Top 15 Amazing Things to Do in Bologna (Italy)
The city of Bologna in Italy is one of the absolute most beautiful travel highlights of the country. There are so many unique things to do in Bologna. Strolling through the old town of Bologna, you will enjoy a unique historical charm, there are countless fascinating sights to visit, and the Italian flair is unbeatable. Furthermore, the Italian metropolis is a vibrant student city where thousands of years of history mix with a modern, hip lifestyle. Visitors can expect a vibrant nightlife, excellent food, and many unique boutiques for shopping. Among the most famous attractions in the city center are the two leaning towers of Bologna. A must-see is the Asinelli Tower, offering a fascinating view over the old city and surroundings. In addition, Bologna also has many other exciting places to visit, which will keep you entertained during a city trip.
In this travel guide, you will find all the important information about Bologna in Italy. Furthermore, we will show you the best things to see and do, the most stunning pictures, provide you with useful insider tips, and let you know where to stay in Bologna.
General Information about Bologna
Bologna, a city of 388,000 inhabitants, is located in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, about 60 kilometers from the sea, 100 kilometers from Florence and 156 kilometers from Verona. Every year, countless tourists from all over the world visit the Italian metropolis to admire its rich history and architectural beauty. The highlight of Bologna is the beautiful red old town, also known as “La rossa”, which is filled with breathtaking buildings, museums and historical attractions. Bologna is also known as a university city, as it is home to the oldest university in Europe, founded in 1088. Particularly noteworthy are the typical porticoes, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which stretch an incredible 38 kilometers through the city.
However, the towers of Bologna are the most important tourist attraction. Then comes the central square, Piazza Maggiore, with its imposing monumental buildings. Moreover, the city center offers many other attractions worth seeing, including numerous museums, the old university and beautiful parks. A real insider’s tip in Bologna is the church of the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, which is located on top of a hill from which you can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view. Another reason to fall in love with Bologna is its culinary offer, as the city is home to the famous classics of Italian cuisine such as tortellini, and even the mortadella comes from Bologna.
The Best Things to Do in Bologna
When traveling to Bologna, visitors can expect to see a number of highlights that are well worth a visit. Most of them are located in the heart of the city and can be explored by foot. To help you get the most out of your trip, here’s a summary of the best things to do in Bologna, including insider tips:
Towers of Bologna (Asinelli and Garisenda)
A visit to the Towers of Bologna, especially the leaning towers Asinelli and Garisenda, is definitely one of the best things to do in Bologna. These structures date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and it is said that in the Middle Ages there were about 150 of these towers, owned by rich families. Today you can still admire about 20 of them in the old town. A true showpiece and landmark of Bologna is the imposing Asinelli Tower, which rises to a proud 97 meters and can even be visited. A staggering 498 steps lead to the top, from where you can enjoy a magnificent panorama of Bologna. This wooden staircase is not for the faint-hearted and is not recommended for those with a fear of heights!
Next to it is the smaller Garisenda Tower, the Torre della Garisenda, which stands out for its impressive inclination of about 3 meters. This leaning tower used to be 60 meters high, but was reduced to 48 meters in the 14th century for safety reasons.
Tip: Be sure to reserve tickets for the climb online, as access to the tower is very limited. The current entrance price is 5 euros per person.
Basilica of San Petronio
The Basilica of San Petronio is definitely one of the most spectacular attractions in Bologna. Located in the world-famous Piazza Maggiore, it is a must-see on any sightseeing tour. This Gothic church is a true architectural masterpiece, with a length of 132 meters, a width of 60 meters and a height of 45 meters, it is the 5th largest church in the world. Its construction began in 1390 and has been expanded over the years. Partly covered with marble, this brick church is already impressive to look at from the outside! However, don’t forget to visit the beautiful nave too. There you can admire the longest meridian in the world, designed by the architect Cassini, which is an incredible 67 meters long.
Another insider tip is to visit the roof terrace, which is located at a height of about 54 meters and can be reached either on foot or by elevator. From up there, you can enjoy stunning views of Bologna. The entrance is in Piazza Galvani. It’s a little hidden behind the church!
Tip: The entrance to this monument is currently free. Only if you want to take pictures inside the basilica, you will have to pay a small fee.
The Fountain of Neptune
The Fountain of Neptune is located in the Piazza del Nettuno, right next to the famous Piazza Maggiore, and is one of the landmarks of Bologna. This exceptionally beautiful fountain was built between 1563 and 1566 by Giovanni di Bologna and is an impressive tribute to the god Neptune. The central bronze statue of Neptune is 3.25 meters high and is therefore called “il Gigante” by the locals. It is surrounded by other interesting statues, including elaborate mermaids. The putti at the corners of the fountain are said to represent the 4 great rivers of the time, the Amazon, the Nile, the Danube and the Ganges.
The Piazza Maggiore is considered the most famous square in Bologna’s old town. It houses many of the city’s most important attractions and monuments, and is of immense historical importance. Its history dates back to the 13th century, when it was used as a marketplace during the Middle Ages. It was not until the 15th century that it received its present form. Surrounded by important buildings such as the Basilica di San Petronio, the Palazzo d’Accursio and the Palazzo dei Notai, Piazza Maggiore is the beating heart of Bologna’s city center. Next to it, you can admire the famous fountain of Neptune. In addition, there are also several cafés and restaurants where visitors can enjoy the hustle and bustle. Thanks to its impressive setting, it is also a regular venue for events.
Tip: An insider’s tip is the “Whispering Corner” of Bologna, a fascinating acoustic phenomenon located in the portico under the Palazzo del Podestà.
The Archiginnasio (University of Bologna)
Built in the 16th century, Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio was originally the seat of Bologna University, one of the oldest universities in the world. Today, this remarkable historical building is one of the most important attractions in Bologna, and a visit is a must on any tour of the city. You will be amazed by the precious murals, historical coats of arms and decorations. Of particular interest is the “Teatro Anatomico“, which is completely covered with pine wood and can accommodate about 300 people. Also worth a visit is the “Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio” with its impressive library hall, whose history dates back to 1801.
Porticoes of Bologna
A real highlight in Bologna are the magnificent porticoes, which, due to their importance, have even been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2021. They characterize the cityscape and create a unique atmosphere for residents and visitors alike. In addition, these unique arcades connect numerous buildings, streets and squares and provide protection from sun, rain and snow. They are said to have originated in the Middle Ages. With an incredible total length of about 38 kilometers, the porticoes in the center of Bologna are the longest continuous row of porticoes in the world. One of the most interesting is the Arcade di San Luca, which stretches for 3,796 meters and consists of 666 arches.
The Secret Window & the Hidden Canals
The beautiful and colorful canals of Bologna are an exceptional insider tip. They are located in the northern part of the old town, in the so-called “Little Venice”, and can be easily explored during a walking tour of the city. A real celebrity is the hidden “Window of Bologna“, the so-called Finestrella di Via Pella. Once found and opened, it offers a splendid view of the Canale delle Moline, a section of the Reno Canal. It’s hard to miss this enchanting attraction on Via Pella, as tourists flock at all hours of the day to catch a glimpse through this tiny window.
The Archaeological Museum, called Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna, is an interesting museum in the middle of the city center! Since 1881, it has been housed in the Palazzo Galvani, a magnificent building that dates back to the 15th century. During a visit, you will be amazed by an extraordinary collection, which comes from the former Museo Universitario and from donations by the painter Pelagio Palagi. The exhibits include items related to local history, from prehistory to Roman times. Among the highlights are masterpieces of Greek and Roman art. Also worth seeing is the important Egyptian collection, the third largest in Italy and one of the most important in Europe.
The Bologna Cathedral is one of the most important places of interest in the very center of the Italian metropolis. Located on the lively Via Indipendenza, between hotels and shops, it is a true masterpiece of Baroque architecture. In 1028, there was already a church where the Duomo stands, which was destroyed by fire in 1141. The structure was rebuilt a few years later, and over the years it has been restored and expanded. In 1582, the church was finally consecrated as a cathedral by Pope Gregory XIII. The interior of the church is particularly interesting, with numerous works of art and frescoes, and can be visited free of charge.
Piazza Santo Stefano
An enchanting experience is a visit to the picturesque Piazza Santo Stefano. This extraordinarily scenic square is one of Bologna’s true jewels and is a true must-see. It is located a little off the typical tourist routes, but is easily accessible on foot from the main square. The architecture of the many magnificent buildings around Piazza Santo Stefano and the pretty cafés that exude a grandiose Italian feeling are simply unique. The main attraction in the square is the Basilica of Santo Stefano, whose complex is also known as the “Seven Churches” and can be visited free of charge.
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna
The Pinacoteca Nazionale is one of Bologna’s best kept secrets for art lovers to discover and enjoy. Located in the lively student district, this museum is certainly not a tourist spot that already everyone knows. During a tour, you will be amazed by an extensive collection of paintings from the Emilia Romana region, most of which date from the 13th to the 18th century. In the Pinacoteca of Bologna, visitors have the opportunity to gain a fascinating and exclusive insight into the history of Italian art. Here you can admire important works by famous artists such as Giotto, Raphael, Titian and Parmigianino.
Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca
The Santuario della Madonna di San Luca is one of the true highlights of Bologna. Also the location of the Sanctuary on the 300-meter-high hill of the Colle della Guardia with a panoramic view of the city is spectacular. This impressive church dates back to the 18th century and was built on the foundations of a previous church dating back to the 15th century. A notable feature of the Santuario is the famous archway, built in 1674, which connects the hillside sanctuary to the city. It has an impressive length of almost 4 kilometers and consists of over 600 arches. The imposing interior of the church is also worth seeing, with numerous valuable works of art by Donato Creti, Guido Reni, Vittorio Bigari, von Guercino and Domenico Pestrini, among others.
Mercato delle Erbe
The Mercato delle Erbe is a popular food market and the largest market hall in the Italian metropolis. Gourmets and those who want to immerse themselves in Bologna’s cuisine will find an abundance of culinary delights. Visitors will discover a wide range of fresh products, including fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses and fish, offered by local merchants. Moreover, the Mercato delle Erbe also features a rich selection of regional specialties such as homemade pasta, olive oil and traditional cured meats. In addition to the many stalls, there are many small restaurants and snack bars where you can sample delicious dishes. Today, the market is a lively meeting place for locals and tourists who want to experience the authentic atmosphere of a typical Bologna market.
Basilica of St. Dominic
The Basilica of San Domenico is an important religious place in Bologna and certainly, one of the most charming monuments of the old town. It is located in the square of the same name, S. Domenico. The church was built by the Dominicans at the beginning of the 13th century to house the remains of the founder of the order, St. Dominic of Guzman. The convent was built a few years later. In addition, the 51-meter-high bell tower, built in 1313, is an impressive example of Gothic architecture. A must-see is the interior of the basilica, which is decorated with frescoes, sculptures and paintings. Here you can admire precious works of art by Guercino, Filippino Lippi and Ludovico Carracci.
Bologna: Walking Tours, Tickets & Excursions
If you don’t feel like exploring Bologna on your own, you have the option of taking a guided tour of the city. On the online portal GetYourGuide you can not only find recommended city tours, but also cheap tickets, cooking classes, excursions in the surroundings of Bologna and much more.
The site also has a great selection of ratings and reviews that you can compare before you do your booking.
Where to Stay in Bologna
Bologna offers a wide range of accommodation. From cheap backpacker hostels to cozy city hotels, from chic boutique hotels to absolute luxury hotels, there is something for everyone. If you’re still looking for a place to stay in Bologna, we can give you these accommodation tips along the way…It’s worth a look!
- Luxury Hotel: The Grand Hotel Majestic gia’ Baglioni is a 5-star hotel located in a luxurious 18th century palace. The perfect choice for a special trip!
- Nice B&B: The B&B Il Viaggio Bologna is a nice accommodation in a central location. The rooms are modern, clean and nicely decorated. Breakfast is also delicious.
- Chic Apartments: The Residence le Porte offers beautiful apartments in a prime location. Some even have views of the famous Towers!
- Hip City Hotel: The Social Hub Bologna is an insider’s tip in Bologna. Guests love the hip design, the relaxing pool and the beautiful rooms!
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