Nestled within the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, the historic city of Bologna is a total gem to visit when exploring some of Italy’s best cities. Not only that, there’s a whole heap of history that dates back centuries within the city. Which, all means that there’s a huge mix of incredible and bags of the best things to do in Bologna dotted all over the city.
Of course, Bologna is a city break in its own right, but it’s also really easy to visit as part of a wider trip to some of Italy’s best places. You see, it’s perfectly located on the main artery between the north and south of Italy. This all makes it a perfect stopping point for a long weekend break before continuing your Italian adventure.
Now, to help you along your way, I wanted to pop over a few of my favourite spots that I’m hoping you’ll love. Bologna is an incredibly beautiful and quaint Italian city and one that you really shouldn’t miss.
Also, as with all our posts, if you ever need any tips on your trip; just pop us an email.
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Bologna. Have fun!
1.) Piazza Maggiore
Perched within the centre of Bologna, visiting Piazza Maggiore is almost a dead-set when exploring the city.
It’s the perfect place to wander around by foot and take in all the incredible Renaissance architecture that makes this area so unique.
Also, on the plus side, it’s also got the Palazzo del Podestà, the Fountain of Neptune, the Basilica of San Petronio and many other of Bologna’s historic sights, too.
Just be sure to pack your comfy walking shoes, you’ll end up traipsing around the whole area for hours.
Afterwards, take a few minutes stroll over to Trattoria Gianni for dinner. Perched down one of the smaller streets, it’s a cosy restaurant that serves up some of the tastiest gnocchi in all of Bologna. Also, they’ve got a heap of Tortellini to try, too (which is a must in the city).
2.) Two towers of Bologna
Long ago, Bologna was filled with loads of towers that were dotted all across the city, with some surviving to this day. Two of the most famous are the Asinelli and Garisenda Towers that lean away from each other.
You see, it’s not just Pisa that has a leaning tower! 😉
Almost 1,000 years old, these towers are pretty iconic in Bologna and well worth heading up the (almost 500) stairs to see the views from the top. Yes, it can be a hefty climb, it will count as a workout and you will get sweaty, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Afterwards, pop into Paolo Atti e Figli that’s something of an institution in Bologna. Just make sure to buy some tortellini to take away. You can’t miss it.
3.) Prendiparte Tower
Only a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Cathedral, seeing Prendiparte Tower is one of the best things to do in Bologna if you want to explore the cities history.
This tower was once a defensive structure (and alter a prison) and, nowadays is similar to the two towers in that you can climb the stairs for some incredible views from the top.
Afterwards, you can head on over to La Piccola Venezia (Little Venice) that’s about 250 metres away. Also, La Montanara (nearby) is totally delicious and their ragu is so yummy. It’s a relaxed restaurant that serves up some heart-warming Italian dishes that you’ll love.
4.) Archiginnasio of Bologna
Considered the most important building in Bologna, the Archiginnasio houses the anatomical theatre that dates all the way back to the 1600s. Not only that, it has a heap of other rooms that are too good to miss.
After paying a small entrance fee, pop inside to see the anatomical theatre, Stabat Mater Lecture Hall and all the historic wall decorations that are so specific to the city. It’s totally stunning.
Plus, you’ve got Cremeria Cavour close by that has some of the tastiest gelatos in all of Bologna.
After grabbing a few scoops, pop into Piazza Cavour and enjoy. It’s the best afternoon treat.
5.) Basilica San Petronio
Perched within Piazza Maggiore (mentioned above), you kinda can’t miss the Basilica of San Petronio. Heading inside is easily one of the best things to do in Bologna, even if you’re not religious; the building is steeped in history.
Inside the basilica itself, there are over 20 different smaller chapels that are easy to see and visit on most days of the year. Entry is totally free, though you can give a donation if you wish.
Not only that, it has the largest (internal) sundial in the whole world!
6.) Sanctuary of the Madonna
Perched right on top of the hill, overlooking Bologna, climbing the steps to the Sanctuary of the Madonna is easily one of the best things to do in Bologna. Yes, it can be quite a long walk (especially on a warm day) but it’s totally worth it.
Once here, take in the gorgeous views across the city and region and pop up the tiny little steps to the top of the tower. It costs a few Euro but worth it if whilst you’re there.
Also, you can take the via Saragozza Porticoes that’s the longest in the entire world! After walking the whole route, you’ll end up right at the Sanctuary of the Madonna. You can’t go wrong.
7.) La Piazzola (Market)
Just shy of Montagnola Park, Mercato Piazzola is filled with all types of stalls, eateries and market spots, it’s a great place to find a gift. Just be prepared to haggle on higher prices and have fun exploring.
The stalls themselves can be hit or miss. So make sure to stroll around and find the ones that you love most.
Oh yeah, you’ve also got Gelateria Galliera 49 a few streets away and well worth popping in for a gelato on a hot summer day. All in all, it’s one of the best things to do in Bologna for a little retail therapy and some local goodies to buy.
8.) Santo Stefano Basilica
Consisting of various churches, chapels and courtyards, exploring Santo Stefano Basilica is one of the best things to do in Bologna when staying in the centre of the city.
Once in the area, be sure to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (similar to the Sepulcher of Jerusalem) and see the Calvary Niche inside. Plus, make sure to take a stroll around the cloisters, too. There’s a total of seven churches inside and they’re too stunning to miss.
If you can, head across with a guide as the history of this whole area is totally fascinating.
9.) San Pietro Cathederal
Around 400 years old, San Pietro Cathederal is a stunner! Honestly, it’s totally awe-inspiring and the frescos and architecture are totally beautiful.
Once inside, be sure to see the art by Ludovico Carracci and more recent paintings by Cesare Mauro Trebbi. Also, keep your ears wide open for ‘La Nonna’, the largest bell (that is rung with the Bologna method) in the entire world. It weighs well over 3000kg and is huge!
10.) Porticoes of Bologna
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Porticoes of Bologna are actually quite hard to miss! Dotted all across the city, you’ll no doubt stroll through many of them that survive to this day.
Historically, these were set up as public walkways and spaces where people can always freely use. This has gone on for centuries and Bologna is characterised by the porticoes that crisscross the whole city.
Some of the most notable is the wooden porticoes at casa Isolani (Strada Maggiore) and the vaulted high porticoes of “Dei Bastardini” (on Via D’Azeglio). Yep, the latter has quite a name! Apparently, we learned, that this was due to an old orphanage that was once based here centuries ago.
The Quadrilatero Neighbourhood of Bologna is just shy of Piazza Maggiore and a totally easy area to visit when staying in the centre of Bologna.
Dating back centuries, this is the historic trading area of the city, filled with little craft stores, cafes and now, some more modern additions, too.
Just keep an eye out for some of the stalls selling crescentine fritte. They’re little pillows of deliciousness.
12.) Basilica of San Domenico
Just a little further beyond Piazza Cavour, seeing the Basilica of San Domenico is one of the best things to do in Bologna. Now, I know what you’re thinking; I’m mentioning a lot of churches, right? But trust me, you can’t miss them in Bologna, they’re beautiful.
Inside, you’ll find the gorgeous Michelangelo sculptures and the tomb of Santo Domenico himself. It’s one of those places that’s even more impressive on the inside!