More than Spaghetti Bolognese...
Just so you know, some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you book something through our link, it won't cost you any more, but we might get a small commission.
Bologna is an Italian city that’s often missed by tourists. Everybody flocks to Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, and misses this absolute gem of a destination. Through 3 months travelling around Europe, Bologna was definitely in our list of favourites, and somewhere we recommend to everyone who wants to experience Italy authentically. This city is pretty much free from tourist traps, and has the most amazing atmosphere in the centre.
Does it have one of the seven wonders of the world? A Duomo that took 600 years to complete? Does the entire city float on a canal network? Maybe not, but you’ll meet locals, try traditional food, and see Italy’s culture at its best!
Not inspired to visit yet? Keep reading, we’ll get you there!
The best of Bologna - Before you do anything else in Bologna, you should head to the main square, Piazza Maggiore, and soak in the incredible atmosphere. It’s one of the best places we’ve ever been for people watching - simply sitting on a bench, steps, or in a bar and watching the world go by. You’ll find street performers all across the square and surrounding streets, as well as lights, seasonal decorations and more gorgeous independent shops than you can even think about visiting. Performances can be anything from the typical busker singing, to the most bizarre acts, we saw somebody playing a bike as a musical instrument!
In Piazza Maggiore, you can see the famous two towers and Basilica Santuario di Santo Stefano, some of the highlights of the city, which are absolutely not worth missing. For the perfect Instagram photo (or just to show off to family and friends), head to Finestrella, the photo spot that captures Bologna so beautifully.
Taste tour - You don’t need to take a guided tour to experience the flavours of Bologna, but there are some amazing experiences on GetYourGuide that take the effort out of trying the best authentic food you can. Have a look here.
However, we have some pretty great recommendations too. From markets to traditional restaurants serving authentic dishes, you will be absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to food in Bologna. Whether you’re craving pasta, pizza, sandwiches, gelato or small plates, there’s something for everyone in this city!
Mercato di mezzo offers a range of street food and drinks, and has a bustling atmosphere every day, whether you’re visiting at lunchtime or for a glass of wine in the evening. As we mentioned earlier, there aren’t a lot of tourist traps in Bologna (but still be wary, of course) and you can find very authentic, family owned restaurants without having to go far from the main square at all. Our Airbnb host recommended Trattoria Nonna Gigia, where we tried lasagne made the traditional way and a mouth-watering tiramisu.
On top of this, if you’ve never heard of mortadella, it’s a luncheon meat made of pork that originates from Bologna. It’s similar to the American lunch meat Baloney/Bologna, and has some resemblance to ham. You can find it all over Bologna, but there is great food spot called Mo Mortadella Lab where you can grab Mortadella sandwiches loaded with toppings, anywhere from €4! Ours were incredible, and a great way to eat like the locals.
Worth the trek - Sanctuary San Luca blew us away when we visited. The walk to this incredible Basilica takes just over an hour, and it is steadily uphill the whole way. It takes some effort, especially on a hot day. The whole walk to the church is actually an UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it goes through the Porticoes of Bologna (the arches that you’ll find lining the streets across the city).
Not only is the church itself breathtaking both exterior and interior, the view from the grounds is just stunning. You get to see some of the Italian countryside that you just don’t see in a city centre, as well as a skyline view. When you add this to the gold-trimmed walls of the cathedral and the cultural experience, you just can’t go wrong.
Have we convinced you to put Bologna on your list of destinations to travel to? We think it’s more than worth visiting. From cathedrals to markets, world heritage sites to street performances, it’s a city with a range of sights not to be missed.
Getting there: Bologna is accessible by air, with direct flights from major cities around the UK. However, flights to Bologna are not as regular as flight to other Italian cities. If you aren't flexible with dates or are on a tight budget, consider flying into another city such as Rome, Milan, Florence or Venice. You can then get to Bologna in less than 2 hours by train. Bologna is easily accessible by train or coach from major cities in Italy and surrounding countries.
Visas: Citizens of most countries do not need a visa to visit Italy for a stay of up to 90 days.
Currency: The currency of Italy is the Euro.
Language: The official language of Italy is Italian, but English is widely spoken.
Time zone: Bologna is in the Central European Time Zone, usually an hour ahead of the UK.
Ready to go?
- Search for somewhere to stay in Bologna on Expedia here
- Look for things to do in Bologna on GetYourGuide here