We’ve discovered a hidden Italian gem! Often overlooked by tourists on the Rome-Florence-Venice route throughout Italy, Bologna is easily one of the most underrated and affordable cities. The relaxed atmosphere will put you at ease as you explore the beautiful historic center, rich food culture, high-quality museums, and intricate architecture.
With Bologna offering a wide range of things to do, we have helped you out by narrowing down the list to the top 8 things to do while in this majestic city. Let's explore your next trip to Bologna.
1. CLIMB ASINELLI TOWER
Believe it or not, Pisa is not home to Italy’s tallest leaning tower. The Asinelli Tower is located in the center of Bologna and provides great views from the top of its 498 narrow wooden steps up. The entrance to the tower costs just three euros, though you should book your ticket in advance as it can get very crowded. Garisenda, the tower next to Asinelli, is also leaning but shorter. Both were named after important Italian families.
2. TOUR THE ARCHIGAINNASIO
One of the most important buildings in Bologna, the Archigainnasio, was once the main building of the University of Bologna. Located on the Piazza Galvani, this historic building dates back to the 16th century.
The Archiginnasio also holds the famous Anatomical Theatre. This stunning room was created entirely from wood and is decorated with many intricate statues of famous medical practitioners. At the center of the room you will find an ornate anatomical table where students once learned about human anatomy by witnessing dissections and surgery. See if you can spot the spyhole in the wall where the church used to eavesdrop on classes.
3. STROLL THROUGH PIAZZA MAGGIORE
The main square of Bologna, Piazza Maggiore, offers a lot to see at the center of the city. Here you will find a great vibe and atmosphere created among the square's many historical features. Check out any open-air concerts or movies that might be taking place here during your visit.
You cannot leave Piazza Maggiore without visiting the Basilica di San Petronio. It once had the goal of being the largest church in the world during its start of construction in 1390. However, it quickly fell behind the progress of the Vatican and is still unfinished to this day.
Other important buildings you’ll find in this square are the Pallazo d’Accursio, the Palazzo del Podesta, and the Palazzo Comunale. After you’re done gazing at all of the fantastic architecture, sit and enjoy a delicious Italian meal at one of the many nearby restaurants.
4. TRY TORTELLINI
Indulge in the dish of tortellini, one of the most popular traditional Italian foods in Bologna. This ring-shaped pasta can be filled with various stuffings, such as pork or prosciutto, and is typically served in a form of beef or chicken broth. Vegetarians, take note and look for dishes on the menu spelled as tortelloni (with an o rather than i). These are larger pasta parcels stuffed with ricotta and herbs (no meat!). Make sure tosk for a sage and butter sauce, as the dish can also be served with ragù.
Try a restaurant surrounding the Piazza Maggiore or decide to venture down a side street for a less-touristy, more authentic experience of this delicious Italian dish.
5. ENJOY APERITIVO
Enjoy the pre-dinner drink tradition, as it is one that is strongly followed in the city of Bologna. Pay anywhere between eight and 10 euros for your drink, and then indulge in the free food buffets! Many people order a Spritz, Prosecco (white sparkling wine), or Lambrusco (red sparkling wine) at this time. Many restaurants and bars start this service at 6 p.m. every night. Food offerings range from peanuts to pizza, pasta, cheese, and meats. Hotspots for this tradition in Bologna include the Mercato delle Erbe and Marasalino.
6. VISIT BOLOGNA ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
Located in the heart of Bologna on the Piazza Maggiore, the Archaeological Museum provides a detailed insight into the city’s rich history throughout the years. Explore the nine different sections of the massive museum that houses a range of collections, including Celtic, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Prehistoric, Etruscan, and Numismatic. These displays include stunning artifacts, such as pottery, weaponry, china, marble statues, tools, and even human remains. These extensive collections could take you hours to admire all of it, so plan your day accordingly.
7. SHOP THE QUADRILATERO
One of the most atmospheric areas of the city, the Quadrilatero is a cluster of narrow streets located off of the main square. These streets have been serving as Bologna’s main market since the Middle Ages. Take advantage of the many delis and stalls selling various fresh ingredients such as parmesan, ham, fruits, and vegetables. Take a walk down Via Pescherie Vecchie and gaze at the yellow buildings, old signs, intricate street lights and restaurant tables throughout the cute street.
8. EXPLORE THE PORTICOES
Bologna is famously known for its extensive porticoes and serves as a great free activity especially on rainy days or as an escape from the hot sun. For reference, a portico is a partially enclosed walkway lined with detailed arches and columns. Historically, as Bologna grew as a known university city, extra housing was needed for students. To solve this issue, student housing was built on the front of already existing buildings with enough height and width for horse carts to still pass, resulting in many giant archways known as porticoes throughout the city.
Spend an afternoon shopping as you admire the wonderful ancient architecture. There are many different porticoes scattered around Bologna; however, the most famous ones are the Bonaccorsi Arch and the walkway leading up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
No matter what you decide to do, take advantage of the authentic feel that Bologna offers that you may not be able to find in larger, more popular Italian cities such as Venice or Florence. Let Bologna welcome you and share its warmness during your entire stay. Sound like your ideal next vacation? Let Acanela take care of planning your next stay in Bologna.
Post written by: Kirsten Cusack, @kirqsak