The streets of Bologna are full of interesting and famous sights. One of the most beautiful cities in Italy is guaranteed not to disappoint, as among the many attractions there are also a good number of palaces, churches, parks, markets and car museums. After the historical and cultural programs, you can eat delicious food in the evening, as the city's gastronomy is known worldwide. And if you are open to exploring the area, you can also go on trips to the beach.
It boasts a well-preserved historic centre with impressive architecture from different periods. The medieval towers, especially the iconic Two Towers (Asinelli and Garisenda), will immediately catch your eye.
Bologna's nickname is "La Dotta, La Grassa, La Rossa", which means "The learned, the fat and the red". These three elements capture different sides of the city's identity. Let's see what it means:
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- La Dotta (The Learned): It has been a centre of education and learning for centuries, a good example of which is the prestigious university.
- La Grassa (The Fat): Emphasizes its many years of gastronomic traditions. Bologna is renowned for its tasty and hearty cuisine, with dishes such as tagliatelle al ragù and mortadella.
- La Rossa (Red): The colour red is inspired by the characteristic architecture, especially the buildings made of terracotta bricks with many shades of red. s
Map - Where is Bologna?
Bologna is located in northern Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region – its capital. One of the country's longest rivers, the Po River, lies on the eastern side. To the south and west are the Apennine Mountains. To the east, the Adriatic Sea is about 60 minutes away by car. Its road and rail network is also well connected, with several major highways and trains passing through it. Its airport is Guglielmo Marconi, just a few kilometres from the centre.
- Distance from Venice: 2 hours / 170 km
- Distance from Trieste: 3.5 hours / 300 km
- Distance from Florence: 2 hours / 110 km
- Distance from Rome: 4 hours / 380 km
- Distance from Milan: 2.5 hours / 220 km
The old town – or city centre – has narrow, winding streets and cosy squares. The city's main square is Piazza Maggiore, surrounded by many important sights.
- Several large streets lead out from here in a spider web-like arrangement. Via Rizzoli is one of the main roads that run east from Piazza Maggiore until it reaches the famous Due Torri. Meanwhile, there are many shops, boutiques and cafes on it.
- To the west of Piazza Maggiore is the University Quarter, home to the prestigious University of Bologna. This area is a stronghold of student life and houses diverse faculties and libraries. Lively bars, restaurants and bookstores populate the streets around the university.
- The historic centre of Bologna is surrounded by ancient city walls with gates such as Porta San Felice and Porta Saragozza.
- The city is divided in two by the Canale di Reno. Several bridges cross the canal, connecting different parts of the city. One notable bridge is the Ponte di Mezzo, which spans the canal in the heart of the city centre.
The outer areas consist of a mixture of residential areas, industrial areas and green areas. Hills surround it with a picturesque view of the surrounding countryside. Notable suburbs and neighbourhoods include San Donato, Savena and Borgo Panigale. Bologna is divided into nine districts, called "circoscrizioni" in Italian.
Things to see
Bologna's historic centre, the 'Città Vecchia' or 'Centro Storico', reflects the city's rich history and architectural heritage. You can't miss a single program, as the most famous sights are here.
#1 Porticos (Arcades)
One of the unavoidable sights of the city is the extensive network of arcades. There are more than 40 kilometres of porticos, i.e. arcades. These centuries-old covered walkways contribute to the city's character. Almost every building has an arcade, so finding one you like won't be difficult. Arches were originally built of wood in the late Middle Ages to create extra living space and now have the added benefit of protecting from rain and sun.
#2 Piazza Maggiore
Bologna's main square, Piazza Maggiore, is the heart of the historic centre. A bustling hub surrounded by beautiful historic buildings, including Palazzo d'Accursio (Town Hall), Basilica di San Petronio and Palazzo dei Notai. The square is a popular meeting place where cultural events and concerts are often held.
#3 Le Due Torri
The iconic two towers - the Asinelli and the Garisenda - are symbols of Bologna. Climbing the 498 steps of the 97-meter-high, sloping Asinelli, the higher offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding area. There used to be several medieval towers, but unfortunately, there are only a few today.
Torre Prendiparte, a medieval tower, is a few minutes walk from the Twin Towers. It is one of the few privately owned towers open to the public and can be visited as part of a guided tour.
#5 Torre dell’Orologio
The Torre dell'Orologio, or Clock Tower, is located in Piazza Maggiore. You can climb the tower, from where you can see the clock up close. The tower offers a unique view of the surrounding historic buildings.
The Archiginnasio is a building that was the seat of the University of Bologna for centuries. Today, the library is open.
This imposing church dominates Piazza Maggiore. The Basilica di San Petronio is one of the largest churches in the world. A fascinating mix of architectural styles, including Gothic and Renaissance elements.
#8 Basilica di Santo Stefano
The St. Stephen's Basilica is a religious complex of interconnected churches, chapels and monasteries. It is also an architectural gem as it showcases different styles and periods of history.
The basilica adorns the top of the Monte della Guardia hill, where you will have a great view of the surrounding area. It is an important place of pilgrimage. It is reached on foot through the renowned Portico di San Luca, a covered arcade of over 3.5 kilometres with 666 arches.
#10 Hidden Canals
Although it often escapes the attention of tourists, it is worth knowing that Bologna is full of a network of hidden canals. These once served as transportation and trade routes. They are mostly covered now, but you can see them in certain parts of the city.
#11 Fontana del Nettuno
The Fountain of Neptune is located in Piazza del Nettuno. The bronze statue of the Roman god of the sea is a popular meeting point. It is worth visiting and admiring this local gem.
#12 Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna
Art lovers will appreciate the National Gallery. You can see a huge collection of paintings by important artists, including works by Giotto, Raphael and Titian. The gallery presents Italian art from the Middle Ages to the 18th century.
The historic palace houses the collections of the University of Bologna, including anatomical wax models, scientific instruments and antique globes. It provides a fascinating insight into the history of scientific and medical studies.
#14 Palazzo Re Enzo
Located next to the Basilica of San Petronio, Palazzo Re Enzo is a medieval palace that once served as a prison and now hosts exhibitions and cultural events.
Located near the church of San Giacomo Maggiore, the Oratory of Santa Cecilia is a real treasure, decorated with beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Saint Cecilia.
#16 Oratorio dei Battuti
The Battuti Oratory, known as the Church of Santa Maria della Vita, is a baroque near Piazza Maggiore. It is known for its intricate terracotta sculptures, including Niccolò dell'Arca, considered a masterpiece of Renaissance art.
#17 Jewish ghetto and museum
The Jewish ghetto in Bologna is one of the oldest in Europe since it was established in the 16th century. You can explore the streets of the neighbourhood, visit the Jewish Museum and learn about the city's rich Jewish heritage and history. The neighbourhood has a lively and alternative colour that attracts locals and tourists alike with its trendy and bohemian atmosphere.
#18 Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica
Inside the Palazzo Sanguinetti, the Music Museum presents an extensive collection of musical instruments, manuscripts and sheet music. It provides an insight into the region's musical history and its importance.
#19 Museo Civico Archeologico
The Archaeological Museum is located in the Palazzo Galvani building. It displays a wide range of archaeological finds and artefacts, providing insight into the region's history and civilization of Ancient Etruria and Ancient Rome.
#20 Salaborsa library
The Salaborsa library building was once the town's stock exchange. Today, it is a modern and vibrant public library offering a wide range of services, including a vast book collection, multimedia resources, study areas and cultural activities.
#21 Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro
St. Peter's Cathedral presents various architectural styles due to its several centuries of construction. The current structure combines elements of the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles. The facade is predominantly Gothic, with beautiful rose windows and intricate decoration.
The original cathedral was built in the 11th century and has undergone subsequent modifications and extensions over the centuries. The interior features different chapels, each with unique artistic and architectural elements. The cathedral houses important relics, including the remains of St. Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna, and the tomb of St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican order. Next to the cathedral is a separate bell tower, the Campanile di San Pietro.
The ice cream museum is located near Bologna, about 15 kilometres northwest of the centre. Carpigiani, an Italian manufacturer of gelling machines and equipment, created the museum.
The museum has interactive exhibits that guide visitors through the history and evolution of gelato. It covers various aspects, including the origin of gelato, the ingredients and techniques used in its production, and its cultural and social significance. You can also take part in an ice cream tasting and taste the authentic Italian ice cream made by professional artisans.
The contemporary art museum presents a diverse collection of modern works of art by Italian and international artists. It provides a thought-provoking experience and regularly hosts temporary exhibitions.
- Mercato Delle Erbe: Mercato Delle Erbe is a covered market near the centre. You can find many fresh products, meats, cheeses and other foods. The market is also home to many food stalls, cafes and restaurants.
- La Piazzola Market (Mercato di Mezzo): La Piazzola is a lively market that represents the region's culinary traditions. Let's browse the different stands and look at fresh products, local specialities and handicrafts.
- Quadrilatero: a lively area in the historic centre known for its narrow streets full of traditional shops, markets and trattorias. It is a lively and bubbly neighbourhood where you can discover local flavours. You can buy local specialities, fresh ingredients, handicrafts and more. The district is also home to antique, craft, and fashionable boutiques.
- Parco di San Pellegrino: The picturesque green area surrounds the church of San Pellegrino. It is a pleasant place to walk, relax and enjoy the tranquillity.
- Parco Giardini Margherita: One of the largest parks in the city, covering an area of about 26 hectares. The park has walking and jogging paths, picnic areas, playgrounds and sports facilities.
- Orto Botanico di Bologna: The Botanical Garden is a magical oasis near the centre. This is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe; its history goes back to 1568. The park is home to diverse plant species, including herbs, exotic trees, and an extensive herb collection.
- Herbarium: The Herbarium of the University of Bologna is located next to the Botanical Garden. It contains a vast collection of dried plant specimens, which serve as a valuable resource for scientific research, botany and the study of plant taxonomy.
Bologna is located in the middle of the mainland, so it does not have a direct seashore. Fortunately, however, the eastern coast (the Adriatic Sea) is a convenient distance away. The nearest larger coastal city is Ravenna, approximately 80 kilometres away. Rimini (120 km) and Ravenna are part of the Romagna Riviera.
Sights in the area - Day trips
Bologna is a great starting point for exploring the attractions of the surrounding region. Here are some popular day trips:
- Modena: About 40 kilometres to the northwest, Modena is known for its rich culinary heritage and is the birthplace of balsamic vinegar and luxury car brands such as Ferrari and Maserati. Of course, the UNESCO-protected Modena Cathedral should also be mentioned.
- Castelvetro di Modena: 35 kilometres to the northwest, Castelvetro di Modena is a small town in the province of Modena. It is known for its beautiful landscapes, picturesque vineyards and cherry orchards. Its medieval historic centre boasts narrow streets, old houses and a fortress. It is also noted for its Lambrusco wine, a sparkling red wine popular in the region.
- Ravenna: About 80 kilometres to the east, Ravenna is recognised for its exquisite Byzantine mosaics. Among the city's eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites are impressive churches and mausoleums that showcase some of the world's finest mosaics. And if you are not interested in history or art, you can make up for it with the beaches of Ravenna.
- Florence: Although Firenze (Florence) is 120 km away, it can be reached by car in 1.5 hours. The birthplace of the Renaissance has even more attractions. Here, you find the famous Uffizi Gallery, the Florence Cathedral (Dom) and the iconic Ponte Vecchio.
- Parma: About 100 kilometres to the west lies Parma, well-known for its rich culinary traditions, where Parmigiano Reggiano cheese comes from. You went here to visit the cathedral and explore the Teatro Farnese.
- Ferrara: Located 50 kilometres to the northeast, Ferrara is a charming town with well-preserved medieval and Renaissance architecture. Highlights include the imposing Este Castle, the impressive Ferrara Cathedral and the picturesque Renaissance city walls. It is also known for its vibrant cultural scene, with many museums, art galleries and events throughout the year.
- Maranello: Just 25 kilometres south is Maranello, home to the famous Ferrari Museum. Car enthusiasts can explore the history of the iconic luxury sports car brand and view an impressive collection of Ferrari vehicles.
- Dozza: Dozza is a picturesque village 30 kilometres to the southeast. Its charming streets are decorated with vibrant murals. The city hosts the biennial International Exhibition of Painted Murals, which attracts artists worldwide. The Sforza Castle is the most impressive building; you will recognize it from afar.
- Borgo di Grazzano Visconti: Borgo di Grazzano Visconti, located 90 kilometres to the northwest, is like stepping into the set of a medieval film. The beautifully preserved medieval village offers a glimpse into the past with its cobbled streets and authentic buildings.
- La Scola: Borgo La Scola is a deserted village in the Apennine Mountains, about 70 kilometres to the southwest. It is known for its picturesque surroundings and traditional stone houses. Visitors can enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and picturesque scenery and explore the area through hiking trails.
- Lake Suviana: Lake Suviana is an artificial lake in the Apennines of Tuscany-Emilia, 50 kilometres to the southwest. You can go boating, fishing, hiking or relaxing on the lake shore. An ideal program for children.
- Porretta Terme: 60 kilometres to the southwest, Porretta Terme is a village noted for its thermal baths and spas. It is a popular wellness and relaxation destination, offering thermal treatments and refreshment services.
- Grotte e Cascate di Labante: Labante caves and waterfalls are natural attractions near Castel d'Aiano. You can hike around it, but you can also venture into the caves and enjoy the refreshing sight and sound of waterfalls.
- San Marino: Located 150 kilometres (1.5 hours) southeast, San Marino is a small independent republic and the world's oldest surviving sovereign state. San Marino is a popular day trip destination known for its medieval architecture, stunning views and unique status.
- Museo Ferrari: The Ferrari Museum is located in Maranello, about 25 kilometres to the south. It showcases the history, technology and achievements of the legendary Italian luxury sports car brand, Ferrari, with a collection of iconic cars, including racing models and road cars.
- Museo Lamborghini: The museum is about 30 kilometres northeast of Sant'Agata Bolognese. A great program awaits you in the world of supercars. The museum presents different models, from classics to the latest innovations.
- Museo Ducati: The Ducati Museum is in Borgo Panigale, just outside Bologna. It celebrates the heritage and innovation of the renowned Italian motorcycle manufacturer. The museum offers a journey through the history of Ducati, showcasing the motorcycles that have shaped the brand's heritage. It provides an insight into Ducati's engineering, racing achievements and passion for motorcycles.
- Parco dei Laghi: 30 kilometres south, you find Parco dei Laghi, which includes several lakes, including Lake Suviana and Lake Brasimone. The park offers opportunities for hiking, excursions, picnics and fishing.
- Vena del Gesso Park: The Vena del Gesso Regional Park, located 45 kilometres south, is known for its unique gypsum formations and karst. The park has impressive gorges, caves and canyons such as Gessi Bolognesi and Contrafforte Pliocenico. It is a great destination for hiking and sightseeing.
- Grotta della Spipola: 60 kilometres to the southwest, near the town of Pianoro, is the Grotta della Spipola, a cave system. In the framework of guided tours, you can see the underground stalactite formations in the chambers.
- Corno alle Scale Regional Park: 70 kilometres to the southwest, the Corno alle Scale Regional Park is a mountainous area known for its untouched forests, hiking trails and picturesque landscapes. It offers outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking and hiking. In the park, you will find the Cascate del Dardagna near the village of Lizzano. The Cascate del Dardagna is a beautiful waterfall in the Apennine Mountains.
Via degli Dei
The Via degli Dei, also known as the "Path of the Gods", is a famous hiking route that stretches from Bologna to Florence. The trail covers a distance of about 130 kilometres, which can usually be completed in 6-7 days. It starts from Bologna and ends in Fiesole, a city near Florence in the Tuscan region.
- Tagliatelle al Ragù: Tagliatelle al ragù is a classic Bolognese dish and a staple of local cuisine. It consists of long, flat strips of pasta called tagliatelle, usually served with a rich and flavorful meat-based sauce known as ragout. Bolognese ragù is traditionally made from ground beef, pork, and sometimes veal, slowly cooked with tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and aromatic herbs. Yes, it's bolognese :)
- Tortellini in broth: Tortellini in broth is another popular dish from here. Tortellini are small, ring-shaped pasta filled with meat, cheese and sometimes vegetables or herbs. The combination of delicious noodles and savoury broth creates a comforting and satisfying meal, especially during the colder months.
- Pumpkin tortelli with parmesan: Pumpkin tortelli or tortelli di zucca is a speciality of the region. These tortellini are filled with a filling made from roasted pumpkin, usually with grated Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. It is typically served with melted butter and sage, which gives the dish a tasty and aromatic effect. Sweet pumpkin and salty cheese balance give a pleasant and unique flavour profile.
- Butter and Sage Tortelloni: Tortelloni are larger versions of tortellini, often filled with ricotta cheese and greens like spinach or Swiss chard.
- Mortadella: Originating in Bologna, mortadella is a marinated sausage made from finely ground pork, flavoured with spices and often studded with small fat cubes. It is notable for its special taste and smooth, pink texture. Mortadella is usually thinly sliced and eaten in sandwiches or as part of pasta dishes.
- Crescentine (Tigelle): Crescentine, or tigelle, are small, round, flat bread-like discs made from a simple dough of flour, water, yeast, and salt. It is traditionally filled with marinated meats, cheeses and spreads, making it a popular street food.
- Parmigiano Reggiano: Although not exclusively here, the region is well-known for Parmigiano Reggiano, the world-famous cheese. This hard, matured cheese is made from cow's milk. It is often grated on pasta dishes, salads, or eaten independently.
- Gelato: let's not miss the artisanal ice creams of the region, which are made from high-quality ingredients. You can find classic flavours such as pistachio, chocolate and stracciatella and unique seasonal and regional variations.
- Crescenta di Bologna is a local sweet, soft, airy bread similar to brioche. It is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack, spread with jam or with a frothy cappuccino.
The origin of its name
The origin of the name "Bologna" is believed to have Etruscan roots, although the exact etymology is not entirely clear.
- One theory suggests that the name may derive from the word "Bononia", which means "settlement on the plain". This may refer to its location in the Po River valley, surrounded by fertile plains.
- According to another theory, its name is of Roman origin. In Roman times, the city was known as "Bononia" and was an important crossroads and trade centre. It is believed that the name derives from the Latin word "bonus", which means "good" or "prosperous", which would emphasize the favourable economic and cultural situation of the city.
Over time, the name "Bologna" has remained relatively constant despite the influence of different languages and cultures on the region. The city has been known by this name for centuries and has become internationally known.
It has ancient Etruscan and Celtic roots and was a prosperous settlement during the Roman era. The city was a strategic crossroads between the Via Emilia, a major Roman road, and other trade routes.
- Bologna experienced significant growth and prosperity during the Middle Ages. It became an important centre of trade, education and law. Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is considered the oldest university in the Western world. The legal traditions of the city also had a great influence, which led to the formation of the well-known Bologna School of Law.
- In the 12th and 13th centuries, it had approximately 180 towers, which symbolized the wealth and power of the noble families of Bologna. The two iconic towers, the Asinelli and the Garisenda are still prominent sights today.
- In the 15th century, it came under the authority of the Papal States, and the city experienced a period of cultural and artistic growth. Influential artists and architects such as Jacopo della Quercia and Andrea Palladio left their mark on its buildings and sculptures.
- It has undergone different political changes. The desire for autonomy and democratic governance is deeply embedded in its past.
- After the unification of Italy in the 19th century, it became part of the Kingdom of Italy. During the 20th century, it underwent significant industrialization and urban development, transforming into the region's major economic and cultural centre.
The primary mode of public transport within the city is the bus network operated by TPER (Trasporto Passeggeri Emilia-Romagna). It has an extensive network with many routes covering the city and its suburbs. Buses usually run from early morning to late evening; some night buses are also available.
You can buy tickets from official sellers or machines at bus stops and major public transport hubs to use public transport. There are single-day and multi-day tickets that allow unlimited travel on the buses.
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