When you decided to add a visit to Bologna on your Italian itinerary, you probably wonder, what is Bologna famous for? Or maybe you still doubt if Bologna is worth a visit. We’re here to help you figure it all out.
Bologna is famous for its architecture with porticos (corridors) connecting the city. They are built to keep up with the growth of the city. The oldest university in the world, founded in 1088AD is located in Bologna. The city is the largest in the Emilio-Romagna region and is also known for its unique cuisine, food markets, and historic center.
The city of Bologna has a lot to offer. In this article, we tell you all about the ins- and outs of Bologna, Italy. So let’s find out the things you don’t want to miss in Bologna, Italy.
The nicknames of Bologna
The city of Bologna has a rich history and thus a lot to offer. The city hosts the oldest university of the world, and architecture was amended while the university grew overtime. Several unique buildings and the famous porticos were created to make sure the university could keep growing.
Because of this unique growth and architecture, and the famous food created in the region, Bologna has several nicknames, which are often used by the local community. These nicknames describe the city in the best way. Bologna is often referred to as;
La Rossa (The Red)
It refers to the socialists, the left political side. Mainly because during the Second World War, Bologna was the heart of the resistance against the Germans and Nazis. La Rossa also refers to the architecture of the city. The rooftops are all covered with red roof tiles, which gives the city a unique look.
La Dotta (The studied one or The learned one)
This nickname got the city thanks to the oldest university in the world. Founded in 1088AD. In the modern western world, the word ‘university’ coming from the Latin phrase Universitas, was first used for the Bologna University. Of course, there were many schools before and learning centers earlier then Bologna university, but they never gave it the name university. For example, the school of Parma, nowadays known as the University of Parma, was first built in 962 AD. Almost 100 years before the University of Bologna.
La Grassa (The Fat and The Food)
Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. The region is renowned for its Italian food and economic wealth that comes with it. Some of the most famous world-wide renowned food is coming from this region. Parmesan Cheese, Parma Ham, Balsamico Vinegar, Tortellini, and much more are all created in the Emilio-Romagna region. That’s how Bologna gets its third nickname.
The Famous Highlights of Bologna
Bologna is renowned for its architecture. When the university of the city kept growing, the city needed to built new buildings to accommodate the students. The development of the city asked for a different way of architecture and city layout. The porticos, which connects many buildings and squares, are maybe the best example of this development. Bologna’s historic center is nominated as a Unesco World Heritage site. Let’s find out the most important highlights in this city.
Porticos of Bologna
The porticos of Bologna were built to keep up with the growth of the city and its university. Nowadays, this unique set of corridors is what makes this city famous. It gives the city its unique character.
When the University of Bologna was opened in 1088AD, it rapidly grew and hosted many students coming from all over Europe. To keep up with this growth and to accommodate the students en inhabitants of the city, the city council needed to change the city’s layout. Corridors, which at that time were often used as an extension of a house to create more living space, set the example for the corridors used in Bologna.
In many other Italian cities, corridors were also used to extend buildings and living spaces. However, a lot of city councils banned the use of these corridors because it blocked the streets. Bologna’s city council saw an opportunity with these corridors. Legislation to built porticos that extend public and living spaces followed. A set of strict rules were set on how to create the corridors. For example, it was obligatory to use a minimum height of 7 feet (2.70 meters), so a man on a horse could ride through the corridors.
The most famous porticos
Today the porticos are still in use, and its great to walk around. The most famous corridors in Bologna are;
- The porticoes of Piazza Maggiore
Maggiore is the most famous square in Bologna. It is the heart of the historic center. On each side of the square, you’ll find different portico’s. It is interesting to see that several wealthy families tributed to the porticoes overtime. On this square, several families had their palaces. On each side of the square, you’ll find a slightly different way of architecture.
- The porticoes of Piazza Santo Stefano
Along this street, you’ll find a long corridor but built in different periods. Also built by different families. The shape of corridors and the arches were slightly changed over time.
- The porticoes of Strada Maggiore
Here you’ll find some of the best-preserved examples of the porticoes built in the late middle ages. These porticos are still made with wood, and some of them are even 9 meters high.
- The commercial portico of Via dell’ Indipendenza
It is one of the newest corridors, built-in 1888. It connects Piazza Maggiore and the railway station. It is clear they used a different way of building this corridor more influenced by the neo-Gothic style that was commonly used during that time.
- The portico of San Luca
The longest corridor in the world, covering 2.3 miles (3.8 kilometers). The exact length is 3796 meters. The corridor starts outside the city walls and ends in front of the Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca. It is one the most famous porticoes in Bologna, often used for different sports events.
This is the central square in Bologna, and the heart of the historic center. Built between the 12th and 15th century. The square is surrounded by important historic government- and religious buildings. You’ll find the former city hall Pallazo d’Accursio on the west side of the square. The dome of Bologna, Basilique San Petronio, is located on the South-East side of the square. On the Northern side, you’ll find the former justice palace Pallazo del Podestà. The old banking center, Palazzo del Banchi, is located on the east side of the square.
The main public library and famous fountain of Neptune are located on the north side of this square. The Famous fountain of Neptune is an excellent example of the late renaissance better known as Mannerism. Mannerism is an art style that was used by the Italian elite during the end of the 16th century. The Baroque style later followed this style.
Basilica of San Petronio
This Basilique is one of the most famous buildings located at Piazza Maggiore. Dedicated to the Saint Petronius (st Peter), the bishop of Bologna during the fifth century. Construction was started in 1390, but the façade is never finished since. It gives the Basilique its unique character.
Leaning Towers of Bologna
When you thought that the leaning tower of Pisa was the only one in Italy, you’re wrong. The leaning tower of Pisa might be the most famous one, but there are more to find in Italy. The two towers in Bologna, which are prominent landmarks in the city, are also known as the leaning towers.
The towers are constructed between 1019 and 1119AD. The story goes that the two towers were built as a competition between two families, to show which one was more powerful and wealthy. However, this was never proven, the towers are named after these families. The largest tower is referred to Asineli (height: 90 meters) and the more leaning tower is known as Garisenda (height: 40 meters)
Today the towers are one of the most famous landmarks in the region. You can climb both towers, but we recommend climbing the Assilini tower. Walking the small stairs can be a bit frightened when you’re afraid of heights. However, when you reach the top, you’ll have the most fantastic view of the city and its region.
This is probably the most important building in Bologna. It used to be the main building of the Bologna University. Today the building functions as a museum. You’ll find the public library and the Anatomical theater inside the building. It lost his function as the main university building when the city moved the university in 1803 to Palazzo Pogo.
The public library, which was opened in 1838, is the largest in the Emilio-Romagna region and has a great historical collection with over 850.000 different books, pamphlets, magazines, and manuscripts. Some editions dating back to the 16th century.
The building hosts also the Anatomical theater, which was used for anatomy lessons for medical students. The theater is shaped as an amphitheater. This unique theater was completely damaged during the bombings in the Second World War. Luckily it was rebuilt with the remaining original pieces.
Archaeological Museum of Bologna
The museum was officially opened in 1881, located at the Piazza Maggiore in Palazzo Galvani. The museum contains one of the most important archaeological collections in Italy. It includes pieces from Roman and Greek art, as well as pieces of local history. The museum has 9 different sections with different collections such as Pre-historic, Etruscan, Greek, Celtic, Egyptian, Roman.
This museum is especially interesting when you’re interested in the history of the European continent, and the development of civilization in Italy and Europe.
National Gallery Bologna (Pinacoteca Nazionale)
This art gallery was founded in 1762 and contains a wide variety of art dating back to the 14th century. It is considered as one of the most significant art galleries in Europe.
Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
The world’s largest portico ends at the entrance of Santuario di Madonna di San Luca. The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary of St Luca, is one of the most famous landmarks of Bologna. The church is located at the Mount del Guardia (Colle del Guardia), about 300 meters above the city.
The building of the church started at the end of the 12th century, around 1194. It wasn’t completed until 1765. It is an amazing building to visit and explore the unique building style and different paintings inside. When you’re visiting the church, we recommend walking the 2.6 miles through the portico, which is a unique experience. On top of the hill, where the church is located, you’ll have an amazing view of the city and its surroundings.
Torre di Prendiparte
When walking through Bologna it feels like your walking through a medieval city. The many historic buildings, squares, porticos, and towers give you the feeling like your walking back in time. There used to be many different towers in Bologna, all used as a defence. Torre di Prendiparte, also reffered to as Coronata Tower, is probably one of the best-preserved towers of the medieval times.
The tower is the second largest tower in Bologna, after the Assinili tower. It is 60 meters high, so considering its height it is not even that impressive. However, when you look at the way the tower is built, with the big concrete blocks and typical red bolognese color, it feels like a strong medieval fortress.
Torre di Prendiparte has different levels, with all a different function. The 3rd to 5th floor were used as prison cells, and thanks to recent renovations, you still can find some traces of what prisoners had written in the bricks. Visiting the tower is a great thing to do. When you reach the top, you’ll have a splendid view of the city.
Oratory of Battuti (Chapel of Battuti)
An excellent example of the Baroque style. This small chapel, which was built in 1604 is renowned for its decorated paintings. The most famous and special work is the death of the virgin from Alfonso Lombardi. A big statue which represent the twelve apostles.
St. Stephen Basilica
It is probably the oldest building in Bologna, but the exact origins are still debated. Some say it was built around 430AD in order of the Patron saint of Bologna (the bishop of Bologna), others say it was built in the 10th century. However, it is an interesting building to visit. From the outside it looks just like a small ancient church, but walking inside you quickly discover the different buildings. The church consists out of seven churches, al dating back to a certain time period. Interesting to see how the catholic religion developed over time.
When you think of Italy you probably think of fresh food and fashion. Bologna offers the best of both worlds. There are many food and fashion markets to find around the city. Some which are open every day, and others which are open several times a week. We lined up the best markets in Bologna
Shop till you drop! Where Milan is known as one of the fashion capitals of the world, the best shopping is probably in Bologna. The Piozalla market dates back a long time, since 1251 it is a weekly market. It started as a cattle market every Friday and Saturday from dusk till dawn. Nowadays it is a market where you can find everything you want. With over 400 stalls it has something to offer for everyone. It is by far the best place to go shopping in Bologna. The market is located on Montagnola Park and Piazza VIII Agosto.
Bologna Antique Market
Every second Saturday and Sunday of the month the local antique market takes place in front of the St. Stephen Basilica. It is a small market, but when you’re in Bologna during these days, it is a fun market to visit. You might find something you like, from antique walking sticks to postcards, stamps and many other antique products.
Mercato Del Vintage
This market is located at Piazza Puntoni and opens every Tuesday. When you’re into second-hand and vintage products or clothing, this market is where you want to go.
QUADRILATERO Market (Old Market)
Another classic market in Bologna. The Quadrilatero area developed during the middle ages when craftsmen started to trade their products. Today it is still a market where you can find many different products. The market is the commercial heart of the old town center. The market opens every day.
The Quadrilatero market area is a must-visit in Bologna. This neighborhood is lively and authentic. You’ll experience the best of Bologna around this market.
Mercato Delle Erbe
The traditional food market of Bologna. It is one of the biggest indoor markets in Europe. Here you’ll find a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and cured meats. It is the perfect place to try some traditional and local products
Mercato Ritrovato (Farmers’ Market)
When you love to taste and buy local farmer’s products like freshly made cheese, olive oil, wine and beer, vegetables, honey, bread, cured meats, and much more, you must visit this farmers’ market.
Farmers from a range around 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Bologna are visiting this market and selling their best quality products for a nice price (often cheaper than in a supermarket!).
This market takes place every Saturday morning between 9am – 2pm, and during the summer season every Monday evening.
Bologna’s Famous Food
Bologna is known for its traditional cuisine. Combining the best product out of the Emilio-Romagna region into freshly made traditional dishes. It is a perfect place for food lovers and when you like to try some traditional food. Of course, you can visit one of the local markets we mentioned above. However, it is also recommended to do a food tour with a local guide. A local guide can explain the origin of traditional food, and show you some unique places in the city.
We recommend that you try the following things when in Bologna;
This meat, often made of pork, is used in sandwiches or as a snack. It is a high standard meat flavored with peppers, olives and other herbs. Served in thin slices, which are easy to use during lunchtime.
In America, it is known as “Baloney,” however, the Mortadella is made according to a traditional recipe and tastes different than its American version.
Bologna is located closeby Parma, and that’s why you’ll find original Parmesan Cheese in this city as well. Make sure that you taste the original cheese, made according a traditional recipe. You can recognize the cheese on its trademark. When you want to know more about how the Parmesan Cheese is made, make sure to read our article about Parma. Where we explain more about the traditional food coming from the Parma region.
We all had a salad or something with balsamic vinegar at least once in our lives, right? So what can be so special about traditional Balsamico Vinegar? Well, the product we can buy in many supermarkets or that are often used in restaurants is usually not traditional Balsamic Vinegar. It is the cheaper version, mostly white wine vinegar with balsamic taste.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is like a good wine. It is complex to make. Balsamic Vinegar takes time to age (some kinds of vinegar are aged over 25 years in oak barrels), and it is a completely different taste. There are some great places around Bologna, which you can visit to taste the traditional Balsamic vinegar and see how its made.
Tortellini are small stuffed pasta bombs. Often filled with meat, but also available in a vegetarian version. Mostly served in a soup or as a side dish during the Apperitivo.
Tortellini is like a very tiny pasta pie. A must-try when you’re in Bologna!
This traditional meat sauce has its origin in Bologna, but it is slightly different then the simple sauce we are familiar with. The traditional sauce takes time to gets its unique taste. Make sure to try a Pasta Bolognese (when you’re not a vegetarian) in Bologna, and you’ll find out that the taste is different.
Also known as Cresentine, it is a traditional flatbread often eaten as a snack or during the aperitivo. The small thick breads look a bit like thick pancakes, but are often filled with different ingredients like cheese, cured meats or vegetables.
Bologna Famous Wines
As the capital of the Emilio-Romagna region, you’ll find a great selection of the regional wines in Bologna. The most famous wine produced in this region is of course Lambrusco. Lambrusco find its origin in the Lombardy region, a region on the north-border of Bologna. The exciting city of Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region, we wrote this extensive article about Milan.
The Lambrusco wines found its way throughout Italy and the rest of the world. Nowadays it is not only produces in the Lombardy region, but you can find it in many places. There a lot of wine houses around Bologna that produce this sparkling red wine. Lambrusco is a light sparkling red wine, with a fruity taste. It is easy to drink while eating pasta or during a Apperitivo.
When you’re more into white sparkling wines, and not in the mood for Champagne (Is that even possible!?), there’s a great Italian alternative. Which is not prosecco.
Pingelotto is a white frizzante (which is sparkling in Italian) wine — made from the pignoletto grape. There’s also a regular white wine variation, which is less famous than the sparkling one.
The flavours of Pignoletto are often referred to as lively and aromatic, with taste of lemon and green apple. Sounds as a freshly bubbly wine to me!
It is a unique wine in its sort, and not as widely produced as a Lambrusco for example. But many different wine houses around the Bologna produces Pignoletto.
Negretto (Italian’s forgotten secret)
Negretto is a red wine that finds its origin in the Emilio-Romagna region. The Grape gets its name from the color it produces. It is much darker then other grapes, almost black. At first, Negretto grapes were only used to give color to other wines, but over time it developed to wine itself.
It is not a popular wine, because it is a bit difficult to make. The grape grows best in clay ground, and is very sensitive for frost. So production in the Northern region, where it can be very cold, is sometimes hard.
There are only a few wine producers who take on the challenge to make this wine. And they produce a very good product nowadays. Negretto is a sweet, fruity wine. You might expect a heavy wine because of its color, but is most of the time it is lightweight in body and alcohol.
One of the best things to do while in Bologna is to do a wine tasting tour in the region. Make sure to plan a tour with a driver, so you can taste as many wines you want! 😉
Best Restaurants in Bologna
With so much great traditional food, and lovely wines you might wonder what the best places are to experience this cuisine. You’ll have a lot of options in Bologna. And honestly, you can’t go wrong. We’ve been to a lot of restaurants in Italy, and we never had a bad experience. These guys know what they’re doing in the kitchen. We love to walk in somewhere and enjoy the local food. And when it doesn’t feel right, we go somewhere else.
There are a few places that stand out in Bologna, which you want to consider visiting.
This unique restaurant has a small menu and offers the traditional Bolognese cuisine in a modern way. It is a perfect place for a romantic dinner and a local traditional experience. They offer traditional main courses, but also different tasting menu’s to share.
Oltre is located a Via Majani 1, in the center of Bologna. The restaurant is opened every day except for Tuesday. It is recommended to make a reservation.
The best place for a snack or quick lunch. Mortadella Lab is a fast-food takeaway bar, but you’ll find the best sandwiches in the city here. They score #1 on Tripadvisor, and there’s a reason for that.
At Mortadella Lab they take the concept of a sandwich to a new level. Everything is freshly made, and the combination of the choices and products is outstanding. It is always busy at this place. It is a place we highly recommend to grab a quick bite while wandering around the city.
Mortadella Lab is located at via de monari 1/c in the center of Bologna. They are closed on Monday. Every other day they open at Noon until 9:00PM.
Located in Modena, about one hour drive from Bologna. It might be the most difficult restaurant to reserve a table. Having dinner here can take up a big chunk of your travel budget (depending on what you can spend ofcourse). A 12-course tasting menu goes for € 290,-. It is only € 24,- per course. But considering this is the best restaurant in the world (according to theworldsbest50.com) it is fairly priced.
The restaurant is run by Massimo Bottura, which is a famous Italian chef. He is world-wide known and starred in the first season of Chef’s Table on Netflix. He’s renowned for its cooking style — one of them it’s his famous Tortellini, which is entirely different than a traditional Tortellini. Only six pieces of Tortellini lined up on a plate with broth, instead of a full plate. This variation gave them a hard time with the local community after putting this on the menu. They felt you couldn’t mess with this traditional recipe. But they consisted, and succeeded.
Having dinner at Osteria Fransescana must be a truly amazing experience. If you want to try it, make sure to plan ahead. It is often fully booked months in advance.
Best time to visit Bologna
The Emilio-Romagna region is located between the middle and northern part of Italy. Bologna, which is the capital of this region is located right in the middle of this region. You can easily visit this region all year round, but there are some months that are more favorable for a visit.
May and October are the best months to visit this region. Temperatures are nice and warm, and there’s less rainfall. July and August, which are the busiest tourist months in Italy, can be very hot and humid.
Visiting this region between November and April is also an excellent choice. However, there’s much more rainfall during these months, and temperatures get lower. You get less chance to experience the beautiful region in its fullest when it is raining a lot.
Our recommendation would be visiting Italy between May – June or September – October. During these months, you still have favorable weather, and it’s a less busy tourist season. These months are great for a roadtrip through the Northern Part of Italy.
How to reach Bologna
Bologna is easy to reach. The city has an International airport (airport code BLQ). However, most flights arriving at this airport are domestic and European flights. For intercontinental flights it is easier to fly to Florence, Rome or Venice.
The city is favorably located from the big Italian cities Venice, Florence, Milan. Every city is around 1,5 – 2 hours driving distance. Italy is also perfectly connected with public transport, many different trains are stopping at Bologna Central Station.
How to get around
While visiting Bologna city you might wonder how to get around. The main attractions in Bologna are in the historic center, which is easy to walk around. You can use the public transport network which is also very efficient.
It is not recommended to go around Bologna by car. When you reaching the city by car, make sure to park in one of the many parking areas outside the city. From there you can either walk or take public transport into the city center.
The historic center is qualified as a Limited Traffic Zone. This means no traffic is allowed into the city between certain times (you can get permission to reach your hotel of course).
Getting around the Emilio-Romagna area is most easy to do by car. The area is beautiful to drive around, and road conditions are good for Italian standards. We wrote a guide where we recommend the best booking recourses we use, including where to find the best rental cars.
Where to stay in Bologna
You can choose from a lot of accommodations while staying in Bologna. Depending on how long your stay, what you’re planning to do, and your travel buddies, you might consider a hotel, bed, and breakfast or an apartment.
Booking an apartment via Airbnb is convenient and reliable. We use Airbnb on a regular basis ourselves and always have good experiences. You can use this link for a discount when it’s your first time booking via Airbnb.
While traveling around for a road trip, and when we’re not sleeping in our rooftop tent, we prefer to use Booking.com. We use Booking.com because it is reliable and cheap. We didn’t stay in Bologna in accommodation, so we selected a few accommodations which get excellent customer reviews on Booking.com. We always look for a place with a review score of 9+.
Le Ninfee (link to hotel page on Booking.com) is located in the heart of the center of Bologna. It is a small apartment with one bedroom. The apartment has everything you need to make you feel at home. It scores a 9.6 on customer reviews.
Fico Bologna 453 (link to hotel page on Booking.com) is located around 10 minutes outside the city center of Bologna. This Bed & Breakfast is modern but feels traditional. They score a 9.5 on Booking.com. Perfect place when you want to stay a bit outside the center.
Bed And Breakfast Corticella 24 (link to hotel page on Booking.com) is a highly rated (9.5) accommodation in the historic center of Bologna. They offer large rooms with a private bathroom. Breakfast is according to the reviews perfect. This place is one of the places that is recommended best value for money in Bologna.
Day trips from Bologna
Bologna is centrally located in the Emilio-Romagna region. So it is a perfect city to stay a bit longer and visit the surrounding cities. You can also add Bologna to your itinerary while planning a roadtrip through Northern Italy.
However, making Bologna your home base for your Italian trip is also a perfect idea. We recommend planning a few day trips around the area. For each day trip, we also refere to one of our articles with more information about a city.
The city that is renowned for its Parmesan Cheese and Ham is a must visit while in this region. It is great to spend a day in Parma. This university city has a lot to explore. You’ll find some fantastic historical sites, and of course, it is a great place to try some traditional cuisine.
Recommended article: What is Parma Famous For?
One of the fashion capitals of the world is Milan. Only 2 hours drive from Bologna. The city is not only good for shopping, but also its architecture and historic buildings are an interesting visit.
Recommended article: Milan Cityguide
Famous as the city where the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet took place. Shakespeare never visited Verona, but he set the scene of his story in this Italian city. The city of Verona is often referred to as the most romantic city in the world, and they receive the most love letters world-wide. But there’s much more to find in this historic center. It is excellent for a day visit, and only 1.5 hours drive from the city of Bologna.
Recommended article: What is Verona Famous For?
The actual most romantic city of the world is of course Venice. Venice is also one of the most visited cities worldwide, every day of the year the city is busy with tourists. We recommend to visit Venice for a day, it is an easy 1.5-hour drive
from Bologna. When you go to Venice make sure to go early in the morning, before the city gets to busy.
Recommended article: Northern Italy Roadtrip
Florence must be on your itinerary when in Italy. It’s like walking in an open-air museum. Florence is the birthplace of many things we still use modern-day, like banking for example. It was also the place where great artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo spent lots of their time.
Recommended article; What is Tuscany best Known For?