotel in Bologna.