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Jane's Guide to Bologna

Bologna is the capital of Emilia Romagna in Italy. Located in Northern Italy, this region is the wealthiest in the country. Its fertile lands make it the home of some of the most beloved Italian foods in the world. (Parma ham and parmesan cheese are both from this region!) You will certainly not go hungry while in Bologna!

But you’ll have to reluctantly push away from the table in order to experience all that Bologna has to offer. The University of Bologna is the oldest university in Europe. And the city boasts 62 kilometers of porticos, in and of themselves a UNESCO world heritage site. Composer Giuseppe Verdi, as well as the operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti were both born in the area, so naturally you might want to see an opera while in Bologna.

Where to stay in Bologna

Stay just off the main square (Piazza Maggiore) in Bologna at the Hotel Orologio for perhaps the most convenient locale in Bologna and a gorgeous breakfast.

Or stay in the exquisite Centro Storico B&B for closer access to the train station for day trips out of Bologna.

For a family stay in Bologna, consider staying in the very centrally located Paracelso Apartment, where you can cook your own meals with produce from the open air market down the street.

And to splash out on a luxury stay, check out Palazzo di Alcina - Residenza d'Epoca. You’ll feel like a Renaissance baron in this elegant and historical palazzo!

What to do in Bologna

Go on a walking tour. There are so many tours of Bologna, and you can ask at your hotel which ones to join at the last minute. But if you want an in-depth tour with a local, book ahead of time at City Unscripted.

Visit the Basilica of San Petronio. Construction began in 1390 on this basilica, but it was never finished. You can walk around the back and see where it stopped, and even from the front, the facade is unfinished. Even so it is still massive and is well worth visiting with a guide for its many secrets. Free to enter, be sure to check out the longest indoor meridian line in the world.

Visit the oldest university in Europe. The University of Bologna was established in 1088. People came from all over the world to study here during the middle ages. Inside the Archiginnasio Palace, you can visit the first place where anatomy lessons were held as well as see the old coats of arms representing the many students who attended here.

Walk under the porticoes. The porticoes were built in the middle ages to enlarge the buildings for all the students who were coming to study in Bologna. Now they serve as covered walkways (shelter from rain and sun) as you make your way through Bologna. They differ from each other because they belonged to the different home-owners who built them.

Make a pilgrimage to San Luca. Porticoes were even built along a hill going up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca. You can make your own journey there today to see the icon or to just take in the views. It’s about a three mile walk from Piazza Maggiore, but you can do part of it by bus. Or if you’d rather skip the walk, you can ride the little San Luca Express all the way up and back.

Wander through an ancient monastery. The Santo Stefano Monastery is a collection of seven churches that were built over the years, each one added on to the other. This site has been a place of worship since pagan times, so the variety of history and architecture make for a fascinating visit. It’s open and free to visit in the afternoons.

Have a drink in Santo Stefano Square. Just outside the monastery is a square lined with cafes and tables. This spot is the perfect place to head for your afternoon Aperol Spritz. Take your book and stay for a while. Or just people watch.

Go for a walk (or a drink) in the park. Giardini Margherita is Bologna’s city park where the locals go to walk their dogs, get outside of the city or have a drink in the shade.

Climb Assini Tower for great views. It’s 498 steps to the top of this tower, so be prepared to huff and puff a bit. The entry is timed so you have to book online ahead of time.

Visit the main Bologna History Museum in Palazzo Pepoli. A great rainy day activity!

Go to the opera! Head over to the visitor center in Piazza Maggiore to see what’s playing and book tickets as soon as you arrive in Bologna.

Where to eat in Bologna

Bologna is well-known for being a wonderful place to eat, so people come just for the food. Because of its popularity, it’s a good idea to make reservations for dinner.

Restaurante Parlor is a darling little restaurant tucked away in a quiet corner of Bologna. They do creative spins on traditional regional cuisine, and they cater to vegetarians as well.

Osteria del Cappello is a great choice for classical dishes of Emilia Romagna.

My favorite restaurant in Bologna is probably Restaurante A Balus. They speak English, have super friendly service and are happy to cater to all different dietary restrictions.

For pizza, eat at Trattoria La Mela. They also do gorgeous salads and traditional meat and cheese platters, and if the weather is good you can eat outside.

Piano Piano is my favorite spot for a coffee or a cocktail in Bologna, and they also have a lovely restaurant upstairs.

For gelato, you can trust that the Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla lives up to the hype. There are almost always long lines at this gelato stop, but it’s worth it for the best gelato in Italy! (They have two locations in Bologna.)

How to get to Bologna

You don’t need a car in Bologna. The city center is easily walkable, the public transport system works really well, and the large train station has direct links to all of the other major cities in Italy.


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